When people ask why I’m online dating; what was the impetus, my answer is usually that, since I hadn’t done it much in my 20s, it seemed like the easiest way to get some experience under my belt. Dating was a facet of normal adult life that existed as little more than a hypothetical to me. I had no real idea how best to go about it, since, in the past, every time a potential new relationship ended, I retreated, not wanting to get hurt again. I didn’t know the answers to such questions as, “what do I want from a relationship; with what kinds of men am I compatible?” These were mysteries, and wanting to solve them was a big part of why I set up that online account in the first place. I’ve been doing this a little over six months now, and while my “experiment” has yet to yield much relational fruit, I keep reminding myself that I did this for practice’s sake, not to necessarily find the love of my life (though, how honest am I really being about that?).
So, after approximately 42 dates with 20 men, what have I learned, exactly?
Well, it’s OK to want things for starters; to want a relationship and to hold out for a guy I actually like. It’s OK to reject the idea that an unsatisfying relationship is better than nothing—reject that mindset like Satan! Sure I’ve met guys I’ve liked, but unfortunately they’ve all had other ideas. That’s a more advanced topic, I suppose—getting one you like to actually stick around (soon come, child; soon come)
I’ve learned that my instincts are intact. That doesn’t mean, “be afraid he’s going to shove you into the back a van and kidnap you.” What I mean is, when my instincts tell me he isn’t what I’m looking for, they’re generally right. It’s OK to cut my loses and move on. It’s OK to not engage in mental gymnastics just to convince myself that some guy’s “xyz” quality is so great, especially when I’m certain I’m not feeling it.
When I first started dating, and to some extent now, I felt like I needed to give every guy a chance and then another chance and then maybe even one more, even if I was sure there was no point. That’s not to say I expect them to look a certain way or make a certain amount of money or even that we need a certain amount of chemistry—far from it. Some of the best guys I’ve dated were ones where there wasn’t an immediate spark; that can take a while to develop.
However, I began to realize that I could trust my instincts in situations where I knew, deep down, that things weren’t going to work out. There’s no reason to keep giving second chances if I don’t want to. Looking back, I see that oftentimes, my gut told me right away—usually when I was back at home after a first date, putting my clothes away and getting ready for bed—whether or not we’d see each other again. I’ve hardly been wrong yet, and the times I went against that instinct, the results have been emotionally disastrous.
It’s OK to want and need certain things from the men I date. It’s OK to say no to a guy even if he likes me, especially if the list of things I object to are as long as my arm. I like it when a guy pursues, I feel more comfortable knowing where I stand and when I don’t have to play guessing games or interpret those dreaded mixed signals.
At first I thought it’d be nice to find someone like that, but now that I’ve dated a couple of them, I won’t deal with a man who can’t provide clarity. When it comes to Mr. Clear as Swampwater—as cute as I find him, how good a match, or how well we get along, it’s just not worth the struggle. I value my sanity too much to sink precious mental energy into worrying what he might be thinking about me.
This has been the hardest thing for me to fully grasp, but if the man isn’t calling/emailing/texting/setting up plans for the next date, in the words of Adele Dazeem, I need to let it go. I would have saved myself from three distinct instances of disappointment/heartache had I followed that edict, but each time, when a guy I liked was slow to pick up the ball, I’d try to do it, and it hasn’t worked out yet.
That’s good, right? Coming to that realization? Being to willing to let things go means that I’ve also learned to keep my expectations low, like bargain-basement low. Should it be this way? I dunno; I dunno much about 21st century dating rituals (as I’ve made clear), but I’ve found it’s easier to not hold onto these things until it’s made explicitly clear that the guy is A) interested and B) interested in more than getting in my pants. At this point, I don’t expect to hear from a guy again, even if we had what I thought was a great first, second, or even third date. I’ve gone out with guys where the chemistry is instant and intense; perhaps there’s some furtive making out, or bold declarations of interest on his part, that are only to be followed up by radio silence. In light of that maneuver (to be fair, I’ve done it, too), it’s definitely OK to remain skeptical, to keep my emotions in check. No more getting ahead of myself.
By and large, dating’s been, if not necessarily a barrel of monkeys, then definitely interesting. Perhaps it’s telling that I decided to give it a whirl right as I was getting into a book my nutritionist recommended about learning how to curb self-sabotaging behaviors—it’s funny when you see yourself repeating patterns.
What will the next 20 men bring to the table? Oh, dear God I hope there are not that many more; but probably more of the same, and hopefully a little something different, too.