Should I try to date? If so, whom should I date, and how?
April 27, 2015 12:08 AM   Subscribe

I’m finally emotionally ready to date with the aim of starting an actual relationship, but my life situation isn’t there yet. How can I plan my life for a solid, equitable relationship, and how should I approach dating?

I haven’t been in a serious relationship since I broke up with my ex a few years ago, for a few reasons. For a long time, I was skittish about getting into anything real for fear of finding myself in another difficult relationship. I’ve dated very casually, mostly younger men who also aren’t serious (or if they were, I kept them at arm's length). In the process, happily, many of my negative beliefs about men have been challenged.

More recently, I’ve been studying, and have dropped pretty much everyone and everything that’s not an obligation. Fitness and a bit of messing around with hobbies (at home) are the only things I do for fun these days, other than occasionally going out.

I used to like brash, hyper-confident, ambitious men, and it’s always involved power issues. I don’t want that kind of man at all, now. But even someone who’s simply established - i.e. has a normal job, isn’t studying or an artist or really young or whatever - isn’t likely to want to be with someone who’s still in career/financial limbo, in her late 30s. I also just really wouldn’t feel comfortable dating anyone who earns more than I do. My experience of that is that it sets the stage for inequality. I want no hint of that. I don’t expect to earn more than “very little” for a while, though (more below).

Issues now:

- Social invitations have slowly dropped, because I’ve refused a lot of them (to study/procrastinate/deal with obligations). Old coupled friends do coupley things, newer friends are all just-married with brand new babies, and I haven’t been nurturing acquaintanceships. This hasn't necessarily put the kaybosh on dating (I say "dating", I mean just connections), but it has left me feeling socially deprived.

- I intend to take a break for a year to work full-time, and catch my breath - just want to regain some balance - while I apply to professional masters programs. I will probably still be broke during that time. After that, if things go according to plan, I’ll be studying for another two years. I’ll finish in my early forties.

- I think I might maybe possibly want a baby (!?! - but yes I think I do).

So how do I do this? Should I wait until I’m out of school completely and just forgo the idea of babies (or adopt)? Should I date during my year off? I don’t know where I’ll end up for school, if anywhere – it might turn out to be in a small town, where odds will be against me (I’m hoping not, but who knows).

I'm not sure I want to wait. I discovered just recently, in the course of a shockingly intimate and lovely connection, that I am, actually, lonely and missing companionship. (I'd love to see what could develop with him, but it's impossible.) I thought I could go another few decades on my only own. In fact, until just recently, that seemed like a good idea to me. But it turns out that’s not true. And I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, etc.

I know who I want. I want to be with a man who’s gentle; easygoing; affectionate; accepting; emotionally honest; skilled at communicating and compromising; confident, but in a low-key way; probably creative in some capacity, if not in a paid one.

But is that someone younger? Unlikely to be prepared for commitment; also, I wouldn’t like to subject him to baby pressure or my own anxieties about aging as a woman. (I don’t think I’ll go frantic about that, but it could happen.) Someone my age will likely earn more than I do and will likely want to be with someone who’s also established. (If he doesn't, I guess I'd wonder why he wanted to be with someone who wasn't fully on her feet. Or I'd worry that power stuff might come up anyway.) I mean, I think what I've left myself with is other non-traditional students... that's a pretty small pond. Are my assumptions about all this wrong?

One person has actually suggested I give up on my goals, get a pink-collar job, and just try to get someone to marry me. Nothing could be more repellent to me, for about 10 million reasons, not least of which is the strong possibility that in that case, I'll stay alone, and poor, without savings for my old age. I have been planning to work and live for myself, no matter what happens or who comes into my life, and I don't intend to change that.
posted by cotton dress sock to Human Relations (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: If he doesn't, I guess I'd wonder why he wanted to be with someone who wasn't fully on her feet.

Maybe because she's ace?

Worked for me with ms. flabdablet.
posted by flabdablet at 1:02 AM on April 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


Best answer: You seem to be limiting your own options before even looking at them. Since you know that you are interested in companionship and starting a family, why not leave your options open and just see what's out there?

You don't have to decide which group of people you will and won't date. You can take it on a case by case basis. Don't write people off because they are younger and "unlikely to be prepared for commitment". What if you meet one who is?
If someone earns more than you do, that does not mean that an equal relationship is impossible. It's totally possible.

It sounds to me like you want to start dating, but you're nervous about it and so you are making it seem so hard that you are unlikely to actually have to start doing it. Maybe you're afraid of "failing" and so you are already setting yourself up with an excuse in case that happens, or maybe you're doing your best to find excuses not to start dating at all.
In any case, you are holding yourself back. Don't do that: you get to want what you want, your wishes are totally reasonable and you get to try and see them fulfilled.

TL:DR
Don't worry so much and start dating.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:21 AM on April 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


Response by poster: You've both been so kind, thank you!

Just quickly - I do want to date! But I recognize that I'm not so great on paper. The logistics (the year off; study) are a real issue, I think. Anxieties about inequality and having a Demi Moore crisis are fair game, though. Thank you :)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:31 AM on April 27, 2015


Best answer: Just date by using the Internet, keep your head on, and be your wonderful self. Do you. You'll either meet someone or you won't. Keep an open mind on the age and money stuff. Don't bend an inch on the "gentle; easygoing; affectionate; accepting; emotionally honest; skilled at communicating and compromising; confident, but in a low-key way; probably creative in some capacity, if not in a paid one."

My boyfriend used to make twice my salary. Now I make twice his salary. It's never impacted our dynamic the slightest. He used to get me fancier gifts on gifting occasions and now I take us on vacation more. No power struggles or weirdness. We like each other and that other crud is immaterial because we are both fundamentally good people. Money doesn't matter; financial values do. If someone uses money to exert power in relationships it's not because they have more, it's because they are a jerk. Which you're already filtering for with your excellent list. Do you have a list of dealbreakers? I finally figured this one out recently and it's also a good way to filter people I decide to be close with.

Good luck. Dating is hard but it's also fun. You'll do great. I know your username and I have a good feeling about this. You're a catch.
posted by sockermom at 2:28 AM on April 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


Logistics: Don't wait for life to be perfectly aligned to start dating. Start now. Here is me with 40 years telling you: life moves so fast, don't wait, you'll regret wasting years.

Inequality issues: Hmmm. Well there are men for whom a life of vocation and/or creativity is more important than earning money and building a career. I think if you present yourself and what you're looking for unambiguously in online dating you can find them.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:57 AM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Best answer: I know who I want. I want to be with a man who’s gentle; easygoing; affectionate; accepting; emotionally honest; skilled at communicating and compromising; confident, but in a low-key way; probably creative in some capacity, if not in a paid one.

You deserve to have the things that you want. The idea that there's a minimum bar of perfectness or worthiness or together-ness that you need to be able to clear before you're allowed to pursue what you want has been constructed by society and anxiety to keep you down. It's not true.

On paper I'm a catch - great education, great job, great values if you like those values. On paper, I'm a big red flag - bipolar, anxious, neurotic, unstable. In practice, I'm all of those things and also some other things, and I'm in a relationship with someone who loves me. He's a whole bunch of things on paper too - some good, some bad.

Don't second-guess demographics (But is that someone younger? Unlikely to be prepared for commitment; also, I wouldn’t like to subject him to baby pressure or my own anxieties about aging as a woman.). You're looking for a person, not a demographic. That person might be someone younger or someone older or someone who's nothing like you thought they would be.

The bit that is in your control is starting to find them. You sound like you want to date. You have my internet stranger permission to date. Get out and do it!
posted by terretu at 3:42 AM on April 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


I recognize that I'm not so great on paper.

But you're not looking for a partner who cares more about the paper than the package, surely?
posted by flabdablet at 4:19 AM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Best answer: You're looking for a person, not a demographic.

As is the person you're looking for.
posted by flabdablet at 4:20 AM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


But I recognize that I'm not so great on paper. The logistics (the year off; study) are a real issue, I think.

People don't date theories. They date other people. Flip that idea on its head - haven't you ever heard of a case, or been in a situation yourself, where someone was absolutely perfect for you on paper but you just weren't feeling it?

yeah. So whether or not someone works "on paper" is only part of it.

And as for taking a year off of dating is an issue - quite the contrary, this would be something that some people would be IMPRESSED with ("wow, they're really self-aware and trying to better themselves; they have their priorities straight. That's good!").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:36 AM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm sensing some anxiety here because you seem to think that you need to go from Zero to 60 MPH when it comes to this part of your life.
No.
It doesn't.
I'm going to suggest a nice medium between Full Contact Dating and No Contact School Hermit.

I'm going to suggest MeetUp.

I recommend it to almost all my clients who are getting out there in the world or are looking for something low key to get them out of the house on a regular basis.

I think it would be useful to you in that it adjusts your thermostat and you can go from zero to 30, wait a bit and then go from 30 to 60.

This gets you out of the house, gets you back into a social scene (or scenes) and gives you some time to think about everything (baby!) without feeling like you're not moving forward.

Baby steps, Bob.

Ha! See what I did there?

Best of luck to you, you can do EET!
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 6:20 AM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree with everyone else who says to stop worrying and start meeting people. I always thought it was trite when people said, oh I wasn't even looking and there he was. Then it actually happened to me. My husband wouldn't have even been on my radar if I had been trying to date. He's a lot younger than me, for a start. But, if I'd assumed that a man in his 20s would automatically be afraid of commitment and stayed away from him, we wouldn't currently be expecting a baby in a few months.

I say, get out there and meet people. Go out and do fun things and meet people along the way and maybe you meet someone who erases those doubts.
posted by fanta_orange at 6:22 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I also just really wouldn’t feel comfortable dating anyone who earns more than I do. My experience of that is that it sets the stage for inequality.

Differences in income don't lead, directly, to inequality in a relationship. Unhappy power dynamics, confusion between self-worth and money, poor communication, etc. can combine with unequal incomes to lead to inequality. Just like one person coming from a more privileged race or having more marketable skills or having a penis could also lead, by way of other problems in the relationship, to inequality. I'd relax on this one, or at least think a little more about what's going on before writing off (from what you say) anyone with a decent, stable job.
posted by cogitron at 6:51 AM on April 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


Best answer: Just wanted to pop in to point out that while you say you don't want to date anyone who makes more money than you because it sets the stage for inequality, what it really means is that it sets the stage for inequality insofar as you are "lower." One person is always going to earn more, except in rare cases, so if you feel strongly about finding a partner who you make more money than, you'll have to stay aware of the inequality when you are the one with the financial power.

It's okay to want to be the breadwinner, but I think you'll end up with strife if you want to be the breadwinner and date someone whose demographics are such that he would be the breadwinner. Worth thinking about. What if money were off the table, who would you want to date?
posted by juniperesque at 7:22 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Why are you assuming that anyone who would make more money than you would necessarily use that to create a power imbalance? The real quality people you should be after are those who would hold you as an equal partner no matter what the circumstances are, especially surrounding money. Or is it that you would like to reserve for yourself an income advantage over a prospective partner because you are worried about what you have to offer... (But I recognize that I'm not so great on paper.)?

Money is one of the more frequent stressors/wedges that break up relationships. The fact that it is a huge issue for you before you have even met anyone isn't conducive to smooth sailing in this arena. What if your future husband finds success later in life and his career and income take off- does that ipso facto present a problem? Then why should it be a problem now?
posted by incolorinred at 8:12 AM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I vote for being really open to considering all types of men, I think that vastly raises the chances of meeting and developing a relationship with your perfect match.

And really really you shouldn't write someone off for making more money than you. I understand how you feel about not having your feet on the ground and that would make you question a more sucessful person being interested in you but it really doesn't work like that. Men who are financially well off are looking other things than if you also make tons of money. Lemme Splain:

I had the conversation with myself a couple years ago that you are having right now. What kind of man would I be most suitable with. Who would appreciate what I was bringing to the table? Who could offer me what I wanted?

I used to really feel bad about myself because my career never worked out and I look like a flake on paper. It was a HUGE relief to realize that a lot of men really didn't care about that... not when they have done well for themselves and are in their 40's anyway.

In the end I chose to focus on dating men who were in their early to mid 40's, had focused on their career and were able to support a family, and for whom the clock was now ticking and they were ready to settle down. I thought those men would be more apt to appreciate what I was bringing to the table, which was the desire to be a mother, sweetness, intelligence, careful with money, but flexible in terms of where we live and happy to be a trailing spouse. (we are both expats)

I absolutely struck gold and met the sweetest most amazing man on the planet... and let me tell you, he is thrilled to have me and my flexibility (which is a MUCH better way to describe not having your feet on the ground) is a gift that money just can't buy, we love each other so much and are expecting a baby this summer. I am his dream woman because I am awesome, because I am smart and we make each other laugh, because I don't mind that he goes cycling half the day on Saturday, because I support him and listen to him after the good days and the hard days, because we communicate and have VERY high standards of respect and neither of us shout. Because I give him lots of hugs and he knows how to make me happy too. I had exactly what he needed and it wasn't equal earnings.

Think about what you have to offer, what do you offer that they can't give themselves? What is special about you? It might not be what you think!
posted by catspajammies at 8:27 AM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was amazed to learn (in my 30's) that dating is a way of determining compatibility. Asking someone on a date is like saying, "hey, I'm attracted to you and I'd like to see if we'd like to get to know each other better, and possibly be in a relationship at some point." It's not saying "I want to be in a relationship with you." (Apologies if this is obvious to you, it wasn't to me).

Dating is an opportunity to ask questions and see how the other person communicates; how they behave in public & in private; how they interact with the world and with other people. They'll be showing you who they are, and you will be doing the same. You can ask questions like, "hey, you make lots of money, and I don't. I'm concerned that this might be a source of friction. What do you think about that?"

I know who I want. I want to be with a man who’s gentle; easygoing; affectionate; accepting; emotionally honest; skilled at communicating and compromising; confident, but in a low-key way; probably creative in some capacity, if not in a paid one.

This is great; it's a clear statement of what you value in a relationship. These are ideals for you to strive for as much as they are qualities to look for in a partner. As EmpressCallipygos said above, "People don't date theories. They date other people." And we also carry theories or ideals about what relationships should look like into our relationships; that's totally ok, provided the ideals aren't so rigid as to exclude actual people. Don't compromise; do trust your intuition more than your thinking.

You don't have to approach this as a grim task that's bound to fail. Maybe do online dating and approach the dates as practice for the "real thing." Or whatever it takes to relieve some of the pressure you feel to be someone other than who you are to be dateable.
posted by generalist at 8:57 AM on April 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Should I try to date? If so, whom should I date, and how?
Yes, you should, because you’ll find the answers to your next questions by doing, and learning (just like how you figured out you are lonely and missing companionship by doing, i.e. talking to someone and learning from that experience).

It sounds like you’re going from “I thought I could go another few decades on my own” to long-term committed relationship with the next person you meet.

So just keep what you’re doing from that one experience you mentioned – keep meeting people, learn from the experience. You’ll figure it out along the way. And who knows, maybe you’ll meet someone who you’ll want to be long-term with.

Are my assumptions about all this wrong?
Don’t close off the possibilities with this type of thinking. Who knows, maybe someone younger WILL be prepared for commitment and want a kid. Maybe if this person is awesome, they’ll understand why you are where you are and support you in your endeavors. Maybe you’ll meet someone who will work with you on the different-incomes situation.

One person has actually suggested I give up on my goals, get a pink-collar job, and just try to get someone to marry me.
I hope you’re still not talking to this person. Or at least, about this stuff to that person.
posted by foxjacket at 10:09 AM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Thank you all, so much, for your generous, and kind, and considered thoughts and experiences.

Just to reply quickly to a few things:

Do you have a list of dealbreakers?

This is a great point. I want nothing to do with the Big Red Flags, and I think I can now identify someone with potential to be abusive. I wonder, though, if maybe I'm seeing flags where there aren't any (e.g., income differential). It looks like I might be.

I really appreciate everyone's help in unpacking that a bit.

Regarding younger men, it's not so much that I think all of them will run if I mention the desire for family; it's more that a lot of the ones I've liked are just more mobile (because they have to be, to build their own careers) and aren't in a place to make it happen. I also hesitate a bit when I think about how they'll feel, or how I'll feel about how they might feel about my aging body, quite frankly.

Or is it that you would like to reserve for yourself an income advantage over a prospective partner

I think maybe I do? It's not about how I feel about myself on paper; it's that in the past, when it came to key decisions, like whose career was going to get the benefit of time in a particular city, the person with more money put his foot down. And I let him, because I (thought I) loved him more than I cared about my own development. (It wasn't easy at all - lack of achievement isn't something I feel good about. It's painful, actually. And, it's cost me years - what I'm doing now is catching up. I feel I have a lot to offer in terms of work; I'd like to contribute from my best self. And I haven't been, so I'm working on that.) But really, that was my fault for failing to honour myself. Maybe I don't trust that I'll act on my own behalf again. I've tended to make emotional decisions that have favoured others.

catspajammies: I once made a bet like that; the difference is, in my case, I picked the wrong person. I want to be able to feel completely comfortable walking away at any time if I want or have to, without putting myself in a financially precarious position (because that's already happened). (I didn't stay with my ex because I was afraid of poverty - I stayed because of emotional stuff - but I did face it when I left him.)

We both found something unexpected that was missing in our lives

There was that kind of feeling with the beautiful man I spent time with just recently. It threw us both. But circumstances mean it just can't happen. It's been gutting. At least the experience helped me recognize that I do want emotional intimacy and companionship, and that casual exchanges just aren't enough.

It sounds like you’re going from “I thought I could go another few decades on my own” to long-term committed relationship with the next person you meet.

I think maybe it's more that I'd been quite happy to feel self-contained. And I'd given up on the idea of love. Having felt the beginnings of a genuine connection with someone for the first time in a long time, I've been reminded that it's not just a story people tell themselves.

I haven't found it difficult to sort of just meet people organically, while I'm out and about - I don't find it at all stressful to talk to people, or to feel things out in spontaneous conversation. But Dating, which is basically interviewing someone to assess their potential as a partner, involves a scary level of formality. I'm a little anxious about exposing myself to judgement in that way.

Thank you all, so much, for your thoughts. You've given me a lot to think about. I'm going to put myself out there and see what happens.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:13 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wish you all the best!!!
posted by incolorinred at 12:21 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Thank you :)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:55 PM on April 27, 2015


Best answer: Sounds like you got out of a pretty rough relationship, and needed some time to find yourself again. This is normal. A lot of the mefi ladies can (and do) give really good advice and stories about this.

But.. the healthier you are, the healthier men you attract. If you do get a few anomalies, your knowledge of red flags and boundaries and self confidence will weed them out quicker. You learned! You have more skills and... well, power, really.

Now, you're facing a new path with the new you, and its scary. It really is. But you aren't broken, and not everybody is a jerk. Not everybody will hurt you when you risk intimacy.

It will be ok... you are a good person. Trust yourself, trust your Flag knowledge, and be brave. Always, always love yourself... and someone will want to share in that!

(so basically +1soccermom, as usual.)
posted by Jacen at 1:17 PM on April 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I also just really wouldn’t feel comfortable dating anyone who earns more than I do

I think you really need to change that way of thinking.

...the person with more money put his foot down

Well, that person was an arsehole.

When I was about 30, I was earning $1,300 per day. Now I'm 43, I'm earning $400 per day. At what point would you have seen me as a potential partner? About $600-$700? I'm still the same person. And I don't give a damn what you're earning, as long as we, combined, can keep a roof over our heads and feed ourselves, and possible offspring, and be happy.

Above figures are Australian dollars .... YMMV
posted by Diag at 5:22 AM on April 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


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