Keith Haring

I am very close to giving up dating, because I am almost 50 years old, and I simply don’t understand what people want anymore. Or what the accepted definition of “love” is. And because I seem to be a magnet for emotionally unavailable people.

Lately, dating seems to have just brought me a ton of confusion and pain. There seems to be an epidemic of damaged people — present company included. As far as relationships go, I’m feeling as if I need to be satisfied with the fact that I had 6 or so good years with my ex-husband before the shit hit the fan and we divorced, 12 years ago, and be satisfied with that. And reconcile myself to living alone the rest of my life.

Six years of wedded bliss is more than a lot of people get, anyway. “Life is a banquet and most poor fools are starving,” as Auntie Mame, played brilliantly by Rosalind Russell, said in that old movie. What’s the divorce rate now? 60 percent?

Since my divorce, I’ve been in relationships with a closet alcoholic, a sex addict (I didn’t find out until AFTER we broke up, but the “porn star bucket list” he was actively pursuing when I met him, made a lot of sense after the fact), a sociopathic narcissist, a guy 20 years my junior, and another much younger guy who was probably the smartest, most fascinating, yet perplexing person I ever met. We were together 6 months. I know that’s not a long time, but we got really close during that time and even made a commitment.

They say love is a verb — meaning, expressing love has more to do with your actions than your words. In that respect, I thought for sure Mr. Brainiac loved me. For example, when he found out that a doctor mistakenly diagnosed my stuffed animals as the source of my allergies as a child, and I had to give them all away, he started buying me stuffed animals to make up for my childhood pain. When I took a week-long trip to Los Angeles, he surprised me by getting the key to my house from my roommate, filling the house with flowers, and waiting for me in bed the night I returned.

One time we were cooking food in my kitchen, and he pulled me to him and said, “I just want you to know that you’re wonderful.” I playfully replied, ‘I know.” He said, very seriously, “it’s less important that you know than it is for you to know that I know.”

At a New Year’s Eve party, he confessed that he was falling in love with me. I already knew by that time where I stood. I was definitely head over heels, and I couldn’t have been happier to think he reciprocated my feelings.

So perhaps I could be forgiven for flipping the F out when, 2 weeks after the party, he broke up with me. What a mindf*** that was. One minute, he was saying his head and heart agreed that our relationship was right. The next minute, he’s breaking up with me, telling me “the feelings aren’t there.”

A few months later, he attended my roommate’s birthday party at our house, and I thought maybe I could forge a new path with him as friends. Instead, he flirted with me as if nothing had changed. He had even brought my favorite type of beer as a present. At one point, I pulled him aside to grill him about his behavior as well as the puzzling end to our relationship. He said he didn’t want to get back together and, in fact, he wasn’t trying to get into a relationship with ANYONE. He was just being “friendly.”

I asked him if he ever loved me, and if so, why did it die. He said “I thought I did. It’s not you. I’m kind of messed up and not sure I have feelings for anyone or anything.” This blew my mind. First off, what a sad existence, being unable to feel ANYTHING. Secondly, I’m really not sure how love can be such an uncertain thing, that he “thought” he loved me. To me, it’s very black and white. Either you love someone or you don’t.

I brought up the fact that he sure fooled me, because many of his actions were extremely loving. It wasn’t just the words he uttered at the party that led me on. He didn’t necessarily think that anything giving or sweet that he did or said to me, signified love. “You’re a great person,” he told me. “You deserve to have your toys replaced. I would still do it, even today, if you wanted me to.”

Wtf IS the definition of “love”, then, anyway? I was so confused at this point.

He swore the birthday party flirtation was purely about sex, since we’d always had so many amazing times in bed. He made it clear that he’d love to do that again, so long as I could accept nothing else would come of it. That night, I went against my better interest and slept with him. I felt that he still understood me, more than anyone else, and I just needed a taste of that, after 4 months of dead end dates and relatively meaningless sex.

I loved the familiar feeling of his body wrapped against me as I slept. We didn’t sleep apart the whole night. In the morning,. I woke to feel his fingers tracing the curve of my body and his lips on the back of my neck. He was, yet again, very affectionate and LOVING. And confused the crap out of me.

I just don’t get it. How were any of his actions towards me, not demonstrably love?

There’s a relationship forum I post on, and so many other people have suffered through a similar experience— the blindside break-up in the middle of everything seeming fine. Their exes often say “I fell out of love” or “I THOUGHT I loved you.” I’m frankly starting to think that people these days have no clue what the word “love” even means. When the word isn’t being tossed around loosely, people are going through the motions of love these days but not meaning it, it seems.

I have to ask: is there some sort of an epidemic of inexplicably dying feelings? Or an epidemic of people who are capable of exhibiting behavior that we’d typically think exemplified love, but incapable of feeling deep emotion for anyone? When someone says “the feelings are gone”, what does this mean? Where do feelings go to die? I wonder.

I think a better explanation is that when the initial honeymoon excitement starts dulling down, and shit starts to get real, i.e., a partner starts making demands, and needing things, some people panic and bail. “Oh no! This is getting TOO hard!” It’s the same reason we have a drug and alcohol addiction epidemic in our society. Life’s too hard. Instead of accepting that, and adjusting your attitude, or maybe working on yourself to improve it, you pop a pill or drink something to escape.

I think it’s a symptom of our screwed up society. We all want instant gratification. We all want to be entertained constantly. We all think we shouldn’t have to experience any discomfort. People these days are selfish. They have short attention spans. Maybe ADHD is more than a loosely ascribed label. Perhaps it’s a consequence of growing up with too much MTV and technology.

We refuse to settle for certain imperfections or difficulties, because..hey, there are dating sites…there is social networking..all with a billion choices (otherwise known as “the tyranny of choice”). A better looking, smarter, richer, more sparkly person is always around the corner, so..hey, why would I wanna tie myself down to YOU?

Maybe the true epidemic is a tyranny of too-high expectations. Or maybe we’re suffering from an epidemic of “grass is greener” syndrome. Nothing is ever good enough. There’s always something better around the corner.

There also seems to be an epidemic of “wanting something or someone you can’t have”, to the extent that it creates a barrier to something good being offered. I recently had 3 wonderful dates with a guy who, as it turns out, is still hung up on an abusive ex. I couldn’t quite figure out why someone would forego the opportunity to date a great person like me — and he did obviously like me — in favor of an endless obsession with a woman who would bombard him with nasty, insulting texts for hours and hours simply because he mistakenly thought her school exams weren’t over yet and wished her good luck on them (yes, that actually happened right after our 3rd date.)

In this dating jungle, it can be hard to keep your head up and your self-esteem intact. It gets old hearing “it’s not you, it’s me”, or some variation thereof, and becomes harder and harder to keep convincing yourself that it truly IS about the other person’s barriers, walls, intimacy issues, or whatever the problem is, and not some deficiency you suffer from that makes you unlovable.

It’s the hardest thing, hearing someone that you’re madly in love with, as my ex did, tell you that you have every desirable quality he could ever want, yet he still can’t love you. It makes you question, if I’m so beautiful/fabulous/amazing/smart, etc., why am I still alone? The mental gymnastics to keep your confidence intact in the dating scene today can be exhausting. I honestly don’t know who or what to believe anymore, and many times, I find myself just wanting to give up.

A woman on OKCupid posted this very moving essay on her profile that I feel captures quite succinctly some of the problems we humans seem to be having connecting on a deep, meaningful level lately:

“It baffles me, seeing 70,000 people signed on at once, sifting
through each other like so many grains of sand. i feel like pairing
them off myself, saying here, you go with her; look, you go with him.

and no, the fact that she is a little heavier than you think you
deserve, or three years older, won’t make a difference when she
strokes your hair after your boss made you so frustrated that you
could cry, if you even knew how. no, the fact that he is an inch or
two shorter than your mental checklist dictates won’t make a
difference when he is hunched over praying after a car accident lands
you in the emergency room.

you, guy who says he doesn’t want a relationship, just because you’ve
had your heart ripped to shreds before, you get to keep that girl with
the pretty brown eyes, who will deny that she snores, but who wont
ever forget your birthday, or even your mom’s.

you, woman whose clock is desperately ticking, you get that guy with
the crooked smile, who may not have finished college, but who will
change that baby’s diaper in the middle of the night and not act like
you owe him something in the morning, because you dont.

how i would love to see the number of people on this site dwindle, as
we lower our expectations of each other, and increase our expectations
of ourselves. as we realize how little it matters that he looks good
in a tux, because he’s only going to wear one three times in his life,
which is less than the number of times he will hold your hand hard
while you watch someone you love being lowered into the ground. how
little it matters that her body is rock solid, because it’s the
softness of her that you will melt into at night, when the rest of the
world has been so hard all day.

and when everyone is safely and mostly happily paired off (and only
cursing me silently once in a while), and my work is done, i will look
around and see that guy waiting for me in the corner. the one who is
not exactly my age, and works too much, and can be a little stubborn.
but who accepts that there are just certain words i need to hear every
single day, even though he already said them yesterday and last week.
and certain ways i need to be looked at, and even though he’s got so
many other things and people vying for his attention, he’ll still look
at me those ways.

and we will circle each other and assess the dings that other people
made and the blemishes that time has left behind, and decide that we
can live with them. and we will recognize and respect and even hold
reverently the fact that his shoulder needs my head on it
approximately exactly as much as my head needs his shoulder under it.

then we will close down our profiles, not just hide them, and pick up
our emotional baggage, not minding too terribly that we are each
holding a bit of each other’s. we’ll walk off, not into the sunset,
but into the sunrise, forgetting just a little too late that we forgot
to pack sunscreen, and hey, i thought you were supposed to pick it up,
and ok, let’s just wear these hats instead, they’ll do just fine.”

To me, she describes exactly what love is, quite beautifully.

Copyright 2017. S. Wade