Patiently Dating
May 10, 2018 11:55 PM   Subscribe

I have recently broken up with my boyfriend and am re-entering the dating scene. But how can I be patient in looking for love when I feel so heartbroken -- not just over this past relationship, but also (maybe mostly) over not finding love yet in general? How do I handle these feelings of desperation without self-sabotaging (falling for incompatible guys, accepting lukewarm relationships as "better than nothing," making dating too heavy and fraught, etc) by being too desperate?

I'm a 32 year old woman and I would like marriage, kids, the works. At this stage in my life, I also feel very lonely not having a partner. Although I'm in a big city where it's not uncommon to wait for marriage and kids, my friends are all starting to settle down. They're virtually all paired up, many of them for years now.

I have done my share of dating around, and have had several serious relationships. They haven't worked out because of personality/lifestyle incompatibilities between myself and the men in question -- but not the same incompatibilities each time. See my previous question for an example of relationship-ending incompatibilities. I have also spent years at a time single (most recently, ages 27-29) -- which was great when I really needed to concentrate on myself and who I wanted to become, but which isn't what I want or need for my life now.

My friends and my mom think that I need to have higher standards for men and relationships. They want me to stay idealistic about love and romance. In their telling, one day I will fall in love with a wonderful man and he'll fall in love with me, and our love will endure for the rest of our lives -- and in the meantime, I shouldn't try to force it. I want to believe that that'll happen, too, because I'm a romantic just like they are. But I think that even my mom at this point is getting scared that it's not going to happen for me. I'm definitely scared, in any case.

What do I do when I'm kind of panicking that maybe I'll never find love? I want it so much and there are so many awesome people out could none of those fantastic people be a good match for me or want me? It breaks my heart and makes me feel really lonely to think of going through life alone. But that's not the kind of attitude you can carry into the dating world if you want to be successful.

Even though this past breakup is recent, I have already put myself on a waiting list for therapy. I am also already throwing some time/money at an online dating site, and am planning to do more of that (as in, using more than one site and putting better profiles up). Unfortunately (or fortunately), I am very busy with work/education/community/social obligations, and can't add much more to the mix, so there aren't a lot of opportunities for me to connect with new men organically. Last year (previous to my most recent relationship) I asked a couple friends to set me up, but nothing came of it -- I'll ask again, but frankly, most of the men they/we know my age are taken.

So, back to the question up top: How do I handle these feelings of desperation without self-sabotaging (falling for incompatible guys, accepting lukewarm relationships as "better than nothing," making dating too heavy and fraught, etc) by being too desperate? How do I stay idealistic? Should I even try to stay idealistic? Looking for practical as well as emotional suggestions for how to find love and stay sane (maybe even happy!) while doing it.
posted by static sock to Human Relations (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
There are some help/recovery actions that can be concurrent but based on what you've said, I wouldn't jump into dating (online, in person, etc.) until you've gotten some therapy and distance from your breakup.

All I really have for not lowering your standards or accepting lukewarm relationships is a cautionary tale. Someone close to me married someone they loved but wasn't quite their match because they set aside their expectations for an ideal relationship and went with good enough. They were okay for a while until they had a child. Every crack in their relationship became a ravine and they're just kind of miserable together. It's not a big deal to get married and divorced but having a child with someone binds you together beyond the life of your romantic involvement. The person close to me said that their better than nothing marriage currently makes them feel that "if this is my life for the next 60 years I might as well die now." This isn't because of abuse just... Incompatibility and years of unmet needs.

You're not old for it to be too late for love and marriage. People our age are having families later in life.
posted by toomanycurls at 12:34 AM on May 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

I look at these things with a non Western, adult, perspective: if it’s marriage and kids you’re after, then accept that the whole idea of finding the “soul mate”, falling in love and living monogamously happily ever after is a purely cultural construct. In its endless pursuit lies much misery.

You can very well find a solid man and built a life together, where the family, the warmth, the kinship and the support network give meaning to your life. And you can draw your happiness from these values. That it is not a cinema-style romance does not make it less worthy.
posted by Kwadeng at 1:28 AM on May 11, 2018 [10 favorites]

You are honest and romantic and idealistic and lovely. I would totally date you if I was single & 15 years younger and lived wherever you do, which is probably in a different country anyway, but hey. I would.

You should totally stay as you are and continue to do you in exactly the way you are. Yes, it hurts like hell when you put your heart out there and get it kicked. Or just get nothing. But what else can you do? You can only be who you are. Stick with it. It will come good for you.

So if I am kinda the male equivalent of you, that means my wife is kinda you (or she was, in her early 30s). Both of us had shitty unhappy relationships that fell apart through our 20s. We had met already, but then we both moved to different cities. We'd pretty much forgotten about each other. Then... totally out of the blue our mutual friend re-introduced us and the rest is history. We were married our in mid-30s, two beautiful kids now. No-one's going to say their marriage is perfect, but ours is pretty good.

And yes, different cultures do this & think about this stuff differently. But for better or worse (ha!), we're all products of the culture that we actually grew up in & live in, and we can't wish that history & context away, even if we wanted to.

So: it can happen. Keep the faith. He's out there. You maybe already know him.
posted by rd45 at 1:36 AM on May 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Take as much time as you want before you start dating, of course. But if you want to start again now, then do - just manage your expectations very carefully.

Try having a plan. Decide your position on "do I want marriage badly enough to marry someone who isn't a 100% fit for me?". Decide it on "do I want kids enough to have one on my own if I don't meet the right person to have one with?". Decide "would I rather be dating people who I know I'm not going to want to stay with in order to have access to affection/sex/company when I want it, or be decisively single until otherwise?".

Having a firm(ish) plan puts you in a position of more power than just sort of drifting along and not really knowing what you're doing or where life is taking you. It's TOO EASY when you're dating to meet someone with low-to-medium promise, and shape your life around them HARD AND FAST because you want them to be the answer to all your questions.

Answer them yourself, first, then go looking.
posted by greenish at 2:02 AM on May 11, 2018 [18 favorites]

In a direct answer to your question of how do you manage those feelings, I'm going to agree with rd45 and give it a different perspective. Much of our cultural norms around marriage and romance are hundreds of years old. They are based on a time when infant mortality was staggeringly high, strep throat or diarrhea could kill you, and life expectancy was shorter. An old maid at 29 so to speak was just practical really. Today it is common to live and live happily and well into your mid 80s. So if you date for another year, breakup again, heal again, meet mr right, date for a year, a year engagement and then you get married you still have 5-7 years to reliably attempt children AND you can hit the 50 year milestone anniversary. You have time. Idealistic and romantic is a truly lovely trait that seems harder and harder to find and in my opinion is worth nurturing in yourself.
posted by chasles at 2:59 AM on May 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

My standard answer: Figure out how to love being alone. All the other stuff falls into place pretty healthily if this is taken care of.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:17 AM on May 11, 2018 [11 favorites]

I remember the rush of weddings in my late 20s to early 30s. Now it is 20+ years down the road and all my friends have either remained married, happily or less so, split up, remarried or remained single. And I've noticed that what works really seemed to be a combination of kwadeng's insight about romantic love as a specific construct and the other answers here that embrace it: the problem might be at the point where you decide a relationship is lukewarm to begin with. Of course don't marry someone you feel meh about. But as you are building a relationship be aware that the amazing compatibility and sparks of idealized romantic love are not necessarily marriage builders. The excited feeling of initial fireworks and mutual "we are the other's other half" does not necessarily lead to a solid marriage. You are going to have to let yourself learn to really fall in love with stability, respect and gradual knitting together of inner lives, even over years, to make a lasting marriage happen. This took me a sparks-flying first marriage and decades on you to figure out, but this is where I would focus therapy: not trying to accept lukewarm but asking yourself if the men you've felt lukewarm about really were inherently wrong for you. You can become excited in a quieter but more lasting way with someone you are overlooking now. As you date, that doesn't mean being desperate but it does mean almost thinking of dating rationally, wondering if someone would make a good mate. If so, you can open up loving feelings to many kinds of people, not wait for a thunderbolt. Every single marriage has problems, you just have to pick which ones are livable, accept it, and practice becoming someone who is loving towards the man you decide -- yes, sometimes out of a rational decision -- to accept as a good life partner.
posted by velveeta underground at 4:39 AM on May 11, 2018 [21 favorites]

It's not that meditation solves everything, but there is really something to be said about learning to have control of your attention and your focus and to be present.

I bring this up re dating because it allows you to avoid the large/looming/selfconversation and just be in whatever you're doing.

If you're at work pining, just focus on the task at hand. If you're muddling through dating web sites, don't bring lots of context and aspiration into it...just look at what's in front of you.

In the actual dates this is a little more fraught because it's natural to have a physiological reaction if you feel anxiety. Still, try to just pay attention to what's going on. Look for small things. Try to feel the levity of it all. It also makes it less about you and more about whatever you're looking at which can be sort of freeing.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:20 AM on May 11, 2018

Response by poster: To clarify, when I say "lukewarm relationships," these are relationships in which we've been dating monogamously for 5-8 months (so, well beyond the first few dates). I'm not cutting relationships off at the pass, or at least not that initial pass.

My overall problem is actually that I tend to be too willing to pick up the guy's slack, too ready to "make it work," even on the basis of what's just not a very good match. I want to be able to stop from picking up the slack and making it work and twisting myself into a pretzel like whatever guy I'm talking to is the last guy in the world -- without feeling like I'm dooming myself to loneliness by not doing those things. Because the truth is that even if I can become a very likeable pretzel for days/weeks/months, that's not sustainable for longer -- which I have discovered the hard way, more than once.

I appreciate the people saying that I'm not a fool for holding out hope. That does make me feel better.
posted by static sock at 6:32 AM on May 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Make dating as easy as possible on yourself, and hack it in ways that emphasize your value to yourself. Here were my rules:

1. Don't travel more than 15 minutes for a date. I always suggested date places that I could walk to. Always pick a bar (it's ok to have a snack but not a full meal). For a first date, don't bother with dinner or a movie or anything elaborate (dinner is for second dates, things like bowling are for third dates, and movies are terrible for dating so avoid them- the goal is to talk).

2. Schedule dates around your life. Especially around exercise. A date that starts 30 minutes after you finish a workout or yoga class or whatever is perfect- wipe off with a paper towel, put on deodorant, and a tiny bit of lipgloss/eyeliner. After exercise, you will be more centred in your body, a little sweat is sexy, and not caring about a little sweat is empowering. A first date shouldn't be the most important part of your day.

3. Pick a date outfit you like, and always wear that. Mine was dark jeans, a flattering dark coloured shirt, leather jacket, and walkable boots. Dark colours make you look more dressed-up than you are, so you can choose stuff that's actually comfy. You'll know you look great, no stress.

4. Go to the washroom halfway through the date, to get a bit of alone time. Check in and see how you're feeling. Is your stomach tense, shoulders tense, or are you breathing tensely? Then you may not like him. See what your body is telling you about him.

5. I think first dates should be 1-2 hours long. 1-2 drinks. If you're considering a third drink, go to the washroom first and check in with your body again. Is there actually chemistry?

6. I think people should split the bill on first dates- your mileage may vary. But it does make for a nice egalitarian experience where nobody feels anyone is "owed" anything.

7. As you walk home, think about how you feel. Again, how's your stomach, how are your shoulders? How's your mood? Do you feel better or worse having spent time with this person? YOUR FEELINGS matter the most, not whether he chooses you or not.

8. If you don't want to see him again (which should be true for at least 80% of first dates), send a polite "I had a great time tonight- thanks again!" text when you get home, and then you can ghost each other in a nice civil way. Or else he'll ask you out again and you can politely decline: "I don't think we're a match- but I enjoyed meeting you- all the best!"

9. If you think you DO want to see him again, you can consider waiting til he texts you- the length of time before that text comes in is valuable information. Then evaluate that text and the enthusiasm it communicates. Remember you're looking for someone who is excited to be with you, and who makes you feel calm and happy and excited. If he seems lukewarm or too excited or causes negative emotions in you, forget it. You only need to find one good person. The odds are that most people aren't that person. Don't feel bad for deciding it's a no.

The goal with these tips is to optimize and prioritize YOUR experience of dating him, not try to fit what he wants. You need to tune into your own feelings about him and raise your own value in your own head. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:54 AM on May 11, 2018 [53 favorites]

Best answer: In terms of dating sites- if you're in the US, just use OKCupid, and try to go on at least one quick (under 2 hours) date per week, even better if you can manage two dates per week. Dating is a numbers game. You seem to have a scarcity mentality ("there are no guys out there, so I better keep this one"). Going on LOTS of dates is a good way to teach yourself that men are not scarce.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:01 AM on May 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

First, take some comfort in the idea that you are in no way too old to accomplish your relationship goals. People are getting married and having kids much later these days. And people get married at all ages so there is never really a time where you can't find love.

The biggest challenge I see for you is that you seem so dead set on finding someone to marry and have a family with that you might be impeding yourself from finding a truly great relationship simply because you are more focused on the results rather then the journey. Sometimes if you don't try so hard and keep an open mind about potential partners you might find that the right guy will come when you least expect it. I have a feeling that when you meet someone your mind immediately goes into "does this person pass all the tests mode"? When I think you'd be better surved by just going with the flow and having fun. I know that seems like a long process because you want so badly to reach your relationship goals so quickly. And maybe you will. But if you think of each date you go on as simply an adventure and an opportunity to meet and learn about someone new you will fair far better then always searching for the one.

When I met my wife my initial reaction was this girl is fun. I don't know if we have a lot in common but she is fun. And I was right...she was fun and no we didn't have a ton in common. But it was our fun together and the ability to enjoy being with each other as well as have separate hobbies that ended up making for a great relationship.

I suggest continuing to use online dating. That's how I met my wife. But allow yourself to meet people who don't necessarily seem perfect for you. of my rules of online dating was to meet people in person as quickly as possible. Don't do weeks or months of emails and phone calls. One or two emails and then set up a date. You will never get to know the real person until meeting in real life. I know that women are sometimes Leary about meeting in person too quickly for safety reasons but if you meet in a public place I see nothing to be concerned about. So get out there and enjoy life. Dating should be fun! Enjoy It! See where the journey takes you! Good luck.
posted by ljs30 at 7:09 AM on May 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I read your previous question and you sound like me when I was transitioning out of a relationship with a person who was not emotionally stable enough to be a good partner for me. Prior to that relationship, I'd dated, had a couple year-long relationships, and had several years-long periods where I was single. I have always been the type of person who wanted to get married and have kids. I was never really a person who dreamed of a career; I just wanted to be a great mom. I was so desirous of marriage and children, so much so that I couldn't utter the sentence "I might not ever get married" without crying (really). Much of this emotional reaction came from the idea that I would be left behind in this major adult step in life, that I would be alone and have to figure out aging by myself, and that I would always be seen by others as strange and unlovable because, of course, all good people are "chosen" and only strange people are single (I had a lot of shame to work through myself--I think my religious upbringing also fueled quite a bit of this shame).

Then I dated a person who I fell head over heels for, a man who I thought I was supposed to marry--the stars were aligned for us! But he was emotionally abusive, manipulative, and just an overall horrible match for me. I, like you, tried to make it work for almost a year, KNOWING that things didn't feel right, but believing that if I didn't make it work on my end, I'd be that scary single woman who society shunned. If I didn't work on this relationship with him, I'd never get to have those markers of adulthood and ostensible future security. But with this person, in order to get what I wanted, I had to endure his constant criticism, gaslighting, and emotional manipulation.

As I considered ending things, I had these thoughts: I would rather be single forever than be married to a person who made me feel horrible. I would rather never have children than be forced to co-parent with an unstable person. And for the first time in my life, I believed it. I had felt a tiny taste of being poorly matched with a person and it was enough to know I would never, ever do that to myself again. I'd choose my worst imaginary fear over the actual pain of being with a person who was bad for me.

After breaking up, I did feel a bit of fear about being single, but I was more grateful to be out of a bad situation than anything else. I suppose I could say that I set my standards high, but really, I just held my next set of dates with an open hand and really listened to myself. As I went on dates, I constantly was asking myself, "does this feel good?" "Am I happy?" "Is this fun?" and if the answer was no, I moved on. It wasn't always easy to say no to men who were just okay, but I was galvanized to the idea that I'd rather be with no one than a bad or just okay someone. And the more I dated, the more I figured out what made me happy. And I found a person. And we've been together for almost 2 years and are moving in together in a couple weeks. He wasn't a person I expected to love and find happiness with, but being with him felt good, was fun, and made me happy.

I'm sorry this is so long, but I feel you! I know what it the anxiety of getting older and not being married or having children feels like. I would just encourage you that you CAN find a partner who makes you feel happy and it might mean changing your vision of what settled down life looks like, but it's worth it.
posted by orangesky4 at 7:26 AM on May 11, 2018 [12 favorites]

I second what pseudostrabismus said about making dating as simple and low-stress as possible, and will add that it can also help to have a standard place or two where you always have your first dates. It can make things feel as comfortable and low-stress as possible. Also, remember that you can end the date very quickly if you know you’re not feeling it. 15 minutes, seriously. You don’t owe them anything. While there are a lot of great people out there, there are also a lot of not-so-great people, and you don’t have to give them an hour of your time. Leave, and gleefully go home and do something you can look forward to (take a long bath, watch the next episode of the show you’re binging, finish a woodworking project, etc.).

Depending on your psychology, it might (or might not) help to develop plans for your worst case scenario. So if you never find the romantic relationship you’re looking for, what would you want to do? Adopt a child alone? Move closer to your best friend from college? Buy a tiny house with an enormous yard and get five dogs? Take a job with a lot of travel? Join a commune? Get really into Crossfit? Some people find backup plans depressing; I personally find them comforting.
posted by metasarah at 7:42 AM on May 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

You only need to find one good person. [Therefore] the odds are that most people aren't that person. Don't feel bad for deciding it's a no.

This. A million times. If I could fully embrace this truth, and allow it to release me from the burden of feeling like every relationship / dating snag is somehow my fault, I would be giving myself the greatest gift I could ever give. I'm getting there, but damn it's been a slow road.

Movies and TV teaches us that life will automagically deliver unto us on a silver platter The One, and we will be blissful ever after. So we are oh so very quick to see and expect each person to be The One. (Because if they aren't, then clearly, something must be wrong with us!) And too often our response (more likely a female response perhaps? YMMV), is to internalize that outcome and allow it to eat away at our individual happiness and quality of life. If I look better, have better hair, lose X pounds... then... THEN finally I'll get The One!!

That it's OK to not like someone, it's OK to not tie yourself in knots to please someone, and it's OK to expect to be liked and accepted "just as you are" (TM Bridget Jones' Diary)- these are some of the hardest truths I have ever struggled to learn. Not proud of it. But I will get there eventually. RuPaul's closing line has never rung more true.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:24 AM on May 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you ever dated a few people at once, casually? I found that as a woman, I am socialized to try so hard to make my partner choose me, like me, stay in love with me. I put so much attention into short, sequential, relationships with stinkers.

I decided to try and date a little more widely when I moved to a new city... spent time with multiple men at once and put all that energy I normally put into one guy into being generally flirty and finding myself lots of options, and then choosing who I liked best. After a few months I was clearly most interested in one person and we are actually married with a kid now. Of course, this could have been a coincidence. But even if it hadn’t worked out between us, it felt better psychologically to be auditioning multiple people for the coveted role of dating me (haha) versus hoping a guy will like me and then trying to make it work.

I know some people hate dating like this and find it makes them crazy, but I found it less crazy-making then embarking on a bunch of back to back 3 month relationships.
posted by sometamegazelle at 8:36 AM on May 11, 2018 [15 favorites]

Best answer: As I went on dates, I constantly was asking myself, "does this feel good?" "Am I happy?" "Is this fun?" and if the answer was no, I moved on.

I think this is very important. I had a terrible break up in my late 20s from my longest term relationship (5.5 years) and decided to just be much more pragmatic after that.

I sat down and thought about my wants, my needs, my deal breakers and made a promise to myself that instead of bumbling along, thinking I should be happy to just have a guy, kinda believing that love conquers all (with a heavy load of emotional labor from women), I would focus on myself.

I would treat each morning dating someone like a new beginning - do I even want to see him today? Am I smiling when thinking the last time we were together? Am I smiling or anxious or mad when he calls? Every day, am I happy/pleased/fulfilled where I'm at?

I think this more pragmatic, self-focused approach would be good for you.

My overall problem is actually that I tend to be too willing to pick up the guy's slack, too ready to "make it work," even on the basis of what's just not a very good match.

This is exactly the problem. I think woman are socialized to do this with men, particularly in dating. There's really no reason that in a seven-month relationship you would need to be sacrificing anything to make it work! There should be minor adjustments, some discussions, but martyring yourself to single-handedly keep a relationship afloat? No?

So, along with being socialized to be the ones keeping relationships working, and socialized to sacrifice our needs for men's needs, as women we are also heavily messaged that we shouldn't actually have needs at all. This is all a lot of programming to fight against.

But you are allowed to have needs, wants, dealbreakers. You are allowed to decide that if you don't wake up in the morning and have a smiley snuggly feeling about a guy, he's too much fucking drama. You are allowed to say, "your medical issues/ex-wife issues/debt issues/commitment issues are way too much drama for me, goodbye." Men are not fixer-uppers and you are not a real estate flipper.

Seek your own happiness and pleasure day to day. If the person you are dating is withdrawing from that bank, rather than adding to it, gently show them the door.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:38 AM on May 11, 2018 [16 favorites]

Lots of good advice above. I just want to add that, if you aren't doing this already, it helps to be the one to initiate contact on the online dating sites. This way you are improving your chances in this "numbers" game based on YOUR needs and not allowing it to be driven by the judgment and desires of others. FWIW, my anecdata: I messaged less than ten people while on OKCupid -- one of those ended up being the guy I'm in a LTR with now, another was a fun/no-drama short term relationship, and none of the other dates were bad experiences. The stats are much different for the ones I did not initiate.
posted by bread-eater at 12:35 PM on May 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Agree with bread eater about the online dating. The good guys know that messaging leads nowhere, and wait for the women to initiate contact. A smiley or a hi will do.
posted by tillsbury at 5:23 AM on May 13, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers, everyone. They've given me a lot to think about. I marked "best" on the answers that have been running through my head the most over these past few days, but I genuinely appreciate everyone who weighed in.

After a lot of thought, discussion with friends, and reading your answers, I think that my main issues are that I tend not to have a high enough bar for the guys I date (as in, I go along even if I'm not that attracted to the guy or even if the relationship isn't that fun), and that I tend to go exclusive too early, over-committing myself to relationships that haven't really proven themselves yet. That just sets me up for dissatisfaction (and a breakup) 5-8 months down the road.

So, for now, my plan is to date widely, to date only guys who I am legitimately interested in, to make dating easy on myself by using pseudostrabismus's amazing checklist, to check in with myself and see if I actually am attracted to and enjoy spending time with the guy I'm seeing before agreeing to more with him, and to hold off on getting exclusive with any one man until I've been seeing him for at least 2-3 months.

Crossing my fingers :)
posted by static sock at 5:04 PM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Just piping in to say that people love to tell single people that if they're anxious and sad about being single, it will never happen. I was extremely anxious and sad to be single, and in the end, I did meet my husband, roughly around your age, and it did happen. The Buddhists call this the second arrow - you have an unpleasant primary emotion (sadness and anxiety), then a secondary reaction (guilt/fear/additional anxiety about the crippling effects of the primary emotion on your prospects for love? Whatever it is).

You feel how you feel, and that's ok. You don't have to act on it (I don't know, asking for commitment on a second date? Whatever you're afraid will prevent you from finding love), but feeling the way you do in itself is not something you need to worry about.
posted by namesarehard at 7:20 PM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

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