I’ve been dating to one extent or another since about 18 months after my ex and I separated. I naively stepped up to the plate thinking that I was basically a good wife and I should be able to find a suitable husband replacement fairly easily. People told me my most difficult job would be sifting through the suitors because I was “such a catch.” Professional, fit, kind, beautiful, blah, blah, blah.
I started out going on some blind dates with friends of friends. These were okay but didn’t give me sparks, and while that was true, I still felt rejected when there weren’t follow-up dates, texts or phone calls. I was still practicing Mormonism then and Mormon men are decidedly not into dating not-quite-divorced women. This was frustrating because the road from separation to divorce was long (almost 3 years) and I felt divorced in my heart. So the Mormon dudes were either uninteresting to me or they seemed like such microcosms of catastrophe that I was terrified to chance a second date.
Then I started online dating on a few apps. I remember spending time writing, what I felt was, a compelling profile, and then realizing I was WAY over the character limit. They want a few sentences, not a few paragraphs. So I edited that down and put up some photos. I tried to be honest but I also didn’t know myself all that well yet.
And there were some dates. Most of the men I’ve met online have been decent and kind, from what I could tell. Of course, there were some exceptions.
I had one guy, a doctor (why are so many doctors creeps!?), just ahead of our first meet up, ask me if I was “a submissive.” Had to google that. It was what I thought. I cancelled the date. Felt like we would be off on a weird foot.
I saw one man who described himself as “ammosexual” as in ammunition. Yikes!
I ventured to go on a date with a man who was 14 inches taller than me. He was handsome enough, but as I suspected, I felt like Mike Wazowski paling around with Sully in the North Park bars. This guy also worked in sales and after droning on about himself for at least one beer, I tried to help him ask a question about me by offering that my job in psychiatry often feels like sales, because I’m trying get buy-in from patients on taking medications they need but sometimes don’t want. To this, he responded, Oh! I could teach you a lot about sales. [Insert face palm emoji.]
I had meaningless flings, though I figured out I wasn’t very good at that. Maybe it’s the psychiatrist in me, or maybe it’s the level of authenticity I try to approach life with, but I’ve found that men will talk to me. Like real talk. There was the Brazilian bus boy who was handsome and fit. He had all the makings for a romance novel but his back story was full of tragedy and disappointment. I simply could not use him even if he was okay with using me.
Another who emphatically admired the “beautiful life” I created but ultimately preferred to keep his mask intact rather than join the mess of a real relationship.
And the fireman who couldn’t keep up the ruse. He was deeply sad inside. Firefighting gave his life purpose, but he still didn’t believe he was worthy without the uniform. And life is strange because one day he told me he performed a trench cut (a rarely-used technique in firefighting) on a strip mall fire. I saw that strip mall days later and realized it was where another man had taken me months before to sing at a Korean karaoke joint. The place was destroyed…metaphor?
I think that’s the thing about dating. It’s not a straight line. It is very much a web. Each interaction forms a new thread, connecting one strand to the next in a zig-zag or circular pattern. For most of my experience, it has been indistinguishable which direction things were going. Even in my longer relationships, I was riddled with questions and misgivings. Is this what it’s supposed to feel like!?
Just tonight I was listening to Oprah talk to women about their “emotional style.” The segment opened with women responding casually to how they would react if their spouse forgot a birthday or Valentine’s. Women talked about silent treatment and hint dropping. Quiet resentment. I’ve been in those rooms. I’ve been that woman.
My marriage was traditional. Man wears pants. Woman’s “power” is in how she can influence (manipulate) her man. It’s covert and inherently dishonest. I sort of always assume I will be good at things, so when I was married I assumed I was good at that game. But when I look back, I see now that we both lost. I lost because I completely lost mySELF. And my ex lost because he never got to know me. I carry some of the blame for the stupid game, but he does too because he didn’t want to know me. He wanted a fulfillment of what he thought a wife should be.
The Oprah conversation left me wondering, how does anyone find anyone at this stage of life?
It’s like I know too much. I know marriage doesn’t solve all problems. I know that loneliness thrives inside and outside of that institution. I know that people have lives secret from their spouse. They bring the baggage from childhood, the last relationship, all the relationships. And what’s funny is that if they had no baggage, that would be even scarier—because, if that’s the case, what kind of Truman Show life have you been living for the last 30+ years!?!
And yet, I still believe in magic.
Despite all odds.
I still hope to find my lobster.
I knew I needed to end my break from dating this summer when, after a gynecologist appointment (which, incidentally was immediately followed by a covid quarantine, so YOU read between the lines), I announced to my sister that I might be falling for my gynecologist. “I need to figure out how to take this off MyChart!” I joked with her. [Luckily, I slept on it and realized that if this guy did go for my advances, then what kind of skeesy gyn was I choosing to date!?!….This is waaayyyy TMI, Michelle. Reel it in!]
So I find myself dating again.
After my last relationship attempt failed. I put an update on my dating app profile (which I must say has improved dramatically since those dark and confusing early days).
[Note: The days can STILL be dark and confusing. Dating is like walking around a cave without a flashlight—actually that’s a really good metaphor! You have to trust what you feel. There are lots of groping styles. It’s painful and confusing and it reeeeaaally feels like there’s gotta be a better way to do this.]
My new profile is darn effective though.
I’ve got some active photos, but not too active. (If my family didn’t live in such granola-eating, Subaru-driving parts of the country, then I would have far less photos in such outdoorsy habitats.) I’ve got a full body shot. Not too much boobs, but not no boobs. I kept my descriptions casual and breezy but included several entry points for conversation. This was all before the revamp! And it was working pretty good.
But one of the things you have to know about dating apps, is everyone on there has multiple things going on. Every one is complicated. I know that’s a complete generalization, but this is a helpful way to think about it because dating apps can feel like a lot of rejection happening fast.
There are times when you think an interaction is going well, and then it drops off, suddenly. If you’ve met the person, I would classify this a ghosting and not cool. But if you haven’t met and you haven’t been messaging constantly, it’s probably an inbounds move.
I’ve decided, that when that happens, it just means that another piece shifted into place for them. They don’t need my possibility anymore right now. That’s it. Getting to this point has relieved me a of a lot of bad feelings about dating apps.
I’ve learned to assume the best about people when they don’t pick me (at least when they are enigma speaking from the great beyond of the internet). There is a Maya Angelou quote, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Sometimes that’s just not interested or not available.
Sometimes it’s, I dislike myself so much I won’t let anyone get close to me.
Sometimes it’s, I’m a huge asshole who works on commercial ships and thinks because you put a poem about how you have perfect breasts on your dating profile, I’m entitled to some proof, even though we’ve never met and I’m probably lying on my couch smelling of fish guts and motor oil eating a greasy burrito.
[Woah—that got specific! And you wrote what poem about perfect breasts?]
Oh, that’s my secret weapon, actually. I wrote a poem about how I have perfect breasts, and when I told my therapist that I didn’t think it was fit for publication on my blog or social media, she suggested I use it in my dating profile.
I got my money’s worth from that session, because that thing is gold! Since it’s addition, I always get a response. Of course that’s an exaggeration, but it’s not FAR from the truth. Very effective little piece of marketing, that poem is.…
Okay, you’re getting lots of information here and it’s probably prompting you to pull out a highlighter for all of these fabulous, modern dating tips, so let me try to rein it in for you—dating apps are a lead generator. That’s it. Of course some of your leads are unqualified! Some of them will choose not to purchase and some of them will get told to, “Fuck off,” by your complaint department.
And while I can get emotional about pretty much anything, I really try to keep emotion out of the dating apps. It’s not a popularity contest, it’s a marketing contest. My goal is to generate qualified leads, some of which will progress to the next round of vetting. And if swiping has taught me anything, it’s that there are a lot of different shoes out there, and supposedly every shoe has a mate. [Like even a Jesus shoe—this man was literally dressed as Jesus…I’m still so confused!]
This brings me to the next phase. The first meet up. Since Covid, sometimes this happens via FaceTime. I actually didn’t find that too bothersome. It was lower pressure. I mean, you have to worry about camera angles and lighting, but not how you smell or what pants you have on.
More commonly, it’s a face to face meetup, where first move is to act cool while you are waiting for a person you’ve only seen photos of and try to look incredible at all times and angles in case he sees you first.
Most guys here want to meet for a drink, I’m guessing because it’s cheaper than dinner. Also, easy to exit if it’s not going well. And, you have a little libation lubrication for the conversation. [Yikes! Could there be a grosser way to say alcohol loosens you up!]
Bottom line, I think this is totally fine. I get that investment in a fully planned first date has a cost that may not yield benefit. Still, bars are not a great option for alcoholics, but good news for alcoholics comes next—>
It IS impressive when a guy goes all in on a first date! All in within reason anyway. My favorite first date, hands down, was stand up paddle boarding on Mission Bay. It was a day date which, for me, feels a little friendlier. You get to check out each other’s physique in a non-creepy way. You’re doing something active, but you can also talk. Plus you’ve got the option to proceed to lunch or dinner afterward, assuming both parties are feeling it. But if it’s not going well you can part ways, still having done something fun in the sun!
What comes after the first meeting, I don’t completely understand. Really. Like, any of it. The subsequent dates, the texting, the progress of the physical relationship. I’ve walked the road a few times, but I could not tell you how it should go.
And it’s all the stuff I was talking about earlier that makes it terrifying. At first you’re just trying to rule out if he’s a sociopath or a narcissist or someone who thinks it would be cool to live in van.
There’s the things you never thought to ask about too, like was he raised in a nudist colony or a have a wife who also wants to hook up with you, and how do you feel about dating a bisexual man? Wow! I thought I was pretty woke, but being in the actual scene really brings it home.
And when you think you’ve worked through the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns, then you have to decide if you’re going to let this person know where you live. Where you work? Who your friends are? It takes an enormous amount of faith to let someone in like that when you’ve seen what I’ve seen.
And strangely enough, even after working with parolees and probationers, even after hearing the wildest things from patients, and my co-residents of Walmart parking lots across the nation when I slept in a car for three months (that’s a story for another time and place), I have this curse where I tend to see people as potential. It’s like this freakishly optimistic lens.
But this, too, is where that Maya Angelou quote comes in handy, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” This has been hard-won but, I am getting better at believing the person over the potential. I like to see what a man spends his time on, because, ultimately, this is what he desires. And very little will separate a man from his desires, at least the kind of men I have experienced.
So as I embark on another round of swiping and first dates, let me remind myself what I am looking for:
- Someone who is kind to me.
- Someone who is honest.
- Someone who likes to do some of the same things as me.
- Someone who wants the important same things as me.
- Someone who realizes that people grow and change and is interested in the journey of growing and changing together.
- Holds all the space for complexity and contradiction that exists in me.
- Smoking hot bod.
- Not a picky eater.
- Does not want to live in a car.
- Cheers me on while I run in the direction of my dreams and lets me do the same for him.
That’s a starting place, at least.
And a reminder that dating in your 30s, when almost all of your friends are married, makes you a sort of exotic creature, where everyone both hates the idea and loves it at the same time. SO if you’re with me, doing this crazy rigamarole to try to find some future partner or at least a little companionship along the way, remember this:
All that comes after this part of life is more moments, more days, more feelings, more life. And that’s if we are lucky enough to persist here for a little while longer. All that romantic relationships remedy is the idea, in our mind, that we should be in one. The rest is a gamble, a ride. I like the idea of the ride, so I’m going to keep looking, but I know that life is already here happening every day. And it’s deep, and rich and beautiful right now.