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Posts Tagged ‘dating’

Dating is not Simple

I still talk about dating a fair amount with my friends. We compare notes. We make lists. And whatever our discussion–comparing paid dating sites to free dating sites, considering the virtues and difficulties of meeting people in person instead, considering what traits in a partner are essential and which simply icing, contemplating profile photos–we always tend to hit on one consistent idea: that dating can be really freaking difficult.

There’s this sense of indignation about the whole thing, this semi-random process that is supposed to help you discover this compatible someone. It seems so inefficient! It seems so random! It’s painful to be rejected and it’s painful to be doing the rejecting.

But then I think about what many of us want dating to achieve–to find a life partner–and I’m not surprised it feels complicated and difficult. I am almost more surprised it works at all. It feels like a tall order.

Ferrett wrote a great post about dating last month–The Abandonment Rate, Or: Date More, God, Date More–in which he said:

It took me fifteen years of constant dating before I found the love of my life, and I consider that to be a pretty lucky catch. You? You’re trying for life-changing things. That’s good. Life-changing things involve a lot of perseverance. So keep at it.”

Fifteen years? That’s a fair amount of effort.

My friend has this theory that it is important to know the three things you most want in a partner. It can only be three, and it includes everything from personality traits to likes and dislikes to basic life information. Only three! I was skeptical, but it didn’t matter because I still had to figure out my three. I spent a lot of time coming up with and rejecting and ending up with more than three.

And now, I can’t even remember what I finally settled on. I’m fairly confident one of the three was kindness, but the other two…um….maybe intelligence? I don’t know. The whole exercise felt like boiling something complex down into something so simple it no longer held any meaning.

So then I wrote a list of what I was looking for in a partner, and I let myself write down as many items as I wanted. I put a lot of stuff I thought was important, but I also let myself put down things that seemed silly or trivial or like low-hanging fruit but I still wanted: things like “knows how to dress self for different occasions” (I live in Silicon Valley so this is an actual perk), “has an overlap with my musical taste,” and “not intimidated by Shakespeare.” (Yes, I really put those on my list.)  

I put 59 items on my list. Yes, fifty-nine. A far cry from three. But reading my list now, I keep nodding and saying, “Um, yeah, of course I want that. And that. And that.” It’s not that I felt I needed all 59 things to be perfectly true, and a bunch of them are low bars, but even so. I did want a majority of them.

59. Not really all that simple.

Strangely, I found making that list to be liberating. Because then dating did not have to be simple. It validated my actual experience, which was that finding someone compatible to date wasn’t that straightforward, that there was no algorithm that took all the guesswork out of the equation, that the only real way forward was to meet a bunch of people, and most of them wouldn’t be right, and that would be tiring, and all of this was perfectly normal.

I’m not saying there aren’t things you can do to simplify and streamline the process, or to improve your chances of success. But online dating sites sometimes make it seem like dating is straightforward shopping; you flip through a seemingly infinite catalog of biographies and jokes and photos, you are presented with an array of options, there are percentages and matching protocols that are supposed to help you narrow things down. All very clean until you hit the next part of the process: actually communicating with another human being, a person who can’t be completely boiled down in a few paragraphs and photos and multiple choice questions.

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Looking for a life partner is anything but simple. You’re going to spend A LOT of time with this person. You’re going to make major life decisions with them. You’re going to be influenced by them. You’re going to get to know them very well, and they’re going to know you very well. Your life is going to be changed by being with them. And the process of dating is going to reflect the importance of this decision.

No list, whether of three or of fifty-nine, is ever going to be able to accurately reflect the reality of that decision. Instead we have to get our hands messy and do the work of getting to know other people, and maybe even more importantly, getting to know ourselves.

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A year ago I imagined a better life for myself.

I didn’t really believe it could happen, but I did believe it was what I wanted. So it was worth going all out for, even though I thought my efforts might very well end in failure.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as intensely social as I have been during the last year. I’ve been to so many parties and so many events, so many dances and movies and shows and luncheons and bruncheons and dinners and coffees and teas and outings. I’ve had the same small talk conversations maybe hundreds of times, and I’ve gone deeper whenever I saw the chance. I’ve spent time with hundreds of people, many of whom I’d never previously met.

I thought, I will find my people. I will find my balance. I will figure out what gives me joy and what does not. I thought, I will practice setting boundaries until it gets a little bit easier. I will practice saying no until that gets a little bit easier.

I thought, I will find the people who believe me and are patient with me and love me as I am. I will find the people who see me. I will find the people who make me feel safe, and I will love them with everything I have.

I thought, I know these people exist because I’ve already met a bunch of them. And I want to spend more time with the ones I’ve already met. And I want to meet more of them. And so that is what I’ll do, even though I kind of hate humanity right now and all I really want to do is wrap myself in a blanket and watch Pride and Prejudice over and over again. (The A&E miniseries version, if you really need to ask.) And maybe also Star Trek: The Next Generation because I’d just started watching that and it seemed like a good idea.

I thought, do the things you know you should do and be as hopeful as you can, and then if it all ends in misery, you will totally have an excuse to do something drastic like become a hermit or move to a foreign country or write angsty beat poetry.

And now a year has gone by, and it turns out it did NOT all end in misery. It turns out all those things I knew I should do were actually great ideas. It turns out all that social time resulted in me starting and/or continuing some fabulous friendships and feeling connected and getting a lot of practice and becoming more and more clear on what is important to me.

And now I am very happy with my friends and my communities and my boyfriend.

And I am also really freaking tired.

Nala is also tired.

Nala is also tired.

I get invited to large events where I’ll know hardly anyone, and I think, do I really have to go? And then I think, hahahaha, no, I do not! And that is very exciting for me. I look at the week ahead, and I know I should schedule-fu things up. And then I think, hahahaha, no, I can take things easy this week. And, you know, maybe wait for people to invite me. And in the meantime do an Orphan Black rewatch, because when is that not a good idea?

My sprained toe has forced me to take a slower pace, but once I realized that didn’t mean I’d be sitting around in enforced isolation for two months, it’s actually been kind of nice. Well, minus the pain and frustration and cabin fever, anyway. The slower pace has been nice. The reduced volume of small talk has been nice. The permission to focus more on self-care has been nice.

I’m so glad I made all the efforts I made, and they have paid off in spades. Enough so that now I can give myself a little break.

And soon I’ll be going on vacation, and it feels like the perfect time. But, more about that next week!

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The timing was like something out of a novel.

I had reached the end of my patience with dating. I’d had a few fizzles, and I wasn’t even upset anymore as much as I was simply DONE. I looked at my life, and everything else was going really well. It was only dating that was making me unhappy, and I felt less and less incentive to take the time and energy out of all the parts of my life I did like for something that was feeling like a waste of my time.

I wrote “On Dating Fatigue.” On Facebook, one of my college friends suggested I take a break from dating. I replied, and this is a direct quote, “I’m not taking a break per say, but I have taken a step back and am not actively looking.”

Little did I know I’d start dating the man who is now my boyfriend nine days later.

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To be honest, I didn’t really know what I meant by taking a step back, but I was forced to figure that out a few days later when someone asked me on a date. And I decided it didn’t mean I couldn’t say yes to a date I really wanted to accept, but it did mean I wasn’t going to be making effort to make those invitations happen.

The same day I made this determination, I went to game night. Attending for the first time was Future Boyfriend, who I had met a couple of times prior, always at big parties. But this time, we sat next to each other while we played Resistance, and he tried to convince everyone I was a spy instead of him, and I tried not to flirt with him. As the night wore on, this proved to be more and more difficult, but I was determined! I wasn’t going to make any effort! No flirting allowed!

By the end of the night, despite my best effort to make no effort, my best friend had invited Future Boyfriend to do a puzzle room with us, and I had somehow, with the least effort I’ve ever had to make to do such a thing, arranged for a bunch of us, including Future Boyfriend, to play BSG later in the month. In some circles, this might have been considered a failure of not making effort, but I was secretly pleased.

And also determined to make no further effort.

*

Two days later, Future Boyfriend asked me on a date. A less discerning individual could not have been faulted for thinking it was a Maybe Date, but I knew. It was a date.

I spent the requisite amount of time agonizing over what to wear: something as flattering as possible but also casual because of the whole Maybe Date thing, preferably something that didn’t look like I’d thought about it much at all, and could I get away with a skirt? Because sometimes guys try to take advantage of skirt-wearing on early dates, so it’s always a risk.

I wore the skirt. He was a gentleman. We made it to date two.

After date two, there was another game night. And a puzzle room. And a party. And a sprained toe. And BSG. And rushing Nala to the emergency vet together late at night. And more dates. And some frank conversations.

And eventually, he became my boyfriend, full stop.

*

One might extrapolate from this story that not making effort was a winning strategy.

But one would be wrong about that.

PLOT TWIST

A few months before the above events, I ran into Future Boyfriend at a party. We barely talked, but he sent me a friend request on Facebook, so I invited him to my birthday party. (effort)

Then, in a somewhat uncharacteristic move on my part, I invited him to go to a wedding with me. (effort) But he was busy and couldn’t go.

At my birthday party, I felt like I had no time to talk to anyone. But when I found out he was leaving, I carved out the time to have a short conversation with him. (effort) During the conversation, he mentioned in a few weeks he was going to start coming to game night.

I went to game night. I probably would have gone anyway. But due to my freakish memory, I knew he would be there. (effort?)

Would I have invited him to my birthday and the wedding if he hadn’t sent me a Facebook request? No.

Would I have been there at that game night if I hadn’t known he was going to be there? Maybe…?

Would he have come to my party and game night and asked me on a date if I hadn’t asked him to that wedding? Maybe. Maybe not.

I guess we’ll never know.

*

No, refusing to make effort isn’t some magical answer. Instead, here’s what I take from this: you never know. You never know when and how past efforts may pay off.

So much of being social is about planting seeds. You put the seed in the ground, and if you can, you give it a little sun, a little water, and you wait and see. Sometimes nothing comes of it. Sometimes some shoots begin to emerge from the soil. Sometimes it’s a different kind of plant than you thought it would be. Sometimes it takes more time, and sometimes it takes less.   

And sometimes you get really, really lucky, and the timing is impeccable, and you begin to date someone right when you’ve finally stripped off enough layers to be truly genuine. And they show up, and they match you. And suddenly commitment doesn’t feel like this big, scary, pressured thing.

Instead it feels natural, like something you actually want. And you are even happier than you were before.

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When I was getting divorced, I read a piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since.

“A ten never marries a one.” Apparently a divorce lawyer delivered this line to Penelope Trunk, and then she blogged about it, and then years later I stumbled across it, and now it is burned into my brain.

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A ten never marries a one. Let’s break this statement down, shall we? I don’t know what the divorce lawyer meant by it, but to me, this statement has nothing to do with actual numbers or a ranking system (ugh). It has nothing to do with particular traits or talents or some idea that people marry others who are exactly the same as they are.

No, to me, it simply means this: a relationship is made up of two people, and both people contribute to it. So when we look at a dysfunctional relationship, both people are contributing to the dysfunction. This does not excuse certain behaviors. It is not a value judgment, and it is not a statement of blame (although it can feel like one). It is simply a recognition that a dynamic takes two people to exist.

It is a harsh truth, and I took it to heart. In fact, I recall repeating it at inopportune moments to friends trying to console me. (Sorry, friends.) But while it might be painful, it is also a truth that restores agency. In being willing to take some responsibility, we can explore how we might act differently in the future.

And that is what I did. I asked myself some tough questions. I looked deep inside myself, and I tried not to flinch. In particular, I looked for my behaviors that were preventing me from getting what I wanted, and I looked for the cracks and old wounds that contributed to those behaviors. And then I began the slow process of trying to change.

This is incredibly tricky to do. Partly, this is because humans love our patterns, and we fall very easily into dynamics that feel comfortable. Mind you, they may not make us happy or help us fulfill our long-term goals. There is comfort in familiarity, even if it is a miserable comfort. As a result, we tend to repeat ourselves again and again.

And even if we’re watching for our patterns, they are not always obvious. Sometimes things can look very different on the surface, only to end up rubbing against the same old wound underneath.

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So, this is a hard thing I’ve been working on. Totally possible, but also challenging. And I’ve learned a couple of things about myself during the process:

I learned it’s important that I know what I need. This means I had to figure out what it is I actually need versus what I thought I might need but it turned out wasn’t all that important. And I had to learn to accept what I need instead of feeling like I should be constantly apologizing for it.

I learned it’s important to be picky. I set out with the goal of being as picky as possible because I knew in the past I hadn’t been picky enough. My hope was by deliberately trying to be picky, I’d balance things out and come closer to the center on this spectrum. And also, you know, that maybe this would give me the necessary time and space to find someone who would actually meet a bunch of my needs.

I learned it’s important to be willing to walk away. I will probably always hate walking away. I will probably always hate even the idea of walking away. But what matters is not how I feel about it, but that I know I can and will do it if and when it becomes necessary.  

I learned it’s important to be happy on my own. And it’s important to believe I am a ten for myself, even if I have a lot of doubts about that. In other words, it’s important to believe you are worth it.

*

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So what has come of all this work, you might be asking. Last you heard from me, back a couple of months ago, I was talking about dating fatigue. I was, truth be told, feeling like dating was kind of a waste of my time.

Well, life, it has been changing once more. And on Thursday, I’ll tell you the story of how I met my current boyfriend.

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Dating as a feminist has been … eye-opening.

When I began dating, I didn’t really think about this being a sticking point. I didn’t see myself as being particularly noteworthy in my opinions about sexism. I was happy to pay for myself or be treated (as long as I could tell what was happening). I didn’t mind having doors held open for me (especially with a sprain, this is actually super helpful). I didn’t even mind having car doors opened for me, even if it does feel a little bit silly. After all, we all still know I am capable of opening the car door myself, right? Right?

But I was wrong. Dating as a feminist has been different. And I have stopped dating more than one person at least partially because of their beliefs, attitudes, and statements about gender.

Photo Credit: armigeress via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: armigeress via Compfight cc

 

The first time I stopped dating someone because of this, I cried while delivering the news. I cried partly because I was having trouble believing it was actually happening, that this was a reason that had actually come up in my life. But I felt very strongly that it would be hypocritical of me to date this person, given my own feminist beliefs. I was also concerned it would affect my attitudes about my writing career, that I would internalize these sexists ideas I was hearing and they would make me less ambitious, less capable, and less confident.

I learned to never explicitly state that sexist attitudes were a reason for discontinuing dating. (Yeah, I had to learn this through experience. Oops. Trust me, this mistake wasn’t pretty.)

And I learned that a certain degree of sexism is a deal breaker for me.

Really, dealing with sexism is hard enough as it is. It is so easy to internalize all the messages we are receiving from media, from society, from our peers. And the little things do matter.

For example, I heard a sexist remark over the weekend, and I knew at the time it was sexist. And even still, I found myself revisiting it the next day and feeling anxiety as to how I personally fit into the scheme of the joke. At which point I had to remind myself it was sexist and that if anybody was thinking about me in that way, it was somebody about whose opinion I wouldn’t care anyway.

So much effort, because of one stupid off-hand “joke.” Meanwhile, none of the guys who heard this joke had to think about it the next day and talk themselves out of worrying that it applied to them. And this was actually a better outcome than it would have been if I hadn’t noticed and if I’d unconsciously incorporated it into my opinion of myself. This kind of cognitive load is largely invisible, but it can add up to become quite significant.

Now, imagine you’re dating someone who has a lot of unexamined sexist beliefs and who makes a lot of these kinds of jokes and generalizations and is unable to check routine mansplaining (I know a lot of you hate this word, but I don’t have another one that means what I want to say, so we’ll go with it for now). How much cognitive load would it take to avoid internalizing these self-limiting beliefs? And how many would slip through without notice?

Sometimes people laugh at my post about how I think shared interests don’t matter that much in dating. And it’s true I was supporting a rather extreme point of view. Of course it’s nice to share interests with your partner. Of course it’s nice to have fun stuff to do together.

But the longer I’ve been dating, the more convinced I’ve become about what matters more to me. Kindness, honest and clear communication, respect and compassion for each other as we are, not as we wish we were. And how can someone who sees me as a mystery or thinks women are “crazy” or doesn’t trust my basic competence truly respect me? How can they see who I am?

And why would I want to spend a lot of time with someone who listens to and shares ideas that tear me down, that make who I’m allowed to be smaller and more limited, and thinks they’re an amusing joke?

Once you discover respect for yourself, you begin to demand respect from the people around you. This is an important part of dating. And it is also part of what being a feminist means to me.

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I care very deeply about documenting the process of change.

Whenever I think about change, I think about the montage scene. Actually, I think of one specific montage scene: the one in Dirty Dancing when Jennifer Grey learns, through much trial and error, how to ballroom dance well enough to fill in for a professional. That is my quintessential montage scene.

But as useful as the montage scene is, it fails on some fundamental level to reflect the reality of change: that it is slow, and it is hard, and it is filled with doubt and confusion and setbacks, and it hurts. If you’re learning how to dance, it really hurts. Your thighs hurt, and your calves hurt, and your low back hurts because your posture kind of sucks, and your weak ankle aches, and the morning after your first time dancing, you can barely crawl out of bed, it hurts so bad.

The montage scene doesn’t really show the pain, and it doesn’t really show the duration, either. Change takes so much time. Even once you get it, or at least think you do, you often have to realize it all over again a month later, or six months later, or two years later. And each time, there’s this “Aha” moment, and each time it feels important, and each time you move forward, and each time there is still further forward that you could go.

Which is to say, I feel incredibly proud of the personal change I’ve been able to accomplish, symbolized by the tweet Ferrett made back in February. I am proud of it the way I’m proud I started a business. I’m proud of it the way I imagine I’ll be proud when my first novel hits the shelves someday. It is a major accomplishment for me.

And yet. There is still further forward for me to go. I am not magically finished, not suddenly foolproof at the art of not giving a fuck. No, what has happened is that I’ve made visible progress, and that is awesome. Meanwhile the work continues.

Last week I talked about feeling tired in dating. And a lot of that fatigue is tied up, for me, in the act of presentation. Which is all tied in to me still being invested in things of which I’d rather let go. I’ve got this act down. I am tactful, I am diplomatic, I can listen to a subject for half an hour without expressing an actual opinion. If I sense any discomfort in the other person, I act instantly to defuse it. I smooth, I smile, I charm, and I would certainly never admit to what I’m saying in this paragraph right now. Except maybe as a little joke that would probably fly under the radar.

Here’s the thing, you guys. I have taught myself over this last three years to rein this set of skills back when I’m with my trusted friends. I am so much more likely now to tell my friends how I really feel, what I really think. But when I am nervous or uncomfortable or, I don’t know, dating, it is so easy to turn it all back on without even thinking about it.

It feels easier. It isn’t though. Over time, it becomes exhausting. It feels heavy. It keeps me awake at night.

It doesn’t work.

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And it’s not even real. That’s not how I feel anymore. I don’t want a relationship that begins in such a lopsided way. I don’t feel like I need to apologize for who I am or what I like or what has happened in the past. I don’t even feel bad about the boundaries I’ve needed to set. If people don’t want to like me for those things, that’s their prerogative. I don’t need to convince them otherwise. I just want to be me.

And I can. How beautiful is that?

So I was on the phone with this guy who was asking me on a date. And we were chatting because we hardly know each other. And I chose not to flip that stupid switch. And at one point he said, “It’s funny that I called to ask you on a date and now here we are chatting about our divorces.”

And I said, “Well, you know, I’m trying something new. I’ve decided to do my best to be straightforward and open about things. How do you think it’s going so far?”

It was a good conversation. And you know what? I wasn’t exhausted at the end.

This here is another piece of change, clicking into place.

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Sometimes dating can be an exhausting endeavor.

Photo Credit: Introppia via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Introppia via Compfight cc

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I joined Coffee and Bagel for two reasons: you (theoretically) only get one match a day, solving the “Who the hell has time to online date?” question; and I thought I could probably blog about it later.

I embarked on a text conversation with a guy, and I thought, “Oh look, we’re already having a back-and-forth conversation. This is good!” But then he told me how video games are the future and did I ever think about writing for games, with the heavy implication that novels were…I’m not sure what exactly, but definitely not all that. And then I was done.

The highlight of my first month on Coffee and Bagel was a week-long stint of texting a guy who was sick (so we couldn’t meet in person), culminating in a random text he sent after midnight, apropos of absolutely nothing, that simply stated, “anger.”

Oh, dating. You can’t make this stuff up. And I’m sure it will shock no one to learn that we never did meet.

*

I hesitated to write this blog post. We are all so fond of being presented with the positive spin, and talking about how tiring dating can be dodges this requirement.

Buck up, I am told, there are many fishes in that metaphorical sea. I have met a lot of those fishes. I know there are a lot of them because occasionally they swarm, and you have to graciously say no to one or more people while never letting on that you have recently been in tears over another.

It’s all part of the game, right? At least until you put your foot down and refuse to play by other people’s rules.

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It’s interesting to date as a recovering people pleaser. I still overwork. I still forget sometimes that my needs are important. I still tend to be a bit too nice, a bit too ready to extend the benefit of the doubt.

But I reach the point of recognition much more quickly. The “oh wait, this is complete bullshit” moment. The “huh, no matter how I spin this, there is something uncool going on right now” moment.

And my friends keep me honest. Once I have the moment, I make myself tell them about it. Not because I actually think I will waver, but just to be safe. And because they will usually be kinder to me than I would be to myself, and I think that helps to balance things.

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One of the problems of changing old patterns is that they feel familiar. They feel right. They are what you are used to. It is sometimes hard to even consider the possibility of them being different. Imagination can fail when what you’re attempting to picture is so foreign to your model of how the world works.

One of the amazing things about having a support system is that I have surrounded myself by people who treat me well. For quite some time I was nonplussed by this notion. It seemed weird. Uncomfortable. Stressful, even, like I’d have to figure out ways to live up to it. Or like it might be taken away again at a moment’s notice.

And then I began to settle in. I began to become used to being treated well. I began to think I deserved it. I began to be able to be more authentically me, to allow myself to express more affection and more emotion in general.

I even began to demand it.

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When I experience an “oh, this is bullshit” moment in dating, it can be more exhausting than it might be for a person not trying to change old patterns. My body kicks into fight or flight mode. It sometimes feels like my survival is at stake. I have to remind myself that things are different now because suddenly they don’t feel so very different.

This is why I prefer not to be alone at such times. Having a friend there, whether in person or on the phone, is a tangible reminder that yes, things really are different. That yes, the support system really exists and there are people out there who care about me and will treat me well. I hate needing this reassurance. I hate the vulnerability of it. And I am so grateful to receive it.

*

Here, then, is a dilemma with dating. It takes time and effort. It can definitely be absurd enough to make me laugh. Sometimes it also makes me very tired. And in the meantime, I am surrounded by people who love me. I threw myself into making my life as awesome as possible, and it worked better than I thought it would.

What this means is that a lot of dating simply doesn’t measure up to what I already have. Believe it or not, this is actually a good thing. Because what I want is the dating that does measure up.

Let’s hope I know it when I see it.

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