I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting into my 30s, maturing a little, but I’ve noticed myself taking a slightly different attitude toward dating lately than I did in my turbulent 20s.
When I was a younger man, dating caused me great anxiety and suffering. If it wasn’t guilt over hooking up with someone I wasn’t that into, it was fear and insecurity over fucking things up with someone I was into, which I usually managed to do pretty successfully.
So, for many years, those have been the emotions I associate with dating: guilt, fear, and insecurity.
But lately things are different. Maybe it’s because I have more self-esteem now, but I find myself less inclined to hook up with someone I’m not really into. Sometimes I still do, but less often.
And if there is someone I am interested in, I find myself more inclined to take things slowly. To not get wasted and try to hook up on the first date. To actually spend time with the person. To not feel like an unreturned text message is the end of my world.
Maybe the girl is into me, maybe she isn’t. I’m happy with myself either way, and I’m willing to at least try to respect myself enough to wait for someone who feels the same way.
And I will respect her enough not to try to exploit her sexually as fast as I can. That sounds awful, but it was kind of how I operated for a while.
My emotional health, at this point, is less dependent on my need for approval from a girl I happen to be dating, and more dependent on my friends and family. And if a girl I date makes it into that support group, and I into hers, I realize that (like all meaningful relationships) it will take time, and patience, and forgiveness. First, I must forgive myself.
Another insight I’ve had lately is that dating is not about instant gratification. Everything that means anything in my life (my education, my writing, my friendships, my community involvement) has taken time and work and slow nurturing. Why would love be any different?
Maybe this stuff is common knowledge, maybe I’m a slow learner, but there are different kinds of knowledge. There is knowledge as information and knowledge as learned experience. I suppose this stuff would fall into the “learned experience” category.
Lately, the emotions I associate with dating are changing from guilt, fear, and insecurity to wonder, curiosity, and even hope. A hesitant hope, but hope nonetheless. This is new territory for me.