Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Destination Unknown

Final Destination: Unknown

It has been just about a year since I started this dating adventure and accompanying blog. What is the final outcome and what do I have to show for it? As I stated in the beginning, I had hoped that this would be an educational experience. So, what have I learned from it all? Here are some discoveries I dug up from the mines:

1. When a guy asks if you want to come back to his place, he is really asking if you want to have sex with him. Similarly, if you invite a guy back to your place, he will think you are asking to have sex with him. This is not always the case, but a good rule of thumb. Far better to be prepared for this than to naively walk into a situation you were not really up for.

2. Dating guys who have kids is much more complicated than dating guys who don’t have kids.

3. By the time we have reached thirty years of living, we will all have some baggage.

4. Dating someone who doesn’t have a clue about romantic relationships (at this age) freaks me out way more than dating someone who is still dealing with The Baggage.

5. If a guy does not like you, he will let you know through his silence and inaction.

6. If a guy is interested in you, he will let you know by making contact, straight-out telling you, or very actively making an effort to plan time with you. It may be cliché, but it is pretty much exactly like they tell it in the book, “He’s Just Not That into You”.

7. If he is just not that into you, it has to do with him, not you. It could be the baggage and past history he’s dealing with or it could be that his preferences do not match what he’s seen in you. Either way, the point is that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It is beyond your control.

8. Sometimes guys do really confusing things like tell you how amazing they think you are and then never contact you again. Heck, you could take this as a compliment-maybe he was scared to get hurt by someone as amazing as you. Whatever it is, if he’s gotten to the Total Silence stage, or even the Half-Hearted Response stage, you won’t get any answers out of him. He probably doesn’t even know the answers and would rather thread a needle through his forehead than contemplate on his feelings, his fears, or anything else similarly non-concrete and uncomfortable.

9. If he doesn’t think you’re amazing and is just not interested in you, he would rather drop a 32-ounce jar of tomato sauce on is foot than tell you about it. Guys don’t want to be jerks. Their way of ameliorating things tends to be to fly away rather than deal with a conflict. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to confusion when the guy says or does things (or the gal sees what she wants to see) that contradict how he’s really feeling. In this case, the guy is probably torn. He wants to like you but he just doesn’t. Nothing to be done about this, but as a female I would suggest really paying attention to the clues that he’s not into you.

10. Guys have periods of low confidence too. It’s not just us ladies. Plus, guys have the added burden of having to make the first move (much of the time). Internet Dating is a fantastic remedy for all this. It puts us on an even playing field and gives guys an easy way to approach women (as well as giving women a way to approach men).

11. For me, internet dating has been great for getting a wide range of experiences-one or two dates with one or two guys a month (or week depending on the timing). But, when it comes to bonding with one guy towards a long-term relationship, internet dating has only made me question more than ever whether this is possible for me to ever have again.

12. As much as I would like to find someone, I would rather be single than be with someone and wish I wasn’t. That would be a far worse confinement than simply wandering around single and a little aimless. Of course, it would be even better if I find someone to be happily involved with, but it’s good to keep the perspective that things could be worse as well as better.

The list of lessons could go on and on, but these are the ones that cross my mind at this moment. Now that it has been a full year of trying this out, I sense it is a good mile-marker, a good stopping point. I don’t plan on giving up on my dream of finding an awesome guy to settle into an awesome relationship with. But, I see that internet dating has really not gotten me any closer to that goal.

It’s not going to be easy, but life can be like that. I know there will be days when I’ll feel really lonely and even hopeless about the situation, wondering if it could ever change. But, I hope to use that energy as a springboard for jumping out into the world a little more, opening myself up to it and to the people that I meet.

I can focus on the things that I want to do rather than on the situations I want to be in. For example, building community and bonding with the people that I find connections with is a good start. Exploring ways to be social and creative and strive for more justice in the world as well as outlets for appreciating the beauty of this earth and developing my spirit, taking care of my body, and filling up my brain with exciting new information. I want to cultivate my garden, and I think sometimes the fact that I am single can be an excuse for not doing more (i.e., “I’ll do such-and-such after I meet that special someone”). No, I don’t have time to wait any longer. It is time to do all the such-and-such things on my list and not give into the inertia of excuse-making.

Above all else, I want to develop my faith-my connection with the higher power that pulses through the veins of all life and that I personally believe takes care of us. It doesn’t mean things will be perfect, but it means that however things turn out, I will be able to find meaning in it no matter what. Letting go of Internet Dating means letting go of my sense of control because I have been taking comfort in the idea that just by contacting enough people and going on enough dates, I am causing myself to get closer to reaching my goal. That is all an illusion and it is time to be more real-with myself and with the world. Life is just too short to do anything otherwise.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Dove and the Dragon

So, I want to tell you about two guys I recently dated. Their occupations were not a dove and a dragon, of course. I remember hearing something one time about how it is best to balance the submissive energy of the dove with the courageous fire of the dragon. While I was dating these two men, one brought out the dove in me while the other summoned the dragon.

First Date: I went out with the general contractor first. We met at a local coffee shop. I didn’t know much about him yet and we’d barely spoken over the phone before meeting up, but he seemed fun-loving and I thought I could use a healthy dose of laughter after the last dude I dated.

Before I even get to the coffee shop, we’ve already sent several text messages back and forth because he’s having trouble locating it. He calls to say he’s arrived just as I am coming in on my bike. I notice he’s a pretty big guy, not super tall but more wide than most of the guys I have dated recently. He has dark sunglasses on and I can’t see his eyes.

We go inside and order and then head back out to a table on the patio. I’ve brought my art supplies and plan to do some artwork and maybe hang out with my friend who lives next door to this coffee place after our date.
We begin The Interview (i.e. the typical conversation that happens on a first blind date). He speaks at length about how he was as a child and teenager, the times he got in trouble at school and how he weaseled his way out of it. I don’t know if he’s hoping to impress me with these tales or doesn’t know what else to say. Just as a side-note, I recently read an article about the most annoying first date conversations that one should avoid. Reliving glory days from the past was third on the list. I myself wasn’t annoyed by this, but it didn’t help me feel like I knew him or could connect to him any better either.

He talks a lot and very loudly. He asks some questions of me so it’s not just a one-way conversation which I appreciate. I get the sense he’s not really listening to me though and this is annoying. Also, after about 10 minutes into our “interview”, I have to ask him to remove his sunglasses because it is really disconcerting to be talking to a faceless stranger. (The eyes tell a lot, at least in my book).

After about an hour or two, I’m getting tired and want some time and space to myself. Also, my friend from next door has already walked past us once and I’d like to catch her before night falls. I let my date know that I would like to start working on some art now and he asks if he can watch. I let him know that I wouldn’t be comfortable with that and offer to walk him to his car. He gives me a nice kiss and tells me I’m hot. I appreciate this. I also have the feeling we’re not right for each other and have too many differences.

Fast forward to the second date with the General Contractor: we meet at the Museum of Nature and Science. My mom had two free tickets and I was the lucky one to get to use them. The date is one-third fun and two-thirds exhausting. The man talks too much and too loudly. I appreciate that he seems to appreciate me, and I think I got a little too caught up in the idea that it was nice to have some attention. Eventually, I realized that I also need to be honest and considerate of his feelings, so I let him know that I didn’t think we had enough in common. He did not respond to this in any way. I can’t say that I blame him or that this approach was wrong, but it was also hard for me to settle into the sudden silence left behind.

In the middle of the General Contractor dates, I was also getting to know another man. We too had just two dates. For the first date with the Software Developer, we meet at a Rockies game. This is quite a long time to spend together on a first date. We didn’t know each other at all yet, so what if we really didn’t like each other? Lucky for me, he turns out to be totally cute and very laid-back. We never run out of things to talk about and I feel really comfortable around him. He has a 9-year-old son, so a good bit of the conversation revolves around that which is OK by me. I appreciate that he’s such a proud papa and good father.

I feel better about this guy than I have about anyone else I’ve dated so far. But, I also realize that after just one date it is easy to overlook a lot of things that might jump up and bite me on the butt later on down the road. I’m cautiously optimistic.

We meet up for another date about two weeks later. It’s been difficult to connect our schedules, and several times I’ve contacted him he hasn’t responded at all and I’ve had to send another message before getting a reply. Still, I’m a little hopeful that he’s just not good with managing his time and actually does like me. We meet up for sushi in his neighborhood. Again, the conversation and the food and everything about the evening is wonderful as far as I’m concerned. We make tentative plans for the weekend-just a couple of days later.

I contact him, don’t hear from him, contact him again to say that I’m wondering if he’s interested or not, and never hear from him again. I won’t lie and say that I’m not at all hurt or disappointed by this. I realize that he’s a stranger still and that I would much rather be with someone who really wants to be with me, but it was nice to think that I might have found someone I could really easily get along with. It was conversely a little crushing to see that once again that dream got squashed right under my nose and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

I am reading a book at the moment (Tales of the City) wherein every person wants what they don’t have and has what they don’t want. There’s the married couples who have affairs hoping to gain what they’ve lost in the marriage; there’s the single lady who picks up on the gay guy in the supermarket; the straight guy who just wants to get laid and is thwarted from every direction. The book was written in the ’70s but the concept seems to ring as true today as ever before.

I myself wonder if I’m ever going to find someone to date long term ever again. The more times I try and fail, the more doomed I feel my love life has become. I wonder if it will just get worse and harder the older I get. Lastly, I wonder if it’s worth continuing to try. Maybe I am fated to be alone. I wish I knew for sure if that were the case. Then I could stop fighting against it, trying so hard, and spending precious time and money on what very well might be a lost cause.

When should I throw in the towel, and what dream can take the place of this one? I feel I must have something, otherwise I could get very depressed. For now, I will live with these questions and hope for some answers to come to me one day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Drawing a line in the sand

Boundaries are such a necessary and beautiful thing. They are good for a person and good for a relationship. However, it has taken me a while to fine tune my skills when it comes to clearly delineating my own boundaries in certain situations. Growing older is a blessing because with each hard lesson learned another batch of tools is earned.

Recently, I met someone who I at first thought I had the potential for a great relationship with. I felt a sense of connection with him. However, I was able to step back and recognize that I really didn’t know the man at all. I was able to pay attention to some of the early warning signs-the way he kissed me for example. The first kiss was nice, but every other one thereafter was wrought with aggression and utter lack of awareness. I felt as though he were trying to eat my face. When standing up, he would push me so far off balance that I felt in a perpetual state of almost falling. At one point, I finally figured out that I could put one foot directly behind the other and this would balance me against his torrential shoving.

Perhaps as I grow more in my abilities, I will be able to assert this boundary much sooner. As it was, I told him after about the third time that he was pushing me over. It didn’t do any good at stopping him from continuing the behavior, however. This was yet another red flag. After I communicate that something is not working for me, the response should not be to carry on as before.

The last part about his kisses that I found most disturbing was, on a couple of occasions, when he took his hand to the back of my head and pushed it with all his might, as if trying to unscrew the lid of a tight peanut butter jar. I had to actually break the suction and pry his hand off of my head. I believe a more normal response would be to at least apologize if you find that a person has had to physically remove you from them. He, however, just tried to then push me over onto the floor. I again had to push him off of me so that I could stand up. I asked him why he would want to push me into the coffee table and he said he was being playful. I thought maybe I could kick him hard in the shins and “be playful” right back.

It was more than just the physical lack of boundaries on his part that I found so disturbing. There are certain tell-tale signs when you come across a narcissist. Some of the traits are an emotional lack of boundaries, a sense that whatever he is thinking and feeling is exactly what you must be thinking and feeling (because, again, there is no sense of you as a separate person from him). So, when I told him that I wasn’t having fun, he said, “but I’m having a fantastic time!” as if the two realities could not possibly coexist. The lack of ability to read another person is another sign as is a flat affect and lack of empathy for you.

At the same time, a narcissist can be very manipulative. This man, for example, reacted to me telling him that I thought we should go our separate ways by saying, “I know you said you didn’t want to hurt me, but you did!” Then, when I explained to him that his comment left me feeling like I was being put on a guilt trip, he said, “you’re assuming too much!” The truth is, I was not assuming anything, I was simply telling him about my experience and he was simply denying my truth in the hopes that he could twist it into what he wanted it to be.

When I gave him this bad news, he would not take “no” for an answer (another narcissist quality). He wanted to talk about it more in person. I would rather take a sharp needle to my eye and can’t understand why he would want the rejection to continue for himself. I’m pretty sure he hoped to change my mind, to bargain for getting things to go his way. Again, the truth of my own experience is completely lost on him. A narcissist sees himself as a victim always, never the person responsible. Sometimes he will tell you what you want to hear, pretend that he is complying with whatever it is you are requesting of him, but it is only to manipulate you into giving him what he wants.

Another aspect of the narcissist: he will do favors for you, give you things, create situations where you are in his debt. Again, this is only to afford him more leverage over you at some later time. There are lots of other things about narcissists that one would do well to study. Much can be discovered from Beverly Engel’s book, “They Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome”.

I say all this truly not to be mean-spirited to this poor soul. I wish him well on his journey and hope that he will somehow find his way. I admit that I know very little about him and could be completely wrong about who he is. But, I know that the unhealthy dynamic was there between us.

I’ve been here before. The difference is that this time I stopped it before it got very far out of hand. I’m so proud of myself for being able to take control and protect myself just as I had hoped I would be able to.

Part of what allowed me to do this was first recognizing that I can too easily create a victim role for myself. It’s a part I have felt comfortable playing for far too long. I attribute some of this waking up to a very dear friend of mine-actually the friend I’ve held onto for the longest in my life. She pointed this out to me and I was smart enough to listen. I started telling myself that I am not a victim but am instead the creator of my own experience. I started to see this truth play itself out in many small ways. Eventually, I have arrived at this day where I can see how much power I really do have to notice when things are not right and to use my voice to speak out about it. Most of all, I see now that I am totally empowered to take the necessary actions that will keep me healthy and safe.

I hope that others out there reading this can use this information to help them stay strong, protect their precious selves from all the many predators out there, and realize that saying “no” to one person is not unloving when it means saying “yes” to something else.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Counseling Intern

I was really excited about this guy for a while. In fact, so excited that I didn’t write anything about our first three dates because I was hoping to one day be able to post something like, “and now we’re married with three kids and a dog”. But, alas, Date Four dashed those dreams.

He’s a kind person with caring eyes. I appreciate his smile and especially appreciate the many cool things we share in common-both having been in the Peace Corps, both practicing Buddhist meditation, both being in the field of counseling. These are near the core of who I feel I am, so I thought I had found someone I could truly connect with at a deeper level.

For the first three dates, we got to know each other better and it felt like there was a good mix of listening and talking, and just general good connecting.

Date four went like this: I take the bus to Boulder and meet him at his place. It takes me a little while to get there because I have to bike ½ hour from the bus station. He lives with two other ladies and one of them is home and lets me in. We chit-chat for a little while, get the gear together, and then he and I take off for a hike.

He’s chosen a place for us to go hiking in an area I’ve been to before. It’s a nice, well-marked trail. We go for six miles. The weather is warm. I had forgotten how much I enjoy hiking. It’s good to be out. Unfortunately, though, something suddenly seems stifled between us. All of that good relating or the hopes I had that we were relating seem to be breaking apart and turning to dust before my eyes.

I put on my counselor cap and start trying to lead him into conversation. It’s feeling like a lot of work for a Saturday morning. I’m asking questions, giving lots of time and space for him to respond, giving more silent time for him to possibly think of a question for me, but he doesn’t have any. Eventually, I just usurp the moment and start talking about what I want to talk about. Sometimes he responds and sometimes not. A few times he interrupts me to say something totally unrelated. Once, he looks at his watch.

Suddenly, the pendulum swings the other way and we end up talking about some very personal things-things that overwhelm and shock me. I think we have put ourselves in a position where we are “over-sharing”, pushing ourselves to be more emotionally intimate than we are really ready for.

He, being a dude, is still totally down for being physically intimate. I’m not so much, but am also having a hard time explaining any of this to him, especially given how eager I was about him in the times past.

He graciously offers to drive me all the way home with my bike. We end up talking about some more very personal and intimate stuff. Once that door is open, especially for two counselor types, it can be hard to shut. I think we both want to move on to lighter topics, but the weight of what was already said still lingers in the air.

Throughout the day and really since having met him, I notice (finally) the distinct absence of laughter. This, above anything else, is a tell-tale sign for me that we are not moving in the right direction. I don’t know it yet, but I have already made up my mind.

Once home, he asks if he can come in for a glass of water. I think of the book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” (he’ll want a glass of milk to go with it…), but I say yes. He comes in. I’m thinking I have things to do and mostly that I need some down time after all this.

I am once again at a loss for how to tell him that I need him to go home because I need to be alone for a while. So instead I tell him I’m going to do laundry. I get out my quarters and grab my clothes. When I return from the laundry room, I find him with his shoes off lying on the couch. I tell him I need to go to the grocery store before I meet my friends for dinner. He says he knows I need to go, but it still takes a little while longer before he leaves.

He wants to see me again as soon as possible. It looks like we’re not on the same page. I will have some explaining to do, but I’m too tired and out of time for it today. I send him on his way and the rest will soon be history.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Carpenter

I receive an email from a cute looking guy saying that he finds me attractive. I am intrigued by the many pictures of him doing adventurous things such as rock climbing, mountain biking, and kayaking, so I email him back. We have a few nice conversations both over email and on the phone. Eventually, we decide to meet in Denver over the weekend. This is sort of a big deal because he lives in Buena Vista, a long ways away from Denver.

He insists that it’s fine for him to drive all that way just to have dinner with me, so we make a plan and here’s how it goes: we meet at the restaurant. As soon as I park my car to start walking towards the door of the restaurant, a newborn bird flies through the air and lands with a splat on the sidewalk in front of me. It is flailing around but doesn’t have feathers yet. This seems like a bad sign.

I see the dude fly by the restaurant as I wait outside for him. I call him and walk him back through the steps on where it is located and where to park. After a little while, I see him walk down the sidewalk toward me. He is very tiny, something you can’t tell by looking at an internet picture. His ears stick out at a remarkable angle. These are the first things I notice about him. That, and the fact that he seems awfully jittery. I wonder if he’s taken some sort of speed.

As we enter the restaurant, he exclaims that there are more people in it than live in his hometown. I can’t help but notice that when I talk to him or ask him a question, his facial expressions seem to be in sharp contrast to the actual words being spoken. It almost looks at times as if he has an imaginary friend he’s talking to. I find this very disconcerting.

On the other hand, I appreciate his passion for his work and hobbies. He loves to kite-surf. We talk for a while about that and I am enjoying learning about something new. He tells me that doing carpentry work is like urinating for him: it’s something he just has to do, something that just flows out of him. I tell him that he probably should develop a new analogy when explaining this to a gal on the first date. I try to offer up some other options, but he still likes his.

We talk about rock climbing-a common passion for both of us. He tells me that his last girlfriend burst into tears when he took her climbing. It sounded very traumatic. I told him I'm not much of a crier, especially not when climbing.

We go from the restaurant to Washington Park where he lets his two dogs out of his truck to run around as we walk around the lake. We are the only two people out at this point and he seems much more at peace.

At the end of the evening, we say goodnight and go our separate ways, saying the obligatory “let’s hang out” and “I’ll call you.” I wouldn’t mind seeing him again as a friend. He’s really interesting and seems like a kind-hearted soul. But, the feeling of disconnection pressed on me the whole evening, so I know he’s not “the one”.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Surgeon

I am meeting the Plastic Surgeon right after my work meeting at the Cheesecake Factory. Even though it’s early May, I’m wearing my ski parka, hat and gloves. He calls just as I’m finishing up with the meeting and we meet outside. He looks a bit different than in his picture, but not so much that I could say I was at all deceived.

I accidentally call him by the wrong name and he doesn’t laugh or even crack a smile. We go to a frozen yogurt joint down the street because I really like it there and I was able to keep myself from going crazy on cheesecake only by telling myself I was holding out for the yogurt. He says he doesn’t like sweet things so declines to order anything himself.

There are about 15 teens ambling about inside the shop. I feel like I’m back at work suddenly. I eat very quickly and zip up my jacket for a cold and rainy walk around downtown.

Conversation is fine. He’s good at asking questions and is very intelligent. I like his kind blue eyes. Unfortunately, I don’t feel any sparks and there is virtually no laughter between us. This seems like a tell-tale red flag to me.

After about 30 minutes, we agree to say goodbye. I again call him by the wrong name. The name I’ve been calling him is another guy I’ve been talking to. Serves me right. Again, I get no laughs from this. We briefly hug goodbye and go our separate ways.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lock and Key Party

After a fun and full day of rock climbing in Boulder, I make it back to Denver just in time to get ready for a dating venture I’ve been curious about for a long time. It’s a “lock and key” party put on by one of the singles organizations in town. The party itself is well organized, includes some nice snacky food, and is in a fun setting.

I’m getting ready for my friend to pick me up and suddenly it hits me: what if all of the guys are super old? There’s nothing that creeps me out more than a horny old man trying to pick up on me. On the other hand, I was thinking this would be a great way to spend an evening getting to know a lot of people all at once rather than the Internet Dating method which sometimes requires spending an entire evening getting to know just one person.

In either case, meeting one or a bunch of strange single men can be a little like piercing a giant hook through your midriff, jumping in a large body of water and waiting for the wildlife to smell your blood and start feeding on you. It requires much courage.

As I enter her car, my friend and I confide in each other about our fears/self consciousness. We agree on a few back-up plans and safety measures. We come up with some code words we can use if we need them. We tell each other how cute we look.

We enter the venue-it’s not tiny but not huge, there are already about 20 people milling about. They give us nametags and we head to the bar. After a while, the organizer announces that we will begin the affair. Every woman gets a little lock, every man gets a key. When we make a match, we get a raffle ticket possibly redeemable for prizes, and get a new lock or key to try for more.

The point, aside from trying to win prizes, is to meet a lot of people and/or a person you’d be interested in. One of the first men I meet is a retired Firefighter from New York. He squeezes my hand too hard when trying to fit the key in my lock. Then there’s the man who, every time he sees me, asks a rapid succession of questions for me to answer. I had to appear in court once as a witness. It feels just like that, minus the stenographer writing everything down.

Eventually, I run into a man that seems about my age, cute, and nice. Having all these features makes him a very popular feature at the event. We seem to be expressing interest in each other, but aside from the smiles and little bits of communication, we don’t get to a stage where we’re really sitting down for a chat or making plans for dinner.

Near the end of the evening, I go up to a man to try his key against my lock. He immediately asks for my number. He is large and sweating profusely. His eyes are at half-mast apparently due to having drunk too much. He then tells me it’s his birthday and asks me for a kiss. Assertiveness is not always my strong suit, but when he asks again if he can have my number, I look him square in the eyelid and say, “No, but thanks for asking.” This actually causes him to say, “OK” and leave me alone.

The organizer announces that it is time to turn in our locks and keys. My friend and I find a place to sit down and listen for the raffle drawing. The first prize is a bud-light t-shirt. My friend actually ends up winning it. We laugh about that as we walk to my favorite frozen yogurt shop down the block. We both agree that we had some fun and we’d do it again for the practice if nothing else.