When I went to visit friends in San Francisco in May, I was in desperate need for positive social interaction. The year up until then had been a collection of bizarre parts that somehow kept me running like a junkyard car: I was a social media intern for a local company, and I was not feeling camaraderie in my favor; my interest in a former love, longform improv, was fading; my online master’s degree, locking me in the books, was one momentous capstone project from completion; and I had ended a dating stretch that would make the awkward comedy of The Office look like a lighthearted romp.
The last point, dating, was the most pressing, as it affected my self-esteem in weird ways that revealed themselves over the next few months. The dates themselves, three in particular, seemed nondescript: the first was with a nebbish, early 30-something with a secret drug habit and possession of Jacqueline Kennedy-like fashion circa JFK assassination; the second, a public defender that loved central Phoenix living; and the third, a speech pathologist from New Jersey that loved dancing and pop-rapper Drake. But the results were humorous: the first was lacking in conversation to the point of trading phone app discoveries; the second, a slow crescendo of me trying too hard to seem interesting; and the third (OH, THE THIRD), a clusterfuck that featured a YOLO tattoo, several increasingly extended trips to the bathroom, and the lady almost leaving with two guys for another club.
As one of my best friends asked me to tell various people the sordid details of my bizarre date (including the discovery of the YOLO tattoo, on the small of her back and written in a font somehow more childish than Comic Sans), it cemented my resolve to never approach another woman ever again. (Strangely, this was after a New Year’s pledge to get back out on the dating market and meet unique women after more than a year of self-imposed exile. That’ll teach me to believe in the power of resolutions!) Online dating via OkCupid, while providing a large variety of potential dating partners for no cost, was not helping me.
It also told me that the problem was with me. I was out of my element, unable to get comfortable in the encounters, and long uneasy in my own skin. I didn’t know what I wanted out of the social trysts. I knew that there several things going against me: my dating experience was limited, as I was (and still am) a late bloomer; I knew rejection well, and I was scared that I would fail once more; I wanted companionship but was not good company myself. They say (not sure who this “they” is, but I’ll use it for the sake of this story) that pessimism is a recipe for defeat, and I was baking a cataclysmic casserole.
So it wasn’t a surprise that I ran away from the problem, but sure enough, it caught up to me. Over the next few months, I faced stress in all directions: an abrupt end to my internship and two months of unemployment; the 800-pound gorilla that was my capstone project; and, the biggest threat, me. While I buckled down with the job search and laid waste to the capstone (planning it over the course of three years made writing it a piece of cake), I ignored my own mental health–so focused on meeting my basic needs–that I lapsed hard into bummersville, clinging to the memories of my one relatively successful relationship to the point of daydreaming of rekindling the magic due to a lack of options and hope.
When things turned around on the job front and my degree became official, it left me with new-found free time. And I decided to figure out what would make me happy. For the first few weeks of freedom, I went all out: lots of time on the couch catching up on Breaking Bad. I also made a list of interests and hobbies I wanted to indulge in; this led to an opportunity writing with a sketch comedy group. I slowly confronted my personal quirks, and while my road to self-acceptance is rocky, I know a bit more of what I’m working with.
I still have bad days (this past weekend was a sad anniversary–a sadiversary–of things gone by, if you will), but I can realistically envision a day where I’m comfortable enough to dip a toe into the dating pool once more. Until then, I’ll keep tinkering with what makes me tick.