Casual dating taught me a ton of life lessons. How to be “chill.” How to not care. How to try and remove my feelings from a person and just enjoy them in short spans of time. How to obtain multiple options and keep them open.
But it didn’t teach me how to love. Not myself or anyone else.
I’m not going to pretend like people haven’t found love in the midst of all this casual, “just for fun” dating. I know people who fell in love by meeting on Tinder. Or by starting off as friends with benefits and then feeling something much more than that. I also won’t pretend like dating doesn’t have its perks, either. Yet I know that in the end, it taught me a lot of things except what I really needed.
I experienced a year on dating scene: I met new people, I went out on dates, sent ridiculous amounts of texts, and spent more than a few nights kissing at 2 am. If I’m honest, I did have fun. I do have some great memories that I look back on fondly.
Yet I wouldn’t want to do it again.
We all have that point in time where we really question love. We wonder if it truly exists, or if we’ve experienced it and lost it, we wonder if we will ever get it back. Sometimes it’s out of impatience, or heartbreak, or confusion, but despite the reasons we wonder nonetheless. Dating casually took so many of the things we have embodied as a generation-social media, busy schedules, lack of commitment, and insane of amounts of fun- and incorporated it into our love lives. We meet a new person every day of the week online. We have fun for a night, or a couple. We stay as long as we like and then we ghost once we’re finished. Then on to the next one. Sometimes if we’re talented, we can juggle two or three at one time, but only if we are looking for something to challenge us.
This kind of dating taught me that showing how I really felt wasn’t a good idea. If I showed too much interest, guys disappeared or backed off. If I was aloof, or not interested, they magically appeared. It taught me how to keep my mouth shut when I was feeling things beyond what was being shown. How to pretend I was fine when I wasn’t. How to get through disappointment when he didn’t text back or cancelled our date. How to call things a “hang out” instead of a date so that it wouldn’t seem too serious. How to take off clothes one night and then pretend it didn’t happen the next day.
Simply dating, and dating casually, taught me how to pretend and how to detach.
Yet in the midst of all these lessons, I was someone still hoping to find love because I figured you had to get there eventually. You went through some of this stuff for a little while, but eventually it would become more, right? The thing about modern dating is that when things have the potential or expectation to become more, it’s cut off. I repeated the process over and over, still thinking that one of these times, a guy would see more in me than just someone to have fun with every now and again.
I was too busy learning these games, these tricks, to keep a guy’s attention, because I didn’t like myself very much.
I felt too loud, too annoying, too talkative, and too emotional. I was trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t these things, and getting guys to be interested in me seemed the best way I knew how to prove that to myself. After multiple guys, however, I realized that I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. That through playing this dating game I was finding more things wrong with myself than right, because it was telling me that I should feel less, care less, and invest less. I was too busy trying to repress or change myself to fit the ideal rather than appreciate and love who I was.
In order to love anyone else, you have to love who you are first.
I also wasn’t learning how to love anyone else. I was learning how to like them. How to enjoy them and have fun with them. How to be with them for short periods of time, and then detach. I wasn’t learning what their secrets were or what they dreamed about. I wasn’t learning about their true feelings or what they feared. I was simply dipping my toe in the water instead of exploring the ocean of a person. I didn’t need to learn anything about a person in order to laugh with them for awhile on a Friday night or to kiss them passionately. I was learning the bare minimum in order to enjoy myself, because God forbid I learn their faults, flaws, and temptations. That I learn what makes them feel alive, passionate, and amazed. You can’t learn to love a person by only going skin deep.
This kind of dating wasn’t trying to teach me about love: it was trying to teach me about fun, about confidence, about endless choices. It did its job, because I did have fun. I gained some confidence. I went through multiple options, some more than once. This was a great place to be in when you are scared of love. Or when you don’t want love. Or if you’re unsure if love is worth it.
Yet when what you want is to know someone on a deeper level, to be with them for more than just a few nights, to invest into someone whole-heartedly, you realize you don’t really find that with someone who you swiped right on.
In the end, dating casually taught me a lot of things, but how to love wasn’t one of them.