Think you can wait.
So far, there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure about online or any other type of dating: if your heart isn’t in it, don’t do it. It’s not fair to the other people involved even if you never know their names and can’t prove that the picture of that guy riding a giant wheeled stuffed animal with a child on his lap was actually of him and the kid wasn’t actually his.
I realized this the moment men started contacting me via my online profile – I felt like an imposter. I put a lot of effort into my profile, writing it and rewriting it, trying to capture who I am and what I’m looking for in a few thousands words. I dug up the only three flattering photos I have of myself and cropped them appropriately. I revised my headline a number of times, settling for short and sweet, like “smart girl loves life” and “a woman is a place.”
But then I just felt like a big fat liar. Do I want to go on dates? Yes. Do I want to feel the slight queasiness that comes with being in love? Yes. Am I ready to go down that road with someone new? Hmmmm.
Also, I did find myself a wee bit obsessed during my brief foray into the online dating world. Who’s out there? Who’s looking at my profile? I started to feel like I was addicted to online shopping, except rather than perusing hundreds of pages of cute sandals on sale I was shopping for dudes with graduate degrees within 150-mile radius who were 5’9” or taller. I’ve never felt like one of those people who has a “type” or who even has a checklist for potential suitors, but this website was turning me into one of those people.
I don’t especially want to be one of those people.
In my old life I watched TV to avoid confronting whatever wasn’t quite right in my life. Online dating started to feel like my new TV – and I wouldn’t even say there’s really anything wrong with my life now. Except that I’m still in love with my ex, the missing person whose identity is not a mystery and who certainly won’t be found on match.com.
So I quit. I saved my carefully crafted bio (there’s something wrong with that, I know) for the next time I feel so bold. But for now, I’m done.
The lesson I learned about dating also applies to non-virtual relationships. If your heart isn’t in it, you aren’t doing yourself or your spouse a favor by staying put. Leaving is hard, but staying is worse if you aren’t willing to work on whatever problems you might be having.
I am not an expert. I’m sure I will make about as many mistakes in my next relationship as I did in my last one (and as long as they aren’t the same mistakes I think it’s okay), but I have learned a few things along the way.
(Recap: I’ve been in long-term relationships since I was 16 years old. My former partner and I were together for 13 years -- much longer than the average marriage these days. I’ve failed, bailed, and been to couples’ counseling. I’ve read a lot, but more importantly I think a lot. And I want to do better next time.)
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- There are rough patches in every relationship. One of the factors that determines your ability to get through it and come out a better person is whether you and your spouse feel like a team in facing the challenge. If you aren’t on the same team in your relationship, then you become adversaries.
- You both have to evolve. Not at the same rate and not in the same ways. But things change over time and so will the nature of your connection with one another. Whether that works for you or against you is a matter of your willingness to evolve together, and to support each other in that process.
- Most of the issues we face in relationships arise out of our own insecurities. If you are willing to work on addressing those insecurities, chances are the relationship will benefit from it. See previous bullet on evolving.
- When you do anything a lot – watching TV, reading, drinking, going out with friends, living your life through the version of yourself that exists in the digital world of social networking, online dating and texting – you are trying to avoid your life and your insecurities. Period. Your relationships with your partner, kids, friends and family will suffer.
- You have the ability to change anything at any time. You may not be able to change how your partner acts or thinks, but you can change how you act and react. You are 100% responsible for your own happiness, and if you are not content with your life, there’s only one person who can do anything about it. That’s you.
- Lastly, relationships don’t fix themselves. Both partners have to be willing to acknowledge that there is a problem, talk about said problem, and genuinely want to fix it. Otherwise, you might as well start packing. And if you can’t figure out how to have a productive conversation together, find a therapist who can help you. Communication is harder than it looks and there’s no shame in asking for help.
Even though I’ve cancelled my subscription to match.com, I haven’t given up. Not on dating, and not on the person I love.
Just last week I was back at what used to be our house in Ventura for a few days, and I got a good look at the avocado tree I planted five years ago. It’s finally about 10 feet tall and loaded with fruit. But as much as I want to pluck one of those green-skinned miracles from its branch and slice it up, the avocados aren’t ready yet. They look good on the outside, but inside they are still ripening.
I’m pretty sure I can wait.
PS -- Thank you to The National for the title. Good song.