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Unhinged, A Dating Series:  What Looking for Love Taught Me

Editor Nicolle Monico shares five insights she’s gained over the last few weeks while dating in San Diego
Unhinged, a dating series: Nicolle Monico

Three months ago, I launched Unhinged, the dating column I’d been mulling over with the editorial team for the past year. What started off as a joke among coworkers to chronicle my dating life finally came to be in February 2024. I’ve been writing for magazines for 15 years. But nothing could have prepared me for what it’d be like to allow others into the parts of my life that typically only my closest friends get to hear about.

Getting real with you all each week has been fun, eye-opening, and anxiety-inducing (please send nice messages on Thursday nights). Recently, I took the time to think about what lessons have come from my adventures and my chats with readers and friends. I share those insights below.

While there are still more vulnerable pieces of me that I’m not ready to share yet publicly—like the lingering effects of my past relationship—having so many new friends rooting for me and sharing their own stories has been incredibly humbling in the best way. I’m the most hopeful I’ve ever been that maybe we can figure this out together.

So, here are five things I’ve learned since starting this column:

Men are struggling, too

As a woman, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking men have it easy when it comes to heterosexual dating (stay tuned for guest columnists speaking to other types of relationships). It’s not uncommon to hear women complaining about men’s reluctance to commit and about how hard it is to find someone genuine. 

I’ve been surprised, though, at the amount of men who have written to me to say thank you for this series. They’ve shared their stories, opened up to me personally about unrequited love, and took the time to reflect on some of the things I have written about. Many have also said that they don’t speak about this stuff to anyone. 

In a society where little boys are taught to hold their feelings in, hopefully more men will start to see the benefit in talking out their emotions with friends or seeking advice from experienced professionals such as therapists. After all, you can’t know what you don’t know, and sometimes the best advice will come from those with unbiased opinions. 

Dating is a numbers game

I’ve never dated so much in my life. With my matchmaker setting me up with potential suitors, DMs rolling in from readers of this column, and friends introducing me to their single pals, it’s been overwhelming (and a little exhausting). 

Most of the dates I’ve been on haven’t led to a second date, but they have taught me more about what I want, what I’m willing to potentially compromise on, and what I need to work on personally in romantic connections.

Expecting to find “the one” by only going on one or two dates every few months means that you’re significantly lowering your chances. Get outside, invest in hobbies that you love, head out to happy hours, sign up for classes, keep swiping (if you’re into that kind of thing), take chances on strangers at bars, say “yes” to everything—you never know who you may meet. 

What you ask is just as important as doing the actual asking

One of the biggest things I hear from women is that men don’t ask any questions on dates. It’s not completely a gendered issue, but research shows that men and women are taught to approach conversations differently. 

After I wrote about this, we got a flood of comments on our Instagram post and in my inbox from people who could relate. It seems obvious, but if you’re out there and dating, just ask a question—it may lead to your next relationship. 

But what you ask also matters. During a singles mixer this past February, matchmaker Sophy Love walked participants through some dating exercises with a focus on first-date questions. We learned that asking deeper, more emotionally driven questions tends to make people feel more connected to the asker. 

I genuinely became more interested in the people sitting across from me during the exercise. So skip the “what do you do for a living” questions and ask what childhood memory stands out as one of their favorite experiences. 

People will put in the effort when they’re interested

One of the first people I met during this column was a guy who I was very attracted to but who was only putting in the bare minimum when it came to dating me. He was cute and we had fun, but he only made plans with me last minute and made me feel like an afterthought. 

I remember telling him that I would like him to be intentional if he really was looking to get to know me. We ended things. 

There are people out there who will make it clear that they are wanting to get to know you and will make time to do so—and desiring that effort is not too much to ask. But we have to be willing to ask for what we want and be willing to walk away if they can’t provide it. I’ve also learned recently that the ones who are ready to be in a relationship won’t leave you guessing about future dates. You won’t be an afterthought. 

You can have it all

I recently asked the question, “Can you really have it all when it comes to love?” Stability, support, and compatibility and butterflies, passion, and bedroom chemistry with someone? At a certain age, we can start to feel the pressure to settle to avoid being alone.

Recently, I met someone who is making me believe that it’s possible to find a person who meets all your needs and wants. We’ve only been talking for a short time, but he’s unknowingly helping me heal from the trauma of a past relationship by being incredibly kind, honest, and intentional. On the other hand, I get nervous and excited to see him, something I’ve been missing in the past few dates.

I don’t know if this connection will turn into anything more. But what it is giving me is hope that I don’t have to settle for anything less than amazing. Fairytale romances aren’t just a thing in storybooks.  

If you’re new to Unhinged, catch up on all the dating chats you’ve missed here and follow along at @monicles and @sandiegomag on Instagram to know when a new article drops each week.

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By Nicolle Monico

Nicolle Monico is an award-winning writer and the managing digital editor for San Diego Magazine with more than 15 years of experience in media including Outside Run, JustLuxe and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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