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Wednesday, September 21 2011 @ 11:17 PM CDT

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Why I Don’t Want to Know How Many Stars Your Ex Gave You

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

These days, you don't really have to go on a first date with a total stranger. You can Google, you can hunt them down on dating review sites, you can get a glimpse into who they are before you ever get a glimpse of them at all. But is this really the best way to get to know someone, or the most accurate for that matter?

I got an email pitch recently about a new site called Exrated.co (Note the “.co” is not a typo; Exrated.com is a Pink Visual porn site), where you can, yes, rate your exes and look up who among your current dating roster has been rated by their exes. They bill themselves as “like TripAdvisor for dating.” It’s kind of like a newfangled version of Don’t Date Him Girl, but with a more upbeat PR spin. While at times I’ve fantasized about how much better a place this world would be if none of us got to hide all our secret sexual peccadillos, even if everyone in the world were using this site, therefore creating a true dating database, I’d skip it.

How come? Because to me part of the joy, as well as the hell, of dating, however you meet the person, is finding out who they are for yourself. Ultimately, you’re going to have to do that anyway. I’ve had setups from friends where they said things like, “__ won a MacArthur Genius Grant.” That was true, but we were utterly incompatible, because we wanted different things out of a relationship, something I didn’t find out until I’d already gone farther than I would have had I known he was only looking for something casual.

Well intentioned friends, even those who’ve dated the person they’re pimping out, aren’t going to know exactly what that person is thinking — or what they’re feeling for you. If all we went by regarding dating were tips from mutual acquaintances, we’d get a very distorted picture of our potential mates. I’m being self-protective here, too, because while I have a lot of good qualities, in my opinion, when it comes to relationships, I have my fair share of red flags. I have my own preempting service, like it or not, thanks to all the writing I’ve done about myself. I’ll add to that and say that I’m often running late, often like to be alone just because, and carry bags that are likely to knock over passersby. On the plus side, I enjoy exploring new cultural offerings, nerdy pursuits like puzzles and like to ply my lovers with food and gifts I think they might enjoy.

I recently saw an ex who I dated back in 2003, and not only was I impressed at how far we’ve both come since those cosmo-drinking, bingo-playing, live-for-drama days, to the point that I wondered what might’ve happened had we met for the first time now, I also knew that we had to go through that tumultuous time in our lives in order to get to where we are today. Even the worst of my relationships — and that was actually the best in many ways — have taught me invaluable things about love, patience, dealbreakers and compromise. I wouldn’t want some app or well-intentioned stranger to warn me away from learning those vital life lessons.

On the other side, if someone were to wave a red flag about me, as valid as their points might be, I’m always looking for someone who will challenge me, who will push me to change for the better, who will see something in me I don’t see in myself, good or bad, and either force me out of my comfort zone for my own good or give me the tough love I probably don’t want to hear but should. That’s not an easy task, certainly, and I often push people away at the first sign of challenging me about my safety nets, but it’s also why I value people like my ex for going there. Maybe she could because at their root so many of our stumbling blocks are similar, even if they get expressed differently.

I’d rather take my chances and make dating mistakes on my own, but more than that, I don’t think one person’s experiences necessarily translate into another’s when it comes to human behavior. Someone who treated you like a princess might be horrible to the next girl, or vice versa. We all show different facets of ourselves to different people, and everything else is going on in our lives is going to affect our behavior.

Here’s what was on the Ex-Rated site as a “review of the moment” the first time I visited: “Andi was an incredibly difficult, but sexy woman who, frankly, smelled better than any human I’ve ever met since.” Now, based on just that sentence, I have no idea whether this is someone I’d want to date. Even if I got a full dossier on her (or him), it still would just be words on a screen and, more importantly, a very subjective opinion. Maybe Andi is laid-back and casual around other people and her “difficult”ness was a function of something specific to their relationship.

Relationship post-mortems work well amongst friends because they know the backstory and have likely met the person and seen you together. They know the history and can judge when you’re being dramatic, have just cause to be upset, or are justified in trashing (or praising) someone. But in the absence of any other context, it’s dangerous to judge people based on “reviews.” People are not products, and while I spend a lot of my time observing other people’s language, expressions and actions and drawing my own conclusions, I fully admit that those are just my own conclusions.

According to their press release, Exrated.co “empowers singles by giving them character reviews of potential dates, including pros and cons from punctuality to looks to generosity, grooming and more.” I’m all for empowerment, and am aware that there are problems, especially when using online dating sites, of using only self-reported data. People can sound and look a lot more exciting and compatible when they’re “only” data, and in person the chemistry may not be there, but you won’t ever truly know that until you investigate. What’s to say they haven’t made themselves over, learned from their past failures? And who’s to say that one person’s taste is equal to another’s?

“Forewarned is forearmed!” screams the headline of the press release. The thing is, I don’t want to be forewarned. I want to take my chances. I’ve resisted asking a friend about a mutual friend I’m interested in, not only because it might put the first friend in an awkward position, but also because they might tell me something that either builds up my hopes or turns me off the person before I’ve even had a proper conversation with them.

If anything, being so open online via writing and blogging and social media has taught me that judging people is easy, and, to a degree, natural, based on bits and pieces of their lives, but ultimately it’s a lazy way of forming opinions. Whatever you unearth in your research is never going to be the final answer because life isn’t a test with a letter grade at the end of it. You don’t “win” by meeting the perfect person, and even someone who got high marks from everyone they’d ever encountered could still turn out to be someone who makes you want to vomit.


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