The phone never rang.
On the day I turned 31, the absence of his call reverberated so loudly in my spirit, and I knew it was time to let go. It wasn’t even because he had forgotten such a special day —per se. But the collective sum of his infractions had ushered me to a place where his presence was no longer wanted.
That day I decided to turn a new tide, start a new chapter, and create a love life that mirrored the one I knew I deserved. To get there, I acknowledged that I would need to take a break from dating, quietly reflect on how I got to that point, and figure out a way to never return there again.
At 31, I officially began a year of just dating “me.”
KeLiPhotography for Coffee Meets Bagel
In those 365 days, I did my fair share of purging: negative thoughts, negative people, and counterproductive actions that had previously left me stuck in situationships I had no business being in. I also laughed a lot. Cried a ton. Prayed for the things I wanted, and resolved to be the woman I would date if I weren’t… well…me.
I appreciated the time I gave myself to decompress. But I also knew going in that when the year was up, I would jump confidently back into the dating game. What I didn’t know, however, is that my return to the playing field would involve a campsite, off the beaten path, in the backwoods of Pennsylvania.
Yup. My re-entry into dating was a weekend sleepaway camp for singles, put on by dating app Coffee Meets Bagel. And much like a blind date, I went into it not really knowing what to expect.
When the press release popped up in my inbox I immediately thought how fun it could be to relive my sixth-grade camping trip with a group of people who, like me, were interested in meeting new prospects in an unconventional way. And much like my trip to the Galapagos (I don’t really like animals), my solo birthday trip to Vietnam (who decides to spend their birthday by themselves?), I made a decision to step outside of my comfort zone before I actually had time to process what that meant: bunk beds, no cell reception, zero WiFi, and nature — lots and lots of nature.
Thankfully I didn’t go it alone. I strategically went through a Rolodex of friends in my head (literally — not in the Wendy Williams kind of way) and quickly stopped on my line sister Sheena whose knack for adventure far outpaces mine. We headed up to the camp in Equinunk, PA on a Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon we were fully immersed in our Camp Meets Bagel experience.
First impressions: “Wait — we’re staying in bunks? With how many other people?” But the initial terror that consumed my body (I can be dramatic) was washed away when lunch brought campers together in the mess hall. I could tell it was a fun and diverse group of people. “Very colorful” as Kamau Akabueze, Head of Brand at Coffee Meets Bagel described it. Going in I just knew that the vast majority of those in attendance would be White, because you know… camp. But the organizers were looking out. Akabueze and Dawoon Kang, co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel, explained that they intentionally selected the people they did to ensure that campers reflected a dating pool similar to what they would find on the app.
In addition to curating an eclectic bunch of individuals, the matchmaking startup partnered with Camp No Counselors to organize an itinerary that fostered relationship building and just an overall good time. I tried my hand at archery, dressed up as Storm for the first night’s costume party, morally supported my line sister as she slid down a giant water slide, and we both lip-synched for our lives to “B*tch Better Have My Money.” Yup — it was as epic as you’re imagining.
Saturday evening, after a full afternoon of relay races, Sofar Sounds treated us to an intimate concert that made me feel like I had walked into a jazz club on the Lower East Side. There, we were introduced to three musical acts, including Rue Brown who performed a soulful set, helping to hone in on the date night vibes. That night campers (not me, because when I hit 28 my body started requiring naps for such things) partied into the early morning to cap off the weekend of mixing, mingling, and love connecting.
When it was over, I didn’t walk away with a love connection, a promise to meet for coffee, or even a phone number. But I did score some amazing new pics for my dating profile, met some really great people, developed a crush on the guy who organized the whole weekend. The truth is, I haven’t a clue if he’s actually single, but here’s to hoping he’s reading this.