Dating mishaps make for great blog fodder or chick lit, but something more interesting than punch lines or cliches has emerged for me in the course of dating.
The joke among my girlfriends is that I go on dating sites to gain social media followers and increase my readership. Because that's been the general outcome: I listen to some poor guy talk about his ex for a couple of hours, they 'friend' me on Facebook, and every so often from there on out, they share one of my blog posts, 'like' one of my Instagram pics, or maybe one-click on Amazon. I'm sure there's a way to establish a Google Analytics correlation between my endless succession of first dates and minor spikes in book sales, but I haven't quite figured that out yet.
As with every rule, though, there have been exceptions. Through the miracles of social media and text messaging, late night phone conversations, and sometimes interacting live and in person, I found myself getting to know some of these guys and developing real friendships with them.
This was not at all what I'd planned.
I'm a hopeless (hopeful?) romantic, so after my divorce, I went out into the world looking for The One. Frankly, it was a misguided effort that denies all the work I still have to do on myself, and my bumbling performance proves the point. You cannot manufacture intimacy by bludgeoning someone with your story and insisting that he care. You cannot be honest with another human being until you are honest in the deepest, most painful ways with yourself. And you cannot offer anything to anyone from a place of lack.
Dating in the age of Tinder is a minefield of epic proportions. It's considered okay to share your body with someone before you've even shared a meal. Yet sex short-circuits rational thinking in ways worse than what might obviously be true of a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am deal. Run your fingers along someone's jawline or feel him curl against you as you sleep, and you may think you understand important things about his soul.
But get to know a man without the burdens and expectations of romance, courtship or fuckbuddy apps, and you might find true connection. You might hear the stories, really listening instead of saving up your breath and trying to figure out what to say about yourself. You might open your heart, unafraid of being hurt. You might truly get to know and care for these guys you didn't quite date.
You might realize they are tender and fallible and weary from a lifetime of conflicting directives impossible to satisfy:
Be a man!
(Why are you so insensitive?)
(Where's your compassion?)
Don't you find me sexy?
(Can't you just hold me?)
(Stop trying to fix things!)
No wonder guys are confused. As the mother of a young man, my heart aches. I wish for him love and passion and connection. And as I've listened to these newfound friends of mine recount their experiences, I cannot help but see the parallels between them and my son.
These guys-I-didn't-quite-date? They've opened my eyes and my mind to what it means to be a man in this world -- and what it means to love one.
These are the guys who step up for an absent mother when it's time to take their pre-teen daughter shopping for Tampax.
Or take an elderly mother on endless rounds of appointments and errands, stoically chalking her criticism of them up to the discomfort of old age.
Or count sobriety milestones on the calendar with their kids.
Or craft Bento box lunches that put the most avid Pinterest moms to shame.
Or make art in a world that doesn't quite value what they do.
Or make peace with those times their choice of a life of solitude feels more lonely than they'd hoped.
Or maybe even take that call from a woman-they-didn't-quite-date and reassure her in the aftermath of her latest dating disaster: Yeah, you screwed up. It's called being human. Brush it off, learn the lesson, and move on. And hey - I love you.
These are good guys, every bit as deserving of love and respect as that boy of mine. Their friendship has reframed for me what it means to love a man.
So yes, the dating jokes and horror stories make for funny blog posts or fiction. But at the heart of it, I ventured out post-divorce looking for one good man I could love...
And found that the world is chock full of them.