How many dates have you been on in your adult life? And how many friends have you made from dating? If the answer is none, then I bet you’ve been doing it all wrong this whole time.
In our quest to find the one, we come across many more who are not the one. We have more dates than ever thanks to the option of swiping people in and out of our lives, but more often than not, all we have to show for it is…nothing. Yet while you might be searching for that one special diamond, why discard the rubies, sapphires and other precious gems on the way?
The other week I met a radio DJ on a dating app and we arranged for a morning rendezvous at the dog park. As our pups Raj and Trix ran about and sniffed each other’s butts, we metaphorically did the same. We talked about our lives, work, and the other random subjects one might discuss on a first encounter with a stranger. I wasn’t attracted to him physically but I found him interesting and, for lack of a better word, “cool.” I wanted us to be friends.
I wished that we had met under different circumstances, through a mutual friend or at a concert, any setting that didn’t imply that I was available and interested in dating. A few days and a few text messages went by, and it was apparent that he was interested in being more than just friends. I wanted to try to figure out a way to diffuse his romantic interest into an amicable one.
Most people have a tendency to approach dating as a zero sum game. There’s a hope with each first date, it’ll be the last first date, that this one will surely be your soul mate since you have two mutual friends and eight shared interests. The expectations are awfully and artificially high, meaning that more often than not we’re left feeling disappointed and regretful about having splashed out for cocktails or a new outfit with someone we’ll never see again.
But what if it didn’t have to be like that? While we all hope to be face to face with our future life partner on that first date, chances are more likely that we’ll wish we had stayed home and dove into our Neflix queue. What if we could take the pressure and expectation out of dating and just look at the experience as a chance to meet someone new, potentially make a new friend and maybe have a little fun in the process?
When we begin chatting with someone on a dating site or app, the implied subtext is that we’re looking for a romantic liaison. But if chemistry isn’t there, does that mean that we have to go our separate ways and never see the person ever again? Of course, sometimes you can’t wait to get away from a bad date, but there are also plenty of times when you’re sharing a drink with someone who you’d like to get to know better, just not swap saliva.
The problem is that usually someone is more interested than the other, and being turned down as a romantic prospect looks and feels a lot like rejection. Short of lying and telling the person that you’ve just taken a vow of celibacy, there’s not much you can say to soften the blow. And once you break the news, it’s likely that the person will lose interest in ever seeing you again, since time is of the essence and the next date may be the one with destiny.
By a certain age, many of us feel like we have enough friends. Since real friendships take time and energy to cultivate, we tend to focus on the pre-existing and rarely add new ones. But we devote so much time and energy to dating, it seems like we should at least walk away with a few like-minded comrades that can commiserate on the bleak prospects and swap bad date stories.
While it’s not easy to turn a date into a friend, there are certain ways to avoid setting yourself up for failure. I never flirt online or give physical complements unless I intend only to sleep with someone. Otherwise, doing so before meeting in person sets up immediately expectations that we’re going to be amorous, and it’s entirely possible that the person you’ve been virtually seducing is, in reality, as unappealing as week-old Bolognese. Once you’re face to face, it’s much easier to let chemistry dictate.
At the other end of the spectrum from the platonic playmate is the fuck buddy. This is someone that you are equally uninterested in seriously dating, but prefer your interactions to be physical instead of verbal.
I have a neighbor that I like hooking up with — it’s the perfect arrangement. He lives across the street and neither of us wants to sail off into the sunset with the other. I consider our relationship to be friendly: we hang out, get naked, get off, say goodbye, and repeat.
You’d think relegating someone to the position of casual sex partner would be easy, but oftentimes getting someone to commit to semi-regular, no-strings-attached sex poses its own set of unique challenges. Hard to imagine as it is, your casual sex partner has a life of their own — and, like you — are probably dating concurrently. Also, men seem to crave variety in their hookups and are prone to spending more time hunting for new ones rather than relying on a sure thing.
In both of these situations, honesty about intentions is critical to maintaining and defining boundaries. You don’t want your friends trying to make out with you and you don’t want your fuck buddy proposing.
By compartmentalizing, you’ll find yourself deriving nearly a complete sense of fulfillment from separate sources rather than waiting for one person to be your everything. When you start dropping your expectations and just enjoying the new people you meet, you just might find the world becoming a much friendlier place.