Dating: An Unexpectedly Positive Experience

So, it’s true. I did get called a “stuck-up punk bitch”. And a manhater. But, that was while messaging online. On the other, and much more substantial side of the coin, the four in-person meetups I have had, with four different men, have all been positive in different ways.

The first man wrote one of the kindest dating rejection letters I’ve ever received, in which he said I was awesome and listed out a couple of reasons why (easy to talk to, doing something inspiring and admirable with my divorce/keeping the family together/new partnership). He said he wasn’t the guy for me, and wished me best of luck in my search. It was a genuine note, and I really appreciated it.

The second man and I spent three hours talking at a restaurant, followed by an hour and a half of conversation later on. When he started texting me multiple times a day following that date, and then queried me about my lack of response (in one day), I told him that I’d meant what I said about not wanting to jump into a relationship, and that daily messaging like that felt too much like I was treating him like a boyfriend. He wrote an appreciative text back that started, “Wow, you’re direct. I like and respect that.” He understood and has respected my boundary, and still was willing to extend himself emotionally by telling me that he was really looking forward to our second date. I don’t know if I’ll wind up with romantic interest in him or not (way too early to tell), but so far he’s definitely someone I want to get to know better.

The third man was interesting, direct, very affectionate in nature, very interested in me. I don’t think he’s the guy for me (not a very involved parent, super sure that men and women are fundamentally different in wiring and makeup, a frequent interrupter, among other things). But he was nonetheless respectful, and asked if he could kiss me (thank god, because I HAVE to have that sort of commitment to consent, or I run the other way – too much really negative history) which gave me a chance both to say no and to thank him for asking.

The fourth man was sweet, shy, funny, shared some significant personal history with me, and is an admirable and very involved father. I am not, at least on first blush, attracted to him physically. So I replied to his post-date message telling him that I would like to be friends (which I would; he is someone I want to get to know better). In reply, he sent me acceptance, and a most wonderful compliment it took courage for him to be vulnerable enough to offer, in which he told me “you have a heart-melting smile, so someone that lights your fire should be along soon I’d think”. I was so moved.

This is all a new experience for me. Not adhering that closely to the beauty standard, and as well being insecure and sometimes downright self-hating, I have not been a person who has attracted the interest and attention and desire of multiple men at once. Doing so now feels like a challenge to my self-identity, in fact. But it is also revelatory in various ways. I weigh more than I ever have in my life. But I am as comfortable, if not more so, with my body than I ever have been in my life. I am carrying myself differently. I am inhabiting my body differently. I am more centered, more sure of myself. I am not going on dates worrying about how I look. I am not worrying about whether the guy in question will be attracted to me or like me. I am more open to possibility at the same time that I am not feeling the need for any particular outcome.

And I am meeting men who are willing to share their hearts and minds with me, who have all been kind in different ways, and who have all had interesting stories to tell, and who have been interested in mine. It’s a diverse bunch of people, too, in terms of race, background, profession, etc.

I did some internet dating in 1999, and again in 2005. This is by far the best experience of the lot overall. I think it has partly to do with age: by the time we’re pushing 50, many of us are more relaxed, more experienced, and more open. And it has to do with where I am and how I’m expressing myself.

I’m really grateful.

Dating and Other Social Conventions

I have not ever been much of a dater. I have either been single, or been paired off in a monogamous relationship. Now, at the ripe old age of 48, I am dipping not just a toe but both feet and maybe even a knee into this odd experience. Doing so is rapidly bringing me up against some of my areas of challenge, my discomforts, and the realities of our misogynistic world. It has also been revelatory in unexpected ways.

First off, filling out the “About Me” sections on a couple of the sites was an enjoyable process. I wasn’t thinking at all about how someone would perceive what I wrote or who I am: I just wrote out a thoughtful and to the point description of myself and what I like. And, to my immense surprise, my primary emotional reaction to doing so was, “Hey! I like myself! I am not just saying that I am strong and smart, etc.; I actually believe it!”

I like me. That is an enormous victory. I see that I am an extraordinary person with many gifts, and I am proud of what I have learned, the work I have done, and what I am doing.

Secondly, I am deliberately going against my historical pattern of spending so much more emotional energy on whether someone would or does like me than on whether I like them, that I over-accommodate and react and give away way too much before I’ve even realized it on a conscious level. So this time around I am consciously setting aside the question/projection of whether the guy would like me or not (and I have to keep doing so: this is an ancient pattern, hard to change) in favor of answering the question of whether or not I’m interested in him. I am swiping right whenever the answer to that question is, “Yes”, or even, “Maybe”. I am practicing “Yes”.

Doing so is showing me how automatic and firm our categories are, and how I have obeyed them over the years. Ie., “He’s traditionally handsome and fit. I don’t belong in that category. He won’t be attracted to me, and it’s totally reasonable that he won’t be.” Now I’m attempting to assess, as much as is possible, the whole person presented on the screen in front of me, and to answer my internal questions: “Would I like to have a conversation with this person?”; “Is this person emotionally/psychologically attractive to me?”; “Is this person physically attractive to me?” If the answers are yes, I swipe right, or like the profile. If the answers are no, I don’t.

Thirdly, I am encountering language from which I am usually bubbled off, and having to figure out how and why I am reacting to it in the way I am. For example, I have disliked the words “lady” and “gentleman” for as long as I can remember. One man described me in his message to me variously as, “young lady”, and “sweet lady”. To my significant surprise, when I wrote him back and said that as a feminist, the word lady is outside my vernacular, he had a direct, non-offended, and respectful response which included the following: “I like your profile because of the way you are talking about your past experiences. You write about yourself so freely that I can recognize the feminist you are. Talking about previous partners is not a common thing to see in man and woman profile; that include me too. I admire your courage and again the feminist you are.” So I wrote him back.

The exchange caused me to think more deeply about why I dislike those words. And here it is: they are associated with a morals-based code of thinking, dressing, and conduct which is problematic for all of us, in my opinion, but especially for women. Women who are “ladies” are expected to dress conservatively (don’t be a slut); act modestly (don’t be a slut); speak gently (don’t challenge the “natural” authority of men). Women who abrogate those rules can be punished in a variety of ways, from small to large. If someone calls me a lady, that is likely to tell me that he has expectations of women in particular and me in specific that feel dangerous to me. So many guys feel entitled to the attention, smiles, sexual availability, support, etc., of women. So many men feel entitled to sex if they pay for a meal. So many men feel entitled to a smile if they pay you a compliment. The list goes on.

I am not a lady by the regular definition: while I do my best to be respectful and polite to people in general, I am also direct; sometimes quite authoritative in my manner; have a powerful personality; have a pretty strong libido; don’t dress conservatively; and am only interested in having men open doors for me if they’re interested in reciprocal courtesy from me. Etc. Etc.

So my question is, if a man thinks I am a lady, will he actually respect me? And yes, that turns the traditional equation right over on its head.

Fourthly, I am allowing and encouraging myself to say no whenever I feel like it: not capriciously, but in accordance with my intuition and judgment. A man who does not appear to be interested in self-reflection is a man with whom I don’t wish to have either a friendship or a romance. A man who responds with hostility or diminishing language to my setting of boundaries or being clear is a man with whom I don’t even want to have any further conversation. Instead of accommodating, being silent on the subject, or making excuses, I am setting boundaries and saying no when I want to. I am practicing “No”.

I joked with a friend yesterday that I’m sometimes tempted to use the Evil Willow (from the TV show “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”) line: “Bored now.” I won’t do it, because I am aiming to treat others with respect and consideration. But sometimes I have to resist the urge to include the gif in my messages.

Fifthly, I am very conscious of the fact that women are quite regularly assaulted. Well-behaved women might rarely make history, but they are also frowned upon by quite a significant percentage of society. Going out to meet a man whom I don’t know feels inherently dangerous. And before you say this is an overreaction, look at the stats. I wish it weren’t so. I wish this were just a process of figuring out whether attraction is mutual or not. But it is not that simple. It just is not. And I have that voice in my head which says that if something happens to me, if a man does harass or assault me, I am to a degree asking for it by spending time in his company. That is a hard voice to quiet. So, I will have to take some precautions when I do agree to meet up in person with a man. And I will have to accept the risk. And I grieve and rage that simply by dating, I am increasing my risk. And I am moving forward anyway, because I want to have a full life, including a love relationship.

My conclusion is that dating, like everything else, presents rich opportunities for personal growth. I am hoping for some fun, too.