I’ve always considered myself a pretty rational person. Sure, I’ve broken nearly every bone in my body and have a penchant for dying my hair rainbow colors, but beyond that, I’m pretty level-headed. I’ve also never been one to go “looking for love,” but my love life has always been, ahem, eventful, and I’ve had a flurry of significant others, flings, and holiday romances in my life.
I don’t typically go looking for relationships, but somehow, I end up in a surprising number of them—which probably contributes to the reason why I hate the word “boyfriend” but don’t mind the word “ex.”
A few years ago, the concept of online dating was pretty alien and off-putting to me. There are beautiful people practically all around us, I thought. What’s the point of downloading an app to find a date? Then my friend Zack explained the appeal of online dating perfectly: “Tinder is like vetting all the people at the bar before you even get there.”
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This made so much sense to me. Of course it would be time-saving to know if someone likes you before you even meet and know if you’re into their interests, humor, and preferences—just have everything out on the table beforehand. So I decided to go completely out of my dating comfort zone and do an extreme social experiment. I went on 300 Tinder dates in one single year—in addition to any “in-person” dates I found myself on—and was honest with everyone involved that I was doing an experiment. Here’s what I learned.
1. Surprising your date with an exciting activity can really reveal their character.
How would you react if your date wanted to go skydiving with you the first time you met? I think how someone reacts to surprising situations can offer a unique glimpse into their psyche. One time, I took a first date to a strip club. Spoiler: That didn’t go well… at all. But at least we learned right away that we weren’t a match?
2. Maybe don’t link your Insta in your dating profile — and for sure leave out your last name.
Several bad dates ended up following me and messaging me on social media, even after I politely informed them that it just wouldn’t work out. A few times, guys I’d never even met nor matched with approached me in real life. Once, a guy told me, “I know you. I know you blocked me on the internet, but I thought you were mad attractive. We should hang out sometime.” Nope. Ew. What. No.
3. Chemistry is something that you can only determine in person — and it can’t be forced…
On paper, two people could seem like soulmates, but in person, they’ll have absolutely no heat between them. As much as you can try to make it happen with a $100 bar tab, if it’s not there, it’s not there. At least half of the guys I went out with were good-looking, witty, and smart, but when we met each other, we just had zero chemistry. One guy seemed great, and we even shared a smooch at Circle Bar—but it ended up being one of the worst kisses I’ve ever experienced.
I decided to be honest and told him, “I’m sorry, but this just isn’t going to work out.” He was completely dumbfounded, so I explained that I just wasn’t into the kiss. I know that may seem a bit harsh, but really, what’s the point of beating around the bush? So I started to walk home, and from behind me, I heard him yell, “Kari!!!” He ran up to me, dipped me like that V-J Day in Times Square photo, and gave me a Hollywood-style kiss. It was still terrible.
4. … but just because you don’t have chemistry with someone doesn’t mean that you won’t end up great friends.
I’ve met probably half of my guy friends from Tinder. Maybe we didn’t click romantically, but we certainly had enough there to sustain a fulfilling friendship to this day. For example, I once met a guy from Tinder for a laugh and some Tuesday night banter. There was obviously no chemistry between us, but I ended up driving him and his best friend from New York to Lake Tahoe a few days later—which yes, meant they spent several days hanging out in the back of my Mini. We’re all still close today.
5. You won’t have as much sex as you think.
Well, it’s entirely possible, but I sure didn’t. Full disclosure: I “went all the way” with five of the more than 300 individuals I went out with. I definitely smooched a hell of a lot more, but not every kiss was a winner. That Valentine’s Day, my Facebook status summed it all up: “Feb 14: You know how some people go out and wake up next to a really disappointing person? Well, I just woke up next to a disappointing sandwich.”
6. Power in numbers.
Group dates are fun—especially if it’s your friend group, plus one date. And if you and the guy aren’t into each other, maybe he’s a match for one of your single friends? This may sound like an un-fun surprise, but I think that having options around if you two don’t mesh can be kind of great. I’ve successfully set up my Tinders with my friends—even once going to the extreme and inviting 10 guys in half-hour increments to meet 10 of my girlfriends. Why not? Also, if the date sucks or is a creep, you’ve got your friends there for support and laughter.
7. If you go on more than one date in an evening, don’t get drunk on the first one.
Once, I went for an after-work drink around 6, and I was supposed to meet my second date at 9. My first date, Lars from Amsterdam, was sexy, funny, fun, and smart. We had a great conversation, proceeded to get quite drunk, and recklessly made out at the bar.
Problem? No, not usually, unless you’re wearing bright red lipstick. I left him and hurried down the street to walk my dog before heading out for Date No. 2, stopping by a nice couple’s table who were dining outside and had paper napkins to spare. I wiped the lipstick off my face and reapplied, but by the time I showed up to my second date, I was disheveled and a bit drunk. I ended up leaving that date early, and the guy told me I was an asshole. Fair enough!
8. Don’t ignore even minor red flags…
Your instinct is there for a reason (shout out to your cerebellum)! If a person seems a bit off—there’s nothing specific that you can pinpoint, but you just have a hunch—follow that feeling. If you don’t, you could end up in a dangerous situation (or more likely, just on a bad date—but not worth the risk).
9. … although sometimes, the assholes make themselves a bit more obvious.
Once, I went to meet a Tinder guy at a bar not far from where I live. He was wearing a crewneck sweater with a big applique cat on the front, which should have been the first warning sign. Then, within a few seconds of me ordering my drink, he informed me that he would murder me. He proceeded to say this about five or six more times, before his creepy friends came over to me and started stroking my hair, telling me that I was pretty.
My drink came, I quickly downed it, paid, looked at my phone, and said, “Damn! I gotta go.” He responded by saying I was ugly and he didn’t want me. I ran out of that bar so fast, and two hours later, I received a text from him informing me that he took home the bartender and that she was better in bed than I would have been. Yeek.
10. Dogs are the best wingmen (and judge of character).
I don’t know how many right swipes I received due solely to my awesome dog, but it must’ve been a lot. I often had my dates meet me at Lucky Dog with my pup in tow. If my date didn’t like dogs? He’s out. If my dog didn’t like him? It’s really rare that my dog wouldn’t like anyone, so that’s a massive red flag. You’re out!
11. Bartenders are the unsung heroes of online dating.
I cannot say this enough! Whether the bartenders provide moral support or help you easily get out of an uncomfortable situation, they’re amazing and deserve fat tips. One heroic bartender even gave me free shots because my date was so effing boring.
12. Don’t go on a date after an emotional event. Like, say, a funeral.
This guy had been messaging me, trying to meet up for about a week. He seemed funny enough and kind of cute, but the only night I could meet him I was going to a gallery opening with a few of my girlfriends. So I invited him to come. He said he had a “thing” in the afternoon but would be finished in time to meet me.
We’re waiting for him at a bar around the corner from the event and he shows up in a suit, wasted. “I just came from a burial!” he slurred, as he walked into the actual bar, fell backward, and knocked a table over on the ground. At least he made an entrance?
13. Going on loads of dates can and will empty your wallet (and may turn you into a semi-functioning alcoholic).
The stubborn person in me doesn’t like for others to pay for me unless it’s a good friend and I know we’ll get each other back. But a date? Forget about it! Going on this many dates seriously drained my bank account. Free events are always great but tend to only be available during the warm summer months.
What about winter? A few hot toddies to warm up? No toddy is free. Yes, there are plenty of great dates that don’t involve drinking, but living in New York, dates often boil down to, “Hey, let’s grab a few drinks at the bar.” I also rarely want to commit to a full-on meal with any first dates, which leads to a lot of “eating beer for dinner.” I would not recommend this course of action and would like to publicly apologize to my liver for the year of abuse I put it through.
14. If you date a lot, you won’t be able to go anywhere without running into someone you’ve dated.
This one probably isn’t so surprising. Nearly every day I see, speak, or run into someone I’ve been out with. New York is smaller than you’d think, especially when your Tinder radius is set to two miles or less. Shout-out to my former Tinder who gave me a free app the other day when he spotted me from the kitchen!
15. Tinder can expose you to connections you may not have ever realized otherwise.
I seem to be the mutual friend on plenty of friends’ Tinders, which is super fun. Once I even got matched with someone who adopted my dog’s brother from the same litter—on the other side of the country. How crazy is that?
16. You should not elope with anyone you just met off of Tinder. Really.
Yeah, I did it, and would not recommend. Him: a Lithuanian bartender with a sex addiction and a sense of humor. Me: ignoring red flags. And don’t listen to drunk old men at the Turkey’s Nest when it comes to your romantic life, especially if they tell you to marry the guy you’re with. That’s another story, but trust me, it’s just not a good call.
I wish I could tell you that this social experiment led to some profound epiphany, but in the end, I mostly had a lot of fun, met some great (and not so great) people, totally mastered small talk, had more than a few terrible hangovers, and got married—and divorced. I do not regret all the time spent—often going on two to three dates a day, sometimes even in the mornings—or the rent money squandered. I loved that year.
Kari Langslet is a seasoned vegan, impulsive adventurer, traveler, animal lover. You’ll usually find her at a dive bar playing Jenga with her dog or cheering on Chelsea FC at a rude hour for a weekend morning. Stalk her on Instagram @karilangslet.