I sat across from a relative stranger several days ago at a cupcake shop. We met on a dating site and exchanged several messages before agreeing to meet. She was nice, humble and piqued my interests, so I was curious as to how she ended up on the website.
So I put the question out there: how did you find the site? And she answered, and she then asked me. What I said surprised even myself.
As the previous questions (interests, family, careers) unfurled over coffee and hot chocolate, I realized that the first date dance — the questions, feeling each other out — was one that was a scripted routine for me. Sure, I could occasionally improvise and play within the boundaries, but it was largely restricted. The anxiety that came from meeting someone new pushed out the majority of fun that people gush about with dating.
It was more work than I wanted, selling myself to someone new, exposing myself for someone to judge me and decide whether they can stand my company for several hours for at least one day a week. My end goal was finding the one, the person to spend the rest of my life with. Working up the nerve to ask someone out was enough of a challenge for me; planning the date, thinking of things to say and praying that I could relax enough to not have my voice crack like Peter Brady was like studying game film before the Super Bowl. And that was just for the first date; imagine me wanting to get a second date or a third?
So I replied to her question with mentioning the essentials, that one of my best friends was interested in the site and asked me to join as well. But then I went off-script: I noted that I got the urge to date every few years and would hit the dating sites.
She nodded and made a noise that signaled that she understood. And that was that. But what I left out was that after hitting said dating sites for a period of time, I would be so burnt out and dejected from the money spent, the soul repeatedly bared, the questions asked, the anxiety of wondering what they were thinking, feeling and judging, I was okay with shutting down my dating site accounts and not dating for years. Oh sure, I would whine and wish that I was in a relationship, but I seemed to function without being with someone.
As the years piled up, I had a startling revelation: I enjoyed my independence. I liked having my own money to do what I wanted, coming and going as I pleased and not feeling emotionally pulled like taffy after every failed first date. I lamented not having someone to share life with — sex by your lonesome… not exactly the same — but I saw new opportunities in not being attached: vacations and traveling whenever and wherever; making life decisions, big or small, that only affect me; and the biggest one, the idea of being a single dad and not balancing (or being burdened by) an ever-changing relationship.
In between swearing off dating sites and picking them up again late last year, I had a relationship, dating occasionally and experienced the emotional highs and lows. I also got to explore more of myself as an individual and experience things that I might not have had I been attached. Not dating wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
So why climb back in that particular social saddle? I felt comfortable enough with myself to climb back on the horse. And the resulting experiences that came with it were a new revelation: I was more of myself than I had been in the past, but my expectations and desires had changed. I wanted someone that I could mesh with, have fun with and be myself with, and the life goals would naturally fall into place.
The recent dates have ranged from good to mediocre, average to “eh.” But unlike before, I am not totally discouraged. While it wouldn’t be the end of the world to find that “one,” it wouldn’t be bad if I end up shutting down the site accounts again. After all, maybe swearing off dating could create a better, more realized me.