He was a man I matched with on Tinder in a moment of boredom. His name was Evan, and he was attractive: dark eyes and hair, with just the right amount of scruff. I'd swiped right on him without even bothering to read his bio. When I did, I realized I'd made a terrible mistake.
Evan loved cars, football, fishing, and hiking. Evan loved the outdoors, good food, and "adventure." I was amused by his unvarnished sincerity but knew immediately that we would be incompatible. No one has ever accused me of being outdoorsy. I have turned down several hiking suggestions because nature doesn't come with plugs for my hair dryer, and I can't sustain a conversation about cars or football for longer than a minute. My idea of a good time is dinner, cocktails, and dancing.
Evan and I would have nothing to talk about, no shared interests besides the fact that we were on Tinder. More importantly, I thought, his personality was completely different from mine. I flattered myself that my bio was wry and darkly humorous. His — well, it ended with a smiley face. I wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic. When he began messaging me, I discovered he wasn't.
I flattered myself that my bio was wry and darkly humorous. His — well, it ended with a smiley face.
Evan was exactly as his bio presented him: a man in his late 20s who was enthusiastic about the world. Who was cheerful, conventional, and loved sports. He asked me lots of questions about myself and told me things about himself in return. None of these things were particularly unexpected. As the days went on, I wondered why I didn't unmatch him. I was forced to admit that there was something I liked about Evan. Perhaps it was his habit of texting me each day to say, "Good morning!" Perhaps it was the fact that he seemed genuinely interested in me and what I had to say. When I met him in person, he was just as likable as I had thought. I couldn't remember the last time I met someone who seemed more interested in listening than in talking about himself.
Evan wasn't like most of the other men I'd encountered on Tinder. He wasn't mean or aggressive or entitled or disrespectful. He was a nice, average guy, with nice but boring friends. He had a good relationship with his parents. He always called when he said he would. All in all, a reliable man. A solid dude. But if you scored Evan on the list of traits that my dream man possessed, Evan would score a big fat zero.
As I ran down the checklist of those "dream man" traits in my mind, a picture began forming. My dream man was somebody quite different. My dream man was witty, impulsive, fascinating. My dream man wouldn't send me "Good morning!" texts every morning, because he didn't have a predictable bone in his body. My dream man didn't have a boring job (unlike poor Evan). No, my dream man was an artist, perhaps a musician. He despised small talk. He was mysterious, almost Byronic. He had never truly loved anybody else.
In retrospect, it's easy to see that my dream man was an adolescent fantasy. And yet, he was not merely fictional. He existed in the flesh-and-blood realm. I had met my dream man, I thought with dismay. More than met — I had dated him. What had happened? Why didn't it work out?
Dating my "dream man" was a disaster
About two years before I met Evan, I'd met my dream man — the Byron I'd longed for. It was at a mutual friend's house that he whispered to me, "If you're as bored as I am, let's get out of here." I'd only met him half an hour ago, so I hesitated a second before his challenging gaze. Then I'd grabbed Byron's hand and said, "Let's." We spent that night kissing and trying not to slip on the black ice of the city streets, laughing, almost delirious with cold.
The days that followed were exhilarating. We liked all the same things, and spent whole days wandering art museums and having heated discussions about Anaïs Nin. Byron hated hiking and loved crossword puzzles. We both liked the crisp burnt edges of toast. He didn't watch sports, so I never had to read a book while he watched games.
I thought our like of the same things meant we would be perfectly compatible. I'd never dated a Byron before, but I grew up reading books and watching movies in which he was the romantic hero. In the stories, there was always a wide-eyed girl and a brooding man who turned to each other in the records store and said, "Wow, I thought no one else liked this!" Romance was presented in these narratives as a thrilling, scientifically implausible series of events, in which neither party ever had to compromise and do something they didn't like. Romance was never depicted as a guy who patiently held your shopping bags though he hated shopping, or a guy who called you without fail to ask how your day was.
In the stories, there was always a wide-eyed girl and a brooding man who turned to each other in the record store and said, "I thought no one else liked this!"
True, Byron was unreliable. He never sent me regular texts. He'd disappear for a couple of days, then call me in the middle of the night and say, "I'm coming over. I have to see you right now." He'd say things like, "What if we jumped on the next bus to New York right now?" and I was never quite sure if he was joking. He switched moods with no warning. In his dark moments, he refused to tell me what was bothering him. I remember pleading with him not to shut me out, but he invariably did.
Byron was an artist, and he told me he led an unconventional lifestyle. He had no fixed schedule. He said, "I have problems with consistency. I like things to be exciting always. I don't want to lead a small, circumscribed life. I have a horror of routine."
Byron never asked about my own dreams or aspirations. The conversation was always about his art. I remember sometimes feeling like a fan standing at the back of a crowd, cheering on a man who never returned the favor.
Once, I asked Byron if he'd ever been in love. "No," he said, chucking me under the chin. "But maybe, just maybe, you could be the girl that's going to ruin my life." I remember being thrilled by that statement, how I tried to sustain myself on it when it became clear that was all the nourishment he could give me.
Eventually, of course, it ended. I can't remember quite how it did. I think after one particularly horrible date (both of us barely making conversation as we picked at our food), before he went home he said, "I'll call you tomorrow." He never did. I wasn't surprised, or even angry — it felt like a very Byron thing to do. He was that kind of man.
How I learned to appreciate my "solid dude"
Evan wasn't the man of my dreams. He was just a solid dude. The more dates we went on (he always called them "dates"; he never referred to our time together as "hanging out"), the more I understood how rare that was. Evan never kept me in the dark about his feelings. He didn't keep me hungry for validation, or throw out vague, beautiful statements like, "Maybe you could be the girl to ruin my life." Evan wasn't shy about admitting that he had loved other women, committed to other women. All that meant was that he could commit to me. It meant he was used to loving.
With Evan, I relaxed. I no longer spent miserable hours staring at my phone, wondering if he would call me that day or the next. I no longer saved the affectionate texts he sent me, because I knew there would be many more to follow.
Yes, we were very different, but I came to enjoy that difference. He didn't mind a routine, and soldiered on at his boring job because he was patient. He treated me with that same patience. He never complained that I didn't want to watch sports with him or go hiking. He didn't hold forth in fascinating soliloquies about how damaged he was emotionally, but he did ask me a lot of dull-seeming questions because he was interested in me — in what I did, how I lived. He genuinely enjoyed that I liked to dress up and go out dancing, though he didn't.
Unlike Byron, he never withheld admiration; he was never detached or aloof. I didn't have to try to impress him. With him, I felt like an impressive person.
When I had been with Byron, I shone a little less brightly because he captured all the light in the room. With Evan, I was the one shining.
I look at my friends, and I see them dating Byrons. My girlfriends are wonderful, warm, successful women. They're completely sure of what they want in terms of career and family, and they work toward their dreams every day. They ask for little; they try to be happy with whatever they get. They are not afraid of commitment or love, unlike the men they date. They're intelligent and analytical, so they wonder, "What am I doing wrong?" They move mountains to be with Byron, because they think, like I did, that he's the man of their dreams.
I was asking all the wrong questions of potential romantic partners. The things I needed were boring things like consistency, reliability, enthusiasm.
They consume the same media I did, and have the same notions about love being short bursts of excitement punctuated by long periods of frustration and anxiety. They are drawn to Byron's emotional unavailability because of the plethora of cultural messages that tell them Byron can change, and that he will change for them. Finally, they worry they're unlovable, because their Byrons keep saying — as my Byron said to me — "Sorry, I thought I could do this, but I can't."
It was a stunning but undeniable truth. Byron was the average. Far from being average, Evan was rare.
When Evan had to move away for work, he handled it with the same grace that he had always displayed in our relationship. There were no fights, no recriminations. I was proud just to have known him. I didn't feel deprived, because he had left me with something of immense value.
What Evan taught me during our time together was that I was asking all the wrong questions of potential romantic partners. Do you like the same things I like? Will life with you be exciting? Will you surprise me? Those questions didn't matter. The things I needed were boring things like consistency, reliability, enthusiasm. We aren't taught to want these things, which is why it took me so long to realize that I was fundamentally and deeply incompatible with the man of my dreams. Which is why I let go of that man. If you see him, tell him I'm not interested. I'm looking for a solid dude.
Priya-Alika Elias is a lawyer and writer. She tweets about pop culture @priya_ebooks.
This essay is adapted from a post that originally ran on Medium.