Once upon a spring, a friend went on a date. Their date fulfilled many checkboxes: attractive, employed, and competent. They went on several more dates. Soon after their seventh date, they experienced a hiatus. Multiple days later, the date phoned to talk. “It’s not you,” they reassured my friend, “but I’m not feeling it.”
Neither was my friend, but my friend wasn’t going to call up and say that.
Plus, it’s never us. It’s always them. That’s the oldest trick in the manual.
But maybe it is them. And maybe it is us. Maybe we’re all our own worst dating enemy.
I can’t say, “Welcome to your late twenties,” because I’m not sure any of us walked into this room fully knowingly. If we had, I’m not sure we would have chosen this door. Most of us try to forget the RSVP until we wake up on our 26th birthday and wonder if this is our late 20s. I mean, it’s in the upper half of your 20s by simple mathematical principles. Some of our closer friends are, eek, 30. I remember telling my grandma in fifth grade that 30 was old. Now my parents are pushing 60 and I’ve rationalized that as the last decade of middle age.
We grow up hearing all these axioms of what each decade in life means. Your 30s are supposed to be when everyone is having kids or getting divorced. Your 40s are for mid-life crises and teenagers. That’s a fact. Your 20s are for dating and marriage. Right?
Except this is a changing generation. A lot of us are coupled off, for better or for worse. Actually, most of us might be, it feels like, and, honestly, most of it is for the worst. But if we’re not married or sharing a queen-sized bed with our co-dog owner, we’re still living, thank you very much, Aunt Joan. We have careers. We have grad school (but no degree, ha ha to me). We have travel. Some of us even have homes. We just don’t have that significant life partner Disney, our parents, and our pastor promised us in the ‘90s.
But it’s not a problem. I repeat with gritted teeth: it’s not a problem.
The problem is, no one knows what to assume. I made a new friend recently, which is an event of increasing rarity in your late 20s (is it really late 20s? Maybe it’s the mid-20s?). After some weeks, my friend asked if I was seeing anyone.
“Well, isn’t it obvious,” I wanted to say. “Have I talked about anyone in the short course of our friendship? Obviously, I am single. Even my aunt has stopped asking.”
“What’s your type?” my friend pressed.
I’ve had few trials and error to figure out a type. Sure, I can name some basic decent human qualities I want in a mate, but I don’t think that narrows down the population. I do have a thing for girls with big noses, but I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you advertise.
“My friend’s like you,” my friend said. “She’s always been single, but now she’s beginning to wonder if she’s going to be single for life. And she doesn’t know her type. Except not the divorced, mid-30s type.”
There are two types of singles: those who are permanently single (myself, my friend’s friend, Mother Teresa, etc.) and the temporarily single. This dichotomy might not seem so earth-shattering (it isn’t), but it speaks volumes. Temporary singles are here for a short stay. They will couple off again and soon, for better or for worse (most likely it will be for worse because they just want to lose the single status, bless their heart).
The permanently single don’t mind the status. In fact, they revel in it. We occupy a tight pack. We all know each other, we even love each other, but obviously, we don’t love like that. You would think our numbers would dwindle with time. We’re all eligible, attractive, content persons. We also tend to have higher self-esteem than the temporarily single if I do say so myself. And we’re all available.
But to no one’s surprise, we’re our own curse.
There’s an old adage that you have to learn to love yourself before you can love another. It’s true. It’s just no one warns you not to love yourself too much.
In high school and college, our romantic options compete with one another. We like the most attractive, the smartest, the coolest, the funniest, the person with the most profitable major. Now, in our (late) 20s, our romantic options compete with us. To date and to love, we must give up time with ourselves. We must surrender the schedules we made with ourselves in mind. We have to share a bed that feels just fine without morning breath in our face. We have to learn to share a fridge with someone who drinks almond milk when we prefer skim. We have to stare at the mess made by another whose mess is probably much smaller than the mess we make on our own. But in all this, we’re left wondering, is anyone better than us? Is anyone worth this?
Compromise is the key to any relationship. But if you’re single long enough, you forget how to compromise, even with yourself. And you wonder why you should compromise and worry how to retain yourself if you do.
The topic of relationship status came up last weekend at a brunch (of course it did). This time my friend asked another friend if she was seeing anyone. “And you?” The friend turned to me.
“I feel like you’re dating yourself,” my friend said.
“I’ve never been more flattered.”
“That’s exactly how to explain Cazey,” the other friend said.
All this actually led to the above exposition, which I didn’t even come up with. My roommate threw it out there a few months ago, that dating becomes harder when you date less and love yourself more. But it’s left me wondering. Do I need to break up with myself?