Girl Talk: Are Bad Dates Teachable Moments Or Wastes Of Time?

The other day I caught up with a guy friend over instant messenger. We hadn’t talked in a while, so he had to be filled in on my wonderful boyfriend of nine months. “I just wish I had met him when I was younger, like 18,” I enthused. “It seems like such a waste of time that I didn’t meet him until I was 25.”

“Aww, so you would have had more time together? That’s so romantic,” my friend said.

“Well, yes … but that’s not exactly what I meant. I wish I hadn’t bothered dating other guys,” I explained. “Really, what was the point?”

Why is it so “wrong” to admit I am so freaking glad that’s over, and, generally, I wish it had never happened? Because I’m supposed to have grown from the experience. But, really, how do you quantify or qualify “growth”?

My friend laughed. He is married and had a couple serious girlfriends before settling down with his wife. “Don’t you think that with each person you learn more how to be better in a relationship?”

“It could be that way in some relationships,” I conceded. “But there are also some relationships or dating experiences that are just bad for you. Besides, you can also grow up and mature in a relationship, too. What about couples who marry when they are, like, 21 and stay happily married for life? Are we assuming they never grow at all?”

My friend didn’t have any answers.

Maybe I feel comfortable admitting my dating years were a waste of time because I don’t believe in “The One.” I don’t believe in soul mates. I don’t believe in having a beshert. Nor do I believe “everything happens for a reason,” like my older sister does. Those are dating myths (Santa Claus!) and they’re followed by a bunch of beliefs that are also pretty dubious. I think we choose to pair-bond with people; it’s not cosmic destiny or anything like that. The way I see it, my boyfriend and I are great together, but if I got hit by a truck tomorrow, he would eventually find someone else who’s great with him.

Really, the biggest fallacy of dating is the idea that every single date or relationship better prepares you for this mythical Soul Mate. A jerk who dumps you for your best friend, or someone who lies to you, or a man who hits you — they are all supposed to teach you some big, valuable lesson. It’s a very can-do, optimistic, American idea. “Make lemonade out of lemons!” “Find the silver lining!” If you don’t find the silver lining, you’re not trying hard enough.

But those of us in the dating pool may just have made lemonade because that’s the socially approved choice. Being irritated or jaded is, for some reason, “whiny” or “desperate” — you’re not supposed to say that the bad experience actually really sucked and you wish it never happened, even if it’s true.

Now that I’m out of the dating pool, I am telling you that I am retroactively irritated and jaded about the whole thing. Admittedly, I had some fun times dating and met some cool people. But mostly, if I am honest, it sucked. First dates with shy, socially awkward men sucked. Deflecting emails and phone calls from guys I wasn’t into sucked. Hanging out in bars screaming over loud music with the friends of guys I’d never see again sucked. Wasting time fielding emails and “flirts” while online dating sucked. Spending my hard-earned dough on dinners, movies and drinks sucked. Dealing with other guys’ sexual neuroses sucked. Having bad sex sucked. Getting emotionally attached to short-term boyfriends who dumped me sucked.

For years and years and years it sucked like this.

Why is it so “wrong” to admit I am so freaking glad that’s over, and, generally, I wish it had never happened? Because I’m supposed to have grown from the experience. But, really, how do you quantify or qualify “growth”?

Maturity? Sure, some people do need their teens and their 20s (or their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s … ) to mature. But obviously, we do not all start out with the same level of immaturity and progress at the same rate. So why do we insist we all need the same experiences with this nebulous concept of “growth”?

If I could do my late teens and early 20s over again, I wouldn’t have dated as much, especially not online dating. Dating wasn’t as fun as “Sex and the City” makes it look. I lament that I spent as much time as I did screaming to be heard by near-strangers in bars, spilling martinis all over my lap. I wish I could have spent that time doing other things: reading books, watching movies, volunteering for feminist causes, or taking makeup artistry classes.

But hey, I’ll take those lemons and make some lemonade for you: not dating anymore definitely, definitely makes me appreciate couplehood even more.