Having been raised by herbal medicine fiends, my roommate is all about energy. His wide blue-gray eyes—forceful and penetrating even in his calmest moments—pair with his always-confident tone of voice to deservingly earn him the descriptor intense. He emits urgency and definitiveness with his every expression, yet he’s not a machine. He speaks of dispositions as vibes and preaches the law of attraction: if you feel it, then it—whatever it is—will come to you. He asserts that the friends, strangers, and opportunities ebbing and flowing in and out of his life have been willed to their tidal patterns. He believes that his positivity and optimism—no matter how unbelievable (“In ten years, I’ll be rolling in cash”), generalized (“Life is beautiful, isn’t it?”), or inappropriate for public utterance (“God, breasts are amazing things”)—bring him equal or more volumes of happiness in return. Vibing, for him, is much more powerful than thinking.

I make fun of him all the time. He is a wannabe-grunge-rock-turned-alternative-yuppie Jesus, certain of everything he suggests based on faith and feeling rather than proof; I, on the other hand, the ever-questioning devil’s advocate, slam into his seemingly hashish-brewed contentions with my rigid philosophy of proactive work as the recipe for personal fulfillment. I believe that my carefully thought-out actions take me to where I want to go, so that my life, in the end, is a purposeful climb to contentment.

Recently, though, I’ve been learning that even my most meticulous plans have their limitations. My initial Perfect Mate checklist, for example, missed a less-concrete and thus oft-ignored prerequisite for perfection: a spark. It was my discovery of this missing piece that ended any sort of dating future with Houston, an intelligent architect and otherwise prime candidate for romance, after just two dates.

Another drawback to being so logical: in the midst of driving towards a conclusion about a date, it’s easy to forget that other people have checklists too; while he may be a solid fit to your specially-created profile, there is no guarantee that you will match well with his.

Indeed, just after my disappointingly dull second escapade with Houston, I met Jade, a 28-year-old doctor finishing his residency before taking aim at public health policy. Like Houston, our first date took place at a Starbucks. Like Houston, he impressed me with his ambition, intelligence, and sociocultural awareness. Unlike Houston, who frequently monopolized conversation, he seemed to be interested in what I had to say as well. I found Jade to be a notch less cerebral and more down to earth than Mr. Architect; it seemed as though we hit it off and matched interests grandly. I thought I was well-positioned for a second date when, as he walked me to my car, he dropped one of the tightest euphemisms for let’s just be friends that I have ever heard: Did you see that guy who was handing out surveys inside? He was cute.

Pause: On a successful first date, no one can be cute except the two daters involved.

Yet on this date, he issued an aberrant assertion: Someone else—not you—is cute. I admit that, at the time, I would’ve understood that perhaps I was reading a little too much into his potentially peripheral remark. Maybe, for instance, he wanted to check out my taste in other guys; maybe he wanted to release some of the pressure associated with an evaluative date. Several days later, however, he confirmed my gut feeling with some strategically-distant, avoidant small talk, a contrast to the eager remarks I recalled from our pre-first date conversations.

Somewhere between that early enthusiasm and the Java Chip Frappucino he purchased for me, as I was busy checking things off my precious checklist, he mentally creased his own list closed and filed it for future reference, saved for the next person he hoped could offer him the spark that I could not ignite.

Twice over, it seemed as though my checklist served me little purpose: to put on paper what I already knew I wanted from others. The rationale behind pseudo-neurotic organization is not to regurgitate information; it’s to help make the rest of your life more productive. Though more active than it has ever been (thanks to my “put my man self out there” creed), my dating life has (d)evolved into no more than a yes/no, true/false binary based on traits that could be identified in seconds. I screen, test, and interview—I don’t feel. My dating system is not productive.

I think my roommate has it right. Instead of parsing situations and people as if they were debate prompts, I should concentrate on finding vibes: am I on the same wavelength as my date? For that, my brain can’t be my radar; it picks up distracting socially-constructed signals when I need to channel feeling instead. The answer seems obvious: when I’m dating, I need to ditch my mind and think with my heart. Instead of checking off boxes, I need to count the number of beats in my chest, listen to the time signature of its overly-demanded standard: excitement.

This seems right, no?

I think that’s why I’m nervous. Because last night, after talking to someone completely new for just about an hour online, I felt something in my chest I hadn’t felt in a while: the beating.

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