In the latest in our series chronicling the ins and outs of dating in 2020, Alie Benge explains her reliance on the ‘friend committee’ to judge the suitability of every love interest.
Abby came to my desk in a panic. She was meeting Sia that weekend. For the first time, she’d be going on a date with a woman. Her voice was squeaky, eyes wide in panic. “Who pays?” she asked. I always split the bill unless my dates get in too quick. I don’t like the expectation that men should pay, but you can’t upend gender roles if they aren’t there in the first place. If Abby suggested they split she might seem stingy. To avoid looking stingy, she could jump in and pay. This would save face socially, but would mean eating baked beans for the rest of the week. We decided Abby would approach the counter with her card visibly out, but would hang back slightly to allow her date to take the lead and show her what the rules were. Later in their relationship, Sia would realise that Abby sent her a frantic “what are we” text the same day I sent my own to someone else – completely scaring him off. She sat Abby down for a talk about how we hype each other up, feed our anxieties, and give terrible advice.
Abby is president of the office friend committee. I arrive at work on Monday morning with an update for the work besties on how my love life progressed or regressed that weekend, along with a gallery of screenshots. They pick sides when I’ve found myself liking more than one person, and decide whether it’s reasonable that I’ve been waiting x amount of time for a reply. I’ll get advice, and give the same advice back a month later. With a photo and a first name, they can get a background check on anyone. I’ll come back from the kitchen to find they have his LinkedIn, his dad’s Facebook page, his YouTube, then I’ll be on a date pretending I don’t already know that he went to Bulgaria in 2016 and had a nice time. I recently found myself sitting next to someone in a cafe, who had no idea I’d been the third person in his brief dalliance with my friend Joan. He thought his chat was between the two of them, but I’d been there, in the shadows, providing support and brainstorming responses. We’d really liked him, and he let us down.
I had a date after work. We’d been texting for two weeks. The banter was on point, and as Abby told me, “beauty fades; banter stays”. I particularly wanted it to go well because he’s 6”5 and – being nearly six foot myself – I never get to wear heels on dates. But the committee was nervous because all his Instagram photos were over four years old. As we left work Abby said, “Text us as soon as possible about whether we like him.” Later, as he scanned the Covid QR code, I rapid-texted the group chat, “Phew, he’s cute”, and received a flurry of relieved gifs.
This date was given the chance to choose his own pseudonym, but lost naming rights by landing on Dr Infuego. So let’s call him Tall Liam. Tall Liam is aware of the friend committee, and has floated the idea of a panel interview and perhaps an audition. He has his own committee but not for opinions. If he wants advice, he’ll seek out individual members, rather than deferring to a group for a unified vote. My ex agrees; his friends are reluctant to give advice, but will affirm later that he made the decision they hoped he’d make. America, who I’m back to being friends with, doesn’t use the services of a committee at all, insisting he doesn’t need any help overthinking.
My excessive reliance on committees is because I don’t trust my own judgements. If I like someone I have red flag blindness, so I use the committee to absolve myself of responsibility. My friends don’t have their eyes clouded, so I’ll trust them over myself. But, just before the appearance of Tall Liam, I received an “I’m not ready to be dating” text, and I realised I didn’t need the committee in the way I used to. We’ve all sent or received this text. I’ve sent it myself. Sometimes it was true, not always. In this case, I believed him and it was OK. I hadn’t gone to the committee for an opinion, but only to explain why it was over with the person we’d collectively become attached to. One friend believed him. One said when she got a text like that he’d secretly gotten back with his ex. Another was furious and told me I deserved better. I realised the advice you get from friends comes from their own baggage, rather than from a true perception of the person you’re dating. Because your friends don’t know the person, they have to work with maxims and generalisations, like “if they don’t text back quickly they’re not interested”. We forget that every person is complicated, and different from anyone else, and every relationship is unique, and awkward, and yours.
Dating is like the weather: a shared experience that bonds people together. We know the characters – the ghosters, the ones who can’t text – in the same way we know that spring is the worst season, or that warm weather won’t start till Labour Day. We can talk about these characters like friends we have in common, the way we have the weather in common. I have friend groups that I’m not sure have ever passed the Bechdel test, and that’s our vibe, and we love it. I count my committees among the joys of dating. While being invested in our collective quests for love and companionship, we found it with each other. We have spark. We have compatibility. Dating apps have facilitated such beautiful relationships in my life, especially the friendships I formed while bitching about them.
Read the first and second in Alie Benge’s series on her dating journey
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.