The best thing I’ve ever read on the Internet is this. And the best line is when the author, a confirmed bachelor, says of his married friends: “I doubt many of them would actually choose to trade places with me. Although they may miss the thrill of sexual novelty, absolutely nobody misses dating.”
There’s no denying it: we all despise dating. It’s a cruel joke played on us by modern society — while human beings are hard-wired to seek love and companionship, our culture plops giant boulders in the path of intimacy and calls them “dates.” Movies and TV and YA books and grandmothers of all ethnicities push us to partner up, but the actual skills for successfully navigating a dating situation somehow get overlooked. Since my last column about weddings, I’ve gotten a slew of unhappy replies from women (and the occasional man) saying, “Quit complaining — I’d love to have your problems. Meeting the partner is the hard part.” Fair enough. Dating friggin’ sucks.
Assuming you are a person who puts up with the suckiness of dating for a purpose — to find a longterm partner — then chances are you’re looking to find an end to your dating days (if you’re someone who goes on dates simply to have sex, or get out of the house on weekends, then this column will hold no use for you — but read it anyway!). And a big part of reaching this proverbial happy end is facing a few icky truths. Full disclosure: I met my husband-to-be at a party in New York City, when I was in my early ‘30s (meaning I’m now in my less-early ‘30s). “You’re so lucky!” people gasp when I tell them the story, as if I was a prepubescent plucked from Ceský Krumlov and handed a supermodeling contract. Casey Anthony was lucky. I’m just someone who decided I was ready to find a husband, and then did the necessary work to procure one. Yes, I said “work.” Which brings us to the five truths about dating that no one ever tells you (but are nonetheless true):
1) Dating takes work.
We’re taught to work hard to achieve our goals. Study until your eyes bleed, and you’ll make the Honor Roll. Take 6 zillion extracurricular activities and snort Adderall before the SATs, and you’ll get into college. Stay late and work weekends, and you’ll get the promotion. And on and on until you fulfill the American expectation of constant accomplishment (or you die, or both).
Yet somehow, in the midst of all this cultural “can-do-it-iveness,” a crucial lesson gets lost: meeting your life partner also requires work. Lots of work, in fact. This reality gets totally scrubbed from the lore of modern romance. We honestly think it just happens. We arrive at a bar on Tuesday night and our beloved is standing there with a rubber stamp on his/her forehead and 2 tickets to eternal bliss. Not true. Even the people for whom this sort of thing “happens” are lying about it — they worked (whether they realized it or not) to ready themselves and prepare their lives to meet someone, be it by conquering fears of intimacy or overcoming emotional scars that kept them from nabbing the great people they did meet, or just cleaning out all the crap in their apartments to make room for someone other than the cat. And most of all, they got their butts to that bar on a Tuesday night.
So what’s the specific work you need to do? Hell if I know. All I know is that if you’re dating like a fiend and never getting what you want (more on that later) then there is work left to do. In a way, deciphering what work is necessary for you is like 10th grade algebra — if you study the same way for every test and flunk them all, then clearly the way you’re studying isn’t working. And if you’re putting on the same makeup/dress/mental state and heading to the same bar/restaurant/speed dating hall and expecting different results every time, same rules apply.
2) Chances are, you don’t really know what you want.
All the frustration that accompanies not meeting the beloved of your dreams can be exhausting. And yes, it (both the dating and the frustration) can go on indefinitely. People do find themselves 60 and alone. Hell, people die alone. No point in sugarcoating it. But whether this happens to you is a choice — specifically, it’s a choice right now to make one thing a priority over another. In other words: figure out exactly what you want right now. Do you want to get married? Do you want it badly enough to do the work discussed in Truth #1? Why? What’s so great about being married that makes it worth your time and energy? What traits/activities/emotional needs are you focused on enriching/fulfilling with a partner? What major life goals (travel/children/etc) are you looking to achieve with this theoretical spouse? Because if you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish by dragging yourself on dates every week, you’re just tossing matches at a tree and hoping it ignites. Or something.
3) Even if you do know what you want, you don’t really think you can have it.
We’re so good at negating ourselves. No other human has a chance at making us feel as crappy as we can ourselves. It’s not even a contest. Just listen to that little voice in your head for a second — it’s negating you right now: “This chick is full of it. She just got lucky. I never get what I want. Nothing good ever happens to me.” This charming voice is screaming at you during every date. It knows every insult and jibe to slice right through your good time and sense of possibility. And to make matters worse, it has countless arguments at the ready to convince you that what it says is true: “It’s been clinically proven that men your age only want models or cocktail waitresses. Plus the 2010 census showed that single women outnumber single men in this city 8 quatrillion to one!” (I had a professor once who loved the quote “Statistics are like prostitutes — play with them enough and they’ll do anything for you.” He may belong in a high-security ward, but there is truth buried in his awful metaphor).
Here’s the thing: That godawful voice in your head is basically a life-destroyer. It will almost never help you achieve blissful happiness. It will never tell you that you can/will/should have everything you want in a lover/partner/spouse. And not to go all motivational speaker on you, but we all die in the end. So why not at least try for what you really want, inner voices be damned??
4) Every date really does go how you say it will go.
Whether you realize it or not, every time you go on a date, you’ve performed a mini-voodoo ritual to predetermine how it will go. If you’ve shaved off every body hair and wrapped yourself in lacy pink underthings, the chances are high you’re gonna get laid. If you demand that your best friend wait a block away to sweep in and rescue you in case he’s a psycho? Guess what — you’ll date a lot of psychos. When you’re a hammer, every dude from Match.com looks like a nail. So to speak. You set it up from the moment you say yes to the date (or have the other person say yes). Just keep this in mind — it’ll save a lot of wondering “I wonder how it’s gonna go tonight?”
5) The hardest part of dating is hearing reality — even if that reality makes you want to rip off your fingernails with a pliers.
Dating is all about uncertainty and hard truths. You’re not really sure what this person across the table thinks of you, and that opinion could be a hard one to hear.
The good news is that after every date, there are only 2 outcomes: either 1) you will see this person again, or 2) you won’t. (Once you get into the relationship phase, it’s much more complicated — but that’s fodder for another column.) The really tough part is going to be when it’s option 2 — and you’ll have to face rejection. Which is never, ever something anyone wants to hear — we’ll yank out our eyebrows and rip off our pubic hair without hesitation, but hearing “I don’t want to see you again” is somehow exquisitely painful.
The important part is facing that this pain is a possibility, and making yourself hear what is so. Not what you want to be so, not what romantic comedies say will be so, but what is actually so. He or she does not wish to continue seeing you, and the possibility for that relationship is now gone. Which sucks, but it doesn’t MEAN anything (remember that nasty “meaning” trick we’re all so good at?). If this guy doesn’t fall-down adore you, it MEANS NOTHING about your status as a worthy and valuable human being. It also means nothing about your ability to find partnership in the future. Likewise, if a guy rejects you, it doesn’t MEAN anything about men in general. All it means is that this one was a douchebag. And that you found out early enough to recover, pick yourself up, and get back to work. Which is precisely what I did approximately 38 times before meeting my husband. And hey — it was worth it.