“Will it be yes or will it be sorry?”
- I Don’t Want To Wait, Paula Cole, 1996
- I Don’t Want To Wait, Paula Cole, 1996
The first thing I feel when I hear the word “dating” shouldn’t be physical discomfort. My stomach shouldn’t get queasy, perhaps I shouldn’t shudder with quite so much fervour. I can barely stand to hear the word, and that’s because I’ve been conditioned by modern dating. Is it the “horror stories,” as we’ve so charmingly named them, both experienced and heard over shared appetizers? Or is it simply the blandness, the lack of excitement, the forgettable experiences, repeated over and over again, for over a decade. I’m wondering if dating has to feel this way forever, or if maybe there’s a way for me to enjoy it. I want to believe that there is, but I didn’t make this up. I learned that dating sucks, and more specifically, that dating sucks for me.
You know how I know not all dating sucks? The marrieds. Something worked there. Something was enjoyable there. I really doubt that all the couples currently filing taxes jointly went on a bunch of nightmarish dates and then decided “ah, fuck it—let’s get married” in order to end the strife. No, they had a good time. They liked dating each other. So why, pray tell, have I spent well over a decade going on dates so uncomfortable it’s as if the very barstool I’m perched on is made of spikes?
Throughout my life, I wasn’t a boyfriend girl. Never had ‘em. But I know other women did. Through my own brand of courtship anthropology, I understand that interactions with a human being one is sexually and romantically attracted to are enjoyable and fun. Dating was certainly shown to me as something to look forward to, something I was supposed to like. I’m a child of Dawson’s Creek, for heaven’s sake — you can’t tell me spending time with boys isn’t as cool as the other side of the pillow! Additionally, I was never allowed to date under my mother’s roof, not until “you have your career,” so just the very fact that it was something parentally withheld from me meant that it must be worth looking into.
And yet I've been living a life full of dates as delectable as wet toast. What gives? I shouldn’t have this many dates on record where a book and a plate of fries would have been better company. For a while I thought my methods were at fault. And to be honest I still stand by this theory. Online dating wasn’t my medium, I acknowledge that. (Really pleased for others who have enjoyed it, I myself would rather throw the whole industry in a furnace.) But dating happens in many ways, not just through our phones, and no matter which way I’ve approached it, it has been — forgive me — dogshit.
I don’t have happy memories of dating, I don’t recall holding someone’s hand walking down the street, being kissed goodnight at my door in any way that wasn’t awkward (I blame where I live for this; Brooklyn has very little street privacy). I’ve received a couple of cute texts from guys on their way home from dates with me but dammit if those weren’t the last texts I ever received from those ghosts! Dating has always seemed to be one tiny punishment after another, and over time it gets very, very hard to retain my hope in the process itself. The fact that other people have enjoyed dating, ever, is what keeps me optimistic and open, but my training in this field has made me expect the worst. Sometimes I wonder — not whether the best is possible, but at least whether the best is possible for me.
Is it me? I do ask myself these things, I’m not completely incapable of self-reflection. But other people — who are not my blood relations and therefore duty-bound in some way — like me. I am liked. Loved, even! I’m not quite the insufferable, repulsive nightmare my dating record would suggest I am. I don’t think it’s (entirely) me. I think it’s dating. I don’t think dating is romantic, or sweet, or even the slightest bit fun. I think it’s mutated into something transactional and cold, a rhythmless dance two people perform for each other on the off chance the person they’ve agreed to meet with their thumbs is actually one of the people on this planet they are meant to love. The odds have never hit for me, quite the opposite.
This isn’t a plea for dating to look like it does on television. Yes, it all seems so dreamy and exciting, but you’re forgetting that those two people on a park bench are joined by a full production crew a few feet away. Those tulips aren’t even real FFS! I just want dating to be a good experience, a genuine one, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Figuring out how to make it happen is the hard part. It is, perhaps ironically, as hard as diamond. How can I, a 38-year-old woman with a 12-year dating history that resembles cold porridge reconnect with some sort of passion for spending time with the gender of her choice who hopefully likes cats? What will make me like dating, as if I hadn’t experienced a lifetime of disappointment?
The solution isn’t one you’ll want to hear. I’m not particularly jazzed about typing it. That’s because I can’t prescribe it, or replicate it, or tell you how to get it for yourself. I can’t even tell me how to get it for myself. I think it’s magic. I think it’s a series of events and times and places and fates that come together when they’re meant to. They bring with them joy, connection, and indeed — romance. It’s funny to think of romance and magic as being equally real or bullshit, but that’s where I’m at. And I think they’re real, I think I’ll have them both, and I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with me that’s resulted in so much time spent in the suck.
It’s not about patience, or waiting for magic to materialize. There’s no right amount of waiting your turn that then results in falling in love the way you want to, there’s no “earning” something you’re already deserving of. There’s just living life fully, not waiting, but participating. Finding all the things in life that are yours right now and celebrating them, rather than focusing on the one thing that’s been so impossible to find. I love the idea of romance and love, but not the idea of forcing myself into a space where they haven’t ever existed for me. I was always trying to find magic in dating, and it never worked. What has changed is that now I have found joy and fun and excitement in many other places, rather than narrowing my mindset to think that dating and partnership were the only places they lived. Where I am now is a happier place, and I know that one day, that’s where magic will find me. It’s the most romantic thing I’ve known in quite awhile.