Maybe you're not asking for too much, maybe you're just asking the wrong person
When I signed up for online dating amid a year-long pandemic—wherein touch was forbidden and everything had to take place, ideally, in the virtual realm—I had no idea what I was getting into. I had to unlearn years of perfecting my alone to make space for another person. This terrified me to no end, to be stripped down of my defenses and be so vulnerable; but I asked myself, if not now, when?
I was so caught up in the idea of perfection, realizing it wouldn’t actually lead me to the right set of circumstances. Overcoming these expectations helped me move forward, embracing the possibility of love, or whatever closest thing I could get to it—affection, companionship or a shared humanity.
It was past midnight when I opened my notes app. After months of mistaking desire for respect, recognizing (and communicating) my boundaries, and acknowledging my harmful—often toxic—traits, it was time to make my thoughts tangible.
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Know what you want.
When entering the modern dating landscape, there’s plenty of space for ambiguity if you don’t know what you want. Without iron-clad convictions and a sense of purpose, it’s easy to fall for anything…and inevitably reap the harrowing consequences. With the different models at present—from casual flings to exclusive relationships—knowing what you want to get out of dating and being clear with your intentions allow you to honor your time and energy (not to forget the other person's, too).
With that said, if you’re still figuring out what you want, take your time. It’s an ongoing process of self-discovery that you don’t want to rush. With experience and a pool of potential partners, your non-negotiables will be more evident. Still, treat each person with respect and dignity; just because it's “easy” to go from one person to the next doesn't give you a pass to make others feel dispensable.
Recognize your boundaries, and communicate them.
With most conversations happening via messaging apps than through actual face-to-face, the pandemic has given us opportunities to have reflective, earnest exchanges with potential partners early on. Expressing boundaries on intimacy, safety and wellbeing has become the norm, especially while we’re still following safety precautions.
PSA: Just because someone desires you, doesn’t mean they respect you. When it comes to matters of consent, “no” is a full sentence. Never apologize for communicating your boundaries; make your comfort (and your partner's) a priority. To add, you can change your mind at any given time, especially when it comes to practices around sexual involvement.
In Guardian’s The new summer of love: ‘People are desperate to have sex—it’s been a long year,’ Alexandra Jones writes, “As we’ve seen recently, consent happens all the time, it’s about communicating our feelings and boundaries—right down to how comfortable we are with physically meeting. It’s a dynamic, relational and ongoing conversation.”
Pay attention to what breaks your heart.
Modern dating gives us a variety of choices, maybe even more than we can handle. Our smartphones have replaced a weekly trip to the bar with, quite literally, endless options; all we have to do is swipe. Now, this is where it gets complicated. It's easy to distract one's self from rejection and heartbreak that we encounter along the way with feelings of validation (from another source).
May I present a challenge? Wrestle with the hurt. Trust me, I’ve been there, and I’m still working on it. Grieve your losses before jumping to the next person. Tread lightly, and give yourself time to process. I’ve learned that every feeling will pass if you give it time, so don’t rush to cover it up, or you will never learn.
Esther Perel, the psychotherapist who explores the tension between the need for security and the need for freedom in relationships, writes in Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, “Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”
Intimacy these days means holding place for human connections, even if we have to keep our distance. Dating, and the possibilities that come with it, may be intimidating at first, but it is one heck of a life teacher. Take in the lessons, and let others teach you—but discernment is key. Once you know what you want, learn how to communicate your boundaries and pay attention to your patterns, you won't lose yourself in the process.
What life lessons have you learned through dating? Leave them in the comments below!
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver