Monday, January 28, 2013

Now that my singleton status has surpassed the one-year mark, I’m getting asked the obligatory question “When are you going to start dating again?” more and more. My normal reaction is to cringe slightly, but answer trying to sound as polite as possible with, “Oh, I’m not sure” while looking for a dark hole in which to crawl. It’s the elephant that follows me from room to room that most people seem tired of trying to avoid, instead inviting the pachyderm to sit in my lap and start trumpeting in my face “It’s time to get back out there!”

The idea of dating again quite frankly sends chills down my spine. The last time I went on an actual date, I was 19 years old and a junior in college. I’m 33 now, and after wasting almost 13 years on the wrong person, things are just a tad bit different. I feel like I don’t have the slightest clue how to even go about it, let alone be successful and find that one person meant for me in a sea of seven billion humans currently roaming the planet. I suppose I can knock that number down by at least half, eliminating the female population of the world. Then I can eliminate a couple more billion when I exclude children and the elderly, getting me down to a much more manageable number of around two billion. Take out the marrieds, eliminate geographical extremes, and cross any Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Redwings fans off the list, and I figure I’m looking at about half a billion possibilities. Good thing most of my weekends are free from now until the end of time. It’s not so much the massive number that’s so intimidating; it’s the undeniable fact that so many of the people in the available group are whackjobs, psychos, nutbags, and assholes. How in God’s name do you weed those people out, or better yet, avoid them completely when you re-enter the dating world after a 14-year absence? It makes me long slightly for the days of “The Scarlet Letter” when people could be publicly branded for the whole world to see. I’d definitely be on board for some kind of law that requires jerks and weirdos to wear a light-up flashing button declaring who they really are. This button would be popular: “Hello, ladies! I seem nice, but I’m really a condescending douche bag!” Or how about, “Greetings, single women! I’m a worthless loser who can’t support myself! Can you please make my next car payment?”

I realize there are (probably) genuinely good, nice people out there; however, I’m certain they’re outnumbered by jagweeds, and finding them most likely will require work that can often be frustrating, disappointing, and discouraging. So where and how do I begin? Many people have offered the suggestion of online dating sites. I understand this is the digital age. Computers are the way of the world today and it’s more common to communicate by text messages than actual person-to-person, or at least voice-to-voice conversations. But the idea of creating a profile and posting it online for all the world to see is terrifying to me. I mean, let’s face it. It’s a lot easier for some 400-pound sexual deviant to create a whole different persona and post it online to fool people than it is for him to trick someone in person. I’ve been told repeatedly about couples who met online, are now married, and will live happily ever after for the rest of their lives, so I’m completely aware that it really can happen. But, just last week, I also came across a news article about a woman who is suing after meeting, *AND DATING*, a psychopath she met on the site. When she tried to break off the fledgling relationship, her creepy “match” came to her home, stabbed her 10 times with a butcher knife and when the blade broke, for good measure he stomped on her skull a few times, eventually leaving her lying on her garage floor near death. When the psycho was arrested, he admitted to murdering another woman that he also met on Oh, where do I sign up? Now if that’s not an exciting way to spend a Saturday night, well I don’t know what is! I just don’t think online dating is for me, at least not yet. I admittedly, and somewhat guiltily, hold the notion that online dating carries with it just a whiff of desperation. I know, I know. It’s an unfair stigma, and I’m absolutely not trying to disparage anyone who is or has been a member of an online dating site. Maybe I’ll come around to it eventually, but I’m just not there yet.

I guess one positive aspect of online dating is that it’s a centralized location, so to speak, to meet lots of different people. That’s something I have a hard time with as an adult. When I was in school, I had no problem meeting people and the abundance of them were single and available. Now, my little world has shrunk considerably and consists mostly of the small law office in which I work, home, and the weekly trip to the grocery store or Walmart. (Have you seen the website Enough said.) I don’t get out a whole lot. I don’t drink and therefore don’t go to bars. I’m much more of an introverted homebody than an outgoing reveler, and I’m perfectly content to be snuggled on the couch in my PJs watching an episode of “Downton Abbey.” (Side note: I am completely addicted to this show. I could sit and watch it for 10 hours straight every single day if there were enough new episodes. Who knew PBS offered such uh-may-zing greatness besides “Sesame Street” and Ken Burns’ “The Civil War?” Those Brits are onto something.) I don’t often find myself in situations where I’m meeting a large number of new people, and even when I do, I often make myself fade into the background until it’s time to go home. I hate to be the center of attention. I hate to be under a spotlight. I took years of piano lessons as a kid and never did I become comfortable with anyone listening to or watching me play, even my parents. I just don’t put myself out there, and I’m not usually the one to approach someone else. I guess this goes back to my last blog about opening myself up and trying new things, meeting new people. I am going to try, I really am. But there’s 33 years’ worth of shell to get through, so it’s going to be tough.

Maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of it than it really is, but attempting to date again seems like a big mountain to climb. Like trying to scale Mt. Everest wearing flip flops. And to start again at my age seems almost impossible. I’m not saying I’m old, (really, I’m not old!), but I’m in a weird age bracket for dating. Everyone I know who’s in their 30s is either engaged or already married, raising their young families, living in so-called bliss. I’ve already been through dealing with a late 20-something going nutso during a quarter-life crisis, and I’d much prefer not to do that again. Maybe I should just crawl in a cave until my 40s when half of those happily marrieds I know start to get divorced. Ugh, I don’t know what the answer is. It’s just too freaking complicated. Then throw the family, career, financial responsibility factors in there and it’s bordering on nightmarish. I remember when my very first boyfriend asked me out when I was a 14-year-old high school freshman. He literally passed me a note in between periods in the band room that said, “Will you go out with me?” and even had little boxes with “yes” and “no” written above them for me to provide my answer. I checked “yes,” and that was that. Done! Hmpf. I wish it was that simple again.

I do want to date again, and I think I’m ready, although I won’t ever know if I’m really ready until it’s happening. And I will never discourage those around me from asking me repeatedly when it’s going to happen. Those questions just might be the push I need to get me moving forward. Besides, I know that when asked, they’re well-intentioned inquiries from people who just want me to be happy. I’ve been told to make a list of priorities that I want in someone I might date. Right now, there’s only one thing on that list: No Assholes. It’s broad and vague, but it covers a lot of ground. I guess I do have more to add to the list, but I feel like I shouldn’t be too terribly specific. I could definitively add No Smokers because smoking is just an absolute deal breaker for me. They have to be able to take care of themselves and financially support themselves because I’m no one’s mommy, maid, cook, or bank. The amount of money they have doesn’t matter to me, just as long as they’re self-sufficient. I don’t care about social status. I don’t care what kind of car they drive. I have my own preferences when it comes to looks, but honestly physical traits rank much, much lower on the priority list than the way they treat me and treat my family. Which brings me to another important list item – they have to pass my family’s sniff test, which will probably be much more grueling than my own. I guess what matters most to me is that the person I end up dating treats me well, as an equal, with respect and dignity. The rest is mostly superficial (except the smoking thing. Just can’t do it.)

So, maybe dating again is in the cards for me in the near future. Maybe it isn’t. I think I’ll just take things as they come and see what happens. The thought of it certainly makes me nervous. It makes me cautious. The last thing in the world I want is to go through a heartbreak again like I did a year ago. I don’t know if I could withstand it. But I also don’t want to end up a spinster who only has her 45 cats to talk to. And I don’t want to end up like the infamous “Cathy” of comic strip fame, desperately and constantly seeking a date and shouting “ACK!” at everyone. As long as I keep my wits about me and my head on straight and level, I think I’ll be ok. Maybe it’s time I found out.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions every time January 1 rolls around. To me, resolutions are little more than exercises in futility, frustration, and disappointment. I start out with the best intentions but rarely follow through with whatever I’ve promised to accomplish by the next December 31. Some of my past resolutions have been as cliché as you can possibly get: lose weight, eat healthier, be more financially responsible, go to bed earlier and get more sleep, at least on work nights. By the end of the year, I’m five pounds heavier, stuffing my face with Christmas cookies, broke, and exhausted from staying up too late every night playing far too many games of Words With Friends. So a while back I made a New Year’s resolution not to make any more New Year’s resolutions. This is one I actually found success with, until this year when I decided to make two. Eh, well, maybe it’s a resolution I’ll actually be glad I broke.

My first resolution is to try and be more open to new things, and the term “things” is all-encompassing. I’m vowing to open myself up to new experiences, new food, new people, new topics to learn about, and anything else new that happens to cross my path. I’m going to try saying “yes” more and stop saying “no” so often. The only exception I’m adding to this is anything that has to do with snakes. If someone asks me if I’d like to hold a Burmese python or make a visit to the reptile house at the local zoo, my answer will be an automatic and emphatic “NO,” as it always has been. I mean I’m not looking to make this a foray into insanity. But at this moment in time, if someone asked me to go sky diving with them, I think I would say yes despite the fact that I have a serious fear of heights, am not particularly fond of flying, and not really interested in testing the possibility of dying by way of crashing to the earth at 120 miles per hour and becoming little more than a splatter on the ground. I would at least consider it, though, and if I’m not given enough time to thoroughly think it through, I’d probably go for it. I won’t know if I don’t like something until I’ve tried it, right? Or until I’m squished onto the ground, flattened like a pancake. But at that point, I most likely won’t know the difference anyway.

I want to try making my palette a little more adventurous, which shouldn’t be that hard considering I’m one of the pickiest eaters to ever live. I’m trying to work up the nerve to eat fish, which I’m sure sounds entirely lame to many of you who have no qualms about consuming the scaly, slimy, creepy creatures. The furthest I’ll go into the pescatarian world is canned tuna or a nice piece of salmon that doesn’t have the slightest hint of fishiness to it. I’d like to figure out how to branch out a little bit, though, if for no other reason than the health benefits of eating fish more often. If I could find a piece of fish that looks, tastes, feels, and smells like chicken, I’d be golden. Chicken I can handle. Maybe it will just be a matter of getting past that first bite and then telling myself, “It’s not so bad…really! Just Swallow! Hurry up, get some water and wash it down!” But God help me if anyone ever puts a plate down in front of me with a fully intact cooked fish on it complete with tail, fins, scales, and eyeballs staring up at me and piercing my soul with its silent cry of “Please don’t eat me!” This part of my resolution will be broken before I even pick up a fork.

I’m also going to try opening myself up to new people as much as possible over this next year, even if it’s something as small as starting a conversation with a stranger in line at Walmart. I’ve kept myself pretty closed off for a long time now, and it might be time to start making some cracks in those walls I’ve spent so much time building up. I consider myself to be an introvert, much happier to be curled up with a book and a blanket than in a room full of people. But that sure can get lonely sometimes. So if the opportunity presents itself to start a new friendship or to rekindle an old one, I’m going to take it. It doesn’t mean I’ll turn into a social butterfly with tons of people around me all the time. That’s something I’ll never be simply because it’s not in my personality. But if I can widen my circle by at least a couple people, well, that might not be so bad.

This resolution is going to be a challenge for me, for sure. I’m a creature of habit. I don’t just have a routine, I thrive on a routine and without one, I turn into a scatterbrained loon. Almost everything I do is part of a routine, all the way down to which shoe I put on first when I’m getting dressed (it’s the right one, just in case you were wondering) and what time I go pee during the day while I’m at work. My weekdays generally consist of getting up, going to work, going to the gym (ok, ok, this isn’t every weekday, only when I can’t come up with a good excuse not to go), going home, feeding the dog and cat, feeding myself, watching some TV, getting ready for work the next day, going to bed, and resting up for the cycle to start all over again when my alarm is screeching and I hit snooze four or five times, just like I do every morning. It’s a routine that I haven’t altered very much over the years, and while it works for me and allows me to function, it can get a little monotonous sometimes. I don’t usually deal all that well when a wrench is thrown in there unexpectedly, kind of like a robot that has Kool-Aid thrown onto its circuit board – lots of squealing and smoke as the components go into full meltdown. So, I’m going to work on being a little more flexible, a little less rigid, and a little more accepting of new and different things even if they might throw off my normal every day routine. The older I get, the more I’ve learned that change isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can have some pretty great consequences if you can just accept it and let it happen.

My second resolution is to listen to my heart more instead of always listening only to my head. I’m a thinker, an analyzer, a researcher, a planner. If a problem presents itself, my first reaction is to find the solution. To figure it out. To break it down piece by piece and analyze every little part of it until I have the answer. I look at it from every possible side until I have a clearer picture of what it is and how to conquer it. I’m not just a thinker, I’m an overthinker. The hamster inside my head rarely gets a break from running on that little wheel of his. There are some days when I’d love nothing more than to shoot that hamster with a tranquilizer dart. I also carry around a healthy dose of skepticism at all times, which I tend to apply to anything and everything, including most people. When someone does or says something – anything, really – my brain goes into overdrive trying to calculate his or her motives, figure out if he or she is being genuine, and detect even the slightest hint of deception. On the surface, it sounds like a serious case of paranoia, but I see it more as a mode of self-preservation. Trust is not something I hand out willy nilly. It most certainly has to be earned, but I realize that not trusting anyone creates an awful lot of isolation. So, I’m trying to find a healthy balance and that’s where listening to my heart comes in.

I have a strong gut instinct, the sixth sense that throws up red flags when something seems off, or sparks a little bit of hope when something seems right. My problem is that oftentimes I don’t listen to my gut, to my heart. My brain kicks in and starts doing its thing, analyzing and over-thinking every little detail and soon enough its whirring gets so loud that my instinct is drown out completely. Not listening to my gut has led me into heartache, disappointment, and frustration more than once. My heart is telling me, “Something isn’t right here, proceed with caution,” while my brain is saying, “I’ve done some quick calculations and it’s fine, there’s nothing wrong here.” I trick myself into believing what my brain says and dismiss completely what my heart says. On the other hand, I can’t think of a single time when I’ve just given in and followed that gut instinct and been let down. Not one. Maybe it’s because I hardly ever do it, so my frame of reference is a little skewed. I need to analyze this, to pick it apart and figure out what the solution is…See? There I go again. I can’t even write a simple blog without that damn hamster running amok.

In any case, that’s my goal, to find the in between and not to overthink everything. Not to think myself out of an opportunity, a chance, or an experience when my gut is telling me to just let go and give it a try. Like the first resolution, this one is definitely going to be a challenge and I have a feeling my skeptical brain won’t back off without a fight. But, I’m going to work on it and I’ll see how it goes. Come December 31, I might be just as frustrated and disappointed as I have been with past resolutions, but for whatever reason, this time my gut is telling me I won’t be. I think I’ll listen to it this time.