After Lou* and I met on OkCupid, it took just one drink on our first date for me to realize that he was the literal worst.
I liked to laugh. Lou liked to sneer. He was addicted to the gym. I was addicted to beer and chicken wings. He thought I was fat, and told me so right after the first time we slept together. I thought he was a terrible person.
I dated him for three months anyway.
My experience with Lou was the ultimate example of hate-dating, a term that might sound unfamiliar but describes a habit familiar to many of us: when we continue to date someone we despise, despite our better judgment.
Contrary to what one might assume, hate-dating has nothing to do with actually hating dating (or rhyming, for that matter). It's more akin to hate-sex, the act of hooking up with someone you hate partially because the sense of mutual loathing fuels the passion.
But hate-dating is slightly different. To hate-date is to be acutely aware that whoever you're seeing is the type of person you'd never marry, let alone be friends with, and repeatedly subject yourself to their company nonetheless.
On the surface, this practice sounds so self-destructive and unsatisfying that only a small handful of people would actually subject themselves to it. And yet, after conducting a brief survey via Google form, Mic found that there are actually quite a few hate-daters among us — and we have tons of reasons for doing it.
We hate-date to be polite: "There's a pressure to give everyone a chance," Selena*, 27, told Mic. "So I'll try to stick it out with a guy, thinking maybe he'll grow on me. But I always wind up sitting across from him at dinner a few dates in, inevitably thinking 'Why am I even here?' It's the worst."
Jimmy*, 27, went so far as to say that he technically hates the majority of his past dating partners in New York City.
"They're nice enough for a first date or a second, but then you start to notice huge inconsistencies and ways you just won't work," he told Mic. "And because they're relatively nice people, you feel like a huge asshole rejecting them. You also don't know them well enough yet to be honest about your feelings, and you don't have the context or commitment to make it matter."
We hate-date the same way we hate-watch: Sometimes, hate-dating can stem from pure curiosity. A few Mic readers said they continued to date someone they hated because they were oddly fascinated by them, an experience akin to hate-watching a television show that makes you cringe or hate-reading a website you can't stand.
"He was pretending to be straight the entire time and barely gave me any attention," one 20-something gay male wrote of his first date with a closeted NFL player. "Still, it felt really fucking cool to be out with an NFL player, and I couldn't help but be intrigued by his lifestyle."
They spent the next three nights in a row together.
We hate-date to avoid the inevitable breakup: If all of this sounds absurd, that's because it is. After all, science supports the obvious conclusion that if we're looking to find a partner for life, we should probably at least like the person. For instance, a 2014 study found that marriages are most successful when they're between two best friends, while 2011 research from Stanford concluded that sharing common interests is the strongest foundation for a healthy relationship.
Psychology also supports the conclusion that when we're looking for a relationship, we tend to be incredibly counterproductive. "People may do it because they don't want to hurt someone's feelings by outright rejecting them," Gwendolyn Seidman, associate professor of psychology at Albright College, told Mic. She cited past research in which participants were asked about their thoughts on dating people who possessed certain deal breakers online versus in real life.
"When the situation was hypothetical, they were significantly more likely to reject the person than when the situation was real and they believed there was a real person in the next room whose feelings might be hurt," she told Mic. In other words, we hate-date because we want to avoid the awkwardness of rejection.
We hate-date because we kinda hate ourselves: Seidman added that issues of self-esteem and insecurity can also come into play. "People have a basic need to belong, to be accepted and cared for by other people," she told Mic. "And if those needs are not being met, then dating someone who likes you (even if you're not that crazy about them) will help fulfill that need."
Indeed, even when Lou called me fat after our first date, I kept seeing him because I wanted his validation. He was rude and arrogant, but that only made me crave his approval. So I continued to let him annoy me and subtly insult my appearance for the entire summer.
Maria*, 26, also admitted to hate-dating as a way to feel better about herself. "I was able to mute the worst parts of him because he seemed like the kind of person that wouldn't be into me," she said of a past dating partner. "And when it turned out that he was, I became addicted to the attention. I'm not proud."
How we can break the hate-dating cycle: When you're in the midst of hate-dating someone, it might seem like getting out of the relationship is impossible. But there's only one way to get out of a relationship fueled by hate-dating: telling yourself the truth about the person you're with.
One evening during the summer of Lou, I low-key raided his nightstand while he was in the shower. Hiding beneath his wallet, keys and Advil was a book about overcoming depression, which proved to be quite the reality check.
Finding that book sent a clear message that Lou's bravado and muscle definition didn't make him a magical wizard with the power to fuck my insecurities out of me. He was just another human with his own insecurities. In fact, he was probably hate-dating me as well.
And so as the summer wound down and my self-esteem finally kicked back in, I decided to put an end to our relationship. I stopped responding to his texts, and he soon got the hint and stopped sending them. As it turns out, ghosting is fairly easy when both parties kind of hate each other in the first place.
I ran into Lou at Target a few months later, at which point I was dating a newer, nicer guy. "Been going to the gym without me?" Lou asked, peering at the selection of junk food in my cart. "You look like you lost weight."
And just like that, the cycle of hating Lou churned anew. Except this time, I was dating someone I actually liked.
*All names have been changed.