This piece is part of How Google Drive Can Make Every Corner of Your Life Easier
As a teenager, I imagined my adult dating life would go something like this: Meet man. Marry. The end. Trial and error was for losers. Dating was for doubters. By my exacting metric, any time spent with someone I knew wasn’t a match was a waste of time.
Like many teenagers, I did not know what I was talking about. The “trial and error” element of dating hasn’t been a waste of time at all; it’s been an essential part of growing up, and offered some meaningful wisdom along the way. And I found some of that wisdom in a spreadsheet.
One evening a few years ago, with a lot of time on my hands and my talent for self-entertainment at an all-time high, I made a Google Sheet of everyone I’ve ever dated. This was not meant to be a serious project — I titled the document “Mens” — but I soon found myself invested in completing it. I was newly single, and I began looking for patterns in the data, clusters of like qualities or flaws that would help me in my future romantic endeavors.
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The format was simple enough: I made one column each for name, age, how we met, and profession. I also added columns for positives, negatives, and “lessons learned.” I included anyone I’d ever gone out or had a significant “thing” with, starting all the way back in my first year of college, even though my memories of those guys weren’t the most nuanced: Their columns included things notes like “smart,” “funny,” or “smelled nice” (though others turned out to be “manipulative,” “totally boring,” or “disturbed”).
My insights became slightly more sophisticated when I got to the men I met after college, when I moved to New York. In school, I’d been too naive to have any conception of what a red flag was. But by 25, I’d learned to identify pretty quickly when someone was, for example, “more in love with the idea of me than who I actually was.” Another crucial entry reminded me “not to let my idea of what’s fated cloud my perception of what’s actually happening.” I could see that over time, I had learned to recognize what mattered beyond a gut feeling or a first impression.
Autocomplete also led to some interesting conclusions. The phrase “lacked the confidence to pursue his dreams,” or some variation of it, appeared a whopping seven times in the Negatives column. This was the first major revelation The Sheet yielded, something I never could have grasped through journaling or regular self-reflection. I had to see it, all sorted out: I like doers, not talkers.
But the biggest gift The Sheet gave me was what I discovered under the heading “How We Met.” Looking at this column, I realized just how many people, romantically, socially, and professionally, I knew through one “patient zero.” “Patrick” was a writer I’d met at a poetry reading six months after I arrived in the city, but who quickly lost my attention after a handful of dates. It could have ended there — but instead, we progressed into kinda-sorta friend dates, which then progressed into friendship. For years, I’d thought that everyone I knew in New York was through a former boss of mine at an events production company, who was always introducing me to new people — but it turned out Patrick was the one who’d led me to my own network. What I’d always thought of as a “waste of time” turned out to be one of the most fruitful relationships of my life.
Making your own Google Sheet might yield similar revelations. If you find journaling to be a slog, perhaps this “hits and highlights” model might be more your speed. Besides using autocomplete to enter consistent positives and negatives, you can use colors to delineate between people you met on one dating app versus another. Or, perhaps you’re less concerned with the other person’s pros and cons, but in how long it takes you to feel a connection.
Treat the Sheet like an oracle: Come with your curiosities and questions, even ones that seem too philosophical for the format. Perhaps, with the data right in front of you, you just might learn what you like, what you love, and where to go next.