Recently I’ve fallen into the role of “dating coach” for a friend who, a year after an ugly divorce, is tip-toeing back into the dating world. I was there five years ago myself, and another friend (now happily married) played this role for me. The other day my friend was asking for advice on how to respond to a sweet but nutty message she’d received online, and she asked the question, “Why do we bother dating?”
My immediate answer was, “We bother because there’s this thing called SEX!!!” I thought about who I was talking to, and a beat later I added, “We bother because when it’s good, it’s really good. And worth it. Also, some people don’t bother, and that’s OK, too.” Unfortunately, because I swipe my texts and seem to be unable to learn to edit them, no matter how many times I send something crazy or unintelligible, I actually wrote, “We butthurt because there’s this thing called SEX!!!!” Hmmmm. Butthurt?
This got me thinking, is it really just one big butthurt, this dating? Is it all worth it? Why do I bother to date, and is it the same reason my single friends choose to date?
For me, clearly, sex is one big reason I date. I was in a sexless relationship for many years, and I have no intention of going without an active sex life. I feel like to balance life, I get to make up for what I missed. I am not interested in sex with people I don’t know, one-night stands or relationships that are only about sex, but I am also not in need of an assurance that this is a relationship that will lead to permanence or commitment.
I have changed where I am with this several times over the last five years. When I first started dating again after a 15-year relationship and well over a year pulling myself back together again, I went immediately into a relationship with the first person I dated. At that point in time, I just totally fell, fast, all emotions. The attention, the sex after so long was intoxicating, and it overtook my brain. I was not careful.
After bombing at the quick relationship (twice), and a couple of dating “breaks,” I had a period of time when I wanted to date non-monogamously in a friendly, ongoing relationship, but not in a committed-for-life type of thing. This confused a number of my friends, but I have learned a lot about relating and being honest by just dating without the need to move into a commitment. I’m transitioning in how I feel about dating again. I feel I am ready to meet someone long-term, but I have no intention of moving into anything quickly. Leaving open the possibility of dating more than one person at a time in the beginning, while getting to know each other and communicating our needs, feels comfortable. It is a way for me to take it slowly and get to know who I am dating without that “suck into something serious” too fast, which invariably leads me to panic. However, I am not looking for non-monogamy for the long term. These are things I need to know about myself as I explore relating to someone else. There are just so many options.
My friend, on the other hand, says she isn’t interested in sex unless it’s in a relationship that might lead to a serious, monogamous commitment. For her, she is ready to explore, but not too broadly. She wants the potential of something committed and serious, or she doesn’t want to bother. My answer to her question about why we bother to date did not fit for her at all – with or without the typo.
Another close friend of mine takes dating from another perspective. She is not interested in a commitment or a long-term relationship at this point in her life. She wants sex and companionship along with lots and lots of space. She does not care if her lover is in a relationship with someone else or not, only that they do not ask too much from her. She will not get involved with a good friend who has wanted her seriously for a long time, even though he is wonderful, because she does not want to lose the friendship by adding sex to the mix. She is happy to be sexually involved with a casual friend, though, and sees it as an extension of their friendship. She owns what she needs and what works for her. Her relationships are honest, friendly and generally non-dramatic.
Why do we date? That’s a question that we so frequently do not ask ourselves, but it’s really important. Society has an assumption that women date for love. The assumption is generally the same for straight and queer women. The standard is that a serious, committed, monogamous relationship is always the end goal. Women, whether queer or straight, are often so estranged from the idea that we get to choose how, why, when and with whom we date, that we fall into lots of drama because we simply are not sure what we actually want. Or we know, but we do not communicate it for fear of being judged, and we do not engage in a way that leads to what we really want.
Women get into monogamous relationships and then cheat instead of realizing that nonmonogamy is an option. We have one-night stands and short, dramatic relationships instead of feeling empowered to say no and be honest about our desire for a serious relationship. Or we have short-lived relationships and one-night stands because that is what works for us, but then take on the slut-shaming others put on us instead of allowing ourselves to own our own sexuality. Why we are dating and what it is we actually want, not what society tells us we want, must determine how we go about doing it. When we periodically ask ourselves this question, we can live the way we choose, instead of just falling into things without considering our needs first and then reconsidering those needs as they change and flow and evolve.
What do I want from dating right now? What do I want in the long run? Am I willing to expand how I look at dating – does that feel good for me? Or do I need to do the opposite – be clear about what I need and stop doing things that are not leading me there. Is taking a break from dating what I really want, but I date because everyone says it’s time? or am I not dating when I want to because I’m scared? Am I really only interested in sex right now, and only fall into a relationship because I am having sex with the person? Am I limiting myself to one gender when I might be interested in more? What could I be sharing with my date that would help me better realize what I need and avoid unnecessary pain and drama?
Why do YOU date?