I’ve had this idea in my head for the last few years that if I could just find a nice guy and have a really great date, that everything after that would come naturally and just fall into place. That idea was incorrect.
In any relationship, there’s a time where you have to figure out if you want to move from casual dating into something more serious or if you should call it quits. When I was younger, this transition was pretty easy – mostly because I completely skipped the first step. In middle school and even high school, “Will you go out with me?” really meant “Will you be my girlfriend?” There were still some awkward dates (especially when your date’s mom has to drive you around), but it was ok, because those dates were safely in the framework of a relationship, and instead of worrying about your “status” you could just focus on getting to know each other. In college, I had a lot of weird dates, but as soon as I found someone I really liked, it generally went something like “I like you. You like me. Let’s stay together for the next 3-5 years. Okay. Cool.”
Dating in my 30s has been a completely different ball game. At first, my main problem was just trying to find an interesting guy to have dinner or a drink with. I met a good number of creeps, and I kept thinking, “I just need one good date! Just one!” Then I had a great date, and another great date, and then a not-so-good date, and then he disappeared. Unfortunately, this pattern has more or less been repeating itself for the last couple years over and over again. I meet a great guy, we have a great time, they seem really into me, and then for reasons that are never entirely clear, they (usually suddenly) change their minds. Because I’m human, I’ve been taking this personally. Am I not pretty enough? Did I always have food in my teeth? Did he get back together with his ex because she’s better than me? Do I laugh too much? Am I too laid back? Did I talk too much? Did I not talk enough? You get the idea. Obviously, this is not a great mind set to be in. Nobody wants to be constantly second guessing themselves, and it’s certainly not attractive. I’d go back through our dates, and I wouldn’t be able to think of one thing I did that would make them suddenly change their minds. I kept saying to my friends, “They liked me 3 weeks ago! I’m the same person I was then! What did I do?”
It’s taken me a long time, but I finally realized the answer: Nothing. I didn’t do anything wrong.
I have some working theories as to why this is happening so much more in my 30s – one of them being that the stakes are much higher now. Once you make that transition from a few dates here and there to dating exclusively, shit gets real. A lot of people in their 30s are ready for marriage and/or kids or at least a long-term relationship, and that’s scary. What if it doesn’t work out? It’s a lot easier to back out after 3 weeks then after 3 months or 3 years. Sure, relationships are scary, but I’d rather spend the time to get to know someone I really like and THEN decide if we think it will work long term than not even give that person a chance out of fear.
But, that’s just me speculating. What I do know is that I don’t know what they’re thinking. I don’t know their past relationships or what’s currently going on in their life or any of the million other things happening that have absolutely nothing to do with me. It’s disheartening when something with promise fizzles. It’s especially frustrating when you think you’ve been misunderstood, judged unfairly, or not given the chance to open up. It sucks, but 9 times out of 10, the circumstances are beyond your control. I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up over things I have no control over, and it’s oddly liberating to finally accept that sometimes there is just nothing I can do.
At the beginning of this year, I was feeling pretty low. I was texting with my mom and I mentioned that I was really sad, but I was sure I would eventually be fine. My mother, in all her loving wisdom wrote, “You are right. You’ll be fine. You won’t feel fine all the time, but you will be fine because you’re not in control of other people’s reactions, and you have no way of knowing exactly why they act as they do. It probably has nothing to do with you most of the time. That doesn’t take away the sadness and frustration, I know. But the plan is for good, not evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
It’s been hard over the last few months/weeks/days to remember this, because it IS sad and frustrating, but ultimately, her words have been the best advice in the world. I don’t know why people act the way they do. I can beat myself up over it, feel slighted, grow bitter, or I can keep trying to be the best version of myself and be confident that the plan is for good, not evil, and I have a future and a hope.