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How did I improve my dating life? Surprisingly, the answer was in a spreadsheet.

(Washington Post illustration; iStockphoto)

One day this summer, after receiving my third “let’s just be friends” text in as many days, I decided to take a break from dating apps. In a year, I had been on about 40 dates and yet nothing was sticking. The women I was into weren’t into me. And I just wasn’t that into the women who liked me.

I was driving myself crazy trying to determine why I got rejected by some women and not others. Why some would ghost me, politely decline another meetup or inexplicably claim that they were busy every night of the week. For the next four weeks.

Now, I’m one those strange people who love Excel spreadsheets. So if I couldn’t get into the heads of the women I’d been out with, at least I could keep track of why I decided not to pursue a second, third or fourth date. If I just punched in enough data, perhaps some trends would reveal themselves. I could figure out what was and wasn’t working, and then I could recalibrate my dating strategy with better results.

And so I kept track of whom I went out with; how we met (through an app, friends, etc.); how many dates we went on; and who ultimately decided to end things. I discovered that, of the 40 women I’d dated in the past year, things ended mutually 55 percent of the time. Twenty-seven percent of the time she ended it explicitly, and 18 percent of the time I had. As I scanned the list, I started to notice some interesting trends:

A lack of attraction was the most common reason we stopped seeing each other. One-third of all my matches ended this way.

Then there were the two times when we just ran out of things to talk about. After 30 minutes. Let’s be clear, I’m a talkative guy. I can pull random stories out of a hat and jabber on about the time my friend Pat stole a house, or the time I was chased by pigs in East Timor. But on two different dates, I could not, for the life of me, find any more words. And neither could she. We found ourselves at the top of Mount Awkward with nowhere to go.

And then there were the two women who couldn’t run out of things to say. You know the kind of people who hijack a story and turn it into their own? I’ve been out with two such women. By the end of those dates, I was an expert in saying “uh huh” and nodding my head.

One time my date didn’t ask me a single question. I must have asked her 50 questions before I got a solid, intelligent answer that was longer than five words.

There was a particularly strange date where a woman attacked my nose with her mouth. At the end, I expected a quick, impersonal hug on the corner. But instead she came at me with what could only have been a botched kiss. We recovered awkwardly, but the damage was done. And so were we.

Another time, I just couldn’t imagine listening to her voice for the next 60 years of my life. Two women were like this, actually, and both were very nice people. But they had the misfortune of having an accent (New England) and a tone (very, very deep) that didn’t sit well with my ears.

And then there was a woman who obsessively texted me after a week of dating, asking whether I was seeing other women. Doing so via emoji didn’t make it any better.

Once, on the first date, a woman told me her entire family medical history, complete with details on regularly decaying toenails.

And finally, one told me she was a Republican. I quickly realized how important it is that my partner share certain values.

Looking back on this exercise, my dating spreadsheet made me think about why I was so quick to sideline some people. Although I was typically trusting my gut, I discovered that my reasons for rejecting someone were often quite petty. While using dating apps, I realized that it’s easy to judge people too quickly. 

I also realized that some methods — such as OKCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel and meeting people through friends — were leading to more second and third dates. So I got rid of the apps that were less successful — Tinder, JSwipe and Hinge. This shift has meant I’m now going on fewer dates, but they’re better matches.

I’m also keeping more of an open mind: When a date has gone even moderately well, instead of continuing to swipe my way to that elusive “perfect” match, I’m asking for a second date with the good-enough ones. Since this summer, when I started keeping track of my dating life, I’ve gone on more second, third and fourth dates.

I’m still looking for something that sticks. But I feel much closer to finding it.


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