I’m 31 and since I was 18, I’ve been in 3 relationships lasting 4 years, 7 months, and 6 years. Which means I never did a lot of casual dating and definitely not in the age of Social Media and dating apps. The two big relationships I had were with men who were extremely wrong for me. I naively believed if I loved them hard enough, I could make it work. All of the these facts culminated to one big challenge, I have a lot to learn regarding dating.
This year, I treated dating as exposure therapy with a “come what may” attitude. I signed up for online dating and accepted dates if the men came across as decent people. What resulted was first dates with 33 men this year. About a third of these men were met organically at events and through friends and in line waiting for tacos, and the rest were from online dating sites and dating apps. My goal was not only to possibly make a lasting connection with someone but also to learn all the things most people learn in their 20s that I didn’t learn. I want to learn what I want, what I need, what I don’t want, what I don’t need.
The whole experience has been fun, scary, exciting, eye-opening, humorous, humbling and surreal. I mean, I had my first first kiss in over six years and then a few more. I trespassed on private property on a second date. I tried dating a friend. I went out with engineers, writers, doctors, comedians, and a puppet maker. I ran into someone I was supposed to have a first date with the next day while giving my number to someone else. Someone asked me out while I was waiting for a date to arrive. I dated younger and older, poorer and richer. I hurt a few people’s feelings and had mine hurt. The range of experience in just a year was wide and varied.
Of course I took detailed notes to try make sense of it all and discover patterns. And here are just ten of the lessons learned.
- I learned meeting strangers or acquaintances over coffee or dinner gets easier and easier the more you do it. The first few first dates I’ve gone on, I’d fret about what I’m wearing and was sweaty with nerves up to the point of meeting them. In time, I found my prep before a date is now just reading a book or watching a show right before having to leave.
- I learned that the advantage of meeting people already vetted by your friends is you feel safe enough to let them pick you up for a date. Being picked up for a date adds a bit of magic to the date.
- I learned that I’m picky and that though I’m cautious and skittish, I’m not completely closed off like I feared. Of the 33 men, I was willing to pursue the possibility of a future with two of them. I had a huge crush on one the first quarter of the year and developed feelings for a second towards the end of the year. I was brave and I let someone in! I’m still standing!
- I learned that I’m scared of getting what I want and this manifests itself as nitpicking and making up superficial deal breakers. I have to be aware of any self sabotaging instincts and behaviors.
- I learned that I need a mix of intellectual conversation and play time. I want someone whom I can have long meandering conversations with that keep me engaged and someone who is willing to dance like penguins with me in the parking lot of a bowling alley. If you’re not willing to be stupid with me, it sets off alarm bells.
- I always try to treat people with care, but dating has really brought into light that though no one likes the sting of rejection, being the person rejecting is hard too. And I had to learn to carefully, honestly, and compassionately choose words when letting someone down. I learned that even if it’s easier to ignore text messages, sometimes there has been enough time spent together to make that uncomfortable conversation kind and needed.
- I learn that the people you casually date can also just become friends. I was under the impression that when you’re done, you’re done. I managed to keep some of the men I went on a few dates with as friends. This also hinged on the previous lesson. These friendships were made possible because I didn’t just disappear and forced myself to have those uncomfortable conversations.
- I learned being out and open can lead to happy accidents. I had a spontaneous first date with a stranger while reading a book in a coffee shop. He was brave and approached me and I didn’t have anywhere else to be and he seemed normal enough. We ended up having a conversation over coffee for over an hour.
- I learned my primary love language is definitely words. You can be attentive and give me gifts and do acts of services, and though I’m very appreciative of these actions, I don’t hear your message behind these kind acts unless they come with words. I very much need to hear or read actual words to register someone’s feelings towards me.
- I learned that though my goal is to find someone I can build a life with, I’m comfortable with the idea of living my life without a romantic partner. This feels like power. I can hold out for someone who is the best fit for me and don’t have to settle. I don’t have to settle because if I end up living my life alone, I’m confident I can make it a beautiful and happy one with my pursuits of adventure and with my friendships.
With the dawn of a new year looming, I’ve been reflecting on 2014. It has been a hard and amazing year and dating was a big life change in 2014. I’m curious to see what lessons in dating I’ll experience in the new year and remain hopeful that maybe 2015 is the charmed year when it comes to romance.