Dater X: Face Value

It’s about time I admitted something that you probably already knew or guessed: This column has an undeniable impact on my dating life.

That is something that can be difficult to acknowledge. In all of our lives, we have certain people that we turn to when we want relationship advice. Friends that are content just to listen. Friends who have been there and can offer experienced advice. Friends whose situations are completely different from ours, who share an alternate perspective. Well-meaning family members who only have our best interests at heart (and are often apt to blame the other party for what we might later realize were our own mistakes).

I also have an audience of strangers who know me exclusively through the stories that I share here.

In some ways, it’s exciting to open yourself up to the world’s eyes. Sure, I’m cagey about my identity – and more so, the identities of the characters in my life who populate this column – but it can be incredibly freeing to talk about my dating life exclusively from my own point of view (and hear what I may, or may not, be admitting even to myself).

On the other hand, it can be absolutely terrifying. When I say the wrong thing, it’s preserved forever. When I’m feeling uncertain, there are words of encouragement, but also words of warning. Let’s just say that self-doubt is not easily assuaged by the Internetz.

With that in mind, I submitted last week’s column hesitantly. It’s hard to confess doubts to an audience whose entertainment comes not from stability in my dating life, but from turmoil. That’s not to say that I don’t feel like I have people rooting for me; it’s clear that I do, and I’m more grateful than I think I’ve yet managed to express, so let me say it right here: THANK YOU. But doubts that live in my head are a lot easier to disperse than a running dialogue of comments pointing out how justified they are, or suggesting that they should be even stronger – and that I should act on them.

To that end, I tried to take my dating life, this week, at face value.

I noticed that, without fail, The Bartender (whose moniker has not changed, though his job responsibilities, as I wrote a few months back, have) calls or texts me every morning. We chat while he walks to work, or when he first gets up to get ready. Increasingly, we FaceTime instead of just chatting, both a comfort (because I know exactly where he is and what he’s doing, even if it’s just waking up alone) and a tease (because it’s harder and harder to see his face and know that I won’t be able to plant a kiss on his cheek or swat his hand away when he grabs my butt on the subway for a full week). He calls in the evenings, too, on his way home from work or over a break, checking in with me and asking about my day. He sends me photos of things that he sees that remind him of me. He Instagrams the food prep he does during the week and tags me, so I know what’s for dinner when I get into town. In other words, he makes sure that I know that I’m on his mind.

And yeah, there’s a part of me that thinks, “What’s all this meant to hide?”

The anxiety that I described last week doesn’t just subside because I’m in a relationship, and while it’s easy to chide myself for visiting the sins of boyfriends past onto boyfriend present, it’s not as easy to stop myself from doing it. When you’ve been burned, you become wary of fire. It’s human survival at its most carnal: if something hurts you, you learn not to do it again. But if you want a relationship and a companion – and I do – you counter that instinct and put yourself out there again, often to the same result.

I can’t say for sure whether The Bartender is going to hurt me. I feel secure with him, especially when I’m with him, but I’d be a liar and a fool not to acknowledge my doubts. What I’m trying to explore now is how much those doubts have to do with him and how much they have to do with me and what I’ve come to expect for myself. I said it last week: I expect to be left. And that’s troubling, because he really has given me no indication that that’s his plan. We spend every weekend together. We’re in close touch all week long (which I noticed, as I spent this week observing us, was more often initiated by him than by me). I’ve met his family, and he’s eager to meet mine.

We talked some more, this weekend when he came to visit, about building in alone time for ourselves when we’re not together, so that we can spend our time together feeling companionable, rather than overwhelmed. He pointed out that I tend to spend four or five days in his city, since one of my jobs is there, while he so far can only really spend a day or two in mine – a pretty fair assessment of why he might want a little solo time while I’m in town and I have not yet felt the same way when the situation is reversed. We’re also both working a ton, and we resolved to be better about building in “me time” during the week, rather than working non-stop until our abrupt weekend journeys into one another’s cities.

And yes: we talked some more about moving, with him suggesting that maybe we ought to move the timetable up. My work situation seems to be in collusion with that plan, with an increasingly heavy and satisfying amount of my time and energy spent on my job in his city, and the possibility of a full-time position newly looming in the coming months.

Normally, upheaval about my living situation and my career would drive me around the freaking bend with anxiety, but I’m doing my best to take it all as it comes. Because I have someone to chat about it with, every morning and every night, and I choose to believe that simple actions like staying in touch are more reliable than the “red flags” that I increasingly suspect might be waving only in my own mind.

Until next week,
Dater X 3.0