A Penny For Your (Dating) Thoughts

Are there things you'd tell your 25-year-old-self navigating through the world of dating? Curious to know my thoughts on some commonly asked dating questions?

I often joke with my friends that I feel like a robot whose goal is to collect as many data points about dating simply because I am fascinated by them.

When it comes to dating, people can be unpredictable (but also very predictable), think they know exactly what they’re looking for (but also contradict themselves or change their answers often), and are generally imperfect and make mistakes. You put that all together in trying to find a partner to start a relationship? In the words of Marie Kondo, “I love mess.”

I’ve listened to experts, had countless conversations, and even resorted to my Instagram poll function to crowdsource opinions all because I think this whole thing is worth trying to figure out. My hope is to 1. Help my friends navigate their relationships and 2. Figure out how I can best navigate my own relationships.

Now, the order of those two outcomes is important; in this stage of my life, it has been far more fulfilling to be able to have conversations with friends about the information I’ve collected than to try to muscle my way into applying it in my own dating life.

I’m not claiming to be a relationship expert (clearly, as a 25-year old single person [sorry, mom] without formal counseling/therapy credentials), but my aforementioned robot brain does have some synthesized thoughts to share. I think all too often we confuse our personal opinions and experience with “advice” for others, so I will explicitly say from the get-go that I’m speaking from my own experience, but hope that it’ll be rounded out with creating space for other opinions. Maybe this will spark some new ideas, provide additional insight from different perspectives, or give you new language to use or questions to ask. Maybe you’ll disagree almost entirely. Let’s find out, shall we?

Q: Would you prefer your future partner be Japanese American/part of the Japanese American community?

*This also applies to any other fill-in-the-blank community you may find yourself a part of and there is absolutely no “correct” answer, which is why the idea of preference is noted. 

Close friends and I have gone back and forth about this question, in large part due to our parents asking about (or implying) a similar line of thought. I will say, this conundrum implies that certain ideas to be true, things like identifying as Japanese American, valuing being part of or participating in the Japanese American community, desiring to carry on values or experiences from the community, etc. To be frank, I don’t have a definitive answer, and I think that’s okay, but here are some things I’ve thought through and questions I’m constantly asking myself to address things like “What do I value in a partner?” and “Which of those values take priority over others?”

  • There’s something special about connecting over shared values and shared experiences. It could be helpful in future decision making, how you choose to spend your time and resources as a couple, etc.
  • There’s a sense of ease in not having to explain certain norms and values that have been established in particular Japanese American family or community contexts - for example, you always stick around to help clean up, greet all the “aunties and uncles” when arriving and leaving, either offer to bring something to a gathering or treat a family/friend member, etc.
  • If the main connection I have with this person is our Japanese American heritage, would they also be able to connect with the other community spheres in my life? Spheres like church, work, friendship groups, etc. that aren’t predominantly Japanese American.
  • If we have similar experiences, values, and thoughts, would I be limiting myself to those insights, creating an echo chamber effect? Would I be missing out on diversity of thought and experience?

Q: Can you be friends with someone you’re attracted to?

To me, this is the deeper root of the age old question, “Can men and women be friends?” as seen in movie classics like When Harry Met Sally. It’s also important to note that this question has been historically asked in the context of heteronormative, cisgender relationships.

I think the short answer is “it depends.” I know, I know - “Boooo! That’s not an answer!” Hey, welcome to the world of nuance! We like that around here. I would argue there are certain factors that allow for that to be true in certain circumstances, but may not be true for others.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all line of thought, but rather a compilation of ideas to consider:

  • The idea of “attraction” comes in many forms, including physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and more, and individuals prioritize those differently. It can be possible to be friends if you can distinguish between “this person is objectively attractive” versus “I am attracted to this person and would consider a romantic partnership with them.”
  • If one or both parties are in an existing romantic relationship, although this one can get complicated depending on the established values of the relationship
  • If there is a “dealbreaker” factor present that would prevent the pursuit or success of a romantic relationship, like logistics and irreconcilable differences in values and beliefs
  • If one party is not attracted to the other and/or not interested in pursuing a romantic relationship
  • If it is communicated, whether implicitly or explicitly, understood, and acted upon accordingly between both parties where the relationship stands as being platonic, romantic, etc.
  • Expectation management is key!

Q: Do people think their ideal partner is either “a better version of themselves” or subscribe to the “opposites attract” idea?

This is a hot take, but part of me thinks that people seek out some of the “good” parts of themselves in a potential partner. Traits like being generous, kind, selfless, and creative that may exist in one’s self might be equally attractive in a potential partner. I am probably one of those people. When I think about certain qualities I find attractive in a potential partner, like wanting someone to challenge me, be able to hold conversations seamlessly, be thoughtful, and more, part of me is saying, “I think I have these things and would want someone to match me.”

But for the high percentage of people I’ve talked to and polled, the concept of “opposites attract” translates to, “This person is different from me and brings different things to the table.” That idea makes a lot of sense to me, yet in my experience up until now, it’s felt more tiring to have to bridge a farther gap with differences than to engage with people who already exist at a similar level.

I guess that leaves me with a “both and” kind of answer. There’s a spectrum of how people choose to piece this puzzle together of what they imagine their partner as - they’re a combination of shared values, maybe even shared traits, but can also provide different strengths, interests, and perspectives. The idea that one’s partner should ideally enhance what you’re bringing to the table, and vice versa, feels like a fair and complementary way of approaching this dynamic. 

Well, there you have it, folks. I think if there’s something to take away from this conversation, it’s that each person can do as they wish in their relationships. My hope is that we continue to embrace the idea of “it depends” or “things can change” as we counsel our close friends and navigate through the world of dating on our own. There’s much more to learn, mistakes to make, people to meet, and changes to be made, but I’ve found conversations like these to be insightful and even encouraging, as if we’re sharing resources while making sense of them within our own context. It can feel like we’re in the Hunger Games arena from time to time, but it’s cool to think that we’re all equipped with certain skill sets, supportive communities, and even “maps” of our previous experiences to traverse through uncharted territories.

Wishing you all the best of luck in this game we call love. May the odds be ever in our favor.

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