I think I may have met someone.
Ok, hold onto your hat—we've only been on 3 dates. But they were pretty great dates! Nothing too exciting happened, we didn't go rock climbing, or cast each other's bodies in silicone, or swim with dolphins or anything else a dating show on MTV might have a new couple do. We just sat in some dark bars curled up in corners with bottles of red wine and chatted. After our first date I invited him up to my house for a night cap, stating simply that I also didn't have any alcohol. Then I did not sleep with him. (Congratulatory pat on the back). If you're wondering what we did do — I showed him my etchings and then packed him into a cab before the reasonable hour of 12:30.
The second and third date were more of the same: easy, comfortable, and full of those tiny moments where I suddenly find it hard to make eye contact with the person I've been chatting to for the past 2 hours, even having to look elsewhere because otherwise I feel like I might combust.
I love and hate this feeling. I love it because I'm kind of a sucker for anything dangerous, and there's nothing more dangerous than putting yourself on the line for rejection. I hate it because it starts off the crazy in me. Before I know it, I'm a blubbering, neurotic mess who hasn't eaten in 3 days and has made a list of things I hated about my date—all because I fear rejection.
I've written before about the “great date panic,” and how the worst thing that can happen on date is that it goes well. After a great date, I tend to spiral from happiness to worry, and before I know it my anxiety has caused me to try to control the situation in a way it was not meant to be controlled.
After writing that article, I realized this kind of behavior wasn't going to get me anywhere, and I also remembered that I wasn't always like this. I used to like dating. In fact, I use to think it was really fun. Dating was a type of learning experience about people and how they operated, whether you liked them or not—or whether they liked you or not. My m.o. was “You don't like everyone so why should everyone like you?”
Then I lost the plot. I don't know why or how, but the stakes seemed higher in the last couple of years, and instead of just seeing people for who they were (great and fun, but maybe not “the one”) I tended to oscillate between recluse and cyber stalker. I didn't want to be this way anymore.
So before I went on this latest date I had a pretty serious chat with myself, an honest to God let's-not-hold-anything-back-denial-ain’t-a-river-in-Egypt chat with the face in the mirror. Then I sat down and I wrote myself a dating contract that I forced myself to sign.
I know a lot of folks are going to be all “What kind of crazy person needs a dating contract with herself?!?”
And they answer is: me. I needed something written down on paper that reminded me that after even 3 dates I still don't really know who this guy is and I have to stop pretending like I do. It's not fair to either of us.
Then I thought, if I need this, maybe other people do too. So I wanted to share what my dating contract looks like.
Even though I have written about performing analingus , this might actually be the most private and embarrassing thing I've shared. But here it goes:
You can spend one day reliving the date. You have only the next day to sit at your cubicle staring blankly at your screen, thinking about the way he placed his hand on your lower back. The day after you got cut that shit out. That data's not going to get entered by itself.
You can tell two people about the date. This one might sound weird; who cares how many people you tell? But I tend to blabber about it all over town, and it feeds into my obsessiveness. Suddenly everyone's got an opinion on this dude, and the reality of what really happened on the date is even further removed. It's best for me to keep things private.
You have three days to grieve and wonder if he's ever going to call you back. After those three days you rise from the dead and move on—Jesus style. Or like Dan Savage says, “reload, don't retract.”
Pour yourself into your work. When I don't hear from someone I tend to have a major self-doubt spiral and I forget that I love what I do. I forget that writing gives me a satisfaction and sense of worth that I doubt I'll ever receive from another human being. So when I'm at the bottom of a “Why doesn’t anyone want me?” barrel, I pick up my pen and go back to the thing that allows me to feel whole again.
Make sure you know going into the date that things might go sour. This is really for the second or third date—or the moment you think you might take a risk for someone—like share something personal, put yourself in a vulnerable situation, even sleep with them. Ask yourself how you're really going to feel if things don't go positively. I'm always jumping into trouble with blind optimism, and then am dumbfounded when they don't work out. It's important I assess all the risks involved.
Follow your gut. This is my pattern: after a mediocre first date, I'm all, “meh.” Then I don't hear from him and I start to think this person was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I somehow talk myself out of my initial feelings and totally ignore any instinct I ever had. Which is why I started to write down my first impressions. You can't ignore your own hand-writing, right?
Don't second-guess yourself. This goes hand-in-hand with following your gut. The power of suggestion is great, and the moment I tell too many people about my date is the most I start to lose any grasp on how I really feel about it. How many times have we been talked into a date by a well meaning friend? She tells us how great this dude is and how she's met his parents and they own a boat, and we could all go summer at his cabin in Maine. The next thing you know you're eating lobster rolls and skinny dipping during the best summer vacation your imagination's ever had. Even though you know you'd never work with this guy because he looked at you quizzically when you made that joke about Irish whiskey and babies.
Be patient. I worry that if I don't move fast enough I'll lose any chance I had. I feel this way about everything, not just dates, but also deadlines, applications, interviews, and meetings. Sometimes I move so quickly I end up not being prepared for anything and looking like a twat. There's something to a slow burn. When you take your time with someone you process what's really happening more clearly, and you get the truer version of them—not the party-piece persona we all have for quickly winning people over at bars.
Remember your first impression. When I was working in the theatre, I use to think that the first reading of a play could tell you all the information about the final production, even if it was an early draft that wasn't finished yet. With these readings you could feel the essence of the play's greatness, or you could understand that it wasn't going to work. It had something to do with how much the actor's liked saying the lines, or how it perplexed everyone. I don't believe in love at first sight, but I do think you can figure out a lot about a person from your first meeting. Be open and be aware of take it all in.
Realize that people have their own desires, agendas, time frames and schedules. Their own lives have nothing to do with you. Just because you want something now, doesn't mean they do, or doesn't mean they're ready for it. It's not personal, it's simply a case of ships in the night.
There you go. My dating contract. So far, so good. I'm feeling and acting pretty zen about this guy. We haven't gone on date number four yet, but I'll let you know if I can keep the calmness up.
Follow Lacy Warner on twitter @laceoface