“Wait, can we define dating?”
“Wait, can we define sabotage?”
I turned back toward the sink, away from the group, and leaned my head into my hands.
It was that cabin weekend with a big bunch of friends, and one of them had insisted that I announce the resolution I’d spoken of in the car ride up: namely, to take a two month break from dating–an announcement that had prompted one pal to ask whether “sabotage” was allowed.
More questions ensued: Are you allowed to make out? Have sex? What, exactly, is the point?
At the time, I wasn’t particularly prepared to answer any of these. Fortunately, cabin life features many more compelling pastimes–sauna, snow, a fridge full of beer–than my love life. No one was bothered.
But one (mostly-successful-depending-on-how-you-define-success) month in, I’m not sure I can do much better. My own game, my own rules—or lack thereof. I’m a writer, after all, ever resistant to binaries and boundaries. Clarity: who needs it?
But then, it can be nice to feel purposeful. And, while I’m not sure I’ve got the how down, I have been trying, a little bit at least, to sort out the why.
Here are some known things:
Partially, the choice was motivated by some extension of that whole protecting myself project I told you about. That felt needed.
And, perhaps more significantly, I wanted to focus: I’m feeling (again…) like I’m in the final lap of my memoir revision, and it didn’t not occur to me that fall’s pile-up of romantic disappointment might have been the universe’s subtle suggestion that I veer away from male attention and toward other goals.
In that vein, I recently had a writing (platonic!) date with a friend who has lived with her girlfriend (see?) for years. It had been a while, so we exchanged compressed life updates. I told her briefly about the situation in which I’d found myself–one that walks and talks not a lot unlike dating but has been going by some other (or rather, no) name.
“I’m trying to take a two month hiatus,” I told her.
“Ugh.” She shook her head, reflecting on the historical period of her life in which she had been single. “I think those were my least productive years.”
“I know,” I leaned toward her, as if discussing war. “It’s so fucking distracting.”
And here is the thing about that. Dating is distracting. Not dating is distracting. Being in a relationship is distracting. Being a parent (I imagine) is distracting. We are not monks—life is distracting. (This is why residencies exist.)
I have been more disciplined writing-wise lately, but mainly because I’ve made a conscious effort to do so. I’m not sure that a romantic interest would be getting in the way.
It is true, though, that I’ve found this self-imposed break to be something of a relief. It’s a sensation not dissimilar from being in a relationship: when I see someone attractive, I take a mental note, and then another that says, oh, but I’m not looking. (Instead of continuing, maybe when I’m single again, it says, maybe in March. Don’t judge.) When someone (like a parent or distant friend) asks what’s up with my love life, I have an easy out: Oh, nothing. I’m taking a break. This is much simpler than my usual performance of Oh, there’s this guy that I think I’m into/not that into/trying to be into/can’t tell if I’m into, but I don’t know what his deal is…
Anyway. That part is nice. But, also, I have felt like a lie.
I spent the weekend reading Meghan Daum’s new essay collection. One of them discusses the way she approached dating (until her marriage, at thirty-six) as a means of collecting experience. I relate to that, in that I tend to feel open to different kinds of people. But unlike her, I do know that, ultimately, I want something committed. I do (most days) know that I’d like to have a family. I would like to be someone who feels kind of meh about the whole thing. I’d like to be someone who doesn’t want to meet someone sooner than later.
It’s like that dumb adage: that you always meet someone when you’re not looking. I suppose this phrase could be useful if spoken to someone who genuinely doesn’t want to meet someone, as some kind of singsong-voiced threat. But for those of us who do, it’s useless. We should pretend we don’t want to find someone for the sake of finding someone? I don’t even want to be friends with a person who’s dishonest about what they want, much less date someone who is, much less be one myself. Okay I’m done.
Okay not quite. I shouldn’t have to close up shop because I want to “focus on myself,” as (well-meaning) folks are also wont to say. I know myself and what I need to do: write things, socialize, teach, work out, travel when possible. I know that I can do these things with or without a relationship. I know that, eventually, I would like to meet someone who would make the work of a relationship worthwhile.
And the truth is that I learn most about what kind of person I want that to be not when I’m dismissing potential interests at coffee shops but when I do, in fact, attempt to date–as clunky and painful as that process might be.