Chances are, if you live in a major metropolitan area in the US, you've heard of ride service Lyft. And if you've heard of Lyft, chances are you've heard of their ride-sharing service Lyft Line, where you join fellow riders on similar routes through the city for just $6 a ride. And when you can get from Pacific Heights (OK, fine, the Marina) to Potrero Hill for a measly six dollars, this is the kind of frugal penny pinching that will literally set your cheapskate heart on fire and pretty much guarantee that second to MUNI, this will be your preferred method for getting around town.
I wasn't a huge fan of Lyft Line after my first ride — getting stuck with a self-absorbed blonde Marina bimbo having a vapid Facetime conversation will do that to you. But after my second ride where I chatted with a young, funny and cute guy from my neighborhood, I quickly converted and have since been a huge Lyft Line evangelist ever since. From my fellow passengers, I've learned about new restaurants, heard hilarious stories, even been asked on a date. It confirms something we all know: when we put down our phones and talk to each other, we live city filled with lots of interesting, awesome people.
On Friday night, I hopped into a Lyft Line after finishing up dinner with a friend in the Castro. After a few minutes of silence and a few minutes of small talk with the other passenger in the car, he suddenly shifted to face me and paused and began telling me about a girl he had a crush on. (Side note: I'm one of those people that strangers love to talk to about their personal lives.) They'd finally had a real date that day but — he jerked back in his seat and turned his gaze out the window — she hates SF and wants to move to LA.
"Oh? That's not so bad. I like LA."
"That's it, I'm getting out of the car." He faked an exit, although it took me a minute to realize he was joking.
"I mean, I like LA, I don't think I want to live in LA." I paused. "So, what's the problem?"
"She wants to live in LA. She hates it here. I love it here."
"OK. Well, do you know why she wants to live in LA?"
He mumbled something — no, not really, maybe, something with work, unhappy? She texted after the date to apologize for being in a bad mood.
"Well, I guess my advice is, you know, get to know her? Find out why she wants to live in LA? Or how serious she is about it?"
"Ugh, she's so cute."
"That's great! So, um, get to know her?"
"But what if she moves to LA."
"Well, you don't really know what her plans are. Maybe she's one of those people who's always saying they're going to do something but never does it. Maybe she's always whining about how unhappy she is and is unhappy everywhere. Maybe she's just looking to create some kind of change in her life in general and LA is just an idea. Maybe if she meets the right guy in SF she'll want to stay. Maybe she loves traffic and smog and hates tech nerds and being cold 350 days of the year."
"My point is, until you know who she is and what she's looking for and what she wants, you're just making assumptions."
The Indian Lyft driver felt the need to speak up. "Besides, my friend, you will have to tell her one day you will need to move to the suburbs, that is where a married man goes with the babies!"
"Well, I want to raise my kids in the city."
"OK, well, maybe before discussing that, you should find out why she wants to do anything. Why does she like LA? Why does she want to move? But don't make assumptions based on one coffee with her. And don't write her off based on this one encounter before you have all the information, you know?"
And on that note, the Lyft Line pulled in front of my building, drawing this short scene in the movie of my life to a close.
As I let myself into my apartment, I reflected on the conversation. On one hand, it's always a relief to talk to men about dating and remember that everyone is as confused as everyone else. It's not like one gender has things all sorted and the other gender is trapped in cluelessness, although it might feel that way. But, the way he was looking at things made me sad. How often do we just write people off based on the shallowest and flimsiest of assumptions? How often are we jumping to conclusions and not letting relationships develop because we aren't stopping to ask the most important question: why?
I thought back to a date with a friend-of-a-friend I'd been on a year earlier. Now, fair enough, I wasn't that into this guy, I just knew that objectively he was really good looking and he was nice, smart, funny, witty, responsible, etc., which are definitely qualities you want in a person you're meeting for a drink or coffee, you know? And while I liked the guy, I wasn't heartbroken when nothing came of it. He didn't seem that into me, and it was OK — I was determined to save money to quit my job to travel for four months, and I had pretty much all of my focus on that, anyway. But a few months ago, I saw the friend-in-common and learned that the date had said I seemed so focused on travelling "that she didn't seem really interested in a relationship." And when I heard that I was like, wait whaaaat!? Of course I want to fall in love and have a relationship! What could have possibly given him that impression? (Um, maybe the fact that I was talking about embarking on a new life of travel and freedom and freelance the whole time?!)
Even though I do not feel this particular date was "the one that got away" by any means (although he was definitely a great person for whom I would wish nothing but the best in life), I found that feedback really revealing. Mostly, that I need to be sure to articulate myself correctly so I don't create the impression I don't want anyone in my life, when I very much do. So that I don't spend a date whining about SF and how I want to move to LA and leaving a guy confused because he's interested in pursuing me but not sure if I'm leaving town in two weeks. I mean, yes, in the case of this particular date, I did feel a bit misheard. Sure, I wanted to travel for a while, but I hadn't bought a ticket yet or quit my job. And who knows, maybe it was just a polite thing for him to say to the friend-in-common. But making sure we express ourselves authentically, honestly and accurately starts with ourselves, you know?
One of the hardest things about forging a romantic connection in this day of Internet/app dating is it often feels like you're trapped on a merry-go-round of first dates. I mean, it's hard. You've never met before and you're instantly sizing each other up to see what someone actually looks like, sounds like, acts like. Then you're trying to make conversation to see if you have anything in common. And, of course, there's the perception of so much "abundance" that if this stranger next to you at the bar isn't perfect, the next one could be. So you write each other off based on something arbitrary ("he wants to go back to school!" "he goes to Santa Con!") you say thanks for drinks and never hear from each other again.
But. No one person is perfect. Rationally, we know this. We know that people are multi-dimensional, ever-changing, ever-evolving creatures made up of a whole spectrum of talents, skills, gifts, hopes, dreams, shortcomings, flaws, failures, anxieties, moods and quirks. Yet, we date like we are shopping for the perfect outfit and assess each other off a list of usually fairly superficial criteria. We are often asking "what can this person do for me?" as opposed to "who is this person?"
This probably accounts for why some women get attached to someone they barely know because they've put his face on their fantasy — sometimes only based on a couple of pictures they viewed on his dating profile and knowing what he does for a living. (I have literally heard a girl say the following out loud: "he loves to travel, and I love to travel, so we'll travel all the time, and the has a great job so he'll make tons of money and we can live in a beautiful house and have kids and I won't have to work..." To which I say, "maaaaaybe pump the brakes a bit and find out first if he's sleeping with multiple women at the same time, an emotionally toxic narcissist, or something else that renders all the superficial compatibilities moot?" You know. Get to know each other?) Or, in the case of my Lyft Line friend, fearing to get to know someone because her answers might not neatly align with his plan.
The problem though, is that this isn't love. This is seeing another human being as the fulfillment of your own hopes, dreams and desires. This isn't loving someone for who they really are — in all their flawed, quirky, ever-evolving, vulnerable, funny, messy glory. And the only way we are going to figure out who someone really is and fall in love with them is if we set aside our assumptions and try to get to know them.
When I lived in New York City, I used to meet a friend from high school every few months at Old Town Bar. Over chili cheese dogs, we'd discuss love and dating and he said something really insightful about the woman he's now married to. I forget exactly how he put it, but this was the gist of it. He said that when he was in her presence, he just felt like there was a ball of something really warm and good and glowing, and that he'd always be happy to be in that presence. That while the feeling of "being in love" ebbs and flows, that general feeling you get from another person — that safe, happy, warm radiance — will always be there, even on the days you fight because someone forgot to take out the trash again.
Sure, that's an oversimplification. And this particular couple probably agreed on many of the same things, like marriage and kids, and had a compatible approach for discussing important issues like money, politics, religion, education and where to spend Christmas. They probably make each other laugh. But my friend seemed like he was more interested in how he felt in the company of his wife than whether he agreed with her voting record or opinions on private education or whatever. That he ultimately just wanted to know her, rather than use her as the fulfillment of a superficial fantasy. That knowing her was loving her, and to be known by her was to be loved.
I don't have much more to say on this topic other than to leave you with one of my favorite poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez that expresses what I'm getting at with far greater eloquence, a poem so beautiful it captured my heart in seventh grade and I return to every few months and will have it read on my wedding day:
Te dehojé, como una rosa,
para verte tu alma,
y no la vi.
Mas todo en torno
-horizontes de tierras y de mares-,
todo, hasta el infinito,
se colmó de una esencia
inmensa y viva.
I took off petal after petal, as if you were a rose,
in order to see your soul,
and I didn't see it.
However, everything around
-horizons of fields and oceans-
everything, even what was infinite,
was filled with a perfume,
immense and living.
Why ask why? Well, why not?