Stop dating. I mean it. Just stop.
Derek and I get asked (often) how we met. Most people ask then look at us in hopeful anticipation of a fairytale story that led two cool (if I do say so myself) people to each other. In many ways our story is pretty perfect (if I again say so myself). There is one detail that throws people off. We met through Tinder.
We tell people this right away when they ask. There is no need to hide it. And there is a reason why it worked. And (Sorry, Tinder) it wasn’t because Tinder is this amazing dating app. Sure, we give them credit for meeting. Sure, their platform is super easy to use. And sure, the stereotype of why people are on Tinder was kind of the only thing we were looking for at that point (insert dramatic gasp). But really it was our attitude about where we were in life and an honest, healthy approach to meeting people (notice I did not say “dating”) that allowed us to talk, have a little fun communicating, meet and fall in love.
I dated for 8 years following the break-up of an 11 year relationship (really a common law marriage). I was 33 years old. I had never had to date before. I was 22 when I met my ex. Funny side note: A good friend of ours refers to his ex as “The former administration”. Anyway, I was 22 years old when we met. We met through friends and hung out and then we were a couple.
We didn’t really date. We were together for 11 years. We broke up and then I was a grown up. And single. I moved out, got my own place and lived by myself for the first time ever. And (I hate admitting this) I was lonely. So I started dating. A lot. Like a lot, a lot. I met some awesome people who ultimately were not for me and some downright horrible people who should seek professional help. I dated some of them (mumbles under breath “all of them”) for wayyyyy longer than I should have. Why? Because of dating. Dating causes you to make ridiculous decisions. “Trying” to meet someone causes you to accept things you never would accept from someone you have known for a while and that is a strange cycle to put yourself in. Eventually you know the person you are dating if you continue dating them. And guess what! They will be exactly the same as they were when you met them. Or…and this is always the fun part…If they were also in “date mode” when you met, you will learn they are not even as cool as you thought they were but now you are dating them exclusively and trying to justify why it is all ok.
Date Mode: Similar to work mode or funeral mode or gynecologist visit mode, there is a mode most people get into on a first date. The problem is, it is nearly impossible to sustain that mode beyond a couple of dates. Those other modes are ways you act to get you through a less than pleasant experience or an experience where you need to act in a certain way so that you and everyone around you is more comfortable. Think about that. We act a certain way during a funeral or gynecologist visit so we can get through it without freaking out. So that we can breath when it is over. Why in the hell do we have a mode for dating? How many people do you know who change for someone else? Like truly change and not in a positive way or a way that is true to themselves. It doesn’t work. They either end up miserable or they just can’t maintain the act anymore.
So I realized after a few years (yes, years) that dating is really stupid.
I could no longer bear to put on the first date version of myself for one more exhausting meeting with a stranger. I was done dating. I just wanted to meet people but I was no longer interested in “Date Mode”. It’s ok if someone doesn’t like you. They don’t have to. It doesn’t make you less awesome. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Just like you don’t like everyone, not everyone will like you. So definitely be yourself so you attract people who like exactly who you are. From then on, I was always me.
What I had not learned quite yet was how to look for “date mode” in other people. That took place in the 2 years before I met Derek.
How do I know who I am really with? And what compromises am I really willing to live with? When I figure out who this person is, how long do I wait before I end it when it seems like less than what I need? Do I need to compromise? Is this what finding a relationship at 40 is like? Can someone seem to be amazing and awesome and is it still ok for me to say that they just don’t make ME happy? Am I unable to be happy with someone?
Finally it clicked after a horrible and abusive relationship that was one of the last before I met Derek. I mean, I knew the answers to all of those questions. I was a self-proclaimed non-settler. But I wasn’t being honest with myself. I (over and over and over again) kept giving way more time and energy to potential relationships that did not, in fact, have any potential. It was so obvious and I would hear the brilliant part of my brain say things like “Well that’s a red flag.” Or “That makes me uncomfortable.” Or “This is not what I pictured.” Or “I can’t see myself in my old lady rocking chair next to this person.” But I ignored it. I straight up, idiot-style ignored all of those thoughts. I settled. Why? Because I thought it felt nice to be with someone. To have someone. I think so anyway. I think that’s why I did that. I’m not sure. Something hadn’t clicked yet and I was treating myself horribly. And then finally, I felt myself in a ridiculous situation. An unhealthy situation with a narcissistic psychopath. And I say that not from a place of an angry ex-girlfriend who calls their ex a name to feel better. As the former administration to that 8 month assignment I can say with complete confidence that my business partner was unwell. Truly unwell. So why was I there? Because it hadn’t clicked yet. I had not yet fully embraced my own worth, value, awesomeness and ability to enjoy life by my freaking self surrounded by amazing friends and family.
And then I did. It clicked. And I had to go through about a million emotions centering around all I had put myself through and how stupid I felt. Once I forgave myself and was able to see why it happened (that could be a whole other blog post) I felt amazing. Truly amazing. And empowered. And at peace. Truly at peace. It was time to just live and not worry about whether or not I would meet someone. It didn’t matter. I was free and I was relieved and I was happy. I started enjoying life again. I had not one ounce of desire for a relationship. I had not one ounce of desire to spend more than one day in a row with any particular person in my life. I enjoyed staying home by myself on a Saturday for the first time in forever.
Why do we put so much pressure on Saturday? It’s such a weird thing.
Anyway, I had no desire to even know if I would ever meet anyone. I decided there was a good chance I might just stay single forever. And as long as I had my friends and family and was able to experience life as a happy person, it didn’t matter.
I did still desire sex. Yep. That desire was still there. I wanted that but I did not want any obligation from it. I didn’t want the expectation of it either. I wanted it on my terms. I did not want to feel like I had to (yes, that is a thing that exists that should not exist). I wanted to feel like if I wanted to that I could and that if I did, I could do it without suddenly being in a relationship. I didn’t want that weird sex/relationship magic that happens.
Customer unfolds directions and reads instructions “Step one: Go on date. Step two: Just add sex and in a few short hours – you will have a shiny new relationship!” Customer smiles and folds paper back up, stuffs it in the junk drawer and calls an Uber.
Derek was the first and only Tinder date I went on. Now we are married. And super happy. Like really happy.
Would you like to know why?
We weren’t in Date Mode.
I still enjoyed meeting new people, flirting, etc. But I had sworn off dating. I tried other “dating” sites with the intention of just meeting people. I had promised myself that, whether male or female, every new person I would meet would get the real me. And I would get to know the real them. I would listen. Like really listen vs. that “date mode” type of I’m-acting-very-attentive-and-making-sure-this-person-knows-I’m-listening type of listening. I wanted to get to know people so I listened. When you truly listen it makes you have a lot of questions. Like a lot of questions. And I asked those questions. Not everyone likes that. And that’s ok. For me it meant that they were not someone I am supposed to know more about. And that’s ok too. There is no requirement for this to become a friendship or relationship. Repeat that. There is no requirement for this to become a friendship or relationship. This does not have to go beyond this meeting. It’s ok. If both of us are comfortable and enjoying each other’s company and on the same page then it will be easy, natural, fun. Questions won’t seem weird.
I wished I had done this my whole life. A tiny bit was in a regretful way and the rest was in a way that felt good knowing I had this new superpower that would have been helpful before but whatever. I have it now. I can actually figure out who I want in my life now. This applies to friends too. If I had this before, I would not have tried to date the guy who told me before our first date that he loves the outdoors and hiking and kayaking and on our third date while we were in a kayak told me he does not actually like the outdoors and would much rather “relax”. I paddled for both of us back to the shore thinking “This could still work” (insert eye roll). Or the guy who on our first date had a beer with me and then we dated for about 2 months during which I determined he clearly had a drinking problem. When I decided to end it I mentioned this and he told me he was a recovered alcoholic until our first date when he had the beer with me. I could keep going but I think you understand. How could I have figured this stuff out more quickly? I could have asked more questions. “What was your favorite hike? When did you do it?”. When I was told he never drinks in front of his parents I could have asked more questions. He said it was because they don’t drink yet they offered me a glass of wine. I could have asked more questions. And I could have really listened.
To be clear, there is no issue dating an alcoholic in recovery. There is an issue dating an alcoholic who falls off the wagon to impress you on a first date. He needed more recovery time before dating.
Anyway…with my new superpower, I was learning quite a bit! And it felt great. I met people and because I finally felt good about myself, I was just me. Comfortable in my own skin. Friendly, curious, not easily rattled, not thrown off. I can walk away from this whenever I feel like it. I can say “I’m going to head home now. Have a great night.”. If I was asked if we could hang again and I did not want to I would either say “I will give you a ring if I am able to hang out again.” Or “You seem like a great person but our interests are different so I don’t think so.” If someone got mad at me for saying that I would say something like “We can both be awesome people but that doesn’t mean we both will want to or are required to hang out again. It’s ok.” Or “I think you have just confirmed my suspicion that this is not a friendship I want to pursue. I wish you the best.” I used to think things like that were cold or mean. They aren’t. They are honest, And fair. And better.
And less exhausting.
You don’t owe anyone anything. A date is not a contract. There are no warranted expectations. All you are doing is meeting someone. Maybe you make a friend. Maybe you don’t. Maybe there is something more. Maybe there isn’t. It is truly that simple. It really is.
So after I swiped right…or he swiped right, I forget how it worked, we text chatted a little. It was really fun! At some point we decided to actually talk on the phone. That’s a rare but important thing to do BEFORE you meet someone. If you can’t have a fun conversation on the phone then what will meeting be like? Figure that shit out before the first date. Anyway, at some point I asked if we could forgo “date mode”. I asked if we could just be ourselves and take all pressure off of dating and just have fun talking and meeting each other. I don’t know exactly how I said it. We were actually just talking about it the other day because he heard me giving (non)dating advice. He said he wished he could remember what I said because whatever I said made him feel suddenly at ease and excited to meet. And that’s what we did. We met. And we had so much fun. And our date lasted three days. I asked a million questions and liked almost all of the answers. The ones I did not like… I told him. I said why I didn’t like the answer. We talked about it. He explained. I liked the explanations. And now we are married. And I have never been happier.
Just months after I decided I might be single forever and it was ok, just months after I decided to stop “dating” I met the person I am supposed to be with. I didn’t care if I met him but I did, in fact, meet him. If I had not stopped “dating” I might not have ever met him. I might have been stuck in another string of bad relationships caused by not listening, not asking questions. I would have never gotten to this meeting that had no pressure, no expectation. I would still be trying to be someone else. And neither of us would really know if we actually liked each other. I would not be sitting here in our home, writing this knowing that there is no where else in the world I should be. I would not be looking across the room at Derek and my stepdaughter smiling and laughing and calling me over for ridiculously silly and awesome things. I would not be this happy with someone else. Truly happy.