In between the four primary romantic relationships I’ve had in my life, the number of dates I’ve been on amounts to only a smattering. If my memory serves me, I’ve been out with six guys, some of them more than once, when not in those longer-term partnerships.
Always, I’ve attested to not being much of a dater, finding little appealing or energizing in the idea of going out with multiple men at the same time simply for the fun of it or in the hopes that one is a match. If I like someone, and feel enough of a connection on a first date, then I’m going to explore that potential. Of course, I realize my willingness to do so does not preclude them from pursuing other women, but usually who is seriously interested and who isn’t becomes apparent soon enough — and we move on, alone or in deepening attachment.
I suppose I’ve forged that approach because I am relationship-oriented. But in the last few months, after five and a half years in what I thought would be my lifetime partnership, deciding what I want next hasn’t been all that clear.
Because the truth is I’m finding that dating, without expectation or pressure, really can be fun — a surprising, interesting, baffling and, at times, downright hilarious world that has opened up to me, courtesy of the Internet.
Yes, I’ve ventured into such alien territory, commonplace to many in this day and age, but a space I swore never to navigate. Given that I sit all day, on most days, at a computer, the last thing I ever wanted to do was turn to one to find a date. Something about the prospect also struck me as calculated and even manufactured. “I want to meet someone organically,” I vowed when others would try to steer me toward sites like match.com or eHarmony.com well before I first noticed my ex at a yoga studio.
Never mind I was marrying plenty of couples who’d found romance through that great contemporary matchmaker. I wanted that live spark of interest, the lingering glance with a hint of promise, that crackling rush of awareness that could transform the most ordinary of encounters.
And then one night not too long ago, I found myself sitting before a popular site, wondering what I had to lose. Given how busy my life is and how deliberately I carve out where and with whom I spend my time, I also realized the chances of meeting someone with whom I was compatible just going about my everyday were probably slimmer than I anticipated. So I set up a profile, waded through an extensive and outrageously personal list of questions to respond to the ones I deemed most pertinent — and I was off.
In some ways, setting up an account was a declaration: I am hereby ready to date. But where I’d heard ponderous and exasperated stories from friends who’d tried and abandoned all attempts to find a mate in cyberspace, or were going through the process with more resignation and pessimism than hope, I determined to make my experience as pleasurable as possible. I would not burden it with grandiose aspiration or rigid expectancy, would not search for an illusory perfection or ideal. And the minute I stopped enjoying any of it, I would sign off.
Four dates in, with four very different men, I’ve surprised myself in countless ways, and not just in my willingness to give several guys a chance — all at the same time. What has most struck me during this brief trial is that dating, if we let it, can be an exercise not just in affirming our preferences and learning new ones but in practicing appreciation.
There is ample opportunity for ridicule and criticism when faced with such a vast and eclectic pool of potential partners. I’ve certainly laughed out loud over some of the messages I’ve received: Does the guy whose only comment is “You’re a tall one, aren’t ya?” really expect a response, or how about the one with a shirtless selfie for a profile picture who queries, “Can I sing for you today, pretty lady?” Um … thanks, but no.
With the conversations that have led to dates, I’ve been drawn more to the words in their profile that give me a sense of who they are, and the thought put into their initial messages, than superficial qualities such as looks or income. And I’ve sought out even more to appreciate about them when we connect, even if nothing materializes beyond a first date.
I wasn’t attracted to Date No. 1, for instance, but I loved how he made me laugh and that I could be silly with him, almost right from the start. Date No. 2 boasted a dizzying intellect and spiritual depth that exponentially increased his attractiveness when we finally got together for dinner, and although Date No. 3 asked, with puckered lips, if he could kiss me during our first and only meeting — Who does that after barely two hours in someone’s company? — I valued his worldliness and passion for the arts. No. 4 had such positive, happy energy, we texted and called for weeks after our first date — in spite of his unwarranted use of kissy-face emoticons — until I had to admit my interest in No. 2 superseded all others.
We’ve since gone out three more times. That may be it, but his presence has already been a gift. The giddiness I’ve felt around him, the way I automatically smile recalling our conversations or text exchanges, the fact that he’s in my thoughts at all — I know now I am open to love again. I had forgotten what it was like to feel such excitement and, to be honest, doubted it might be possible. Yet, when I am ready, an exhilarating and tender love will enfold me once again, with its own distinct richness and depth.
That’s the magic of appreciation: The more we notice, in each moment, all we have to be grateful for, the sweeter the bounty to come.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times