My first date lasted fifteen minutes.
My mother, seriously concerned that I was turning 16 and couldn’t hold a conversation with a member of the opposite sex, practically kicked me out the door when three quick knocks reverberated through the house. There he stood, my date in all his polo-shirt-and-cargo-short-wearing-frosted-tipped-haired glory. He carried himself with the swagger of a guy with a learner’s permit and the keys to his mom’s burgundy Ford Explorer burning a hole in his pocket.
I was terrified.
Sitting quietly in the front seat on the way to the movie theater, I didn’t spit out the words “Look out!” until he had already whipped into a much-too-small parking space, simultaneously (and somewhat impressively) slamming into the bumper of the car parked to his left, and scraping the side door of the van to his right. And so my dating history began, not with a whisper, but with a crash. Symbolic, in retrospect. So much and so little has changed since that fateful day, yet all the while, I’ve stuck to important hard limits I set at 16, like no cargo shorts or highlights.
Over the years, my Facebook relationship status has gone from “Single” to “In a Relationship” and back again before I decided to keep my romantic relationships to myself (at least until Facebook creates an option for “Snuggling With Cat ‘Til Further Notice”). I’ve been in love, I’ve been in like, I’ve been the heartbroken and the heartbreaker. I’ve “put myself out there.” I’ve gone on dates, endured lengthy bar conversation, and returned texts with witty banter. I’ve been stood up, blown off, and frequently bored and disappointed. But for all of my experience, the truth is, in many ways, 23-year-old, single me still feels like that scared, clueless 16 year-old when it comes to dating. No matter how many dates I go on, I’m never, ever excited for one. I may not be terrified anymore, but I get this horrible, unwilling feeling in the pit of my stomach and just don’t want to do it. I want to stand with my pink chucks rooted to the floor and ignore the knock at the door. But I’m no longer 16, (I’ve progressed to white Chucks now, duh) and I’m tired of being the token single friend at holidays, parties…and on Instagram for that matter, so out the door I go.
I’ve heard people compare the anticipation before a date to nerves before a job interview, but that comparison just doesn’t do it for me. What I feel before a date is something I classify as “Date Anxiety,” a diagnosis which doesn’t seem to get better with time or age. To me, dating is significantly worse than an interview. In fact, unless my date is Adam Levine, I would pick enduring a job interview over a date 100% of the time. At least in a job interview, you should know enough about the employer that if they offer you the job, you will be prepared to take it, and the outcome will be positive, making the previous nerves worth while. But dating isn’t like that at all. There are so many variables at play, so many things that could go wrong in the course of the conversation, that you don’t know what page the two of you are going to end up on at the end of the evening, much less, where it will go from there. The process so often feels like a waste of time to me, an unnatural exchange of personal details with someone who you very well may never see again. At least in a job interview, your prospective future employer probably won’t ask you what your siblings’ names are or how your parents met or what your biggest fear is.
Overanalyzing my dating-dread as I frequently do, I wonder how I ever made it into serious relationships. The answer is simple: COLLEGE. College was the best thing for a date-o-phobe ever– the transition from hooking up to being in a relationship just kind of skipped over the whole awkward dating thing all together, well, depending on how you classify grabbing hungover Chipolte. See, college relationships generally tended to evolve in a backwards fashion. You started with the physical stuff, and then, over pillow-talk and a series of texts the following week or so, realize if you want to actually spend time with the other person outside of the bar or before the next fraternity formal. If yes, BAM- you’re basically in a relationship. Post-college, this tactic just does not work. If you have the hope of sparking a love connection with that guy you brought home from the bar, chances are, you’re going to be sorely disappointed and/or question your sanity in the morning. Because after college, it seems like the guys you bring home from the bar are not the people that scream “relationship material” and despite your intentions, you may find it’s hard to view yourself that way too.
Despite my reservations and gut instinct to avoid dating discomfort at all cost, I’ve tried inventing a few tactics to shake my distaste for the experience. After all, it is so normal and something so many people do so easily and naturally that I reason I gotta suck it up and get over my irrational aversion (OR stop making a joke out of being a cat lady and embrace it as my honest to God destiny). Realizing that this problem exists mostly, if not entirely, in my own head, I’ve tried to change the way I mentally approach a date. I call this plan: Denial- aka, just plain convincing myself that the next hour or so I’m going to spend with John Doe is not, in fact, a date, but is just merely “hanging out”. To execute Plan Denial, I opt for happy hour, or grabbing coffee– comfortable, familiar situations that I can camouflage as just another event in my week’s schedule. This never works. The “It’s a date!” text nearly always shatters my illusion, or the guy insists on a nice dinner. The nerve!
In an equally brilliant move, I’ve frequently tried pregaming dates. I’m not talking ripping shots or anything, but, you know, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc…or two…and a half…can’t hurt, right? Just a little liquid courage to get me to chill the fuck out, stop overanalyzing, and let the small-talk flow a little easier…This always seems like a great idea, until twice now, I’ve found out that my date for the evening doesn’t drink. Ever. So there went that coping mechanism.
I insist, my negativity towards dating is in no way indicative of my attitude towards relationships, or even just getting to know people. Despite the queasy feeling in my stomach before leaving my apartment, I really do look at dating as a necessary not-so-evil– it is an awkward means to an ends that I know I ultimately want. I get so caught up in my routine of work, grad- school, internship, bills, friends, LIFE that the moments when I wish I had a boyfriend don’t come too frequently (except when I refresh my Instagram feed– CHILL, couples and your homemade meals for two and matching wine glasses!). In fact, I would say that on the whole, I enjoy being single at 23 in New York City. But I see great value and significance in developing a relationship that stems from more than physical attraction and convenience, and sometimes feel the absence of this connection tug at me despite myself.
I may not want to go out to dinner with someone I don’t really know, but I do want to deeply know someone. I want someone to travel with, to go running with, and to try all of the espresso and whiskey this city has to offer. I want someone to learn from and give to and grow with. Being single is fun, and being alone is important, but sharing experiences with someone you truly care about is equally integral to building a life and developing a different aspect of yourself. I guess this is why I keep going on dates, and why I haven’t settled down with one person just yet–and the only real problem I have is that I haven’t been on the right date yet. So, every once in a while, I kick my chucks off, slip into some heels and push myself out the door, knowing full-well that I may not find love, but I probably will learn something that will lead me closer to it in the long run. On the plus side, no one in New York owns cars, so that’s one less risk to calculate.