There is no blueprint for dating. We can follow online advice or read dating columns, but ultimately, there is no way to insulate from being rejected or having our hearts broken. Dating is a series of often ridiculous and humiliating endeavors, which if we are lucky, lead us to love.
After divorce, I was thrust back into the single scene in my thirties with virtually no experience. I was wide-eyed and naive, certain that the love of my life was waiting. He would chop wood for me while wearing soft and sexy flannel shirts, serenade me with love songs every morning, and have abs like Ryan Gosling. Instead, I went on a series of bad dates, one man drank too much whiskey and threw up, one guy had an eye patch like a pirate, another scrounged in his pockets for change to buy coffee while asking me what my spirit animal was. It’s never sexy when a man shouts out aardvark in the middle of Starbucks.
Some dates were just pure incompatibility. Many of the men I met were looking to start a family, where I was happy that my two children were growing up and becoming more independent. Sometimes the physical attraction was just non-existent. This is no one’s fault.
The most surprising dates occurred with men who were looking for casual sex and had no qualms about non-commitment. I make it abundantly clear what I’m looking for in my dating profiles and in conversation. Hooking up randomly was not something I was interested in.
I have no problem simply deleting men like this from my phone and life. This wasn’t always the case for me. When I started dating, I was not as self-possessed as I am now. I took everything personally because I was not secure in myself. I clung to relationships that didn’t work because I was fearful that I might end up alone. I was afraid of anyone who challenged me, and I created snap judgments. I also got attached far too easily.
It took falling in love and having my heartbroken, and then breaking another man’s heart afterwards to realize that relationships are just not clear-cut. We are all just tumbling around hoping for the best. Some people have more integrity than others, and I now count myself among them.
I only have control over myself. If a man finds me clingy, needy, or high maintenance because I won’t sleep with him right away, or I expect a text back at a reasonable time, or for a date to be set promptly after the first or definitely after sex, then he isn’t a man for me.
I do make mistakes and sometimes my resolve in these matters can waver. When I ease up on these standards, I always find myself disappointed. Recently, I slept with a man on the second date because he seemed to be of high character and was promptly rewarded with a post-it-note in my mailbox a week later informing me that he didn’t have any interest in pursuing any sort of relationship with me.
I read his note incredulously before throwing the tiny slip of paper in the trash. I was hurt, but I also realized that any man that would put a post-it-note in my mailbox without giving me a call after sleeping with me isn’t a match. Ultimately, I have no one to blame for taking off my clothes but myself. These experiences are only humiliating if we allow them to be.
The secret to remaining dignified and hopeful in a dating culture that seems to celebrate quick hookups and equally quick rejections is to know your own worth. We hear this repeatedly, but what does it mean? It means owning your own experiences.
I think dignity comes from being authentic. We need to be vocal about our expectations. We need to make sure people are on the same page with our expectations for how we hope to be treated.
It is also okay to verbalize our disappointment or disagree. But, mostly importantly, we have to be fearless about leaving when a situation does not match our expectations or desires.
We do not have to stay polite friends with someone we do not feel respects us. We do not have to wait around for some random man or woman to text back. We are worth more than bad dates, and quick hookups. We can be angry when we are used and taken advantage of, and we can use it to learn how to spot a potentially bad situation in the future.
Simply delete. Move on. Head held high. This means we must also accept gracefully when someone rejects or moves on from us. We may have an expectation that a person won’t leave a post it note rejection after a sexual encounter, but we have no control if they do. We can simply express our dismay and be grateful we did not end up in a relationship with someone who would engage that way.
No one has it figured out. Not even the people who don’t text back, or leave us the next morning. They are struggling to love themselves, to love others, just like we are. I remain sympathetic for all of us.
Self-love is the only thing that will ever safeguard dignity, that and a healthy does of laughing at myself when I falter and have sex with the guy with vanity plates who rejects me right after with a pretty colored Staples supply.