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Los Angeles—dubbed the worst city to be single. At 27 years old, I was starting to believe it.

Nearly a decade before, I had moved from the heartland to Tinseltown. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to finish college and start my career in the film industry. As a movie aficionado, I was influenced (OK, heavily influenced) by old Hollywood movies and the romantic classics such as Pride and Prejudice. I was sure my story would mirror those I loved, where the woman was independent and high-spirited and met her match in a dashing Mr. Darcy.

It wasn’t long before I realized my story would be a little more complicated.

After years of dating, going to parties, and harboring secret hope that I would meet someone at the grocery store, I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to finding a “quality relationship” . . . you know, the kind of guy you want to bring home to your parents at Thanksgiving.

The craziness of the dating scene fully dawned on me when I attended a birthday party with more than a dozen women in their twenties and thirties. I looked around and realized every girl was single. This was my tipping point. I was determined to do something about dating culture, not just engage in the zillionth chat about what was wrong with it. So I joined forces with my producing partner, Megan, and the idea for a documentary was born: The Dating Project.

Our premise was to follow five single people trying to figure out dating in the age of social media, texting, hanging out, and hooking up. Our “dateables” included two Boston College students taking a course in which their professor assigned them to go on traditional dates; a twentysomething girl who had been single for five years; a thirtysomething career girl who put work before relationships; and a fortysomething man who felt commitment limited him. It was a fascinating process and a privilege to be invited into their lives and to hear their relationship stories.

The interviews confirmed what I felt prior to writing the documentary: There was no social script for dating. To find answers, we interviewed Dr. Kerry Cronin, a philosophy professor at Boston College. She is trying to recast a social script for dating by assigning her students to go out on a date for extra credit.

Dr. Cronin makes the point that the hookup culture has dominated college campuses (and beyond), and now people do not know how to “date.” Something that should be easy, like going to coffee, becomes shrouded in mystery because people aren’t equipped with the basics of how to ask someone out, where to go or not go, what to talk about and what should be off-limits, when to kiss—the list goes on. She wisely advises that the date isn’t necessarily about finding romance but to experience the courage of stepping outside the dominant social script of hooking up. Not only that, but to experience what it’s like to ask someone out in person, get to know someone in the light of day. Put your phone down. Have a conversation. Believe you are worth someone’s time. She challenges people to redefine dating.

Of course, my sentimental heart was beating wildly at the thought of rekindling old-fashioned ways of finding love. It also made me realize I needed to redefine dating in my own life.

I never had a great attitude towards online dating. I had always opted for the more organic way of meeting someone—like while sifting through produce at Trader Joe’s. I mean . . . it could happen.

But something I heard in one of our expert interviews hit me. Lori Gottlieb, therapist and author of Marry Him, made the point that if you were looking for a job, you wouldn’t just go stand in the lobby of a building and wait for HR to magically come down and hire you. She then applied the analogy to dating. In my own life, I was passive, leaving things to chance. 

So I got online. We were prepping to interview Neil Clark Warren, the co-founder of eHarmony, and I thought it would be a good time, you know, for "market research."

I went about online dating with no expectations and set parameters. My parameters were a) I was interested in meeting online but getting offline e.g. not going to waste time being pen pals; and b) I was going to be selective. So I went out on a few dates; they were nice but nothing special. Before I knew it, I was traveling again for the film and hadn’t checked my messages for a couple of weeks. When things settled down, I got an email reminding me that my subscription to the site was about to expire, so I logged on.

One of the questions I'd originally answered on my profile was: "What is the most important quality in someone you date?" I answered: A good heart. I know, a little cheesy. Despite that, a guy messaged me and referenced it, saying he “had a good heart literally and figuratively.” I thought that was cute. In the spirit of better-late-than-never I decided to message him back…. and….one and a half years later we were married.

It was wild. I never thought I would end up meeting my life partner online, but it was the best decision I ever made. It really is just another way to get to know someone in the light. To put your phone down. Have a conversation. Believe you are worth someone’s time. And then the rest flows from there. It validated how it’s possible to be smart about embracing the new dating landscape while still adhering to time-tested standards that create healthy and whole relationships.

My connection with my now husband grew while making the documentary. We ended up talking about every topic under the sun that had to do with dating and relationships! It was so enriching to our time as a dating couple and continues to this day.

My hope has always been that the documentary would be a conversation starter. That it would offer the opportunity to discuss the important things we are all thinking about, but that can be hard to bring up. I can say for myself that it was empowering to question the status quo of hookup culture and the relationship ideals we are bombarded with today, even by my much-loved romantic movies.

I am thankful to have realized it is possible to redefine dating in your own life. It may be difficult, but like anything that’s hard, it can make your heart stronger, your standards higher, and your story that much sweeter. I know it did for mine.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock