Friday, December 30, 2005

Romance - just when I'd stopped looking

I used to focus a LOT on trying to meet someone. I believed I was a loser for not having a boyfriend and spent years and a lot of money on dating services like Match.com. My search for a partner built slowly during my 30’s, becoming more desperate as I felt myself getting older. Things reached a fever pitch when I was 36. I felt like a complete failure for not having a boyfriend and I focused all my energy on finding one. During the first eight months of 2003 I went on 31 first dates. I met a lot of men, had a lot of disappointment and did a lot of crying.

During my eighth month of relentless dating, I had a very cathartic experience. Aided by a therapist, I made my way to the core of the anger and bitterness I’d been carrying around. It suddenly became clear that I’d been consumed by a very old disappointment. As soon as I had this moment of clarity, I felt the anger and resentment lift. The rage over my loneliness finally dissipated and after that I began to feel better about myself and my life. When I returned to my daily routine, I cut out the frantic dating. Why was I working so hard to find a boyfriend when I was fine just as I was? I called off the manhunt.

People had been telling me for years that I’d find the relationship I wanted when I stopped trying so hard. Sure enough, that fall I noticed someone in a writing group I belonged to. He’d been there all along, but I had never seen him as someone to date. We started spending time together and he gave me the kind of attention I’d been craving. It was great. I thought, could it be this easy? Was it true that all I had to do was stop looking? No, apparently not. He was actually separated-but-married and when his wife found out he was seeing me, she kicked up merry hell about it. He went back to her. So much for that romance. [I know, I know, I no longer waste my time on married men.]

I didn’t focus on dating again until the summer of 2004. Certain that I was now ready to fall in love, I went back to the singles websites and once again dating became my main activity. I spent months going on many more first dates, but they only led to more feelings of failure. Why was I unable to find someone I really liked? I was still afraid of being a loser for not having a man, but I finally got tired of wasting so much time and money on dating activities. I recommitted to other parts of my life. I had friends, music, writing, and working on the 2004 election. As I shifted my attention to these things, finding a boyfriend stopped being a number one priority. I let go of the search.

People continued to tell me I’d find love just when I least expected it, just when I wasn’t trying. Sure enough, I’d given up on dating completely last winter when I noticed some energy between me and a co-worker at my new job. We flirted for a while and then began dating. This time I made sure he wasn’t married. It seemed too good to believe: a nice, decent, cute guy who was truly single and available and interested in me. We had a great time and I thought, could it be this easy? Was it true that all I had to do was stop looking?

No, apparently not. After a while, I began to notice that he and I never talked. We had little in common and I felt the absence of the deeper connection I needed. We stopped dating last summer. I waited for my old pattern to drive me back to more first dates, but for some reason my focus on men didn’t come back this time. I felt fine. My life felt full. Even more startling, my crippling belief that I was a loser for not having a man seemed to have disappeared. For the first time in years, having a boyfriend didn’t seem important and not just in comparison to other priorities in my life. Having a boyfriend was simply no longer critical.

When I shared this stunning new feeling with others, some of them reminded me that I’ll find the relationship I want just when I least expect it, just when I’m not looking. And finally it really did feel like I’d stopped looking. Who cared about guys? I had a great new job and was making new progress with my music. I enjoyed giving dinner parties and working on writing. I was finally focused on me and what makes me happy.

And sure enough this past summer and fall, while not trying to meet men at all, I met several men who were interested in dating me. I returned their interest and then, incredibly, guess what? Nope, still nothing turned into anything resembling a romance.

The good news is that I’m making it through this holiday season without feeling bad because I don’t have a partner with whom to spend a cozy Christmas or a romantic New Year’s Eve. In fact, I’m startlingly fine about it. And not only has it been months since my last online date, I suspect my online dating career is over. My interest in finding a relationship continues, but it's greatly downgraded from the red alert status it’s had in the past. These days finding a boyfriend takes a back seat to finding a(nother) new job, time with friends and working on my music.

People still like to tell me I’ll find the relationship I want just when I least expect it, when I'm not even trying. And sure enough...I just don't believe them.

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