Call me the cattle modifier, because I need to change the stakes.
September 8, 2016 12:39 PM   Subscribe

For a variety of reasons I haven't been in a romantic relationship in 3+ years. I'm trying to change that now but finding the emotional ramifications really challenging to deal with.

I'm a hetero cis-woman in my late 20s working in a very competitive/high powered field -- lots of long hours and work that follows me home. About three years ago my last serious relationship ended coinciding with a time of great upheaval at my job (a big move, lots of new responsibilities, etc) and it was easier to just... be alone.

To be clear, I have had happy, fulfilling relationships in the past, and sex is important to me, but I tend to have a hard time finding people I feel like I connect with and between the hours that I work and (OK, I admit it) a lack of trying, I haven't met anyone who came anywhere close to feeling like "a connection" in recent years. In addition to being open to meeting people through work and hobbies, I've done online dating -- mostly first dates, just a small handful of second dates -- and there was always either a mutual lack of interest or a strong lack of interest on my part (on the advice of MeFi I have tried to be more open to a second date after a first date that is just meh). Dating strangers eats up a lot of free time that is otherwise pretty precious so I admit that when I did date it was only occasionally.

This summer I had a little more free time than usual and have been dating at what I would consider my maximum sustainable volume, about five dates per month, and it has again been pretty discouraging, but generally pretty easy to laugh off -- a waste of time and sometimes money, and in a macro sense maybe upsetting that I can't seem to connect with anyone, but not a problem overall.

All that preamble is leading up to the fact that I went on a date with someone I did like, who I did feel like I connected with, and who seemed to reciprocate. It was great, and reminded me of first dates I had been on in the more distant past with people who turned out to be boyfriends. It made me really happy, and even just making out with someone I was strongly attracted to for the first time in years feels like it awakened something in me that I've been doing a really good of repressing.

The problem is that now I'm a wreck. Obviously there is a lot of uncertainty involved at the beginning of dating someone new, and it seems like that uncertainty is falling on the side of "it's probably not going to go anywhere," and I feel gutpunched in a way that is totally outsized relative to the actual interaction. I want to have a partner, and I really want to have sex again, but the intensity of these emotions is scary and it turns out that my carefree, "I love being single, I am so happy with myself and my life" attitude these past few years has probably been more about my ability to sublimate my emotions in my work and not so much about a learned ambivalence towards being single or partnered.

If a friend came to me with this issue I would tell her the best way to lower the stakes on any individual guy would be to date a lot more. I don't have this option -- I feel like I am already putting almost all of my free time toward dating (or at least as much as I can without giving up my actual hobbies). If someone I connect with really is only going to come along once or twice per year, how can I possibly not get worked up? I am so embarrassed to being sitting here crying and asking a long anonymous question over someone I barely know.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Breathe. Your feelings are normal. I am wrestling with a somewhat similar situation. I am trying to double-down on spending time with myself or non-romantic friends doing things that I enjoy and investing emotional energy in being as healthy and happy as possible because no matter what happens with anyone I happen to date, I'm in this relationship with myself forever. Yup, you've heard this before but bear with me: Self-love, self-care, self-knowledge are all things you can nourish that are investments in your future well-being. So feel your feels for a set amount of time (set a timer! do it daily if need be) then go about your business of having the best possible life you can when it's just you. And that will see you through whatever happens with this or any other future partner. And also, enjoy the time you spend with this person when you are together. If you can make your dates more mindful and worry less about the future, it will make your life easier all around. (Not saying these are easy things to do, just saying they have helped me.) Good luck, fellow puffy-eyed dater!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:47 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Even when I had the energy to date a lot, feeling a click with someone was stressful, so I wouldn't necessarily say that dating more is the solution. What you're feeling is not weird or wrong. The buzz of limerance and novelty has never offset the anxiety of trying to get a relationship off the ground for me - those early stages are hard. So I've always tried to behave along the lines Bella Donna suggests - doing my best to stay in the moment, carving out a reasonable amount of space for the things I need to feel, and making sure that I'm giving dating the priority in my life that I want it to have (highly variable). The getting worked up thing happens, and you can manage it - good luck, and take care of yourself, first and foremost.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:00 PM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I want to have a partner, and I really want to have sex again, but the intensity of these emotions is scary and it turns out that my carefree, "I love being single, I am so happy with myself and my life" attitude these past few years has probably been more about my ability to sublimate my emotions in my work and not so much about a learned ambivalence towards being single or partnered.

This strikes me as a little bit of a 'second arrow' problem, in that you've been struck by the first arrow (intense emotion) but then you're adding the second arrow of feeling that these intense emotions are somehow wrong or bad: that they invalidate your lifestyle, or mean that you've been lying to yourself, somehow makes you powerless or ridiculous or vulnerable in some way. But none of that is true! You are just a person who feels a lot of emotion when you connect with someone! And that's okay!

I think the key distinction here is that you can acknowledge that these outsized feelings are *in you,* rather than attached to some inherent property of the guy, whom you've just met. Yes, those guys are rare, and you know that, but you also know that if this guy doesn't end up being right for you, another one will come along. So in the end, your only job is to breathe through those feelings, accept them for what they are, do what you can to take your mind off them, and enjoy the ride!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 2:52 PM on September 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Here's my take on first dates.

First, people expect waaaay too much. Thunderbolts and fireworks and choirs of angels, shit like that. Yes, be alert to red flags and intuition about the other person being an actual bad fit or a bad person. But honest to gawd, we do not live in a Disney movie. Love is a virus with a long incubation time, not a lightning strike.

Plus, people seem to be in hella rush to tag and bag a partner. The lack of patience and curiosity is astonishing.

We are all familiar with getting first impressions wrong. But in the dating world we only allow that to happen in one direction. We may like someone then later discover the fit ain't so great. Yet, if we pass after date #1, we never get the chance to see if we were wrong and the person would have been good for us.

That's important because finding a romantic partner is a pretty big deal yet we happily throw away potential partners after an hour when we know almost nothing about them. Sure, everyone has their reasons, their checklists, whatever. But...

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

In the quest for the perfect partner, we may well be walking away from some very good ones. But we'll never know because we don't give ourselves the chance to be proven wrong.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:43 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

What's tricky about online dating is that the "spark" that you find in those rare people is something that usually happens in the real world (not in online dating) where you have some shared experience that creates an emotional feeling, or you see someone just being themselves and they catch your eye. With online dating, you haven't had those shared real life experiences yet, or you haven't seen them in their "natural" setting. You are meeting them in a setting with a pretense of what is going to happen, and everyone feels pressure to present themselves in a certain way so it's tricky to find a spark in that situation. Maybe you could try approaching the dating more as looking for interesting people to be friends with that you can get to know more and maybe develop something further as you get to know them?
It's normal to be overly excited and scared though if you've found someone that you do feel that spark with. I would just keep reminding myself that if it doesn't work out, I'm a great person and the person who is meant to appreciate that will come along. If it's not the right person than it hurts, but the right person is out there so it doesn't matter. Just keep doing things that you love and believing in yourself. It'll work out eventually.
posted by oracleia at 9:32 PM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

A lot of the advice for dating more/other people is so you don't have time to obsess about the top of your list.

Problem solved for you since you don't have the free time.

Let your self obsess for a period of time, but always have a cut off. "I'll stress about Mark for 15 minutes, but then I have to get to the gym."
posted by Monday at 11:56 PM on September 8, 2016

I'm a bit like you at the moment, though I am past the first date stage (and where we have had a few awkward "what is going on?" conversations, with no resolution either way thus far). Echoing the suggestion to find other things that feed your mind and soul, and focus more on them. If you weren't stressing about this guy, what would you be doing this evening? You mentioned hobbies: can you turn them up? Try new ones? Get a few books crossed off your TBR list? Anything that makes you feel good and distracts you from obsessing, waiting for the next text/email, etc. Good luck!
posted by diffuse at 4:12 AM on September 10, 2016

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