[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
Last March when quarantine put a screeching halt to normalcy and toilet paper was nowhere to be found, I was months into a relationship with a man 13 years my senior. He lived far enough away to make seeing him a hassle, and less than a month into quarantine, we went our separate ways. Not because I didn't love him but because he was emotionally dead. It is exhausting to try to be close to someone allergic to closeness. After our anticlimactic dissolution, I decided not to fuck with dating for a bit. I explored some new hobbies, got a new tattoo, read a lot of books, ran a lot of miles, picked up some freelance work, and endured quarantine as well as humanly possible.
I eventually downloaded a dating app under the pretense of "seeing what's out there," but I was truthfully just very bored, which is not a good reason to dip a toe into the dating world. It was not difficult for me to find dates, but I soon grew overwhelmed and instituted a one-new-date-per-week-rule that made the entire process more bearable. Some of my favorites include:
The guy who said he was from Montana, but who actually grew up in Huntington Beach. His apartment was full of bows and arrows, guns, cowboy boots, and all the "tough guy" accoutrements that made the dead space behind his eyes make sense.
- The guy in L.A. who, on date two, asked me to be his girlfriend. He was mostly lovely but we barely knew each other and sometimes jumping in the deep end just makes us drown.
- The guy who owned a marketing business, loved Sam Harris to a disturbing degree, and had a conceited surety about everything. Our conversations were stimulating, and his cooking was largely horrible.
- The guy who was, from what I gathered, a national park nomad, living out of his car until quarantine hit and he decided to try his hand at the mortgage industry. He hated it, and I had the intense feeling I was nothing more than a temporary escape.
- The veterinarian who lived a block from the beach, had abs like a Greek God, and who made aggressive sexual advances on date #1.
- The golfer with bad teeth who also made aggressive sexual advances on date #1 while singing Luke Bryan songs off-key and playing guitar.
- The marine who took me to dinner and grew very angry when I didn't want to kiss him at the end of the date. I actually reported him to the dating app for aggressive behavior and thanked my lucky stars I didn't let him pick me up. Learning moment: don't tell people where you live.
- The guy who was part of the "scene," which I learned meant he was a "Dom" in search of a "Sub," which mattered less than his deep attachment to alcohol. He was one of those people who is best loved from a distance.
- The guy who does Jiu Jitsu, breath work, and says "cash in!" who I really liked but who was a chronic texter so nothing ever went anywhere.
- The guy who went on a motorcycle ride with me, then explained the most obvious things about my motorcycle to me, completely unprompted. He was probably well intentioned.
- The guy who wrote me a poem about grape jelly and showed me his collection of war books while we ate pad thai.
- The guy who worked as a personal trainer and lived with his parents. He was sweet in the way kids are sweet and I sincerely hope he has forgotten all about me.
- And finally, there was the guy who asked me to a the beach for a sunset walk only to complain, ad nauseam, about COVID. I texted my friend for an out, and she called me in a panic claiming her car had broken down (it hadn't).
It might seem like I spent a lot of time dating or on dating apps, but I didn't really. Limiting myself to one new date per week kept things sane, and the added element of COVID kept things honest. I eventually deleted my apps for a few reasons, the most pressing of which was that it was more enjoyable to spend time with myself than to torture myself with endless bad dates.
But I did learn a few things throughout this song and dance of dating, which I will now impart to you. Take it or leave it.
Lots of people date to find a distraction. To forget their unhappiness, to forget their loneliness, to procrastinate on some life thing they are too afraid to pursue, or to feel temporarily desirable. You deserve better than to be someone's lovely distraction, and vice versa.
Lots of people want closeness but are unable to actually be close. This might be true for any number of reasons: past trauma, workaholism, low self-esteem, etc. You can't make someone open up to you so don't waste your time.
Some people are best loved from a distance. You can love someone and also not be with them, which is something I never thought about until I had to. Robert Tew said, "Sometimes you have to love people from a distance and give them the space and time to get their minds right before you let them back into your life." What Mr. Tew didn't say is that sometimes you don't have to let them back in, either.
Unless you're happy alone, you won't be happy with anyone else. This advice borders on cliché, but it's true.
If you aren't excited to see them, they probably aren't it.
If they're flakey more than once, they probably aren't interested. I can forgive a one-time flake, but repeated behavior isn't a mistake.
Older men (or women) aren't more mature. I assumed that an older man would be more emotionally evolved, which is one of the funniest mistakes I'll ever make.
It will become very obvious if he/she doesn't respect you, and it's your responsibility to respect yourself enough to exit that dynamic.
If someone has good friends (not just a lot of friends), that's a really good sign.
Most of us just want to be understood and accepted, "It's good to be loved but it's profound to be understood." ~Portia De Rossi
The best thing quarantine did for my love life though, was enable me to spend a lot of time loving myself. The extended free time brought on by quarantine was daunting at first, but it became lovely. My therapist encouraged me to "date myself," by which she meant to treat myself without breaking the bank, spend quality time with me, and allow myself to do whatever I want. Often in relationships we forego our own needs to put our partners first, which isn't always a bad thing. But it felt really nice to do whatever the hell I pleased whenever the hell I pleased. And I soon became unwilling to give that up for some half-baked frat boy from a dating app.
Further, there are a lot of benefits to nurturing self love, some of which include: greater happiness, stronger resilience, increased motivation, and better physical/mental health. Self-love is a daily practice that should be nurtured whether or not you're in a romantic partnership. It is the foundation of a happy life and, just like the foundation of a building, requires care and maintenance. Many people have talked about how they found or lost love during quarantine, but how many of us decided to take this time to intentionally love ourselves?
P.S. Some of my favorite books that are obliquely related to self-love include: The Wisdom of Sundays by Oprah Winfrey, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C.S. Louis, and A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. If you're the kind of bitch who likes a positive decorative message board, find a new one here.