Jul 19, 2010

Communication? What?

I read my last post, and decided that if they exist, The New Rules of dating can bite me. Sure, there is that brief window of optimism when you meet someone new and really enjoy spending time with him. Due to my finely-tuned radar, however, I am now able to see red flags the minute they appear. No matter how charming Mr. Wonderful is on the first few dates, I pay attention to those red flags as they pile up. Because of that, I'm more likely to pull my head out of my ass and realize, "Huh. This guy's kind of a tool." This is a good thing; in the past, I've ignored all the signs pointing me in that direction until I was in way too deep, and one or both of us ended up getting hurt. Waste. Of. Time.

The words that really jumped out at me from that last post were, "I'm not up for a real relationship." What? Really? Yes, really, and not because of any wounds from past relationships. The time and emotional energy involved in maintaining a serious relationship are not luxuries I can afford right now. I've set up this sort of... unusual life that I'm leading so that I can focus on Grace and writing without constantly having to worry about money. These living arrangements are temporary. So why complicate things with a distraction I can deliberately choose to avoid? I didn't anticipate, however, that even casual dating would bring out the same jealousy, insecurity and uncertainty of a longer-term relationship, minus the shared history, friendship and real connection that almost make the unpleasantness worth it.

There seems to be a pervasive belief that, like a shark, if a relationship stops moving forward, it will die. I know I've fallen prey to this misconception in the past. As I said in a previous post, I believe more women than men focus on where a relationship is going, and maybe even tend to rush things. Most men seem to prefer not to think about it; maybe they want to simply enjoy what they have without worrying about the future, or maybe men believe that ALL CHANGE IS BAD. Could there be a middle ground?

My last relationship ended (prior to my foray into casual dating) because of what appeared to be a widening chasm in our expectations for The Future. He assumed I wanted a more serious relationship, whereas he did not. My knee-jerk reaction to this resistance was predictable: I felt rejected, hurt and a little (!) angry. We talked about it, but that's where the communication breakdown began. Neither one of us actually heard what the other was saying. BIG part of communication: listening. My weak protests of not wanting anything more may have seemed disingenuous, because I never thought about our future; it was too difficult to imagine incorporating him into my life, and Grace's. I hadn't yet decided what I wanted or didn't want.

Now I have. So, long story long, we're giving it another try, albeit in a very different way. We're enjoying the parts of our relationship that were fun (most of them), and not obsessing over where it's headed. I'll focus on my issues instead of worrying about him freaking out, and he won't assume I want more from him than I do. My issues have a lot to do with insecurity and jealousy, and I can't really work on those without first feeling them. I'd just as soon work on them with someone I know and trust. (What? Trust? Then why the insecurity and jealousy? I know, I know. I guess that's why they're called issues.) His issues are his problem. This is new territory. Far from choosing the path of least resistance, I've chosen to do something rather difficult: make my own feelings my first priority. I'd like to sit with those feelings of insecurity and jealousy and try to figure out where they come from.

So far, so good. We're having fun again, and there's no cloud hanging over us about what's going on in the other's head. No reading between the lines or making assumptions based on fear. I can appreciate the good between us, without expending so much emotional energy that my time and focus are taken away from Grace and writing.

What could possibly go wrong?

Jul 14, 2010

Dating, Part III: Rules?

WARNING: Skip this one, Mom and Dad. Really.

I've taken to blogging about dating faster than I expected. Part of it is out of sheer necessity, because after being with John for eighteen years, then experiencing two sort of doomed relationships, I'm dating again. Casually, because I'm not up for a real relationship; I'm still licking my wounds from the last one. But when opportunity knocks, who am I to say no? The problem is, I don't know the new dating rules. I'm lost in a sea of confusion over how to best navigate these murky waters. Full of questions, and short on answers. So, you singles out there, I ask you: what are The New Rules?

I've had a few good experiences, but admittedly, I'm interacting with the male of the species with my guard up. I'm wearing my wounded heart on my sleeve, whether I realize it or not. Maybe it's because I tend to put the whole divorced-and-recently-out-of-a-relationship bit out there so everyone knows what's what. Decent, perceptive men sense my skittishness surprisingly quickly, and don't seem too crazy about the odds. I can't force myself to be vulnerable again, though. Should I fake it?

Communicating with men these days is like trying to learn a foreign language on the fly. No one seems to use the phone anymore. Email is rife with the possibility of misunderstanding. And texting? Please. It can take me forever to send one simple sentence. And what is the etiquette surrounding texting? If I have not asked a direct question, should I expect a reply? (And vice versa.) Should we take turns? If I want to share a random thought, but have yet to hear back from him after my last couple of random thoughts, am I text-stalking?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but when do we have sex these days? I'm forty-three. My basic philosophy is that I can have sex whenever I feel ready, as long as I'm safe. But are we still playing the waiting game? Am I supposed to ignore my own instincts so he doesn't think I'm some sort of slut, even when he's giving me the full-court-press? (That ship has already sailed, to keep the water metaphor going, but I'm still curious.) I can't help but feel that old fear: once we've had sex, is he going to disappear? I'm not talking about casual sex, mind you; that's not how I roll (ha ha). But let's face it: even casual dating can lead pretty quickly to physical attraction if there's any sort of chemistry involved. And making out on the couch seems so... high school. What's a girl to do?

Finally — and you can file this under TMI if need be — what's the protocol around farting? One boyfriend handled this beautifully. We were hanging out not too long after we met, and he looked up and asked, "Are you ready for a real relationship?" Every muscle in my body clenched in fear as I stared at him. Then he just let one rip. It was hilarious, and perfect. But not too many men have that particular sense of humor, and I can't walk around with a stomach ache simply because I'm afraid to rock the boat (ha!) with a little wind. If there are going to be overnights, is farting allowed?

I have many more questions, of course. But some advice on these burning issues would help steer me in the right direction, for the time being.

Jul 9, 2010

Dating, Part II

My last post was a bit of a downer. I was in a mood. (No way. A mood?) In my haste to revile all things dating-related, I forgot to mention the fun parts, which is what keeps us all going back for more, right? I'm in a list-making kind of place at the moment, so I offer the following, in no particular order.

Cool things about dating:
- Talking on a first date (with no drinking involved) and feeling perfectly comfortable
- Getting to know someone you feel as if you already know (see also: connection)
- First physical contact? Holding hands.
- Having him say he'll call, then getting that call before you expect it
- "When can I see you again?"
- Anticipating the next date, and the next
- Realizing you have way more in common with him than you ever suspected
- That first kiss. Wait, let me repeat that: THAT FIRST KISS
- Being able to sit quietly together, without the need to fill dead air with mindless babbling
- Missing him when he's out of town
- New Guy Smell
- Not worrying about introducing him to Grace, because IT'S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. Unless it does.
- Being in a place in my life where I'm not overly concerned with what it all means and where it's going
- Feeling good about myself, not because of him, but for all the right reasons

That's it for now. Like I said, I'll never kiss and tell. Not the juicy details, anyway.

Jul 1, 2010

Dating, schmating.

A while back, an anonymous commenter on my blog asked why I don't write about dating. Apparently, the dating trials of a divorced mom are of some interest to those who love a train wreck—namely, my entire readership. I've always told myself that I don't blog about dating because I want to respect the privacy of certain people in my life. But since my divorce, none of my romantic partners have appreciated this courtesy. One wondered why I never blogged about him. Another (jokingly) suggested I write a blog post consisting entirely of his name, repeated over and over again. (I thought that was pretty funny, actually.)

My rationalization for omitting such a large part of my life turns out to be complete bullshit, fueled by fear. I confess: I don't blog about it because I find dating to be really, really difficult. It is rife with uncertainty, conflict, disappointment and, ultimately, failure. Failed relationships hurt. And in my little pea-sized brain, a failed relationship translates into a failure on my part. What was I thinking? What could I have done differently? And, worst of all, what's wrong with me?

I don't actually believe there's anything wrong with me. I haven't had any serious self-esteem issues for a while, at least where men are concerned. (Okay, maybe a little recently.) Were this not the case, I would be a whimpering, quivering, helpless puddle of despair at this point. But I'm not, because I know who I am, what I want and what I deserve. I lose track of that sometimes. I cling to relationships that have clearly played themselves out, because I have thrown my whole reckless, idiotic, hopelessly hopeful heart into them, and I am loathe to admit defeat. My heart doesn't always agree with my brain. My brain might see red flags all over the place, but my heart is color blind.

My other weakness is that I tend to focus on whether or not the object of my affection finds me worthy, rather than letting myself decide, over time, if he's really someone I want to be with. I think women do this more than men. I also suspect that most men spend a lot less time worrying about where a relationship is headed, unless it seems to be moving too fast. I actually envy this about men; it makes really good sense. Living in the moment and letting things unfold naturally is healthy, and doesn't involve keeping track of who called who last, or waiting to see if he'll call if you don't, or trying to read between the lines of completely innocuous remarks. All of that is exhausting, and fruitless. I'm not going to do it anymore. Really.

Then there's Grace. She seems to believe that a family must comprise at least three people. It's what she remembers up until February when we moved into The Cave, and she knows that most of her friends have a man and a woman in one house. So I wait until I'm overcome with optimism to introduce her to anyone I'm dating, and then it's on a very casual level. But it doesn't matter. She can meet someone once, someone I've told her is just a friend, yet she reads more into it than I ever imagine she will. Soon, she'll start peppering me with questions. "Is so-and-so coming over again?" I don't know, baby. "Will I ever see so-and-so again?" I'm sure you will, honey. It's heartbreaking, and I can't help but wonder if she asks her father the same thing, or if she senses in me some need to have a man in the house. I don't consciously feel that need, but she's an old soul, and often surprises, no shocks, me by talking about things she just shouldn't know about.

So a few new rules as I move forward: listen to my head at least as much as my heart; focus more on how I feel about someone and less on how they feel about me; don't worry so much about where a relationship is headed; and most important, NEVER INTRODUCE A MAN TO GRACE unless he and I are both goddamn sure we're in it for the long haul.

Oh, and I will never blog about the specifics of my dating life. I'll try to throw in vague generalities from time to time, but when it comes right down to it, it's my own privacy and sanity I'm trying to protect.