Dating Don’ts: What Dating Doesn’t Teach You About Relationships

In my eight year stint as a single person, I became very proficient at dating and breaking up. I learned how to flirt, I became skilled at meeting men both on and offline, I developed coping mechanisms for making it through horrendous first dates, I came to understand how not to take rejection personally, I honed in on what I was looking for rather than who was looking for me and I came up with a protocol for moving on with as little emotional scarring as possible when things didn’t work out. (And I typically didn’t expect them too.) These were all incredibly difficult and, at times, painful skills to master, but I think I just about had them under control. And then a bout of dating fatigue and a stroke of dumb luck later and the thing that I thought would never happen for me happened — I was in a serious relationship faster then I could say DATING SUCKS. After the first few moments of being annoyingly in love (I still am), I found myself with my back up against an OH FUCK wall.

My boyfriend was out of town and I was having a your garden variety bad day. My best friend, my go-to person for talking to, was also out of town. I felt — for the first time in a long time — very alone. Like out in deep space all alone, not part of the human race ALONE. Something about falling in love can be isolating. You’re launched from your old single life into a completely new reality and find yourself orbiting an unfamiliar stratosphere without anything holding your feet to the earth. In order to mitigate this feeling, I’ve sought out little, familiar things that bring me comfort and remind me that I am still me. For instance, I’ve become very attached my favorite coffee mug. When I’m at home, I’ll only drink out of that mug. And if it’s dirty, I’ll wash it, just so I can drink out of it. I’ve also taken to carrying around my purple umbrella with me at all times in case it rains. At least then, I reason, I will always be prepared.

I wasn’t prepared the night I felt so all alone that I found myself sobbing in my bed. The last time I was in this state it was the dead of winter and I felt hopeless about ever having love in my life. And now it was 90 degrees and I was loved fully and completely, yet, I was shedding tears (and sweat) about the unknown. I missed my old life, which seemed to have disappeared with the spring. But it was not necessarily that I wanted my old life back; I wanted to understand what my new life was, who the new me was.

My first instinct was to call the boyfriend who was on a business trip and “dig sand” with him about this matter. I went to send him a text, but realized I didn’t know what to say without it sounding offensive or weird or needy or insane, all of which I prefer never to be labeled as by the person I love. And it wasn’t the kind of thing I was going to bother him about on a business trip. What would my text say?

“Please drop everything you’re doing because I’m mourning my single life.”

“I spent all this time learning how to date and break up, but I don’t think I have any idea how to have a relationship. Help!”

“I love you and that scares me.”

“I’m questioning my identity in a way I never have before. That doesn’t mean I want to break up, by the way.”

“I’m lonely and I don’t know why.”

Instead I wrote, “If you’re busy and we don’t get a chance to talk tonight, safe travels.”

“I miss you,” I said in a tiny voice that I hated the sound of, when he called a few minutes later.

“I miss you, too,” he said. And what came out of my mouth after that?

“I don’t believe you,” I croaked.

I have no idea why I would say such thing. I didn’t know the me who would say that. And YET. That was what I said. OH FUCK. 

When he came back in town, I apologized for saying something I didn’t mean. We talked about it all at length and he’s not offended. He doesn’t think I’m weird or needy or insane. And I reassured him that I believed he really missed me despite what I said. But all of that is inconsequential. I’m sitting with the realization that I have not prepared for this in my years of dating and breaking up: the actual relationship. I have much to learn when it comes to how to say the difficult things to the person that I love, how to express myself so I’m understood, how to co-exist as two separate entities, how to be mindful of my issues and his issues and how they can rub each other like sandpaper against skin. When you’re dating and breaking up, you and that person are just circling each other for a brief time. There’s not much at stake. But there is much at stake in a relationship. I assume there will be many more difficult topics I’ll have to broach with the boyfriend in the future and my next bit of work is figuring out how to become proficient at doing that. Because relationships take a different kind of work than dating, but it’s so worth it.

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