Relationships are complicated. Somewhere between elementary school and adulthood, we’ve gone from the silly notes in our lockers that say “I like you, do you like me, circle ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” to full blown mass “freak out” sessions where we obsess over whether that guy is ever going to call again, whether she’s going to be turned off by too much back hair (if it’s me? Yes.), and we overanalyze every extended silence, every stupid Facebook post, and every text we DO get that isn’t to our liking. We’ve gone from knowing that we’re a couple because we circled “Yes” on a piece of paper to wondering after a few dates, a couple of heavy makeout sessions, and a romp in bed whether we can start thinking of ourselves as a couple, or if we’ve just been used.
And I don’t know if it’s become standard for everyone, but I know that for me, this has gotten more and more complicated as I’ve gotten older. People have gotten to be less apt to communicate, less likely to be reliable, more likely to “disappear” rather than to answer the “hard questions” or talk about the “hard issues.” No one wants to WORK on problems anymore, everyone just wants to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence (regardless of whether it turns out to be the Garden of Eden or a yard full of volcanic ash).
I label my dating life as pre-divorce and post-divorce. Pre-divorce, I dated a fair amount. I’m not saying everyone was awesome (as a matter of fact, many of them were NOT awesome), but just about everyone was, at least, straightforward about what they were looking for. Dating was a means to entering into a relationship – it was never, or at least usually not, a means to an endless string of interactions that resulted, finally, in an abrupt disappearance. Most times it ended in commitment. Or, at least, the expectation toward eventual commitment. It was understood that things were going to go this way or, sooner than later, there would be a parting of ways.
The funny thing is, I used to think this was “complicated.” Maybe in its way it was… Because in those days, it wasn’t so much the worry about whether or not I was actually “in” one, but it was the worry of what said significant other was doing when I was not around. No stranger to the “cheating” boyfriends, I can’t say that I went into those relationships believing that people were going to cheat on me, but I’d say I was more hyper-vigilant about it than I would have been had I never been cheated on. Still, it was easy to get a date, nothing was expected out of me except to be a good dinner companion. If things went further eventually, it was “understood” that we’d do it again. It was “understood” that we’d see each other again. It was “understood” that the likelihood of becoming exclusive was imminent. I learned, after a few months of this, that it was better to trust until I had a good reason NOT to trust.
But that was then.
Post-divorce, dating has gotten significantly harder. And I’m not sure if it’s that the attitudes of the world have changed, or if I’ve just gotten worse at choosing men, but things are VERY, VERY different. As I said earlier, people don’t communicate anymore. Instead of phone calls, we text. Instead of using complete sentences and punctuation, we use chatspeak. Spelling, even, has fallen by the wayside – and smart people, like myself, who give a shit about such things are expected to just roll with it and lower our standards.
Because no one wants to communicate, we’re all afraid of each other. Some of us prefer to keep our relationships completely text or chat based (and we have no idea how to interact face to face). Others can’t be straightforward and upfront about things when we don’t expect them to work – we’ve been dumped (or have done the dumping) so many times that we’re afraid to do it again… we don’t want the shit show, we don’t want to deal with the fireworks, so, to avoid confrontation, we just walk away and expect the other person to just “get over it.” It’s easier for us… we don’t have to see it. Who the fuck cares what they have to go through? We say it’s to “spare someone else’s feelings,” but that’s a cop-out. It’s really to spare ourselves from the discomfort.
Further, and I think this has to do with my age, everyone who is still out there, and single, has been burned, by now, more than once. It’s left us all jaded. No one trusts anyone anymore… we’ve all been through the ringer so many times that we jump into our relationships EXPECTING to play games. We go into these things BELIEVING that everyone we’re talking to will lie and cheat on us eventually. And so, finding something solid, something dependable, something lasting has gotten really difficult. I don’t lie, and I don’t cheat, but if I’m completely up front and I TELL someone these things, I don’t expect to be believed. After all, why should I? Everyone’s heard the same story again and again. My predecessors got there before me, said the same shit I did, but did it all anyway.
And so, instead, we’ve become a culture that goes through life, pretending to attempt to find something solid (probably genuinely desiring something solid) but are too afraid to truly stick our necks out there to GET it. We settle, instead, for superficial relationships… we text each other a lot, but don’t interact in person. We get to know someone at a high level, perpetually hold them at arm’s length. We use each other for sex, because the orgasms are nice. We’ve become more and more accepting of being naked in front of each other, but we’re too afraid to REALLY be naked, to REALLY show someone else who we are, out of fear of being hurt again. We’re protecting ourselves, but essentially, our inability to expose ourselves to pain, our unwillingness to put ourselves out there, is the same thing as punishing a complete stranger (or, at least, someone who has done nothing to us) for something that someone else (or several others) have done.
I’m just as bad about this as anyone else. Communication has never been my problem. If I want something, or if I like someone, I fucking say it. I’m not shy about that. I don’t mind being naked, literally, in front of someone either – I got over that when I started doing nude modeling a decade ago. But I still have my hangups. After the divorce, rather than finding boyfriends, or potential boyfriends, I realized that, I could easily find someone to go to bed with, but it became difficult to find someone to BE with. And when I did find someone to BE with, well, if you’ve read the blog, you know what I’ve found… 3.0, who couldn’t get himself “sold”; Botboy who could fall in love with TransFormers, fall in love with me, even, but only say so when he was drunk and who ran the first chance he got when he came home. I can go on dates with others and things will look as if they’re going well, but then, without any sort of explanation, the guy disappears.
And with every failure, with every disappointment, I myself have become more jaded. I find myself going into relationships EXPECTING to be disappointed. I find myself, essentially, punishing someone who has never had the chance to prove himself to be different for bullshit that others have given me in the past. I wait for a screw up, and I use that screw up to further the conclusions I’ve drawn about everyone that’s already out there. I don’t let people in because I’m too busy blaming total strangers for the failures of the douchebags I’ve already known. I’m just as jaded as everyone else.
Back in 1998, a friend told me something once and it’s stayed with me through all this time (despite the fact that he turned out to be one of the ones that wanted to “fuck me” but not “be with me): Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups. Assumption is what we’re all doing these days – instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, instead of letting them prove themselves to be different we’re assuming that they aren’t, and we’re sabotaging ourselves.
Life is about choices, life is about decisions. In the end, I have to make a choice. I can choose to remain alone because I’m too afraid to open myself up to potential failure. I know that if I continue to choose to punish people for what their predecessors have done, then that is the same thing as choosing to be alone. It’s like having a “self destruct” button that I can press whenever I feel like it.
But I can also choose to stop this. I can choose to stop repeating old patterns that clearly have gotten me nowhere. I can choose to stop assuming the worst. Does that I mean I go into every situation wide-eyed, naïve and ready to throw it all out there (emotionally) to someone I barely know? No. We learn what we learn for a reason. But it does mean that I stop expecting the worst out of everyone… it means I give them a chance to prove that they really are different without judging them before they’ve ever had their say. It means that I open up a little, give people the benefit of the doubt, and that I, at least, start looking at things more objectively. It means that I let myself truly bare it all when I feel ready to do that, and I do it without expecting that I’ll immediately be steamrolled as a result.
It’s scary… but when have I ever been chickenshit?
(Also if you think for a minute I’m going to stop doing the Internet Dating Escapades, you’d be wrong… some people are just asking for it. Or, well, I’ll keep doing this until I do find someone that lets me in… once I do that, the IDEs stop, because my profiles will come down.)