27 May 2010

Relationships

Note: This is a long, rambling post. Here's a summary in case you want to skip it: I've been going out on some dates. I don't think I want a real relationship right now, but it's fun to get out. Then again, when one is getting out, who knows where things might lead? The end.

Someone commented on my Loneliness, Aloneness post that it sounds like I'm ready to be dating. Agreed, and I have been dating, just not writing about it. The dates read the blog, and that's causes a certain amount of censorship in my writing that I'd rather just totally avoid. So I go out and I mull it over and I don't write about it.

But yeah, I'm dating. Well, I'm going on dates. Let's put it that way. Seems more accurate. I'm certainly not dating anyone. That implies a level of commitment that is completely absent from any outings I've been on of late.

Going out on dates has made me think about what I want in a relationship, and it's made me think about my relationship history. The longest relationship I've ever had was with John. From our first date to his death was four years, almost to the day. That's not an incredibly long relationship to begin with, and nothing about it was typical given that we moved in together four months after our first date and then he was sick for 2.5 years at the end. In a way, it's like we had a much longer relationship than the four calendar years would belie, given all that we went through. But by the numbers, it was four years, the blink of an eye, a brief—if incredibly meaningful—interlude.

Outside of my relationship with John, I have dated a handful of people for around a year each, a handful more for a few months. I really have no significant long-term relationships in my past, at least not long in terms of the ticking of the clock.

I loved being married to John, and I love the idea of a long-term relationship or another marriage. The security and comfort of that kind of close tie to another person is very appealing to me. I'm inherently social. I like having someone around.

Relationships are, however, a lot of work, at least the good and meaningful ones. I think that's why my relationship history is filled with what I'd call medium-term liasons. Often, you can be with someone a few months, up to a year or so if my experience is to be believed, before you have to deal with really tough stuff, before you have to start putting in the work to make things continue to be meaningful. I look back on past relationships and I can see times that I stayed with someone even though I knew the relationship had fatal flaws, riding it out until the flaws became too much to ignore. I can also see times that as the problems emerged, I decided to cut my losses and leave rather than figure out how to make things work. Oh, yeah, and sometimes I got dumped.

I like to think of myself as cool-headed and rational. I'm an editor, for crying out loud. I follow rules and impose consistency for a living. Frankly, though, I think this is more a symbol of my need to control something—anything!—than it is a sign of a disciplined temperment. At the end of the day, I make a huge proportion of my decisions based on gut reactions. That's how I decided where to go to college: Lewis and Clark just felt right as soon as I set foot on campus. And it's pretty much how I decided that John and I were a good match: he, too, just felt right. There was some underlying compatability, some kind of click. I wouldn't call it love at first sight, or fate, or destiny. I was just immediately comfortable with him and he with me and the work seemed worth it from the get-go.

When I go out with people now, I'm not looking for someone like or dislike John. I don't understand how or why I'd do that. Oh, sure, I want some of the same general characterisitics in a partner: honesty, intelligence, the ability to make me laugh, to name a few. But looking for those kinds of things do not mean that I'm looking for John. I am, however, looking for someone who just feels right, and I'm very open to the idea that this person could be quite similar to John or in fact entirely different. How am I to know? It's not like this is done via mail-order catalog.

Except it kind of is, or at least that's how Internet dating feels to me. I did the Internet dating thing back in Boston, ending up going out with Mr. Coffee for a few months and going out on a bunch of Total Date Fails otherwise. Eh, it was a worthwhile experience, got my feet wet and all, but I wouldn't say I loved it. In a fit of relatinship-related pique, I recently put up another online profile, and I would hardly say that interesting, attractive guys are beating down my door. In fairness, I basically never log on to the site and have waited for people to come to me rather than making any effort to reach out to others. You have to give something to get something in return, I suppose, and I find that I'm just not terribly motivated.

Which circles back to how relationships are work. I have a career and two small kids. I have a large circle of friends and a family who lives nearby and a lot of personal interests. I'm just like everyone else: I don't have a lot of free time, and I don't want to waste one minute of the free time I have. But there is no way to avoid wasted time when dating. I'm inherently going to enjoy some dates and not others. Some dates will lead to something more, some will not. I have been stood up—talk about the ultimate waste of time!—and I've dispensed hours of what feels like wasted emotional energy fretting about all manner of things date-related.

Yeah, sure, I'd like to believe that all of these experiences are leading me somewhere. And sometimes inauspicious beginnings are just that: beginnings that don't feel that way. But what I feel is myself pulling away from the idea of wanting a meaningful, committed relationship right now. I want the relationship fun, but not the relationship work. And I want smart, funny—cute!—guys to just magically appear in my life without my having to make any effort to find them, and I want to go out for drinks and dinner and kiss and maybe more. But I don't want to have to figure out how to integrate that person into my life or introduce that person to Maddie and Riley or any of the tough stuff.

Not that anyone is asking me to do the tough stuff right now. I just can't figure out how it all works. Maybe I'm overthinking it. I do know that it's complicated by the experience I had with John, in that having had that one time where I knew almost immediately that things were different with him, that's my barometer for how a long-term relationship begins. That's probably not fair. Add that to the fact that I don't even think I want a real relationship right now and, well, it makes all this dating stuff kind of hard.

I guess I just want to get out, have fun, feel like a grown-up, try on a life that's not really mine. Easy enough. It's figuring out what to do if I like the way it fits that's tricky.

I shall now stop counting chickens, putting carts before horses, etc.

11 comments:

Amber said...

Very well-said. As we talked about yesterday, I can certainly see how your "nonchalant" attitude towards dating could be perplexing to some guys. There's such a stereotype about women searching for THE ONE and thinking that every guy who smiles at them could be THE ONE. I find it refreshing that your goal (at least for now) seems to be to meet new people and to have some fun. No need to rush things.

Sara said...

Check out the below link. I read this three years ago - made a very thoughtful list (I ended up with 67 items - I felt like the person could be 33% on their own!)and have ended up with a person who fits my list to a T.

http://www.oprah.com/relationships/How-to-Find-Love-Do-Magic-Lists-Work/1

Do what the article says -- pour a glass of wine, hop in bed, and start writing your list!

Good luck. I can't think of a more deserving person for lifelong partner happiness.

Jen said...

I feel like I'm at the same place you are, Snick. I really want to have a partner, someone to share my life with. I can't imagine being alone forever. But I am also not excited about the work, complexity, and vulnerability inherent in a serious relationship. I've got a pretty good life going, two years after my husband's death, and plan to enjoy my independence and solitude a little longer. Then I'll write the list Sara talks about!

Me said...

I can totally relate....My longest relationship was with my ex-husband and I got divorced at 30 (no kids though) and SHIT, it's taken me til now (almost 35), to be in a committed relationship again. I had a few 3-4 month things throughout the years that, at the time, I would have liked to turn into more, but they didn't. And now I met this wonderful man and guess what, I am TOTALLY clueless sometimes how to do this....5 years. And my life was good in those years, but it's great having someone to lean onto and who's hand to hold :)

amanda said...

My therapist says statistics are: you need to be with someone for at least 1.5-2 years before the excitement of how perfect they are gives way to the reality of what the real meat of the relationship is or is not. Sadly, many are already married when they discover the "real" person they are with - the one with flaws and traits they don't remember noticing when dating the person. So have fun dating and going with your gut on finding the person who's flaws you can learn to live with and vice versa!

OTRgirl said...

I haven't had to find a relationship since college and I can't imagine having to deal with it. I've always come from the 'a good relationship grows out of a friendship' theory, but in normal, non-college, life, where do those friendships form? I look around sometimes and think about what it would be like if Jrex were gone and where would I meet people. The climbing gym, church, or work are the main possibilities.

Just rambling to say, I hear you, I sympathize. I wish it were easy.

Dorcasina said...

Wow--in so many ways, I feel like I could have WRITTEN this post (if, that is, I could express it as well as you have). I've bailed on the "dating"--it's just a chore, if the basic impetus (i.e., liking someone enough, even if it's only from a brief encounter, to want to spend a few more minutes with them). I understand all the rationales for "investing" in the work of online meeting (I would hardly call it dating), but for me it's all the things I HATED about being single without any of the fun/thrill. Add in time away from my daughter, anxiety, costs (sitters, gas, events), and I am simply not lonely enough to bother. If I meet someone--which is highly unlikely given the paths of my life right now--great. But I have had to accept that at least for now, I am simply not willing to make the effort or spend the considerable time socializing with people who I almost certainly won't like. (Yeah, I'm that girl.) Plus, I realized with my marriage that I had had NO IDEA what a good mate for me would be; my husband was a total surprise (I would never have picked him off a dating site, except for his beautiful eyes). Sorry to blab on--as always, you really struck a nerve. And I had to laugh at your post about Maddie: I was that child who narrated her own life, usually in third person ("So Dorcasina resolved to make evil Walter PAY for the way he had mistreated her, and commenced a plan to waylay him at recess...") And yes, sometimes I narrated aloud.

I sort of miss it, being so explicitly the "heroine" of my own life. Thanks, as always, for saying the things I don't even realize I am thinking and feeling.

NanarocksWeen said...

Wouldn't it be nice to have easy answers for all the BIG, important things life throws at us? All I can say, having read your blog for many years now, is that you're obviously a really special person - and, I'm certain that, in time, you'll find that right partner. I'm almost 62 years old now, with daughters your age, and I have no unique wisdom, no answers to life's BIG questions, no good advice about how to find "Mr. Right." But I'll keep reading your blog, and I have a feeling that one of these days Snick will be writing about "the one" - and he won't mind us all knowing about him. Hang in there - Life's corners can be pretty sharp. But around the next one... well, you just never know. That's part of the joy (and frustration) of living.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

We put so much pressure on ourselves, but the fact is, that you are DOING WELL, or at least, you say that you're not unhappy with your life enough to interrupt it.

It seems to me that if you keep going out there, you're in exactly the right place of not-caring-too-much to have huge love leap into your lap from just outside your peripheral vision.

Be gentle to yourself, and find some nice men to spend a little time with. It won't kill you to live in the moment, yanno. You do it with the kids all the time.

You might even start enjoying some of these prospects if you stop taking them so seriously.

Not that I was, you know, in your shoes or anything...

Claudia said...

Hi Snickollet,

I just got caught up with your blog after being away for a long time. I don't know if I ever commented here, even.
Anyway, it's a surprise to find you in Portland! It's also my home town, though I'm not living there now.
I've been through the rollercoaster of your past year and a half this afternoon. I'm glad you are where you are.

Best to you,
Claudia (Moxie reader)

Mary Ellen said...

For my kids, when they were in high school especially, there was this huddling thing of young men and women just hanging out, doing things as a big bunch, which made it easier to do practice pairing up stuff. But very far after college, everyone is so danged busy and tired. Quite a challenge! Hang in there. The richness you will be able to bring to the new relationship (when it's time) comes from all the robust living you have done, being a really wonderful mom, writing a terrific blog, etc. etc.