Objects of Desire

Today’s post breaks my own rules, because it’s about something that is not over, so I’m going to rely on my low readership numbers to protect me from the subject (or anyone else who might know him) reading this.

One of my plans, when I started this adventure — which I am almost halfway through now, you guys! — I had some very strict ideas of how it was going to work. I wasn’t going to “network” for dates. I wasn’t going look for people through my social circles. I wasn’t going to let my friends set me up with their brothers, or single guy friends. The biggest reason for this was that I wanted to keep complications low. If I was dating my friend’s cousin, and things didn’t work out, would I be disappointing her, as well as him? Will I be trying too hard to make a thing work to avoid awkwardness? It’s a lot easier when I can say, “Hey, this isn’t working out, and since we were total strangers before, I’ll go back to never seeing you again! Bye!”

At the end of this 6-month exercise, I’ll see how I feel about relaxing that rule, but for right now, I like the safety and anonymity.

This is why most of my dates have been through services, through online stuff, through programs designed to pair up strangers. It’s a deliberate choice.

On Tuesday of this week, I attended a local Meetup group for geeky singles in my area.

And I knew someone there.

He works with me — not in the same group, but in the same building. Several months ago, we were in a training class together. After the class, we connected on LinkedIn. And… well, and I mostly forgot him.

But he didn’t mostly forget me. When he saw me respond to the Meetup event, he recognized me. He said hi when we passed in the hall. He even spotted my OKCupid profile and sent a message there about how we keep bumping into each other.

On Tuesday, we were the only two there for the first little while, so we talked a lot. I enjoyed talking to him a lot: he’s an intelligent, enthusiastic guy with a lot of shared hobbies with me. As part of the conversation, though, he made a few comments which show that he has been far more aware of me than I’ve been of him. He knows where my office is — not surprising, since he’s not far away from it, but I certainly didn’t know where his was. He’s seen me in the halls, but never said anything, because I always look very purposeful when I walk. He was considering, before the meetup, asking if I wanted to meet for dinner first.

I have this intellectual sense that I should be flattered, and I think I am, but I’m also a bit suspicious, in way that have everything to do with my own emotional damage and nothing to do with him. I have absolutely done this with guys before — guys I noticed, guys who stood out. Guys I had lightweight work crushes on — the kind that makes you a little more enthusiastic about going into the office, and makes you remember to tuck your shirt in and not choose food that sticks in your teeth for lunch. I don’t think those are at all creepy. And in fact, I have this level of awareness of some people I’m not attracted to at all. People who I just noticed for some reason and couldn’t stop noticing: “Oh, that’s where he sits!” or “Aha! He’s going into the Fleebleburton meeting. Now I know a project he’s on.”

But I cannot put that concept into a space where I’m the object of attention or notice. And so I’m looking for ulterior motives, and feeling vaguely edgy, in ways that I don’t think are at all fair. I’m used to thinking that if I don’t initiate, if I don’t push myself out there, I won’t be noticed, and history backs me up fairly well. Every boyfriend I had in high school and college, I made the first move on, and I asked out for the first date. Every online dating conversation that’s led to a meet, I started. I am just not the kind of woman that men look at and say, “Hey. I want to ask her out.” But this is a guy who met me, who noticed me, who continued to be aware of me, and when he found out I was interested in dating, sent out a signal flag to me.

This is the way dating is supposed to happen, right? Why does it seem so strange?

Human Connections

When I finished writing my OKCupid profile, I posted it to one of those “review my profile!” sites. I got a few pieces of useful feedback – a few of my answers were clichéd, one in particular made me seem like a lot of work, and I should change which of my photos I was using as a profile picture.

However, the only piece of advice I really remember was the guy who told me that as a religious single mom, online dating was a bad fit for me, and I should be trying to get out more to meet people in the real world. Since I was within thirty miles of a big city, he said, this should be easy and would probably work better.

I don’t know what kind of magical world he lives in, but in my world, when you have three kids ricocheting around you, it’s kind of hard to have real conversations with people. And when you have three kids with bedtimes from 7:30-8:30, it’s not easy to just jump out for a night on the town, or sign up for classes, or pick up a sport.

My ex has the kids some weekend days, but I never know how to go about meeting people. Advice-givers tell you, “Coffee shops are great places to meet people!” or “You can meet great guys at the supermarket!” Seriously? Where are all of these supermarkets where shoppers strike up conversations and trade phone numbers in the produce section? In my supermarkets, everyone’s busy trying not to get killed by other shoppers, and glaring at anyone who dares to comment on their purchases.

I am also not a very physical person. I don’t think I’ve ever just looked at a man and thought, “That is an attractive person who I would like to get to know better.” It’s always something that comes out in conversation. I like nice people. I like people who care about things, whether it’s politics, charity, or the criminally tragic way Fox mishandled Firefly. I can never just look at a guy in a grocery store and picture those things.

Out in the real world, people don’t have profiles telling what drives them. I survey a landscape of rocks, knowing that under some are $100 bills, but I will have to dig for them. Without knowing how to find the good ones, do I want to spend the effort on the digging? (Especially when the kids are waiting in the car whining?)

On the other hand, maybe this is all just an excuse for the fact that I’m bad at meeting people. It feels like a risk and an expensive expenditure of emotional energy every time I say hello to a stranger, and the only way to meet people, really, is to say hello.

What would happen, I wonder, if I just told myself: “Today, you will have five conversations with strangers?” They don’t have to be men. Mothers out on their own, old men, teenaged girls, neighbors I haven’t spoken with before – the point is the initiation. Maybe I don’t need to meet men. Maybe I just need to open up to the possibility of human connections.

There is a world of interesting people out there. What am I missing? And do I have the courage to find out?

Probably not. That’s a little sad.

Overcoming Fear

Jeff sent me a message on Tinder. It was a weekday morning, so I was at work. I sent back a quick “Hi!” and went back to typing. He asked how my day was going, and I answered honestly (Not well. Work was being particularly frustrating that day). I asked about his day. He said he had a day off, but was driving that night for an fundraiser. Bummer on the driving, said I, but I hoped he’d have a good day off. He gave me his number. “If talking’s easier, you can call me on a break.”

No. Talking was not easier. I made an excuse (texts were easier, since I could respond to them in down minutes), but the reality was I didn’t want this stranger to know my phone number.

One of the strangest things about this entire experience is how afraid I am all the time. When I was last dating, I was young, and everyone around me was in the same stage of life that I was. I hung out in mixed groups, and I met singles through my friends. It was a safe place for talking, and I was never really afraid for my safety.

This time around, I am. Every time I get a message on a dating site, I’m a little bit afraid that it’s a sexual predator. Messages that have too much sexualization in them scare me. Messages that have too little scare me. Messages that seem overly interested in my kids scare me even more. Guys who want to talk too soon scare me. Guys who want to meet to soon scare me. People who seem overly interested in my personal data scare me.

I don’t like this terrible caution that I am fighting to overcome. It makes me feel weak and pathetic, like someone who is too fragile to fully experience the world. But I know that it’s coming from a lifetime of baggage. The primary reason I’m doing 6 Months is to reduce some kinds of fear — the fear of rejection, the fear of rejected intimacy, the fear of failure. I had underestimated exactly how much I would be physically afraid.

Jeff and I traded messages for a few more days. He said he liked how I could make an aggressively short haircut look pretty and feminine. He said he liked my smile. He asked me to call him a few times. I finally did, and in the course of the conversation I mentioned my kids. He didn’t initiate contact after that, though he responded pleasantly the two times I sent him messages to chat.

I’m not sure whether it was the kids or whether he just wasn’t feeling it after the talk. Maybe the call was as far as he ever really wanted to go. Either way, I got past my fear. I made the call.