For the most part, I'm a rational person. I believe in good sense, empirical evidence, logic, lessons from history, cause-and-effect. But I'm also a person person—human. And, depending on how things are going in my life at any given moment, I can spend huge swathes of the day intentionally seeking out and filling my mind with emotional justifications and anecdotal whatever-you-want-to-call-its as well as telling myself stories, lines, untruisms. Most of the time I'm looking to make myself feel better. Sometimes, when I'm really wallowing, I'll find ways to make myself feel worse. All of the time, I'm just looking for signs I'm not alone. Because, well, feelings. Feelings are hard.
Like: since last summer, I've started dating again, in a sort-of regular and determined-ish way. I've never really been the kind of girl who dreamed about her wedding day or ever made elaborate plans for a house with a garden and 2.5 kids—so in my early 30s, I took a step back and recused myself from the game. It was fine, I felt okay about it. There's something about deliberately making the decision to turn that part of yourself off that feels subversive and liberating, especially when so many people around you are scrambling for the one and/or posting wedding-then-baby photos in your Facebook feed. Objectively, I think I was glad to not be part of the breeder herd. And, conveniently, my career was also in flux, so it was easy to channel my energies elsewhere. But somewhere between 35 and 36, I got bored. And maybe it has something to do with female biology, but I was craving some kind of social change—a need I couldn't quite verbalize and a void I couldn't seem to fill with frenetic travel, exotic vacations, new business venture plans, or packing my calendar with platonic parties. Maybe I needed a life change. So I started dating. Again.
Dating is hard. I feel like it's only really fun, like brilliant, delirious and great, between 3 and 6 percent of the time. Fifty percent of the time, dating is terrible—gut-wrenching and really weirdly dehumanizing. The other 44 to 47 percent of the time, it's just confusing.
I'm not going to lie—over the past 10 months, I've been put through the wringer a few times. And whereas when you're consistently, conscientiously single, you maintain this sort of above-average equilibrium on the happiness scale, dating throws you down a sine-curve of emotion—all the highest highs, every lowest low. Love, or whatever this is, pokes at that dopamine part of your brain—and just being around the object of your affection (or seeing a photo of him) triggers the same happy-chemicals in your head as taking a hit of cocaine. (Finally, Facebook-stalking explained.)
My friend Laura told me that the reason people are willing to put themselves out there and lay their dignity, love, tears, and heartbreak on the line over and over again is that while the risks are so great, the potential payoff is even greater. After all, it's not like you need to meet 100 Mr. Rights. You only need one. Right?
I'm not so sure. What if I'm not sold on that theory? What if I don't believe in the one? Actually, I know I don't believe in one Mr. Right. Maybe it's because I haven't met him yet, maybe I'm naive, or maybe this is the rational part of my brain talking, but of all the guys I've ever dated in my entire life, I feel like I could have happily and easily carved out serious long-term (if not some kind of committed-forever-type) relationships with at least 30 percent of them. Is that weird? Sorry if we dated once upon a time and you happen to be reading this. Don't freak out, I'm talking about you, but I'm not talking about specifically-you (because I probably don't even remember your last name), but yes, chances are we could have made it work, and it would have been awesome. The reason it probably didn't work out wasn't because we weren't each other's preordained-by-the-universe lobsters. The reason it didn't last was probably because one of us just wasn't ready.
Before last July, that not-ready person was me. This time around, it's not.
So when I go out with a 40-something-year-old only to find out three months in that this great guy, who has a solid career, great friends, and all his ducks in a row, is a confirmed bachelor who has no plans to ever call any woman his girlfriend (much less wife)—or when I'm dating an amazing guy in his late-30s for four months who turns into a fast friend and confidant, but would like to continue playing the field for the foreseeable future? Well, that's the 44 percent part of dating that's just confusing.
When I wasn't ready for a relationship, I took myself off the market. But I understand why people don't. Dating is probably a lot more fun when you're not invested in it, or going in with any kind of long-term intentions. What's that great line from Almost Famous—"I always tell the girls: never take it seriously. If you never take it seriously, you never get hurt. If you never get hurt, you always have fun. And if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends."
I guess I could be that person, too. It might be easier.
But then I read things like this week's New York Times "Modern Love" column, and think (and hope) that there's something more out there for me, if I could ever be so lucky:
Sometimes I think about the vows my wife and I made to each other, 28 years ago and then again last summer. We’re different people than we once were. Does that make breaking a promise easier?
Last summer I said: “You can trust me. I’ll always tell you the truth about what’s happening.”
Today I tell her small, comforting lies. Some promises, though, aren’t just things you say or intend to do; they’re about what kind of person you are. That makes it easier to decide what’s right.
My wife and I were recently sitting with a group of older women, drinking coffee. One leaned over to me and whispered, “Are you the son?”
I corrected her impression, which may have been due to failing eyesight. “No, we’re married.”
I was surprised at the question. When I look at my wife I still see the lovely younger woman in our photos and in my memory. Sometimes she looks back at me and smiles. Even though she may not know who I am.