Before we ever meet in person, self-proclaimed liberal Ben*, a friend’s college roommate, texts me an “ironic” shot of himself in a Trump “Make America Great Again” baseball cap from the bar where he’s watching the Republican debate. He follows up to inform me he’s also just been interviewed by a newspaper reporter about being a Trump supporter, but only “ironically.” I question his definition of irony, not to mention his politics, but I go ahead with our date. That’s what you do when you’re Volume Dating.

Don’t get me wrong. I may be 30 and single, but I’m in no rush to settle down: My parents wed, both of them for the second time, in their late thirties, by which point they were both successful in their careers, very much in love, and had nothing great to say about early marriage. Without that find-a-man clock ticking, I’ve felt free to take my time, to date or not, as interesting prospects present themselves. But since moving to New York City three years ago, I’ve developed some, er, patterns: Either I fall quickly (fireworks!) for someone I can’t get enough of—until four to five months in, when I can no longer tolerate the sound of him swallowing or the heaviness of his step. Or I date perfectly nice boys for too long simply because there isn’t anything exactly wrong with them.

Also, I inevitably get ahead of myself. If a date goes well on Friday night, I’ll spend the weekend pondering how long the morning commute from his place might take, or contemplating where, say, my dresser will fit in his apartment. When a colleague told me about Volume Dating—a term her ex-husband coined to mean, essentially, cramming many dates into a short period of time to widen the suitor pool and relieve the pressure on the one big intrigue—it gave me pause. What if I could stop obsessing on one person—fueling ever more elaborate fantasies of who he might be— and instead take a hint from the men I date, who seem to have this “I contain multitudes” thing figured out?

Here was the plan: I’d go out with anyone I’d normally swipe (i.e., consider to have a modicum of potential) on dating apps like Hinge, Bumble, or Tinder. I’d inform friends, family, and colleagues that I was looking for quantity—and rely on them to vet the quality (hence Ben, the “ironic” Trump advocate). And I’d go out with any non-psychopath who asked in person. Below, the results of my six-week experiment.

Date 1: Eric

An Ivy Leaguer with a passing resemblance to Sean Avery, Eric arrives 25 minutes late with a gym bag and a hard-to- follow story about a broken watch. He quickly surpasses my one glass of pinot grigio, then asks if I have ADD (I don’t), an accent (nope), and what I scored 12 years ago on my SAT II Writing test—being “naturally smart,” he reports, he got an 800. He then regales me with stories of high school successes (including, but not limited to, episodes of cruelly creative bullying) and his college frat (the “cool one,” naturally). The next day, he texts: Having checked out some of my work online, he’d guess I “at least broke 700 on the SAT Writing section.” Since he did not, however, ask a question that actually necessitates a reply, I do not send one. Two weeks later, I receive a crying-face emoji from him at 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday.

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Date 2: David

Sunday afternoon coffee. Two lattes later: serious caffeine buzz, zero connection.

Date 3: Ben #2

Nice face, easy smile, supercute floppy bangs— I’d have been in love with this guy in high school. When I arrive at the restaurant he chose, he’s sitting at a table, sipping a tropical-looking margarita. Within five minutes, he offhandedly finishes a story about a football game with “and, as I’m sure you already know, I have a son.” I’m sure I didn’t. He and his ex-wife share custody of their two-year- old. (A word about online dating etiquette: This is what the “About Me” section is for, people! Photo captions of youngsters are typically identified with “Kid is mine,” “Kid’s not mine!,” or “Nephew!” Ben’s “About Me” is devoted to his love of beer and a hashtag comparing himself to a secret agent.) I tell him I’m not so sure where I stand on having kids or dating someone with them. He nods and tells me more stories about his.

The next day, he texts an invitation to dinner. En route to an out-of- town wedding, I space and forget to send a polite “Thank you, but no thank you.” Oops! Monday morning at 8:45, I get a text: “No response from Cotton. I can’t stand women.” Wait—what? I fire off a good-bye and good luck. Immediate response: He’s mortified. That text was meant for a friend. A friend who knew my name, after one date.

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Date 4: George

At a biergarten hosting a puppy-adoption event, I spend two hours whispering sweet nothings into soft ears and barely exchange three sentences with my human date. Date 5: Ben #3. Turns out he actually lives in Michigan, but he’d really like to move to New York someday. Date 6: Vinay. Tells me his life story at a wine bar, which is charming. Less so, the vaguely threatening texts he follows up with telling me he revealed too much and I’d better keep it to myself (who knew decades-old underage- drinking escapades required Godfather-level secrecy?).

Date 7: Ben #4

In an effort to break up the monotony of the bar-bound “get to know you”—already I’m exhausted by the effort of talking about myself—I suggest we meet at the new Whitney Museum of American Art. Outside the museum, he points at what he says is the last working meatpacking plant in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. I half-roll my eyes: This fastidious dresser with his high-maintenance haircut is mansplaining the city to me. But it turns out he applied for a job there when he first moved from Milwaukee, where he had a high school job in a sausage factory. (He patiently shoots down my inevitable crack: “I don’t know, I handled the boxes.”) I realize I started out with a lot of assumptions about this guy. Now that I’m really listening, I learn that he’s a bit of a hustler, in the best way; that he likes to make things; that, like me, he loves magazines and journalism. Downstairs at the bar, we order Manhattans and suddenly it’s midnight. At the subway, he suggests we get together again, and I get surprisingly giggly.

Date 8: Stephen

The rooftop bar with plastic cups and pounding pop music where I meet Stephen—who carries a copy of Pride and Prejudice to identify himself—has by far the best, and most unexpected, view of the skyline I’ve seen. Potential! Date 9: Brian. At a Lower East Side bar, he lists at great length the vacations he’s planned for the next two years before asking what I’d like to drink. Date 10: Kyle. I realize I’ve forgotten my wallet and act so strangely as a result (“Water for me, thank you. Are you sure you want to order that appetizer?”), the evening is over almost as soon as it begins. Unable to pay for a cab or the subway, I walk nearly two miles home.

Date 11: Ben #4

Setting up my second date with Ben #4 takes a while, partially because, as planned, I’m distracted by other dates. We agree on a workday lunch in Central Park, but what sounded cinematic ends up feeling rushed. Later that week, I get a call from a strange number, and a man introduces himself as Ben. I’m currently in contact with four different Bens. Floundering, I throw out a drink invitation. Sure, he says, when he gets back from his trip home to Wisconsin. Ah, that Ben!

Date 12: Stephen (of the rooftop).

We go to a play that he (and the New York Times theater critic) loves, but which rattles me so completely that all I can do is talk about how uncomfortable it made me. After one drink, Stephen politely puts me in a taxi.

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Date 13: Connor.

At brunch he’s so hungover I’m sure that if I lit a match near his mouth, the whole restaurant would go up in flames.

Date 14: Will

The handsome, grumpy-faced man I met at a wedding tracks me down via LinkedIn, of all things, then sends a flurry of exceptional e-mails. We spend an afternoon having the kind of all- encompassing conversation Richard Linklater makes trilogies about. The next day, an e-mail: Would I like to take a trip, and where in the world would we go? London? Farther? Closer? Name it. Swoon. The same afternoon our mutual friend, the bride, returns from her honeymoon and asks if I’ve met Will’s wife.

Another e-mail, this time containing only Richard Brautigan’s “I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone,” in which he compares the object of the essay to a rural community getting electricity for the first time (“You don’t look like any girl I’ve ever seen before”). Nice try. But in my book, being technically married is kind of like being “a little bit pregnant.” Not for me.

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Date 15: Luke

We met at a friend’s charity event, where I expressed interest in the Brazilian surf camp for girls that he runs (at this point, I’d give anything to be surrounded only by women). Over dinner at Soho House, he orders three salads for the table, and I eat two of them. That’s about the most exciting thing that happens.

Date 16: Ian

I keep running into the very cute Australian boy who just moved into my building, but at inopportune times. We leave notes on each other’s doors, his in rhyming verse. An evening drink at my place moves to our local, where everything he says is improved upon about 75 percent by his accent alone. I catch him staring at me in a guileless way that is both flattering and embarrassing. When a pretty blonde he knows walks into the bar wearing a black dress accented with leather and cutouts, he spends 10 minutes assuring me that he does not find that kind of thing appealing (I’m wearing oversize flannel and moccasins). It’s an adorable, unnecessary lie.

Date 17: Ben #4

Midway through our third date, Ben corners me: A magazine friend told him I’m working on a dating story. The version he heard casts me as a sort of modern siren, lining up men to knock ’em down—but he’s got the gist right. My chest starts to buzz. In truth, dating multiple people—and writing about it for my job—does feel vaguely deceitful, even though I’m not going out with anyone I wouldn’t normally go out with, nor am I lying about it. I tell Ben the truth: He’s the only one I’m “dating.” Then I guiltily pay for drinks while he’s in the bathroom.

Dates 18, 20, And 20.5: More Ben #4

First, an invite to his housewarming party, where his friends are chatty and welcoming, and he has this great habit of swinging by periodically to say hello, then leaving me to my own devices. Not to mention the surprisingly winning manner of walking me out to my Uber and then…putting me in it and closing the door. (Dates: 4. Romantic overtures: 0.) A friend tells me later that after I left, he grilled her about my “intentions.” Men, I am learning, are far more sensitive, and paranoid, than I give them credit for.

Five days later, ice skating. We prattle on, doing almost Victorian laps around the rink, one on one, until I get very cute with a spin that pulls out my shoulder for a week. Recovering over scuzzy sports bar beers, I find myself oblivious to the passage of time, engaged, and completely unselfconscious about how I look.

Then he asks me to dinner and cards with friends, but aborts the plan the day of: He’s off to Vegas, will get in touch when he’s back. No rain check. Things feel…tepid. So that night I line up date 21 with an ex-coworker’s brother, an environmental lobbyist in town for the weekend.

Date 19: Chris

He is clearly looking to be in a serious relationship, ASAP, but by end of the date I guarantee he cannot tell you what I do for a living or even pronounce my last name, because he butchers both. We part ways amicably, I think. Later, I hear he’s telling people we are seeing each other pretty seriously.

Date 21: Joe

Tall, lanky, outdoorsy, delightfully geeky Joe. I arrive straight from my all-day ice-skating date with Ben, so exhausted I have to call it quits after a (lovely) drink. He promises to get in touch so we can go on the day trip we talked about over drinks, and so that I can meet his dog. I only realize that I haven’t heard from him when I finally do, a month later.

Date 22: JT

A videographer, he insists on ordering drinks for both of us, then quaffs my wine and uses every available excuse to grapple for my hands. I politely but firmly shake him off. The next day I get a very kind, surprisingly mature text: While I am “super cute and super smart, I don’t think we are a match.” After my gut reaction—What!?—I’m impressed. Classy move, JT. Even if you were totally trying to sleep with me last night.

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Date 23: John

Date 23 feels like 203. I’m getting over a cold and feeling a bit witless when I agree to attend a dinner party as the date of John, an old flame to whom, thankfully, I don’t have to explain why I went to university in Colorado, among other mundanities—we’ve covered all that. At dinner, I’m seated next to handsome, flirtatious Sam, who keeps me in stitches all night. As dessert arrives, I realize I’m not queuing up my next anecdote or checking my watch or worrying about whether I’m being fair to him. I’m not making the best of a date I feel like I have to be on. Rather, I’m relaxed, interacting with someone I’m attracted to and interested in. Someone who is not, it must be noted, a viable option: He doesn’t live in NYC, and, more to the point, he has a girlfriend. But seeing Sam makes me suspect I have been going about this all wrong, and there’s a way to fix it. There is a guy, a casual friend, Jay, whom I’ve had a latent crush on, but who has seemed disinterested—and I’m headed to a party of his the next night.

Here’s what happens: At his party, Jay hangs with me all night. He knows all about Volume Dating—in an earlier fit of self-sabotage, I’d asked him to set me up with one of his friends. Tonight he claims to have found one for me. If I want something to happen, I’m going to have to make a move, fast.

Date 24: Jamie

He is the cousin of a friend who is handsome and fun and a wonderful conversationalist. Jamie is none of these.

Date 25: Jay

Dirty secret: I have never asked anyone out on a date before. I lure Jay, who is a contractor, over with a plea to help me fix a broken lamp—painfully obvious, right? But two hours and several instructional YouTube videos later, I am left alone in the glow of soft lamplight, decidedly unsmooched. When I recount the episode to friends, they turn the tables on me: I’m supposed to be grabbing what I want, saying yes to the universe or whatever, right? Fine. It takes all of my nerve and several drafts to text “Hi! Want to get a drink with me on Saturday?” An hour later: “Yes, I do. Will there be a vintage restoration/self-reliance element?” I text my friends “he said yes” and receive two stock photos of couples proposing against sunsets under “She said yes” banners.

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Actual Date 25: Jay

I put on a full face of makeup, panic, remove all makeup, reapply, remove again. I arrive 30 minutes late—at the place of my choice, a Williamsburg bourbon bar with an extensive grilled-cheese menu— and dive headfirst into nervous gibberish. But it gets better. Until three hours in, when Jay goes to the bathroom and my myopic bubble of first- date glow is abruptly punctured. Is that…Ben #4, at the bar five feet away? When Jay returns, my weak poker face prompts a confession. “I went on a few dates with that guy and…” Jay’s eyes light up. “That’s the guy you’ve been going out with?” He’s in it now. “Look, if you want, I’ll say I’m your friend from high school and we’re catching up.” My stomach sinks. So now he’s my wingman? I go for broke: “You know this a date, right?” He nods. “Yes. I’m really glad you asked me out.” We end up closing the bar. He asks if he can see me again. It’s around this point that my No Kiss record is broken.

Date 26: Ben #4

Don’t ever let anyone tell you men aren’t simple. Guess who e-mails me Sunday morning: “Of all the gin joints in all the world, eh?”

There isn’t enough space to devote to all these men. They were charming and sweet and insensitive and handsome and dull and deceptive and, sometimes, utterly boring. Volume Dating taught me how to not waste my own time—I finally learned to exit a date I’d ordinarily suffer all the way through. It taught me how to tell someone (kindly) that I’m not interested. How to completely ignore a jerk. And how, if you’re looking for something, sometimes you have to ask for it. Yet more-is-more dating did not entirely cancel out the disappointment that comes when something doesn’t work out. Nor does it work to simply pick the best of a bunch and push that one into becoming something real. It was when I screwed up enough courage to do something that was new to me—asking a guy out—that things started to get really interesting. I haven’t stopped volume dating entirely, either. After all, who knows what will happen with Jay? But so far, it’s been anything but boring.

*Names and some identifying details have been changed.