Dating for the fickle
March 20, 2012 10:18 PM   Subscribe

Is it a good idea to try dating when you don't have your life figured out?

I'm a 23 year old female, who just finished school before Christmas. I'm living at home while I try to sort out my career path.
I'd like some advice about open-ended dating.

I've never really known what I wanted out of dating. My dad died when I was a kid, and my mom has never since dated at all. So I haven't had a role model for marriage/dating, and never on my own felt the need to be in a couple, like most people around me seem to. I've never really been able to identify with the whole urge towards dating. You know how some people know that they want to get married and live in this house with this person? I've never known if I want that or not, so I have never really tried to look for it.

For most of my life I had wanted to have kids, but the past few years I've become really discouraged with myself ( hard time at school, friendships falling apart, etc), and it's come to the point where I seriously question whether I will be able to provide the deep love that children need in order to be truly happy. I'm old enough now (almost 24) that many of my illusions about the world have been shattered. It seems like it would be immoral of me to bring a little baby into the world if she/he is going to encounter nothing but misery, although on some level it makes me very sad to think that I would never be able to give my mother a grandchild. I think my bleak outlook comes from dealing with tragedy before I was prepared, and also reading novels by Camus. Believe me, my younger self would be horrified at how morose I have turned out. But I digress..

I've only had one real relationship, and it was the type that kind of falls into place effortlessly (and then crashes and burns 5months later). So I've never gone through the process of dating for the sake of dating. After my first love, which was about 4 years ago, the only encounters I've had have been embarrassing drunken escapades (read: one-night stands) which were more emotionally scarring, than wild crazy fun.

My problem seems to be that I don't know what I want, so I kind of let whatever happens, happen. Is it possible that I don't want anything at all? From the outside, the whole racket about dating has always looked like something people do because everyone else does it, rather than something with internal motivation. But I think I find it hard to understand others' motivations because I've never had these motivations myself. Dating has always seemed like something optional but not necessary. Which makes me pretty weird, I know.

All this being said (unnecessarily so?), I think I would like to try some online dating, if for no other reason than that I've never had good sex. But I am not comfortable with any more casual hookups or one-night stands because I feel like these have been somewhat traumatic for me in the past.

Browsing through the dating sites, it seems like everyone knows what they want and what they are looking for in a partner. They also all seem to want someone who is driven, goal -oriented and knows what their purpose in life is. And I know that these are characteristics that I should be striving for.

I guess what I'd like advice about is whether it's irresponsible of me to try dating when I don't know what I want in the future. It pains me to say this, but at this point in my life I'm not really sure of my long-term goals, and am kind of floating along from day to day. Should I stay by myself for this reason? This will sound very pessimistic, but I don't think I am going to up and find my life's purpose any time soon. Is it ok to date just for the sake of having that someone, or for getting experience? Ie: dating just for the pleasure of it (whether sexual or merely the fun of it) rather than with grand goals on the horizon?

Thank you in advance. I apologize if this post makes me seem like a low life.
posted by costanza to Human Relations (25 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Nobody ever has their life figured out. If you wait to try new things until everything else is perfect first, you'll never get your chance to try those things.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:28 PM on March 20, 2012 [27 favorites]

I guess what I'd like advice about is whether it's irresponsible of me to try dating when I don't know what I want in the future.

Dear god no - most people have not got a clue what they want, they just pretend they do on dating websites.

(Of course, there are people who do know what they want, but they are really few and far between).
posted by mleigh at 10:30 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

That's a tough time, the in-between-school-and-job phase. It gets better :)

I've definitely been in relationships where I didn't really know what I wanted. But in the end, it helped me figure out what I DID want, and what I'd didn't want. Every one of my relationships and dates brought me closer to knowing what I wanted, even the ones who were weird or had issues or whatever.

I think it's fine, as long as you tell people up front that you're not entirely sure what you're looking for. And you can definitely put a positive spin on "my life is in limbo and I don't know what I want" if you frame it more as a happy-go-lucky, "I'm not tied down and I have so many opportunities I could travel or do more school or work or anything" sort of outlook.

And not everyone is looking for those qualities of ambition and knowing what they want...some people like someone who is laid back, or happy-go-lucky, or is in the same unconsolidated situation that they are in. Just saying...

Also, don't be so hard on yourself about not feeling that you could provide for a child. You're 23, you have an education, and the fact that you're thinking about your potential parenting capabilities puts you WAY ahead of a lot of parents out there :) But all in time.
posted by Jade_bug at 10:31 PM on March 20, 2012

I second mleigh's point about dating profiles often being a lot of fluff.
posted by Jade_bug at 10:32 PM on March 20, 2012

Dating is for fun! If it sounds fun and you feel like you want to, then enjoy it. If I had to "have my life figured out" I would still never have dated anyone ever. I'm 43.
posted by Occula at 10:39 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

youll know what you want after you have some experience, not before. please believe me that the fact that that youre aware that you dont know is your best friend. embrace it and be proud of yourself. 23 seems old when youre 23, but to an older person youre still on sugar mountain. go live and have fun.
posted by facetious at 10:40 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Being unsure about whether or not the human race deserves to procreate is an EXCELLENT starting point for online dating. Congratulations! You are an ideal candidate. If only more people undertook dating with that outlook.

Online dating can be really horrible, or really fun. But again, if you aren't serious about looking for The One, that can be a benefit, as it takes the pressure off.

You're in your early 20s, so it's totally OK not to have a direction in life.
posted by kettleoffish at 10:44 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

You should like who you are generally. If you absolutely hate yourself or have big wants that you feel you need to sublimate to have a partner, then don't.

Those are minority cases in general though probably. Hopefully.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:47 PM on March 20, 2012

What I wanted when I was 23 didn't actually turn out to be what I wanted when I was 28, and neither is what I ended up with at 42, but I'm pretty happy. I know the first thing the online dating form wants to know is what you're looking for in a relationship, but it's not, y'know, binding. And it's really pretty normal not to know what you want to do with your life at any age. It's just there are more options when you're 23 than when you're 40. (And people mostly pretend to be more confident than they really are.)

I don't know you, and I sure don't know whether you want to have kids or get married or have a lot of wild monkey sex with a cast of thousands. But I think maybe you need to try some stuff to see what you like, and use that as the basis of judging what you want in the future. Get to know yourself, and if you don't like what you see, change yourself until you do. And I don't just mean that in terms of the narrow sex-and-relationship thing - go out and learn some new skills and try some new things and figure out who you are, because you're probably not exactly the person you were when you were a kid or even the person you were in school. If you're typical - morose or not - you're probably hanging on to a self-image that's pretty out of date.
posted by gingerest at 10:59 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

For a long time I didn't date because I didn't feel like I had my shit together and/or didn't know what I wanted. I am now 28, and I look back on that decision as a mistake.

Some of this boils down to overthinking because I wanted to be conscientious. I overdid it. I think as long as you're honest with people you're dating and try for good communication, it's perfectly responsible to date.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:08 PM on March 20, 2012

#1 - Every relationship fails, until the one that doesn't!

So, that's a lot of high hopes and dating covered:)

#2 - Previously, just tonight!

Do what you want. Get out there. Be wise. Embrace your mistakes because they will teach you - there are no real failures in this realm, just moments when you could have avoided continued heartbreak because you did not DTMFA (for your personal emotional and mental health) in a timely enough fashion.

You have infinite options at 24. You have infinite options at 64. Don't EVER settle.

That's my advice.
posted by jbenben at 11:13 PM on March 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

I love how old and jaded you think you are when you sound so very young. The sense I get is that you're really figuring yourself out still, and that's your primary focus. And on top of that, you'd like good sex with the same person on a regular basis. It's great that you're so clear about that. As you start to date, I'd be as honest as you can be about it.

To me, your bigger ethical quandry is not "should I date when I don't have my life figured out?" but should you date when you barely seem to want to date, much less be part of a couple. You were much more convincing in explaining why you don't want to date than the shorter part when you explained why you do. So I say, if you date, just be up front, like "I'm not sure I want to date. I'm still figuring myself out, and I'm not one of those people who yearns to be one half of a couple. But maybe we could hang out and maybe hook up and see where it goes?" In other words, I'd be as direct and honest as you can be about your skepticism and the fact that you're not looking to jump into a Prince(ss) Charming Marriage Baby formula romance and mostly just want good sex on a regular basis from the same person. (I'm not sure if you come out and say that last part, given your tough history around one-night-stands.) Not everyone will want to have that kind of relationship, but some people would. So be honest and find those people rather than leading on somebody who's ready for something more life-partner-ish. And have fun!

AskMe needs an acronym for "you're normal; believe in yourself; do what you want; be honest about what you want; stand up for what you want; you're a unique person who deserves to have your life unfold at its own pace. It's all going to work out."
posted by salvia at 11:16 PM on March 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm in almost the exact same situation as you--I'm 23, living at home, currently attending a technical school after graduating from a 4-year college and having no idea what to do with a liberal arts degree.

I've been "online" dating since September of last year, and I have had quite a bit more success than I ever had in "real life" dating--meaning, all through high school, college, study abroad programs, no guy ever expressed romantic interest in me.

I think that you should go for it; I've learned things about myself through dating that I would never have learned otherwise. There is no way to know how you will behave in the context of a romantic relationship until you exhibit those behaviors.

I am thinking of it almost like a course of study; if I fall in love or meet "the one," all the better. But right now, being so inexperienced, I just need to get out there and do it. I'm sure it will get old after a while, but right now, I am still being surprised at and learning from the actions of others and myself in a romantic context. I think it's all very valuable.

With online dating, many guys are really just on there for sex, even though they may feign interest in a relationship. If casual sex is damaging to you in any way, don't do it.

Keep your wits about you and your eyes open, and let people in slowly. These are complete strangers you're dealing with, after all.

It can be nerve-wracking at first, but if I can do it with my shyness and a speech impediment, you can too!
posted by shipsthatburn at 12:24 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Part of figuring out life is figuring out if you want to be alone or not, and if not, what kind of people you want to be with (friends, as well as lovers.)
posted by davejay at 12:45 AM on March 21, 2012

it seems like everyone knows what they want and what they are looking for in a partner.

Very few people know what they are looking for in any respect, especially out of a partner, at this point. In terms of online dating, that seems to be what everyone thinks everyone else wants to read.

It's the grand joke of the 20s that you'll realise in your 30s. It's not to be known where you are now. It's to be figured out.

I'm not really sure of my long-term goals, and am kind of floating along from day to day.

Damn, please enjoy this phase and make the most of it. My mates and I had incredibly fun relationships in our early 20s, precisely for this reason. If you choose, you can date like wearing hats. See how you look in this one. See how you look in that one. See how you look in that other one. In time, you will find what hat you look best in.

Responsibility will come with time, don't worry -- you certainly don't have to go looking for it. In the meantime, what better to do than float around, try things, and develop a coherent and experienced sense-of-self.

whether it's irresponsible of me to try dating when I don't know what I want in the future.

It's irresponsibe to lead someone on when you know what you want, and it's not what they want. If you met a chap and after a few weeks, he said, "I want you to be my girlfriend, and let's talk about family Christmas visits", and you didn't feel it but continue to faff about with him… well, that's irresponsible. There is absolutely no responsibility in meeting people and seeing how it goes.

In fact, your awareness and consideration of these things puts you far ahead of most people I knew in their early 20s. When they were primarily focused on themselves and their own needs. Not that they were selfish, mind you, rather I think you have to figure out your own needs first before you can figure out the needs of others.

Rock on sisterfriend. Go out and get down.
posted by nickrussell at 4:52 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't have to wear your wedding gown on your first date.

I thought you were going to say you were on Death Row, or something. Your problem is more that you haven't finished living your life yet.
posted by tel3path at 5:00 AM on March 21, 2012

You figure your life out, in part at least, from dating. You may not find exactly what you want in a (life) partner, but after dating many people you do start to develop a pretty good idea of what you don't want.
posted by zardoz at 5:22 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

If everyone waited for their life to be sorted before they started dating, there'd be like 5 couples on this planet.

I think you can start dating and just go at your own speed with your own boundaries.
posted by inturnaround at 5:41 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I thought I had my life figured out at 24. Seriously, I had it all set.

Oh how very, very wrong I was. Even if you have a clue of what you want at 24 and truly believe yourself to be old enough to know what you want... you have no idea. You think you're old enough to decide on kids, but you have sixteen years of potential childbearing to change your mind. I know umpteen women who never wanted kids in their early twenties who hit 27 or so and BAM! Biological clock. The number of "about faces" I've seen in general from ages 25-27 are beyond my ability to count.

You're young. You have time. Date people who make you happy and figure it out as you go.

I'm only 30 myself and I'm all sorts of settled down, but my life looks nothing like I thought it would at 24. Nothing.
posted by sonika at 5:48 AM on March 21, 2012

I think the right person (whenever you find them) will help you set your own path.. not by telling you what to do or who you are, but just by being there and helping with weaknesses.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:29 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll second what getawaysticks said, and chime in with my own advice from a recent experience. Should you date someone who tries to make you feel bad for not knowing where you're going but isn't constructive about it, get rid of them. They are just going to make you feel bad because of their insecurities.
posted by princeoftheair at 6:33 AM on March 21, 2012

I'm around your age, and the only way I've been able to get my shit remotely together and figure out what I want from life is to try everything. This includes dating -- even after two multi-year relationships and two years of intense short-term dating I'm still finding things out about myself and what I want out of a partner.

Concrete steps: mid 20s, live near a major city, and looking for casual dating? OkCupid! Set up a profile if you haven't already. Take a look at some other mefites' profiles for guidance.

You will get a lot of messages from meatheads, and only a handful from interesting people. From those interesting people, you will have no chemistry with a bunch of them. You will get discouraged; this is all normal. You will start to wonder if dating is worthwhile at all; if you should become a quirkyalone or something like that.

Then, you go on a date with someone you really click with, maybe someone unexpected; they didn't quite fit what you had in mind but you figured you'd hang out with them on a lark. Suddenly, it all makes sense! By experiencing this other person, you discover more about yourself, and you see the world in a different way. It's like Dorothy stepping out from black & white Kansas into Technicolor Oz.

I'm not talking about "true love." This person doesn't complete your life -- what they do is ultimately more valuable than that, because when they go they don't take that part away from you. Your relationship with them might span over three dates or three months, but in either extreme you come out of it a rearranged person. And while you don't have your whole life figured out, but maybe now when you read Camus you understand why Sisyphus rolls his boulder joyfully.
posted by modernserf at 7:21 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nobody ever has their life figured out. If you wait to try new things until everything else is perfect first, you'll never get your chance to try those things."

End of thread. Send a thank you note to tylerkaraszewski
posted by spicynuts at 7:50 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hah! I'm a 26-year-old guy who can't be bothered with all the random fluff of relationships and finds it very frustrating that they are apparently required for quite a lot of the fun in life. Also I have nothing in my life sorted out and would quite like a job and hobbies and time to practice the hobbies and maybe a career and money and a house and biceps I could crush walnuts in before I even think about touching this concept of 'going out' a second time, especially since it seems like every bugger my age has already gone through that whole thing ages ago and they're now looking for a permanent partner to settle down and make little kiddies with in their new house they just bought with the oodles of money from their shiny important proper job they always knew they wanted. The bastards.

We should totally date.
posted by Fen at 6:39 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks everybody for your amazing answers!

kettleoffish: Should I put that bit DIRECTLY onto my online dating profile ? ;)

Fen: Nice to meet you (*^3^)/~☆
posted by costanza at 12:31 PM on March 22, 2012

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