Last year, I decided that I would stop jumping from one serious relationship to another. I should, I figured, give myself some space and breathing room to explore. While that’s proven to be the right decision, I’ve discovered that dating is, nonetheless, an exceptionally awful pastime. There’s a lot of anxiety around meeting someone in the first place – attempting to catch the eye of the cutie on the train; hoping that guy 50 times older than you with the leering smile would stop trying to catch your eye on the train. Then, there’s the texting, or e-mailing, or sending messages on Facebook and the gut-gurgling misery that arises from not being able to tell if someone is kind of into you or totally into you.
Next, there’s talking on the phone, which is a nightmare of nerves, and, finally, meeting in person. Whether you’ve already met your person in a cute movie-esque sort of way at the bookstore or cafe or your weekly radical sex workshop, or you met them online, the first date is always The Worst. Because of feelings and fears and the inability to hold down your food.
If the date goes well, great. Anxieties ease, feelings develop. You’re on a good path.
But if the date doesn’t go so well?
Well. Back to the looking, and the texting and messaging and phone calls, and the first dates. Again, and again, and again.
It’s especially difficult if you’re someone with a “radical” set of values (ie. you’re queer, or a feminist, or you’re a woman and have opinions). Among my friends, I actually consider myself to be fairly moderate, but then I go on dates with strangers and I feel as if I’ve been transported to a different universe (or hell). Once, I went on a date with a straight cisman who, with his arm around my waist, proceeded to rip apart a woman’s choice to wear leggings because she was, in his opinion, overweight. His comments made my skin crawl, but he thought he was being funny. Then there are the headaches that come any time I get to the point of explaining my exes to cismen or ciswomen. I’m cisgender, but many of my former partners are not – they identify as gender non-conforming or transgender. The lack of awareness around trans*-inclusive language in the public sphere has made my romantic life sad and stressful. I’ve had to play teacher more times than I can count, and it’s stressful not only in principle but also because that lack of awareness creates a barrier that prevents potential partners from understanding me and my experiences.
Ugh. So. Dating. It is hard. On the one hand, it is helpful in learning about yourself and the world, because you get the opportunity to meet a lot of different kinds of people. With that knowledge, you become better equipped to know what’s out there and how to sift through people. On the other hand: Ugh.
So what do I do about it? I read lots of books and blogs about dating. This may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Reading is a lot like dating, but without the stress and heartache and calls to your best friend at 2 in the morning about how you’ll die alone. You learn a lot about yourself and what to look for without having to send another billion texts about why it’s you, not them.
Here are three quick reads I’d recommend:
- How to Pick Your Life Partner by Wait but Why | This is an extremely well-researched blog post, written in two parts. Don’t pay too much attention to the title – you don’t need to be looking for marriage for this advice to apply to you. Whether you’re dating casually or looking for serious partnerships, this blog post gives a great rundown of what makes for a good connection, beyond physical attraction and common interests. It’s also really helpful for understanding the difference between the passion we see in the movies and the everyday aspects of spending a shit ton of time with one or multiple people over a lengthy period of time.
- Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller | When I first started dating seriously, I had these patterns I recognized, but didn’t really understand. I got very close to people very quickly, but then I’d just as easily push them away. I attracted people who did the same thing. I knew this without being able to articulate it and that lack of articulation created a gap between understanding and changing. With this book, I was actually able to pinpoint recurring actions or thoughts that interfered with my dating life, based on the three “dating personalities” they described, and effectively subvert them. I’m not saying it changed my life, but it was a great first step to being a healthier person emotionally.
- It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single by Sara Eckel | This is a great book by a funny woman who writes about being single past the age of 30 – like a shortened text version of Sex and the City. Of course, I am only at the withered and matronly age of 23, but I connected a lot with what she said. She goes through the type of advice friends and family will attempt to give you when you’re single and swiftly breaks down how most of it is bullshit. For example, there’s really no such thing as being too picky. We’re talking about the person or persons you’re going to be sharing saliva with – it’s good to know what you want and what you don’t want. A lot of people, it turns out, don’t.
These resources have helped me out a ton because they help me think critically about being a good partner and they remind me that good partners exist – you just have to know where to find them. Part of that search begins with yourself. (I know it’s new age-y, but it’s true.) Better yet, these resources are not steeped in tired stereotypes about men and women, which is obviously great, especially if you date either, both, or neither. Rather, all of them speak to individual qualities about being a person in the world who is trying to love other people in the world.
Of course, reading won’t actually stop you from having bad dates. You still, after all, have to test the waters, as there’s still no app for screening chemistry. (We keep trying though!) Resources like these, however, will help you have better relationships. For me, at least, I can say I have a better idea of what I need and what I can offer. It hasn’t made my dating life easier, but it has helped make it feel much more fulfilling.