I wrote about quitting online dating one year ago this month. Seems like a lifetime ago. Enough time and distance to write a follow-up with perspective possibly worth sharing. As Anais Nin said more eloquently than I ever could, “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” Whether you’re just venturing back into dating after a breakup, considering or in the throes of online dating, recently divorced, or just curious about what it’s like to date again later in life, here’s my story. For what it’s worth. I hope you find what you are looking for.
First: My online dating “stats”
I’m 48. Married 19 years, together 22. Divorced for three. Two teens who live with me full time. I did Match.com (tolerable) on and off for about a year. Dabbled in eHarmony (hated it – too regimented and reminded me of Catholic school).
Why I signed up for online dating
I waited a year after my divorce. I remember telling myself:
- This is how it’s done now! Try it!!!
- This is where everyone is! Do it!!
- This is how you will find love. Go for it!
- Sue’s cousin’s girlfriend’s brother’s dog walker’s chiropracter found his soul mate on Match! Gotta try!
- I’ll get some great stories out of it! Writer’s dream ?
What I wish I would have asked myself first:
- Why am I really doing this?
- What am I expecting to happen?
- Am I ready?
- Is this me?
I went into it for all the wrong reasons.
I thought it was time. My friends did it. My ex-husband was dating. Even my eighty-something-year-old dad had a date for New Year’s Eve, for God’s sake. Meanwhile, I was sitting home alone, focused on my kids and my work and trying to find my equilibrium after a lifetime of stuff I was trying to make sense of.
I should have known. I’m not into “organized” anything – religion, team sports, dancing (line dancing, puke), and especially organized fun, i.e., team building activities, scavenger hunts, or forced merriment of any kind. I’m an introvert who has taught herself how to be extroverted. Why would I ever think that organized dating would be a good fit for me??
Truth? I sucked at it.
I had no idea what I was doing. I overshared. I always drank one glass of wine more than I needed to because I was scared to death. I wanted to believe the best in everybody up front. I agreed to second and sometimes third dates when I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I laughed when the joke wasn’t funny. I tried to argue with a narcissist when he told me he read his ex-wife’s journal while dog sitting and left her a shitty note on the last empty page. I felt sorry for an alcoholic who lied about his recovery and was heading to jail the next week for his third DUI. I actually finished dinner with the guy who said he wished he’d had the luck of his friend, whose wife had died from a drug overdose before he filed for divorce so he didn’t have to split any of his money with her. I gave everyone way too much credit. I tried too hard. I was way too nice. I felt like a chameleon on every date.
Finally, someone I trust said, “Why don’t you just be you?” I stared at them for a full minute.
I had no idea who that was.
I was raised, like many girls, to be a pleaser. Getting married and having a man was the ultimate goal. The guidance went like this:
- Boys don’t like smart girls. Stop acting so smart. (I’m still not sure what “acting smart” looks like but apparently I am guilty of it.)
- Once you get married, I can stop worrying about you.
- You’re smart enough to go to college, but it’s a backup plan, you need something to fall back on in case things don’t work out. (I was never really sure what “things” meant but it sounded ominous.)
- Be grateful to have a man who works hard and doesn’t drink his paycheck away in a tavern.
None of this made any sense to me. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be who I wanted to be and do what I wanted to do without all of these strings and crazy rules and stories attached. I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. I wrote my first short story at age seven. I had a vision for my life’s work by age nine, to write things that make people think. Why couldn’t I just do that? Be that?
But I did as I was told. I smiled when I didn’t want to. I dressed to please. I laughed when there was nothing funny said. I said yes when I really wanted to say hell no. I was everything to everyone that they needed me to be…except me. I forgot her. That girl I used to be. I tried so hard not to. But it got so hard.
Everything just got so hard.
It is what it was.
I was raised by older parents. It was a different generation, different expectations. I was the first person in my family to go to college. My parents put me through school with no student loans. My dad worked in a steel mill. My mother went back to work when I was in high school as a retail clerk. Sacrifices were made. I am keenly aware of this every day of my professional life. And profoundly grateful.
They did the best they could. But when it came to online dating later in life, I realized that many of the outdated beliefs and values that I was raised with were still driving me. No longer fit who I was. And I was bringing that baggage with me on every online date.
I remember the girl I used to be.
Sitting on my back porch early one summer evening before riding my bike to my job at McDonald’s. I was nineteen years old, trying to get over someone, drinking a Coor’s beer, smoking a Marlboro Red because I wanted to be stronger and tougher than I felt. I made a promise to myself in the twilight:
I’m going to be somebody someday. I’m going to make something of myself.
I had fire. I wanted to make it so badly. To write things that made people think differently. To make people feel something. I felt compelled to make a difference. To do something that mattered. Why I had I let that all fall away? And the scariest question – could I find that girl again? Her fire?
Epiphanies are enlightening, but what I am coming to learn is that it’s what you do with them that matters. If you want things to be different, you have to do different things. I realized that what I really wanted was to find my fire again. To find out what it meant to me now, at 48, to be somebody and make something of myself.
I wasn’t going to find that on Match.
What I’ve been doing with my dating-free time
I’ve been hanging out with my kids. I am their “person” and I am honored that they trust me with their confidences, secrets, heartaches, triumphs, thoughts, jokes, songs, and Family Guy YouTube videos. I am trying to help them find their own internal compass to guide them. So they don’t make the same mistakes I did. They are nearly 16 and 18. The sands of my time to make a difference are swiftly yet slowly running out.
I go dancing with friends. I read voraciously. Sometimes I just stay home and blog, go to sleep early or watch Law & Order reruns because I am too tired to invest in new characters. Structured crime drama comforts me. There is a clear beginning, middle, end. There is justice.
I am no longer dashing off for first dates that go nowhere or lead to “funny yet horrifying” dating war stories. I gave away my three go-to “first date” outfits (I don’t like thinking about my clothes that much.) I am not working late because I had to fit in a date on a night that worked great for him and his schedule but not mine. I’m working late because I want to. Because I have something to say. And at 48 years old, I finally feel confident enough to say it. In my own voice. Not a fictional character’s voice. Mine. Still getting used to that.
I write. I practice. Every day. I want to perfect my craft. I have devoted my entire life to the art and craft of storytelling. Now I finally have the opportunity to commit more time to my passion and see where it leads. I will not squander it. Too many sacrifices have been made.
I am working on my book project. It was my thesis in graduate school, a novel. But I knew even back then that it was a story I wasn’t ready to tell. I didn’t have the time, distance or perspective required to tell it right. I don’t know where it will lead or what it will be. I am enjoying the process of letting it unfold.
I wake up at 5AM every day to either write or run. Sometimes I just lay there listening to rain pelt the window. Other days I stay up until 3AM writing because I can. I answer to no one. I leave pink Post-It notes with my whereabouts and instructions for my teenagers. Liking that. 🙂
I want love in my life. But I’m no longer hunting it down via online dating. I’m not wired for it. I figure it’s bound to happen at some as of yet undetermined point. For now, I am focused on me, my kids and my business. We have always called ourselves the three musketeers. We’d love to have a fourth. But he’s gotta be the right fit. We’re not settling this time around.
Tonight’s Musical Inspiration
Not for the lyrics, but the pace, mood and tone. I listened to a different song for a first version of this post but the energy was all wrong and the writing reflected that. This one helped me hit what felt like the right note. I think it was the piano. Yes. Yes it was.