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I haven’t been on a first date since high school.

My high-school sweetheart remained my sweetheart through college and for years following graduation. I was gratefully exempt from the dating scene, and especially thankful as I watched close friends struggle. As dating apps increased in popularity I sat by incredulous; how do girls today compete with this swipe-happy culture where the next available profile is even more appealing? Is everyone just looking for a hookup? Where are the decent men? Meanwhile I considered myself lucky, even a little smug, because I could rely on my one-and-only. He was my safety net, keeping me from the wilds of millennial single-dom.

Not so smug anymore, I’m in my late twenties and back in the dating scene. It’s probably more accurate to say I’m less in the scene and more of a curious bystander to that scene, but I try. I explore this strange culture my friends all know too well and continue to feel like the new kid in class, excessively disappointed and confused as chats fizzle out, “likes” go unreturned, and swipes go unmatched.

To make matters more complicated, the worrier in my mind continues to remind me that I haven’t been on a first date since I was seventeen. It’s been ten years! A decade! We went out for ice cream! What on earth are adults supposed to do? How do they act? What do they talk about? At least back in the high-school bubble everyone knew each other. We all went to the same basketball games and classes and parties. First dates were weird but not the weirdest, because we were usually friends first. I’ve never had to pluck a stranger out of a lineup and decide to meet him in person.

Nothing about it felt remotely appealing until I matched with Will.* Will was kind. Will was genuine. Will was educated, smart, and, in general, looked like a functional adult. He asked about my family, which I appreciated, and about my faith, which I appreciated more. His pictures were sweet too; he seemed a little dorky, but in an endearing, earnest way. He smiled a lot. I liked that.

Our conversation moved along swimmingly. He was clearly interested in maintaining a connection, so when I told him I was traveling abroad I also gave him my number. I let him know I planned to stay away from my phone for the rest of the trip but when I got home I’d love to meet. He immediately texted and agreed to catch up later.

I got back the next week, and as I muddled through a fog of jet lag and laundry, Will was low on my list of priorities. But then, much to my surprise, he remembered to text me! He wanted to set up a date! Not just a casual coffee date, but an actual dinner date. He picked the time and place; we would meet at a ramen shop downtown. I was impressed with his follow-through and let myself get excited. While I was nervous, I was ready to once again brave the world of men over noodles.

The day came. I messaged him, checking to make sure we were still on for that evening.

“Sorry, I won’t be able to make it.”

After all those chats, all that follow-through, all that interest, that was the end of that.

He provided no explanation and no offer to reschedule. In fact, his text was delivered so quickly it wasn’t even all spelled right. Was I someone he needed to shed so urgently he couldn’t even pause for auto-correct? I was insulted, and the worries returned. Could he sense my first-date nerves all the way through cyberspace? Did he find a way to research me and decide my past was too much to handle? Did he find my Instagram and realize I was too tall? Too brunette? Too curvy?

Hold up.

What if I re-framed this? What if this had nothing to do with me?

Maybe these micro-rejections and fizzled conversations and hastily canceled dates are not my fault. Maybe these behaviors were strange simply because these particular boys happened to be strange.

More than that, maybe I shouldn’t be taking responsibility for the interest I’ve failed to inspire in the opposite sex. I am interesting enough without external validation. My worth as a woman has nothing to do with holding the gaze of a man.

So, going forward, I plan to stop taking these failures so desperately to heart. I’ve been taking it all so personally when, in reality, these failed chats and matches are nothing but chats and matches. They are not me. I do not begin and end in these apps or on these dates, and I am not a failure because I have failed to connect with Mr. X,Y, or Z. I am simply me: a girl who has not gone on a date with Mr. X,Y, or Z. And that’s fine. Someday I will be rejected again, and eventually by someone who’s actually bothered to meet me. I’d like to think I’ll be okay then too. Rejection hasn’t made me less lovable in the present, and it shouldn’t in the future. I am not less beautiful or less wonderful or less “me” if I’m not seen by another.

I have yet to move past these apps to a date. I’m hoping I’ll get there, because I think I’d enjoy getting to know a few high-quality men, but in the meantime I am doing quite alright. I like myself. I’m content. And to be completely honest, I can take myself out to ramen if I’m ever in the mood. 

*Name changed for privacy.

Editor’s Note: Dating Unscripted is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.