“This is why we date,” my college friend would say frankly, quoting her mother to address any one of our current dating catastrophes.
Like a movie scene, I could see my friend’s mom sitting at the edge of her daughter’s bed, making that statement with the perfect amount of sass and comfort that could only come from from a hybrid Philly-Jersey accent as thick as hers. When it comes to understanding the journey of love and dating, all we really need is that. We require just enough comfort to remain optimistic, and just enough sass to stay true to who we are.
When I was a kid, my teachers used to call my romantic writings “emotionally advanced”, which is essentially just teacher-talk for “this eleven-year-old is going to be bat-shit crazy, that is if she isn’t already.”
I always wanted to be an expert on love by the time I was old enough to figure out what it was. I was obsessed with great romances and stories. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny with this life-long fascination of mine. Well, since then I have been invited to weigh in on multiple blogging conversations under the title of “Dating Expert” and I want to make one very clear and important distinction about that achieved girlish goal; it’s crap. I’m not a dating expert. I just keep learning. We all do. Because that’s why we date; to learn.
We all have a story filled with twists and turns we never anticipated along the way. You may recognize mine in your own. We all learned. My first relationship lasted for many years and he was my closest and most trustworthy friend. He was young and endearing, filled with intelligence, opinions and compassion. He made me the questioner I am today. He dealt with all of my emotion-driven antics with the patience of a saint, and could make me laugh until I cried. But as I aged I yearned for a kind of adventurous passion and dedication that a high school love couldn’t suffice. So when we grew apart and I eventually found myself in another relationship, I found what I thought I wanted.
Several years older than me, I was intoxicated by his complexity and swept into his romantics. Many of us get swept into a person like that at least once in our lives, but it often isn’t near what we imagined. The invigoration soon turned into all-consuming fear, because the ground could be ripped out from under me at a moment’s notice. The highs were like heroin for a love addict, but the lows were terrifyingly destructive. Stability and trust were fleeting comforts. So, eventually I didn’t want that either.
I then did what many young people do when faced with the reality of dating struggles. I dated like a serial killer on their last binge kill before surrendering to the authorities. I learned. I realized what I needed. I learned who I was and what kind of qualities I couldn’t compromise on. I put myself first and and decided maybe love was still the ultimate quest, but it was about finding love in myself first. Once I found that, I had no desperation for companionship. I had finally accepted that dating wasn’t about succeeding, it was about learning.
When I met my current boyfriend, I wasn’t looking for him. I wasn’t seeking love. I was just moving along, meeting people and places that intrigued me. I was still learning. The first night he came into my life, I remember thinking how easy it was. He was the perfect combination of charm and candidness. He was engaging and genuine, kind and talented, and possessed enough radiant optimism to captivate me. Falling for him was like a puzzle piece moving into place. Being together is the same way. That first night I can recall him looking at me, green eyes glistening and hazy from the beers we had drank in that crowded college bar, and saying “Oh, I’m not going anywhere” with his big smile. And for the first time in my entire adult life I remember thinking, “I know.”
You almost have to royally screw up enough times to start realizing which people you want in your life. You have to spend time with some people that make you look back and shudder. You have to fall in and out of love. The most critical element to “success” with dating is realizing that you need to fail to achieve that. The tumultuous and strenuous parts of dating are only supplementary to the vitalizing and sensational journey of self-discovery it’s supposed to be. We are supposed to fall down. It’s comical and humiliating and exciting and eye-opening all at once to finally get to know your own heart. Once you fall in love with your heart’s complexities, you can then find that same restitution in someone else’s.
So, keep your head up. Kiss a few frogs. Fall in love with a few people you may be happy to see fall in love with someone else one day. Take chances. Never settle. Because one day you’ll find the right one, and it’ll be difficult to fathom how you ever lived without them. But that is what we strive for. This is the striving. This is it. This is why we fall.This is why we fight.
This is why we date.