If you’ve ever shaved your armpits over the sink, tried on four different outfits built around control-top pantyhose, rushed out the door way too late, and then painted your nails while speed-walking to the office all in the space of an hour, then congratulations. You probably know the endless joy that is human courtship, and probably the even more specific joy that is a date right after work. Oh joy. Oh. Freaking. Bliss.
I doubt the man I’m meeting tonight went through quite the same routine that I did this morning. I always imagine men rolling out of bed, throwing on clean clothes that fit just the way they ought, winking into the mirror, and immediately being ready to make me swoon. How easy to be a man who dates.
I am likely deluded. But that’s not the point.
For me, dating is like an awful triathlon in which I spend the first very long stretch trying to look my best, the next very long stretch discovering the right amount of time to maintain eye contact with attractive strangers or the right number and variety of words in a response online (if it’s too long, he’ll be bored — if my words are too big, I’ll intimidate him), and finally the last stretch of indefinite time tricking my date into thinking I am effortlessly perfect and just mysterious and amusing enough that he ought to spend more time basking in my glow.
This is the impossible art of dating.
When the race ends, I am emotionally exhausted and collapse on my bed with some kind of carbohydrate and a Planet Earth DVD.
One of the things that captivates me most about Planet Earth is learning how mating rituals unfold in nature. I am utterly fascinated by the romantic activities of animals (barring horny dogs and cats).
Most of all, I love birds of paradise. Birds of paradise know how it’s done, man. She is tawny and unremarkable, but she is wildly attractive to the male: the potential mother of his chicks, fertile and plump and everything a bird should be. He is colorful and fascinating, working hard not only to catch the eye of the hen but also to prove himself worthy to share her nest, willing to fight for her affection. She’ll settle for nothing less than strong enough.
But here I am, decked out in face paint and jewelry, hopping around, fighting to be seen. Screeching and singing in equal turns to be noticed by just about any man because surely all the ones I may actually choose have been chosen. Dying to watch the other lady-birds fall to the forest floor, to see that boy-bird tweet that I will do. Preferably, that I am lovely and desired.
Do I sound desperate yet?
Because I shouldn’t! In so many ways, I feel I am doing what has been demanded of me: hair, makeup, figure, style, charm, confidence. Or at least it’s what I’m aiming for! I’m even domestic!
Whether or not I will magically become a more dateable woman if I lose 20 pounds remains to be seen because it’s just not a priority for me. If you know me, you know I’m not transforming into a demure hen anytime soon. But I still find myself thinking, If you fit into those jeans again, if you would just shut your mouth, if you didn’t wear those heels: maybe then love would find you. A man has actually told me that if I had stopped wearing high heels, I would have found a husband years ago. What that particular advisor didn’t care about is that if I had ditched the heels, then I would never have found my confidence.
I’ve heard a million times that if I just wait a certain amount of time and turn myself into the kind of woman a man might want to spend his time with, or if I fall in love with myself (because THAT’s what the world needs more of), he’ll magically appear like a genie to grant all my love and fulfillment wishes! But I don’t think I want a hero. I don’t think I want a man to rush in with the answer to my life. I’ve got a God for that.
I do think I want to be fought for, but I want to fight too. Not the way I feel I’m supposed to, constantly fighting to be pretty or thin or sexy or cool enough. I want to fight for life and love alongside a great warrior, not to earn his attention.
I’m not afraid of being single; I actually enjoy it. I love this relationship I’m building with myself, getting to know my own interests and making my own adventures even if it means time spent alone. Sure I love the idea of a partner, someone who will adventure with me and let me know him and be known, but I also love the freedom of going on plenty of bad dates and flirting with whichever McDonald’s cashier I choose, okay? Whether I’m single or not, I still search and strive to be more, for better or for worse.
My frustration is in the empty promise of fulfillment by romance. That even if I look, smell, and act like the greatest catch the world has ever known, I may be looked over. I may be found wanting and may not know true romantic love. Relationships have no formula. Look, even when I can find x, I won’t have solved the equation.
For the love of God, stop telling single women that they need to wait, or to get their lives (and bodies) together before a man will bless her with the undeserved gift of his love. I don’t know when I will meet the man I will spend my life with, or even if I will. But I’m not going to obsess now about trying to become the woman he MIGHT want me to be.
Now that I think about it, if I envision the kind of woman my ideal man will love: I’m already her.