Should I Even Date?
April 5, 2016 4:40 PM   Subscribe

I don't know if I even want a relationship. How do I find out?

Forgive me, because I know there are already a million questions more or less like this on AskMe (I know because I've read them). I'm asking now because I have to ask now.

I am a very lonely person. Lonely in the broad sense of wishing I had more of a social life (I have been living in a new city for the past year. None of my close friends are local & I see them only a handful of times a year. I've been going to Meetups etc. but haven't really made any serious new friends, just a few acquaintances), and I'm also lonely in that I find myself really pining for some kind of romantic relationship. That's a feeling that comes and goes...and comes back.

I'm almost 30 and I've only ever been in one relationship before, which was kind of a mess and very emotionally taxing. My lack of experience means I feel like I don't really know what I want out of a relationship. I feel embarrassed to have such a lack of experience and self-knowledge at my age. I started an OKC account (the third one I've had in my lifetime) just a few days ago and am already second-guessing myself. Everyone I find attractive on there seems to be light-years ahead of me in life experience and accomplishments, and looking at their profiles makes me feel like a loser. I start to question whether I am emotionally mature enough for a real relationship. I start to question whether a "real relationship" is what I need, or even deserve. All I know is that I crave companionship and affection (and not from, like, a cat) and that I'm sick of hanging out by myself. Going to concerts alone may be liberating for some, but for me it is just lonesome. I feel like I have done this to myself by being avoidant and afraid of people. That's something I am working on (god help me, I joined my company's pickup softball team. This will be interesting).

Should I even bother trying to date, in such a mental state? I feel like I would just end up hurting the other person. That's not what I want, at all. Can anyone suggest what I might do instead to deal with the pain of loneliness? Are there any books I should read on how to deal? So far, I have been coping, but it seems to get harder all the time. I appreciate all answers very much.
posted by zchyrs to Human Relations (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am with you on the concerts alone thing, and to be honest, that's a big reason why I finally got on okc myself. Going to fun social events and making friends are both just easier with a partner, so that's what I looked for, someone who was interested in the things I was interested in. It sounds like what you're really looking for is friends, and the best kind of a relationship is one with someone whose company you enjoy, so why not combine the two "searches"? Be honest in your profile about what you are looking for - "someone who likes X band and Z festival and such-and-such activity - and if something special develops, all the better." If nothing else it takes the pressure off you to be someone's ideal perfectly-ready dating-person.

People told me I wasn't doing online dating right, but my now-partner and I are going to a cookout this weekend at the home of another guy I met via okc - we weren't a match but we have a lot in common so became friends. It worked for me, maybe it will work for you too.

Whatever you decide, try to enjoy the ride. And look around at those concerts - more people are there alone than you realize!
posted by headnsouth at 4:54 PM on April 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: A date is just a date. It could lead to a great connection and lasting relationship but most lead to pleasant enough conversation followed by an awkward good-bye and then nothing at all. Clearly, you are feeling overwhelmed and low about this all: a good partner is not necessarily someone who looks good on paper (or an OKC profile) but rather someone you really click with in person, with whom you feel like the best version of yourself.

I've had a lot of dating and relationship experience but I once had a slew of dates that felt so-so to awful. I eventually found a wonderful relationship that turned all those other dates, in retrospect, into a few hours that I've long since forgotten (thank goodness!) or a few hours of painful awkwardness that has since become comedic gold or at least something to bond over with friends (I'll take what I can get!)

If you can be brave and ask people out knowing rejection (or simply being ignored) is a likely possibility, then go for it! If you can go on these dates giving your best while expecting little in return, I say do it! It sounds like the worst that could happen would be so much disappointment that you'll feel stuck deeper in your current rut; fortunately, counseling can help with that, now and/or later.

Keep trying to make friends like you're doing now. A lot of people are busy or have stresses in their lives that keep them from connecting with new people. Please don't take it personally and instead keep trying elsewhere. So glad you joined that company softball team: it may lead to deeper friendships or it may simply be a convenient way to find people to hang out with until something better comes along. I'd advise you not to look to date people at work unless you find someone really awesome because it can get complicated if things turn sour. However, it sounds like you recognize that, which is why you're looking online. (Good for you!)

Moving to a new place as an adult can be so, so difficult. There are great friends out there, people who will appreciate you and be so glad you're a friend or date or what not, but it can take many tries and sometimes takes work on yourself, too. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 4:59 PM on April 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know if you should date, but I think you should do something structured as a hobby so you are just romantically lonely instead of all-around lonely. The softball team is a great idea but maybe you could look into something that doesn't involve your workplace so you can get out there a little more?

Someone close to me is very into community gardening, which introduces him to a really wide range of people, which I think might be helpful? I am not saying you have to do that, just maybe a community activity that lets you practice your social skills in a low-key setting. (I am assuming, maybe incorrectly, that your avoidance problem is making you less and less comfortable interacting with people at a romantic level, but avoidance will eventually make every social situation a living hell, so I am concerned about your more general social well-being. Maybe incorrectly!)

Being less all-around lonely will mean that the stakes are lower for the dating scene, so you won't come across as needy, which is attractive only to creeps in spite of being the human condition.
posted by gingerest at 5:56 PM on April 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Forget 'should.' It's not a word that reflects how things actually are.

Do you want to date? Then go thee forth and date.

One caveat: if you go on more than one date with someone, you need to be 100% upfront about where your head is at well before anyone gets attached to anyone else emotionally.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:59 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have no idea whether you should date or not. I suspect you're a little depressed, perhaps due to the loneliness. I think focusing on friendships may help with that. I heard a while back that it takes 2 years or more to develop solid connection in a new city. My experience is that everything else in life seems easier when I have good friends.

As far as experience ... Everyone out there has different experiences. I'm not the most experienced dater in the world, and in my 30s my lack of experience seemed like a big hurdle .. but so far no one has wanted to break up over it - I'm the one who has had a problem with it, and that problem is pretty much theoretical.

And then, how do you measure experience? I dated one man who was recently divorced and had married when he was young. He'd had the experience of being in marriage and being a father, but not the experience (as I did) of being single and independent and of dating in my 30s. Who's to say his experience was more valuable or meaningful than mine?

Also - a recent study said that people with fewer significant breakups in their history were less likely to experience significant breakups in the future. So there, you have less baggage and are more likely to be successful at not breaking up!!
posted by bunderful at 7:51 PM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Dating isn't just the process by which we learn about another person, it is how we learn about what we need and how we exist in a romantic relationship. Don't let your lack of knowing deter you.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:39 PM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ofcourse you should date, date to find companions but also go to meet-ups and make friends spread your search for companionship around, it never comes all from just one person. I find the idea of meet-ups more appealing than bars because atleast the other people there have chosen something other than drinking, they are indulging some interest. The online world can be potentially rewarding too. You probably know about OKC and other dating sites, here's a positive piece about Tinder

Go date, you should absolutely bother with it! And it's the only way to notch-up that experience, which really teaches us a lot about oursleves, whether it's with one person over the years or several different people. And ofcourse you deserve a relationship, everyone does.

Recently my boyfriend was travelling for work and I have some time before starting a new job so I took off for a few days by myself. I have travelled alone a lot and unless I'm upset about something I'm wired to not feel lonely - I really enjoy travelling by myself. I struck up conversations with people sitting next to me at the bar, I had no agenda except and it led to very nice exchanges. I met wonderful teachers from all over getting away for spring break. I was surprised by how many people thought it was badass of me to travel alone - in America. It's a mental barrier, go out there - the world is as much yours as it is of coupled-up people.
posted by whatdoyouthink? at 1:03 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dating is like going to college after high-school, you kinda sorta have an idea of what the end result will be, but in the process you learn a lot about what you do and don't want to do.

Bear in mind that all but one or two dates will lead to a fantastic relationship. The rest will be learning experiences. That's okay. It's part of the process.

I advocate doing activities out in the world that you enjoy, without a thought to meeting people or dating. Take classes, volunteer, work out, whatever it is that you enjoy doing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:22 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As everyone else notes, there's no reason you shouldn't date. But I do think you shouldn't get too focused on finding a partner.

Two reasons for this: First, if you're too caught up in "will this be forever," it tends to stifle dates that weren't going to lead to a romantic relationship, but might lead to a valuable friendship. If what you're looking for is relief of loneliness, that's the worst idea.

Second, if you think of a partner as a solution to your loneliness problem (and I'm not saying you are definitely doing that), what you wind up with is a partner whom you depend on socially, and who will probably eventually feel smothered and resentful.

So yeah, go out and date if that sounds fun, though you certainly shouldn't feel obligated. But keep an open mind about what you're looking for -- it doesn't have to be forever, or even for right now in a romantic sense. And do it in concert with other activities like the softball team, that's a great idea.
posted by babelfish at 7:33 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Many thanks to everyone for the advice, perspective, and words of encouragement. I still feel like I need to reflect and figure out what I really want to do, but the situation looks less hopeless now, and that definitely counts for something.
posted by zchyrs at 2:24 PM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ooooh, I feel you. After ending a decade-long relationship last year, I thought getting back into the dating game would feel liberating, but instead it was just stressful. I have very little experience dating and was unsure about the etiquette and expectations, and ultimately, I just shut down my profile. BUT I have also lived in my city long enough that I have a great circle of friends to hang with instead of going on a lot of stressful first dates.

So I'm nthing the other suggestions here--it sounds like you need a friend or two to hang out with, and maybe dating can come into the picture somewhere down the road. Meetups can be tough because if they're a larger group, you might see different people all the time at different functions. There are a lot of interesting apps and tools out there beyond Meetup that might help narrow the field a little (Wiith, Hey Lets, City Socializer, etc.)

Also, I know it's tough to keep going places alone when you find it taxing, but the single best way I've found to meet like-minded potential friends is to find something you enjoy with some kind of collaborative component (board game night, bar trivia, arts workshop, improv class, etc.) that meets regularly and keep at it for at least a few months. I've moved a few times as an adult, and to this day some of my best friends were the ones I met in a calligraphy class or at D&D Encounters. If one class or workshop or something doesn't work out, try another one. Joining the softball team was a great idea!

Best of luck! Making new friends as a grown-up is no mean feat, but it can be done.

Also: people are always putting their absolute best foot forward on dating sites and social media. Don't let it get you down! You have a best foot too, you total non-loser you. :)
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:29 AM on April 7, 2016

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