After years of frustration on dating apps, I still desperately wanted to find the needle in the haystack. On a night when I was feeling especially pathetic, I googled, “How do you find a needle in a haystack?” The answer, according to multiple sites, is that you burn the haystack.
Although I was just fooling around, I suddenly had an epiphany. I realised that reframing the dating quest in this way was the opposite of all the advice I was reading in books and online.
The prevailing advice to women can be put into two broad categories. One: make yourself as appealing as possible to as many men as possible. It’s a numbers game, and the more attractive you are to the highest number of men, the more likely you are to connect with someone viable. Two: give everyone a chance. Don’t be too picky right off the bat.
I decided to try the opposite. My two rules now looked like this: One: present yourself exactly as you are. In fact, the fewer men you appeal to, the better. Two: be picky. Give almost no one a chance.
In other words, dating is a numbers game, but the typical goal – to be widely appealing and meet as many men as possible – is wasting women’s time and leaving us frustrated and demoralised. The numbers game that actually works – or at least, it did for me – is to narrow the field so much that there are only a very few men left standing.
Here’s what I’ve learnt, and what I’m now helping other women to experiment with:
In the digital dating sphere, “burning the haystack” means obliterating 99 per cent of the dating field immediately so that you’re able to see the 1 per cent that might be right for you. There’s no shortage of men who want to date you, but finding the good ones among the masses of men you don’t want can seem nearly impossible. The good ones are out there, though, and this method makes them more findable.
Understand that by “1 per cent” I am not referring to income or attractiveness or anything like that. I’m referring to finding a specific match that works for you.
In my case, I knew that I wanted a serious and mature partnership, so I wrote a profile that made it clear I was neither fun nor cool. I’m primarily a comedy writer, so I wrote a sort-of-funny profile counting on the fact that anyone who was a good match for me would be attracted by my sense of humour and that, paradoxically, I actually would seem fun and cool. It also ensured that I’d only attract men who respect boundaries.
Once I started using this approach, the number of men I attracted decreased, but the quality of men I attracted increased a thousandfold. I was suddenly receiving thoughtful and articulate messages that were clearly composed in response to my individual profile, rather than a bunch of “winks” or “heys”.
I quickly realised that what I’d been doing – meeting a lot of men and giving everyone the benefit of the doubt – was a gigantic waste of time. If a guy can’t set up a decent profile or send a message beyond “Hey”, it doesn’t mean he’s too busy. It means he’s lazy, careless, or not actually invested in dating.
I now consult primarily with women over 40, but this method could work for people of any age. For example: Maya, a family friend, is 24 and a graduate student in Washington DC. She was ready to find a partner, and she knew that Tinder is where the majority of men in her age group find dates. But she didn’t want to be a hook-up. So she added a note to her profile that said she was primarily interested in friendship.
She didn’t get nearly as many hits as her friends sitting next to her in the bars. But she did get some, including Nicholasâ – an absolutely delightful young man who’s a grad student at Georgetown with a bright future and a solid moral compass. They became friends, and then they began dating, and now they’re engaged. Maya’s friends are still swiping and hooking up, regretting it the next day, and starting all over again the next night.
Maya burnt the haystack and found her needle. May the rest of us do the same.