I’ve had first dates at police stations. Flying over the California coast in a red two-seater plane. In a food court with a guy who claimed to be related to the Vegas mafia. At ice rinks where we tottered around like baby giraffes. That’s the fun part.
The feelings that come after – insecurity, panic, self-flagellation for perceived infractions, staring at your phone and feeling unloved – are not. Unresolved feelings make dating a minefield of melodrama. I’m done. In my effort to make “I’m done” less histrionic pronouncement and more fact, I’ve made a list. Because lists succor the soul and if you’re in the dating trenches, your soul deserves some succoring.
Establish reasonable goals. For years, my dating goal was “Have boyfriend yesterday.” If that’s not a foolproof way to fail, I don’t know what is. I’m not Calvin and I don’t have a time traveling cardboard box and so there’s zero chance I’ll suddenly be in a relationship that started last November. Achievable goals with simple steps honestly never occurred to me until my dating coach brought it up over burrito carcasses. (I don’t know why, I’m fanatic about goals everywhere else. Maybe my brain was incinerated by Ashton Kutcher movies where he’s the hot instigator of unlikely romantic scenarios.) So my new goal is “Go on second date with dude I really like.” Pretty sure that’s an achievement badge I can unlock.
Your life is not a Nora Ephron movie. I mean, it might be. There’s probably a lot more Nora Ephron potential to my life than I’ve allowed myself so far. But that potential can’t unfold if I’m constantly jumping ahead in the plot. No planning my City Hall wedding to a guy I met twelve minutes ago. All this does is tangle me up in a pressure cooker of expectations.
Sit on your hands. The proper ratio of texting when dating is 1:1. Not 1:17. Because 1) You look crazy and needy when you do that. Even if you are crazy and needy, you don’t need to look crazy and needy. 2) You feel awful when you have three unanswered texts hanging in the ether. Dating is hard enough without giving yourself more ways to feel bad.
No one else can make you feel secure and loved. I was beating myself up for some (probably imagined) breach of the dating code and staring at my phone, waiting for the text that would prove I didn’t have anything to worry about. Then it occurred to me that this guy – amazing though he may be – doesn’t have the power to absolve me. Only I have that. So I looked at the sad, broken place that felt like I had irrevocably blown it, realized my “I’VE DESTROYED THINGS FOREVER” story wasn’t helping, and forgave myself. He texted five minutes later. Thanks for that speedy confirmation of my theory, world.
Anything substantive should be said in person. I’m terrible at this. I hide behind emails and text messages because that’s what emails and text messages are for. But I’m practicing communicating. Talking to someone before sleeping with them to make sure we’re on the same page, at least in this moment. Laying out what I want and what I’m looking for and knowing that it’s okay if that’s not what they want right now.
Once you’ve broken up, there’s nothing more that needs to be said. So stop it with the explanatory/secretly-hoping-for-reconciliation-and-more-attention emails, lady. (I’m not proud of this tendency. I cringe every time I think of the needy post-breakup emails I’ve sent in my day. Which is reason enough to stop for always.)
He’s dessert, not the main course. A guy should be the baklava of my life, not the falafel. Yes, dating is a crucial step toward finding your lobster, but never at the expense of things that make you happy.
Do what makes me feel good. Yes, the other person is important but until you’ve established some semblance of a healthy relationship, your first priority is always yourself. If the way it’s going doesn’t feel good, get out. If you like someone, but he doesn’t want what you want, set him loose. If you’re feeling anxious, do something that nurtures you. Exercise or creativity is best, especially if either include glitter. It’s time well spent, whatever happens with Dude Du Jour. Bonus: When you’re excited about your life and doing the things that support it, you automatically become 57% more attractive.
Be kind to yourself. This includes knowing what you want and settling for nothing less. Making yourself comfortable and happy. If your perfectionist brain is poking you about something you did and telling you it messed everything up, step the fuck back. Did you do what felt right to you in the moment? Did you do it with love, for him and yourself? Did you communicate and behave in a way that feels healthy to you? If the answers are yes, you get to feel good about it, no matter what the outcome. If the answers are no, you still get to be kind to yourself. By looking for the source of the behavior – maybe it’s being clingy or insecure or doing things because you need or want the attention* – you can heal the place that needs healing. When I behave strangely, it’s because something is off internally and only I can shift it.
* All will absolutely happen if you try to date the month after your father dies.
Don’t try to date the month your father dies. Just don’t.
You want someone who values you. Your time and attention are precious and if he doesn’t appreciate it or make an effort, send him on his merry way.
Self-worth is the key, always. Do whatever it takes to get and keep that self-worth. Lots of the bullshit that comes with dating disintegrates when you feel good about yourself and what you have to offer.
Too soon to tell. I jump to conclusions when I’m feeling antsy, based on my often wildly inaccurate interpretations. In the very early stages, it’s almost always too soon to tell. That said…
Trust your intuition. That’s why you have it. Your trust in yourself and your judgment is one of your most valuable resources. Dating is an amazing place to hone your internal guidance.
It doesn’t have to be a game. I don’t like games. I lose games. In my family, I lose everything from Pounce to Scrabble and usually by a very large margin. I don’t particularly care, because winning isn’t the point. Spending time with people I love is the point. But with the dating game, if I don’t win, I don’t get anyone to love. That sucks. So I’m reinventing the premise. It’s not a game. If it was, the only competitor would be myself. As long as I handle this situation better than I handled the one last month, I’m winning.
Treat it lightly. You’re dating. This is supposed to be fun. Ease up, honey.
Don’t waste your time. Especially on the jerks of the world when there are so many men (men not boys, and this has nothing to do with age) who will value you and your attention the way it deserves to be valued.
Trust in the flow of my life. If the timing of my life makes me bonk my head against the steering wheel in frustration, continue on the path that feels best and trust that it will sort itself out. The universe has a wicked sense of humor but it’s never wrong. Just because it doesn’t look the way you thought it would doesn’t mean it isn’t exactly what it should be.