Why Car Shopping and Dating Are the Same, Basically

My lease on my little Toyota was expiring in September so after a whole lot of procrastination, I decided to start searching for a new car. I’d never been to a car dealership alone before, as ridiculous as that might sound. I’d always had my dad with me, and I felt confident knowing that he was there to make sure no one was tricking me or trying to intimidate me. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but the idea of going alone seemed overwhelming.

I feel very confident in many areas of my life, but car shopping wasn’t one of them. I had no idea about MSRP (still don’t) and I was convinced that my blatant naïveté would end up getting me screwed over and suckered into a ridiculously expensive lease. Beyond those fears, I also worried that I would sign the paperwork, drive home, and then instantly see something I liked better. But isn’t that exactly how it is with dating too? There are so many options today that there’s always a small part of your brain that makes you want to keep swiping, just because maybe with all of these profiles floating around on Bumble and Tinder and all of the other apps, it really is possible to find perfection.

In both dating and car shopping, you have a vague idea about what you’re looking for as you begin the process. You can draw from past experience or think about what your friends have going on and then work from there. There are probably a few key traits that really matter to you. Things that you just won’t negotiate on. A sunroof or a backup camera, for example. Or if you’re dating maybe it’s education level or job or religion. Keeping these parameters and your own pre-determined notion of  “perfection” in mind, you start the search.

Now that I’m in my late twenties, I’ve been determined not to put myself through the run-around, both in dating and car shopping. There’s no point in wasting your time when it’s just so blatantly wrong. That meant no stops at Nissan even though the cars seemed decent enough, and I didn’t really want to head to Ford unless I had to. This has also meant I’ve finally realized that you shouldn’t have to chase anyone or question your own worth when you meet the right person.

The first car I tested out was a 2017 Toyota Camry. A step up from my Corolla and much nicer inside, but also pricier. I felt pretty good about it during the test drive, but I was still slightly hesitant. In many ways it was similar to what I already had, and the few extra bells and whistles were really driving the price up. The sales guy sensed my “meh” vibe, and brought me to look at the 2017 Corolla. If you know you like it, why mess with a good thing? I started to reason with myself. I could save myself a lot of aggravation and keep the car search to a one-day production. But I’d been dying for a bright red car and they didn’t have anything obnoxious enough for me.

As I stood there, sweltering in the lot of the car dealership (note: summer is NOT the ideal time to car shop in the South unless you’re super into back sweat) something just felt off. I knew I could be more excited than I was about the options in front of me. They were nice and I loved my experience with my Corolla, but it just didn’t feel like me anymore. As much as I wished I could wrap up the search then and there, it was time to move on. Dates have been like this too. They were perfectly nice guys. I had a good time out with them. But there just wasn’t that unexplainable something that made me excited about future possibilities. On to the next.

Car-wise that next was Honda. I rolled up feeling like a horrible traitor as I blatantly parked a Toyota in front of the dealership. But hey, if the Verizon guy can rep Sprint now, I can do a little switch too. As I walked in, the first car I spotted was so blindingly red I knew I had to have something in that shade. It was perfect. It reminded me of my first car, a bright red Jetta that I loved to pieces, even though it was a shitbox and I probably spent more time with it in the repair shop than I actually did driving it.

The sales rep showed me a few different cars, but when I saw the 2016 Honda Civic I was sold. I’m normally very hesitant about commitment in many areas of my life, so feeling so certain about the car was a big deal to me. As I tested it, I could picture myself in this car. I loved the new features. I loved the sleek look. The Corolla was great for 25-year-old Lauren, who still lived in Syracuse. The Civic was perfect for who I am now. In dating they tell you when you know you know right away, and while I still waver back and forth on whether this is true, when it comes to car buying I can confirm that this is fact. I did the necessary amount of negotiating (spoiler alert: enough to make me want to pull my hair out and/or leave) and it was a done deal.

Of course, like any good relationship, I’ve since realized that the Civic I was so set on actually isn’t perfect. I wish the seats were automatic. I wish it had blind spot monitoring. But damn I still love driving that car. Rather than obsess about the other options out there or whether you made the right choice, when you have an option you truly are happy with in front of you, focus on the positives and be willing to work through the negatives. No relationship, vehicular or human, is perfect. Everyone has flaws, and every car is missing features. Even my dream car, a Maserati, would probably be lacking in some way, and I’m sure Ryan Gosling never puts the toilet seat down or something. And whether you’re dating or car shopping or both, I admire you, because both require putting yourself out there and hoping for the best. You just trust that no one will take advantage of your vulnerability and use it against you, and you rely on your instincts to make the perfectly imperfect choice that works best for you. And when you do, it’s an awesome (and bright red) feeling.

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