If dating was a simple game, we'd all travel effortless paths to love, and we'd enjoy the dating process so thoroughly as to rush toward it with glee it when it's time. But years of falling into the mosh pit with no one to catch us leaves us jumpy and tentative at best, and although I hate to admit it, I have absolutely fallen into this watchful and wary category.
Yet I have always loved dating. I love getting to know someone new -- the chat, the laughter, the best behavior, the witticisms. And the accoutrements have always thrilled me in their deliciousness: the high heels and cocktail dresses, the masculine gallantry, the lingering eye contact, the exquisite restaurants and the luscious new territory of first kisses.
Dating, in the first few years after my divorce, was rather effortless. I'd meet men everywhere -- a class, a hiking trail, the library, a party. It seemed that there were available men all over the place, and I just had to be open and friendly to avail myself of a great dating life. And these were nice men. Fun. Lively. Men with manners and senses of humor who knew how to choose a good restaurant and knew how to kiss.
But suddenly all of that has gotten serious. I'm "ready," as we like to say these days, so dating has taken on a purpose, and now somehow it seems ridiculously challenging just to get to the first date.
Case in point: I expressed my interest to a man I had a professional relationship with. His career didn't offer him the luxury of doing so (given what he does and what I was affiliated with him for), and after some months of sensing the hey-we-like-each-other vibe, I finally got up all my courage and asked him if he was interested. He said yes, but asked that we wait until there were no professional ties of any kind. Good. Great. A man with strong ethics. I like that. We smiled at each other, and I said I'd wait.
No intrigue occurred between that day and the day of our last professional exchange, no ethical breaches at all. Just delight and kindness. So when the exciting day finally came (four months later), when God knows it was absolutely time to show up with something (if not just a clear explanation), my ethics boy was suddenly stricken by a wave of fear that he may still be breeching some code here, and although he said he'd call, he hasn't.
Disappointed? You could say that. Hugely disappointed. But beyond the particular boy-girl stuff with this man, my dissatisfaction is rooted in the narrowness of my current dating path. I mean, where has all the fun gone? Where's the delightful electricity of just meeting someone and having those terrific sensations that read, "Hey! You're great. I'd really like to go out with you," and then a week or two later, I'm dressing up and we're heading out. Why has it become a character-development exercise to just get to the first damned date?
These days I'm really trying. I'm not just letting whatever happens happen. I'm not falling into things, or happening into love, or "hanging out." In fact, I'm not dating at all unless I'm truly interested. I'm telling the truth about what I really want, about what works for me in terms of heart, energy, humor, willingness and easy-going grace.
In the lesson-learning category, I can certainly cite my lack of wisdom, waiting for a man without assurance. But God knows there's never any assurance where dating is concerned, and that seems to be the point of all this nonsense about mating anyway: its uncertainty is part of its allure. Read "Jane Eyre" or any Jane Austen novel if you need proof on that one. The obstacles only serve to make us fall harder and more passionately when we finally do give it up for true love.
But -- somebody help me here -- how long does it have to take? How many lessons are required before actually attaining something? Are we turning into an entire generation of lesson-learners with no capacity to actually live in love? Do we even remember what it was like to fall in love without self-invented obstacles blocking our paths?
"The path gets narrower," my older, wiser girlfriend said to me when I said I was ready for the real thing. "Most times, it'll be over before it starts. You won't waste time anymore."
Although she's right, I have to admit that I miss the ease of meeting someone without so much on it. Does finding genuine companionship have to be such a job?
What I'm coming to is that "trying" just doesn't seem to work. Trying is efforting, and I honestly don't believe that dating should be this much effort at the outset. I want joy, I want delight and I want to fall into the deliciousness of newness, sweet meetings and exquisite anticipation. I don't want angst before I've even donned a pair of stockings for him.
So enough already. Ask me if I'll wait again? No way. Not a chance. You're available or you're not. No tests, no hurdles -- no more. Life's too short to make this big of a deal out of one date. I've done my time in the lesson-learning arena. I'm stamping out hope for beautifully blocked men who just can't seem to get there.
The waiting game, for me, is officially over.
JoAnneh Nagler is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She writes articles, philanthropic proposals and has recently been at work on Fox's telenovellas "Table for Three" and "Fashion House." Her newly completed folk-pop CD "I Burn" is online at www.cdbaby.com.
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