• Relationships

Dater X: My Return To Dating

You know when someone touches you for the first time? Not an incidental arm graze, but a meaningful, purposeful touch that says, “Hello, it is on.” I was standing beside Tall Guy in Central Park, watching a softball game when he casually reached a tattooed arm around me and hooked his hand around the narrowest part of my waist, my favorite body part. Every nerve ending in my body jumped to attention. I think I let out an audible gasp. He pulled me closer to him and I instinctively laced my arm around his back. The non-verbal, “Oh yeah. I’m feeling it, too.”

This was the first physical contact I’d had with a guy in months. And it felt amazing.

Now, I’m looking at dating as a big matching game. I’m a green zebra, and since there are hundreds of tiles in play, I’m bound to turn over a lot of red koala bears and yellow crocodiles before I find another green zebra. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Last time you heard from me, it was March and I declared that I was done with dating. And I was. After my last experience, I felt confused about how the whole process could possibly lead to the amazing relationship I want—there are too many opportunities for crossed circuits, too many games, too many variables that you aren’t supposed to ask about because you’re “just dating.” I needed a break. So I swore off dating and focused on enjoying the spring and summer solo—hanging out with friends, checking out bands, going to the beach, and starting to write the Okayish American Novel.

Because I am perhaps the world’s biggest over-thinker, I also did a lot of analyzing during my dating detox, looking for patterns. I realized that every guy I interact with, male friends aside, fits into one of these three categories:

  1. Guys I am not into.
  2. Guys I am physically into, but don’t see romantic potential with. I won’t lie: I do tend to bone guys once I realize they are safely in this category. Usually after a date or two. Sometimes after, uh, a few hours.
  3. Guys I am into both physically and romantically. I feel lucky that, generally, this is a mutual feeling and for a few weeks it’s magical. We go out often and have hot make-out sessions. They tell me I’m beautiful, that they can’t wait to see me, and make all sorts of other declarations. I start having sex with them. I get attached. But at about the month mark, they start to pull away, making plans less frequently and emailing less often. I cling like the dickens, hoping that we can get back the initial intensity. Finally, they end it. I feel devastated and convinced that there is something wrong with me. Sadly, I can name four guys in the past year who I had basically this same experience with, including the Architect.

It took a while to let go of some of the hurt from the category #3 guys. In fact, it took about four months until I had a big epiphany. I realized that I am looking for love that will span years and, hopefully, decades. That won’t be possible with everyone and part of the process of finding love is going to be the times I don’t. Of course I’m going to have experiences where I have an initial great connection with someone and then it fades! I realized that I need to stop looking at these encounters as losing something and more as the steps in a journey.

All of a sudden, I felt excited about the prospect of dating again. I put back up my online dating profile and started being a little flirtier with guys I met in real life. Just as if the universe were giving me a high five, over the course of the next 24 hours I randomly bumped into three guys—one on the subway, another at a bar, another randomly walking down my block—who I’d always had a bit of a vibe with. See, there are lots of options out there.

Not two days later, Tall Guy sent me a message online. It was thoughtful and loaded with my personal aphrodisiac—puns. Plus, his photos were drool-worthy. I knew that I wanted to try to slow down my dating process, to get to know someone before jumping into bed with them. So rather than meeting at a candle-lit bar, I suggested meeting for a day date in Central Park. And it was great. We walked around for hours, took a long sun nap, and walked over to watch the aforementioned softball game. Half an hour after we slipped our arms around each other, he leaned in for our first kiss—soft, slow, epic … hot. An hour later, we were rolling around on the grass making out. But by 8 p.m., I was on my way to a friend’s birthday party, sober and solo, with another date with Tall Guy on the books for three days later.

Our next date can only be described as magical. “I really like you,” he said, as we made out outside my front door. “I’ve never liked making out with someone this much.” (We agreed it felt too soon for him to come in.) He asked when I wanted to see him again and in a fluster I turned the question around on him. “Always,” he said, mussing his hair. It was endearing and not nearly as much of a line as it sounds like in print

From there, we started texting and emailing often, and hanging out every couple days. As much as I told myself to give it time—that I’d been here before—I found myself gushing to my friends about him. In a moment of weakness, I showed one of them a photo and relished her response. “Hot!”

And you all see where this is going right? Category #3. After about three weeks of things going great, I noticed that, all of a sudden, I was initiating most of the communication with Tall Guy. It had gone from him pursuing me to me sending the first text and suggesting plans for the weekend. He would always respond, but I felt something was off. Was he dodging making another date with me? Finally, after a week of detached behavior, he explained what was up. “I do really like you,” he said. “I just don’t think we’re very compatible.”

The Dater X of six months ago would have been crushed. I would’ve made a plan with my female friends where I could cry and talk about how totally lame men are. I would’ve asked myself, “Why are guys so gaga about me in the beginning and then lose interest? What am I doing wrong?” I would’ve beaten myself up about it and made melodramatic statements like, “I can’t take this rejection anymore.”

But taking that break has allowed me to reframe how I see the fizzling out of what had seemed like a potentially great thing.

Now, I’m looking at dating as a big matching game. I’m a green zebra, and since there are hundreds of tiles in play, I’m bound to turn over a lot of red koala bears and yellow crocodiles before I find another green zebra. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

You can’t win every time. I’m recognizing that the fizzling isn’t about being rejected as much as it’s about two people just not being a match. Is it disappointing? Obviously. But I can take the disappointment as many times as I need to until I find the person who wants to be with me just as much as I want to be with him. The person who things are just easy with. I’m getting that starts and stops are just an inevitable part of the process.

A few insights I want to take with me from this:

  • When someone makes a grand statement about how they’re feeling, I should only take it as what they’re feeling in the moment and not as a promise of a future.
  • I do want to continue to take sex off the table until I feel like I know where I stand with someone and where they stand with me. As in, we’ve had a conversation about it.
  • Because I am an intense person who tends to focus all my attention on one person and feels let down if it doesn’t work, maybe it would be a good idea to try dating multiple people at a time. I can do that since I’m not sleeping with anyone, right?
  • It’s good to be excited about someone. But by sharing that excitement with every friend I have, I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself for it to work out. Maybe some things I should keep to myself?
  • But the biggest lesson: when I feel someone start to pull away, I can’t put on the Vulcan death grip. I should back up myself and trust that, if they want it to happen, they will make it happen. The clinging just makes me feel icky and needy. And it probably makes them think the same of me.

And with that I say: Next!

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