A few things have happened lately that have compelled the writing of this two-part post. The common denominator of those few things, however, is that I keep hearing horror stories centered around online dating, and my own experience does not quite match up with the stories I’ve heard, so I want to share a few things.
To begin, let me first shoo the hypocritical elephant out of the room (no, not Republicans; Republicans can stay, if they won’t get feisty). I’m talking about my own perceived hypocrisy about online dating. A lot of people have heard me verbally abuse the notion of online dating, spouting it as a venue for people who are insecure, lonely, and not good at social interaction. I’ve also talked about the superficiality of a connection made online and the impracticality of transitioning a relationship from online to in person. I’ve always ended my speeches with the concession that perhaps online dating works for some people but that, when I look into the future and see my own great love story playing out, online dating just does not have a role.
In some of these ways, I was wrong. In some ways, I was not. For instance, there are plenty of insecure, lonely, and socially handicapped people on online dating sites. But I can attest that there are plenty of normal, well-adjusted, even cool, people on there too. Hello, of course there are. I’m on there! I am currently taking my third stab at online dating, after being pretty secretive about the fact that I was doing it at all the first couple of times. I was always embarrassed to admit to people that I had an online dating profile. And I was pretty terrified by the idea of actually meeting in person a random stranger from a website. Furthermore, I always tell people that I crave a good how-we-met story, and “we met online” just doesn’t fit that bill for me.
So I never maintained my profiles for very long, maybe one or two months at a time, max, and I’ve only been on four dates total (this is over a span of three years since I created my first online profile, with long breaks in between while I pursued a year-long relationship in 2010 and another year-long relationship from 2011-2012; both were with people I met offline). I have never been willing to pay for online dating. As one girl put it when introducing me to her online boyfriend after telling me they met on Match.com, “I learned my lesson with the free sites. You get what you pay for.” I don’t know that I agree, but good for her. I’m glad she’s found someone.
But I’m no longer embarrassed about the fact that I participate in online dating. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily loud and proud, but it’s at least not a secret anymore. I realized, after getting “matched” with a couple of people I know in real life, that you can’t hide much of anything that’s on the internet. Besides that, it’s 2013. If people can shop for houses, groceries, pets, and cars online, why not life partners? Though I must say, I continue to perform all transactions related to the aforementioned examples IRL (that’s in real life, for those debating whether to check Urban Dictionary).
A lot of married people who found their mates before online dating became the norm like to express their pity for those who choose to participate in online dating. While that is annoying, it’s actually not all that different from all the married people who have – since the beginning of time, it seems – expressed pity for those who have not paired up yet. They disguise their pity as empathy, pretending to remember how terrible the dating scene was, and then they moon excessively about how wonderful having the right partner is, before moving on to the patronizing assurances that we’ll find “that special person” and that it will be “worth the wait.”
Ironically, most people who use the phrase worth the wait have no earthly idea what waiting really is, since they got married between the ages of 18 and 25 and likely began popping out babies shortly after that. For anyone reading who is married, just so you know, from now on, the only people I will take the worth the wait platitude from are people who got married at an age older than whatever age I happen to be at the time, or people who are divorced.
What is with this universal assumption that single people need pity? A lot of people like being single. Most of the time, the lifestyle does actually suit me better. Maybe there exist single people who wish desperately not to be single, but that’s not me, nor is it true of any of the single people I know who have earned my respect. Besides, one thing that’s guaranteed in life is change. I have been in love. And, even if I never get married, I believe that I will be in love again at some point in my life, whether that’s six months from now or thirty years (but God, if you’re reading, please don’t let it be thirty years).
The truth is, though, every time I get contemplative and consider how my life would have turned out if I’d gotten married at a certain age or to certain people I thought I couldn’t live without, I end up feeling grateful that I haven’t yet gotten married. The older I get, the more I learn about how difficult a journey marriage is, and I have not yet been mature enough, selfless enough, or wise enough to make taking those vows worth it – putting aside entirely the question of the “right” man; because I believe that my individual health is just as important as my partner being the right one for me. If I’m not a healthy person to begin with, then there’s no such thing as a “right” partner.
As for the feigned empathy and reminiscences from married men and women about how awful the dating scene was or is, here’s the thing: Dating is what you make it. I have always enjoyed dating, for my part, although my ideas about how it should go have certainly changed and evolved over time, along with my personality and worldviews in general.
A lot of people who are no longer in the dating scene talk about the exhaustion of all the game-playing, the mind tricks, and trying to present one’s best possible self at all times. Well, thinking about dating in that context is exhausting, I agree. However, the last time I played games with someone or wasn’t my authentic self was back in college, seven years ago. And honestly, it wasn’t exhausting back then. It was stupid, yes, and completely immature. But that’s what college students are. They don’t know any other way to be, and that’s fine. Dating in that way, in that context, might have been stupid – or maybe unsustainable is a better word – but it was also a lot of fun. There was definitely a point when it stopped being fun to be coy, or to wait for days on end for a boy to call, or to pretend that, of course, I always went to bed (and got back out of it) looking like a beauty queen. So I stopped doing it that way and moved on to different methods.
The other infuriating thing about being pitied by married people for the stage of life I’m in (that is, partnerless) is the implication that I don’t have a choice in the matter. But don’t I have a choice? Haven’t I chosen not to continue certain relationships with certain people? Haven’t I initiated breakup conversations, and haven’t I told men that I’m just not interested in pursuing something deeper? Of course I have! Not getting married is a choice I have made, just as it’s a choice others have made to get married. And my worldview has evolved so much as to be able to believe that there is something very holy and pure and committed about my choice. I don’t mean holy and pure and committed in a convent or abbey sense. Because I’m not a nun, and I’m not committed to lifelong celibacy, though I deeply respect those who are. There is a discipline and purpose there that God did not instill in me.
But I am committed to respecting myself and the identity God continues to shape in me, and part of that respect is reflected in my decision not to get married to someone who isn’t a good fit. I am committed to loving and respecting myself to such an extent that I am not willing to get married based on a fluttery feeling or a fantasy involving a future mortgage and a baseball-themed nursery. Although, I admit, a baseball-themed nursery does sound amazing. It may surprise many, but I can’t even agree to marry someone who wants to don a superhero costume and travel the world with me, fighting crimes committed against grammar, in both French and English; yet, again, that does sound enticing.
But no. My dreams about marriage are different. They have changed. And I certainly hope they are more mature than they once were. When I dream about marriage now, a mortgage, a puppy, a career, offspring, growing old together – these are not the things I dream about anymore. I already have a mortgage, and I love my house – my home. I got a puppy 7 years ago, and he’s turned into my best companion. I am honing my career; I’m entering my fifth year as an editor and am continually mapping mental strategies for advancement and professional growth. I have not given birth or raised a child, but I am an honorary aunt to two wonderful young boys who make my heart burst with love, and I’m newly a biological aunt to the most beautiful baby girl I’ve ever laid eyes on; I’m learning about and getting to practice parenting vicariously through my friends, and seeing the Marvin family line carried on through my brother. As for growing old, I’m doing that too, albeit slowly, and I’m doing it surrounded by people I love. Besides, the longer it takes me to find a life partner, the more opportunity I have to gather stories for him so we’ll never run out of things to talk about! I am a walking, breathing testimony to the possibility of experiencing some of life’s greatest milestones without a shadow.
What I do dream about for a future partner has become more complex. Do you know the saying about marriage? Men marry women because they expect they’ll never change. Women marry men because they expect to be able to change them. Both end up disappointed. Or something like that. Remember that saying? Well, I dream about finding someone I can accept at the stage of life he’s at when I meet him, and can still imagine loving and accepting him two years (and many more) later, when all his cute habits are suddenly annoying, and even though he remains in the stage of life he was in when we met. I dream about finding someone who falls in love with me for my values and worldviews but understands after two years that the person I have become, though changed, is still a person worth loving and striving to understand.
I dream about finding someone who has ambitions and goals and motivations of his own, separate and distinct from mine. I dream about finding someone who understands the idea of sacrifice in terms of both/and rather than either/or. I dream about finding a man who is happy, self-sufficient, and productive without me…and yet greets me as if the only thing he’s been doing with his life since the last time he saw me was waiting to see me again.
I dream about finding someone who can control his tongue, thereby teaching me by example how to control mine (I’m talking about words here, not sex…in case there was any confusion about that). Although, while we’re on the subject of sex, I dream of passion too; raw, uncontained, unconditional, unapologetic, unashamed passion.
I dream of egalitarianism, mutual respect, mutual sacrifice – but a score that nobody keeps track of. (Side story: Once, I got a boyfriend tickets to see one of his favorite bands live. About three months later, he did the same for me, and I asked him flat out if he was doing it to keep things “even” between us. He said no, and I believed him [and still do]. But I dream of a relationship where a question such as that doesn’t even cross my mind.)
I don’t know. Maybe my list isn’t as mature as I’d like to think. Maybe those desires aren’t as complex and evolved as I tell myself they are. But those are, for all intents and purposes, the things I have learned I am looking for in a life partnership. And I have learned that I want them by being in relationships that had them, and by being in relationships that explicitly lacked them. I have convinced myself at various times that certain of those could be ignored, forgotten, left off the list. And yet, when it came down to it – pull the trigger and make the best of what’s there, or break up and move on – I’ve always moved on.
Perhaps that is the part that married people pity – the moving on part. But the way I see it, cutting ties and moving on is no harder on the heart than choosing to persevere through a sh*t marital situation. Pardon my language, but that’s the only appropriate word for the kind of situation I’m talking about. Because marriage breaks hearts too, just in different ways.
Is having to break up with someone worse or more painful than suspecting and confirming a cheating spouse? Is being broken up with worse or more painful than an emotionally distant spouse who refuses to have a meaningful conversation? Is ending a dating relationship worse or more painful than trying to reason with, accept, or even merely tolerate a mentally ill spouse? Is being alone worse or more painful than the constant effort of trying to love, be patient with, speak kindly to a depressed and unmotivated spouse?
I know these aren’t the only stories written in marriage. But neither are they the only stories written in dating. My point is that marriage is what people make it, and so is dating. Both can be terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experiences. Or, they can be fun, passionate, uplifting, and exciting experiences. The choice is ours, and I’ve made my choices, and they’ve been intentional.
That doesn’t mean I don’t still dream about the more superficial aspects of life partnership, though. Of course I do. I dream of someone who speaks French to me, someone who wants to go SCUBA diving with me, someone who loves public transportation as much as I do, someone who is as devoted to grammar as I am, someone who wants to travel to different baseball stadiums around the country, someone who wants puppies, puppies, and more puppies, someone who does my dishes and lets me mow the lawn, and, of course – the supreme nonnegotiable – someone who doesn’t have to be begged, cajoled, or persuaded to grow a freaking beard!
Until I find someone, I’m happy to wait, and to date – online or otherwise – in the meantime.