I love the concept of dating. I love courtship, getting to know someone, those first butterfly-filled moments where you’re hyper-aware of everything you do and how they might perceive it, where everything they say is new and exciting. It’s a time that we seek over and over again because the kind of potential behind a first kiss is enough to counteract all the negative experiences we might have encountered in the past. And it’s also a time where you’re just figuring things out — there are no guarantees. You may end up becoming serious with this person, or they may just fall by the wayside and never be heard from again. It’s a time of limitless possibility and one in which, even if things don’t work out, it’s not going to really break any hearts. You took each other for a test drive, and just decided not to buy the car. It’s okay.
And my friends were always bewildered — and vocal about it — that I would go out on a lot of “dates.” I liked just going out to dinner with a man if he asked me to, or seeing someone once or twice before deciding that the chemistry wasn’t there for whatever reason. I would meet someone while out, be asked on a date, and go to some dinner/ movie combination that to my friends seemed incredibly old-fashioned. “Why do you date so much?” they would ask me. It seemed a strange question, as just one generation ago, that would be unquestionably the norm — to court someone and decide, rather objectively (before the heady rush of serious sentiments comes into play) that things are just not going to work out. I did this because I liked meeting new people, knew there were many fish in the sea, and wanted to meet many of them before I settled on one. And when I did decide to date, I always saw a serious future as an option with my boyfriends. Only when I knew we couldn’t end up together did I break things off. Now, that doesn’t mean you plan on marrying them or know for sure that they are “the one,” but if things keep going in this direction, that is where it should be headed.
This, of course, is quite the opposite of what many people today consider “dating.” Now, we tend to just fall into relationships with whatever is close to us, convenient, or has already been conquered. Friends will incestuously date within their group of friends, over and over and over. Friends with benefits whom people are not particularly interested in will become de facto boyfriends or girlfriends because, well, we need a date to a wedding. We will exist in a nebulous state of “sort-of dating” our “half-boyfriends” for years on end because it’s better than being single. And of course, if you ask these couples if they would ever consider settling down with said significant other, most would give you a resounding “no.” They would even justify with a “I don’t need to see a serious future with someone I’m dating, it’s just to have fun.” But could anything be more selfish, more unfair, more an insult to the both of you?
First of all, how do we know that the other member of this couple feels the same way? Perhaps what is just a game for you–something to pass the time until something better comes along–is something serious to them. How many couples exist on two planes of commitment, completely unaware that the other doesn’t share their intentions. And even if you are both completely indifferent about the other in the long-term, why become a couple? Why give your time, romantic energy, or half-hearted commitment to someone you don’t see yourself ending up with–for what are likely completely valid reasons? Why stay in this limbo?
It must be tightly interlocked with our deep, gnawing fear of being single. We just passed Valentine’s Day, and think of the hordes of people who used the occasion to spill out their hearts about how incredibly lonely they felt, how left out from a society they imagined as coupled-up, how less-than being without a significant other made them feel. And you don’t need to have a holiday to see this kind of behavior — even on a Saturday night, you’re bound to hear a friend complain about how they just wish they had someone to go out with — as though friends, family, or just themselves is not company enough. Sometimes I would see these kind of sentiments during the long periods of my singlehood, when I was going out on dates here and there but not feeling anything magical, and feel like the only person my age who didn’t care that I was single. I liked being single! Some of my best memories are walking around my city completely alone, doing everything I want to do in the day and not having to consider another person’s itinerary — seeing sights and being alone with my thoughts. Just sitting by the water with a glass of iced tea and a book was some of the most wonderful pleasures I can recall. Of course, my memories shared with significant others are just as beautiful — though in a different way. And loving running hand-in-hand with someone in the rain doesn’t negate an afternoon-long stroll by myself on a warm spring day.
But so many people, I fear, can’t quite enjoy this aloneness. They must replace it with someone — whether to calm their own anxieties or to fulfill some kind of social expectation of themselves. We all know that the twenties are a perpetual state of being asked “if you’ve found someone,” and it can become grating, sure. But that is no reason to succumb to the pressure and pass your time with someone for whom lasting love will never be an option. If you want to have a friend with benefits, or a one night stand here and there, more power to you! But there’s no reason to transmute those into half-hearted relationships just so you can claim, when put on the spot, that you have “someone” in your life. We all have many “someones” in our lives — family, friends, acquaintances, potential dates, our own quiet company. If this isn’t enough, perhaps you should think about why before you try and find another quick-fix partner to fill the void.