A folded her torso toward the bar. “You have no idea how many years I have been waiting for you to say this.” She lifted her hand for a high five, then motioned to clink her hot toddy glass against mine. “Amen!”
She and D and I were absorbed in the regular ritual my New York visits provoke: a day decadent with long city walks, afternoon drinks and bursts of group therapy. We’d meandered from Union Square to an empty, wood-paneled restaurant on the Western edge of the Village, and after hours discussing how we would do better at steering ourselves toward respective Life Purposes, I had asked permission to re-orient the conversation.
“I feel silly talking about boys after all this Big Talk…” I said, dipping my head and offering an overt wince.
“No, no,” they both replied, quick. “We are done with anything meaningful! Boy talk, go.”
I went on to tell them about a recent shift in attitude about my approach to dating–still hypothetical, but one that I hope will lead to, well, an actual New Approach.
Historically, I have tended to go about romance in the same fashion as I go about most aspects of life–from writing to general health maintenance: somewhat recklessly, without a lot of guidelines or restrictive parameters.
Put another way, in pretty much the opposite fashion from a young man I met recently who, upon hearing that I write a blog about relationships, announced that (before settling down with his current girlfriend) he used to date “very seriously.”
Pressed to explain, he described the vast constellation of rules that organized his ways with women: the two Los Angeles restaurants to which he’d alternately escort first dates, the number of questions with which he’d always come prepared, the drinks and dishes he’d suggest, that he’d never end the night with a kiss, but if he was interested in a second, would always suggest cooking at his place.
This guy was terribly charismatic–which made me find the whole narrative charming, too. But I also found it completely baffling, as I’ve always found anything like a rulebook around romantic relationships.
We know where this attitude gets me: if I don’t feel an immediate spark, I bail. And if I do, I open myself up with such freedom and force that I allow the guy to forget he’s actually not looking for a relationship, or still getting over his divorce, or has a girlfriend…until he remembers–leaving me lurching back atop my net of supportive pals, to whom I moan embarassing things like: “I did it again…” and “I know there’s nothing wrong with me, but what the fuck is wrong with me?”
I never say: “I’m not doing this again.”
Historically, I have dismissed my dangerously open tendencies as just another endearing quirk, no different than my fear of night driving or savvy with salad dressing or inability to whistle. It’s just who I am! I say. I have thick Jewish hair and hate purple and am really shitty at protecting myself! Cheers!
To this line of defense I add that I appreciate being open: I wouldn’t want to be shut down. That being someone who easily connects means also being someone whose heart is often sore.
I don’t think that’s untrue.
But I also think, after a pair of weeks in which I’ve felt pummeled, grasping for the remnants of what had (for a minute) been feeling like a sturdy base of self-confidence and grit, there’s got to be a balance.
I may not have to protect myself, but at this point, I want to.
(Which is what I told A and D, which is what made A fall forward in relief. Friends, people.)
The question remains, though, of how. It’s not as though I’ve been leaping into bed with every first date (and the problem of intimacy isn’t, of course, only a physical one), but the fact is that, like a lot of my peers, I don’t put off physical intimacy as long as I could. And, think now: should.
Here’s something else. In the last months that I’ve been single, I’ve done some reflecting about past relationships. One thing that keeps coming up is that I want to wind up with someone I value beyond as a romantic partner; I want to fall for someone not only as a lover, but as a person. That’s something that’s easier to know through friendship, before other stuff entangles.
Suggestions have varied: from A (female, straight, southern)’s idea of putting off intimacy for a month, to D (dude, gay)’s concern about going past three dates without “checking out the goods.”
But based on early findings of my Informal Friend Poll, pals are less concerned with how I go about protecting myself than the fact that I, in some way, do. Like most things, it’ll be considerably more difficult in practice than in theory. Physical touch is compelling, especially when it’s cold enough to freeze your fingers and minivan doors. I’m already anxious about how I’ll resist kissing my next crush.
But then again, I’m usually anxious about something. And, for the moment at least, I’m looking forward to being anxiously cautious instead of anxiously reckless.
It’s 2015. I’m thirty-one. Why not?