First Date

It’s important not to get ahead of yourself.

It’s been over a year since my last date, and I can’t say I’ve missed dating all that much. I’ve often found the experience to be more anxiety-inducing than anything else, and so it’s been easier to avoid it in the name of mental health. I know that life is about dealing with our issues, and that our trials and tribulations make us stronger, but in an attempt to rein in my runaway anxiety, I’ve tried to reduce the number of triggers in my life. Dating was an easy thing to cut out. Maybe I am forgoing my chance at a lifetime of happiness, but I’ve never felt like I was all that close to finding the right person, so it was easy write it off.

Online dating has challenged me. In so many ways, it just doesn’t seem real. It’s easy for people to ghost each other, and I never feel like myself when I’m texting someone I’ve never met, as I sit there scrutinizing pictures and bios, trying to figure out if I could overlook certain aspects of the candidate in question. Pros and cons are considered. It’s easier to go for the sugar rush than it is to find a long-term partner, and so I’ve online dated mostly just for fun. Maybe I’ll meet the woman of my dreams somewhere out there in cyberspace, but I’m not putting too much stock in any of it. I don’t like the type of thinking it encourages, even though some people have found love there.

When I do start talking to someone, and the conversation gets off the ground, I feel something inside of me tense up. I know that there’s a part of me that hasn’t been used in quite some time, a piece of me that’s waking up out of a sound sleep, and I’m out of my element. I feel like I’m trying to learn about something from scratch, something that’s impossibly complex. Okay, maybe I know a little, a little more than nothing. Maybe it’s like the time I lived in Costa Rica. I knew basic Spanish, but when I tried to engage in conversation with native Spanish speakers, I realized that my four years of Spanish in high school did not adequately prepare me for the encounter.

My mind picks up speed, and I’m 10 steps ahead of where I started. Suddenly, I’m trying to figure out how I could make my life work with this new variable in play. I’m already reorganizing my days to see if it’s even feasible. I’m feeling the time crunch, and the numbers don’t seem to add up. I couldn’t possibly be able to do everything that I want to do in a 24-hour period, so I’m already prioritizing and cutting out certain things before a first date has even taken place. I’m impossibly selfish in these moments, and I know that it’s because I’m so used to being alone.

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At different stages of life, whether I’m dating someone or not, I can see more of my future. I’m not clairvoyant, it’s more that I can envision how my future will go, and I become less resistant to the idea of finding love and having a family. I remember being 18 and telling myself I never wanted kids. Age provides us with perspective. I’ve witnessed friends get married and start their own families, and these things don’t terrify me the way they used to. With each new phase of life, I’m able to see more of what my life could potentially be like, and although I get healthier with each relationship, I know there’s so much more work to do.

I remember something a Teaching Assistant once said to our class. She was rehashing what was going to be on the final exam, and many students were intently focused, a tacit admission that we hadn’t done much of the reading. She told us that when the line of supply or demand shifted, that this shift would impact the other variables. There was an overwhelming urge to predict every effect that would happen as a result of the change, but instead, she told us to write down the very next, most immediate thing that would happen. Those who were able to do that would be successful.

I promise that economics won’t be a recurring topic in this blog, but what my T.A. said stuck with me. I know I have certain tendencies, that I tend to extrapolate, especially when it comes to dating, and my anxiety begins to jump. I’m learning to fight that impulse. I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself, to just meet the person on the other side of the conversation, and maybe just have a simple cup of coffee, or a drink, maybe dinner, and get to know the other person. Nothing crazy has to happen, but rather, it’s important to sit with someone, get a sense of who they are, how they talk, their mannerisms, that sort of thing. It’s also important to find out who someone is in real life, when they can’t edit things before they say them.

Talking isn’t always my strong suit. I’d much rather write and be able to edit my words before they’re published, but sometimes talking is more important, and listening is even more important than that. After all, you can receive a text message and mull over your response for as long as you want. When the person is sitting in front of you, the most you can do is take a sip of a drink before you have to return the volley. There’s so much more anxiety involved, and while it’s becoming a lost art, the conversation, it will never be unimportant.

Face to face interaction is a key part of dating, but it won’t happen without that first step out of the door, that first step of asking someone to meet you somewhere. That’s when it all becomes real, when you have to make plans, when you have to go out and do something. It’s a powerful reminder that dating still happens out in the world, and that while online relationships have their place, that there’s still no substitute for getting out and truly meeting someone. Maybe you’ll fall deeply in love, and maybe it’ll just be one date. I’m learning to love the uncertainty of it all, and to simply just take one day, or one date, at a time. Thanks for reading.

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