As I navigate self-partnering, I often find myself searching for the blueprint to a fulfilling relationship. A book written by a woman more wise than me, or less distracted by the fairy tale dust mixed among the residue of her childhood dreams. My Mother never misses a moment to remind me exactly what she thinks of men, and I heed her warnings while reserving the other half of my attention to send a prayer to the universe that a man exists out there who won’t prove her right. Again.
I keep seeing different versions of the same joke. You can’t just ask a man a question, you have to ask him all the surrounding questions. Instead of “do you have any children?” you also have to ask “do you have any children on the way?” and “have you been with anyone recently who might be pregnant?”. Instead of “are you single?” you also have to ask “when’s the last time you were considered to be in a relationship?” and “is there anyone who believes they are in a relationship with you?”.
Seems like a lot of trouble, and it is. Social media has changed dating in so many ways. We have access to more people than ever before, 24/7, through apps like Tinder and Facebook. On one hand, this has expanded the pond to allow for so many more fish, which means more chances to find someone. On the other hand, I often feel like I’m drowning in a sea I never asked to be in, barely keeping up with everyone swimming around and through and past me.
But in my private moments, I know that I have a lot of personal work to do, as everyone seems to say when they don’t want to think about finding a partner. I know that I should focus my energy on healing the wounds feeding the melancholy that drives me into the arms of men. Or write my dream into a poem, or a post.
Every first date, I drink a glass of wine as I carefully paint, highlight, and emphasize my best features for the confidence and to allow for distraction in the event I am unwilling to be my whole self the first night. I listen to upbeat music to chase the doubt away that this will be another night of trading charades.
I drive myself there or take my own rideshare to eliminate the first potential disappointment, but the restaurant typically makes up for it. Or the cocktails my date is always so excited to treat me to. Typically uninspired by the conversation over the course of the night, I make do with what’s available to me, and spend the next day disappointed.
But the last “first date” I went on, and the anonymous subject of this post, surprised me in so many ways. The first impression of him was unimpressive. I felt a bolt of fear singe my chest as I found him across the lobby of the restaurant, unremarkable in his appearance. It was the first day of the new decade, and I was committed to let go of at least a little of my vanity, so I swallowed my judgments about his looks. He surprised me with his shy smile and enthusiastic account of the few weeks he took a sommelier course as we quickly finished a bottle of Cabernet. Dinner was good, and our waitress kept the mood light.
I saw him again the next weekend, this time at an arcade bar. But the night was rushed by hormones and anticipation, and every time I saw him after that, I was the one who initiated contact. I told myself he was busy, because he told me he was busy and often complained about work. I told myself it was ok to fit into his schedule where he could fit me in because at least he wasn’t refusing my company. I told myself he liked me, because he told me he liked me.
But then the days turned into weeks, and I found myself anxious. Anxiously waiting for him to text me, because I recognized the initiative was one-sided. Then as I stopped, the texts stopped entirely. I started watching my snapchat stories to see if he watched them. Then, I decided I was done.
When I confronted him about his aloofness, he blamed work, as though he didn’t have the same job when he texted me consistently for weeks to ask me to dinner. I deleted our text conversations and decided to concentrate on other things. But the nights are always the hardest and my phone could never satisfy the feeling that I was going to be alone for the rest of the “best years of my life”.
I thought I did everything right this time! We discussed what we were both looking for, and agreed that we didn’t want anything casual. I should have asked him if he had the time to make it happen. I should have asked him if he was being honest about what he wanted, or if he was just saying what he knew would keep me coming around. I should have also asked him where his courage went. Maybe he left it at the Italian restaurant that night I decided to give him a chance to be more than what I expected.
In our last conversation, he thanked me for giving him insight into what he needed to improve in his life. He said he needed to get his shit together, and that I was the one who showed him that. I would’ve preferred him not to text me back at all after I reached out drunk and frustrated, “So, like, should I delete your number?”. Next time I won’t ask.