Finally Having A Love Life To Talk About Was Great — Until It Was Awful
This piece is Wagatwe Wanjuki’s third dispatch from the front lines of her romantic life for the #ItsTotallyMe dating series, which follows Establishment writers Wanjuki and Katie Klabusich as they utilize professional matchmakers and the insights of various experts to get to the bottom of their perpetual singledom. You can read the series’ introductory post here, Wanjuki’s previous solo dispatches here and here, and Klabusich’s solo dispatches here and here.
OH HAI! It’s been a half year since I wrote an update on this! I am so sorry. I promise I am not dead. I’ve had a really weird 2016; it’s probably the most difficult calendar year of my life — possibly ever. Fortunately the clouds are starting to clear a bit and I now have the mental real estate to focus and share my journey. I promise I won’t abandon y’all again. Onward!
My last update — “No, My Standards Are Not ‘Too High’” — ended with a bit of a cliffhanger. As a recap, a guy messaged me on OKCupid, which actually led to some successful dates. I ended with the question of whether my bad luck in dating had finally ended . . . Sorry for the intense suspense, folks! I originally intended to make the whole Dan saga fit into one post, but as I dove into writing about the situation it quickly became clear that there is a lot to unpack. This was my first crush in years, after all!
One of the blessings (and curses) of writing this series is that it’s forced me to take a critical, very self-aware eye at my dating life and my feelings toward its events (or lack thereof). And I recently realized that a big part of my attitude toward chronic singlehood is rooted in feeling that I have been incapable of participating in one of the world’s most “normal” human experiences. Through all sorts of media — songs, movies, TV shows — there’s an assumption that we all know what it’s like to love and deal with a revolving door of dating and relationship prospects. As the years have passed, I’ve grown increasingly self-conscious that I have no idea what these events are like.
So, after a successful second date with Dan, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time — both in terms of my dating life and my life overall: satisfaction and a bit of hope. My dates with him came at a particularly lonely time in my life since I was living in a new city, traveling for speaking gigs at colleges (spending time around strangers — especially fans — makes me feel more lonely), and estranged from my best friend who was focusing on a budding romantic relationship of her own (Woo! More reminders of how impossible it is for me to find a boyfriend!).
Now before people tell me that I shouldn’t expect a boyfriend to fix all my problems, I want to emphasize this: I by no means have ever expected a partner to fill the hole of loneliness I feel when I lose or am distant from a friend. An NY Magazine’s feature I recently read perfectly sums up my feelings about my platonic friendships with women: They provide an unmatched level of intimacy and satisfaction that I know I need — and don’t expect to get elsewhere. But on the other hand, I can’t deny the extra boost in my step when I feel like I am finally among the ranks of people who have a “love life” to speak of.
This tiny boost in self-confidence reverberated into my connections with other people; having a love life to talk about offers easy, relatable bonding fodder. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since becoming an outspoken survivor of sexual violence is that being “normal” makes people more comfortable when they interact with me. I sense the ease that people feel when they know I “get it” when they share some quippy anecdote from their love lives. It reminds me of the middle school bathroom breaks spent whining “Oh my god, I am so fat. I need to diet,” with my female classmates. It was a gross, unhealthy bonding mechanism that we all participated in. Now, as feminist adults, the default bonding topic seems to have shifted to talking about sex and dating. Unfortunately, that is not always something I could be a part of.
In short: it felt good to feel “normal.” I use quotations around that because I realize that there is no such thing as normal, especially when it comes to romance. But after reading Rachel Hills’ The Sex Myth, a non-fiction book that focuses on detailing and debunking societal assumptions about sex in the Western world, I realized that I had internalized the belief that the inability to find another human being interested in a committed partnership meant that I am a “freak.” It’s hard to watch a TV show or movie that makes finding someone interested in a relationship with you seem like an act as easy as breathing.
The good feels weren’t just about feeling like I fit in (let’s be real; the S.S. I-Totally-Fit-In has long sailed from my dock). The successful second date with Dan was fun in and of itself. And as I mulled over the experience, I thought about how nice it was to be acknowledged and celebrated for who I was as a whole human being, rather than as a sexual object to be used.
Or so I thought.
Before we parted ways at the end of our second date, we established that there was mutual interest and made plans for a third date. Unfortunately, it would be a few weeks until we could see each other again — I was traveling for a conference out of town. But now that he lived a few blocks away, it was a lot easier to just make plans to meet and work out the details later, so we both entered my first Saturday back in town into our respective Google Calendars, making the date official. Thanks to the advancement of technology, texting and Snapchatting allowed things to get, uh, a bit heated between us while I was out of town. The affirmations of my physical beauty and sexiness from someone who knew me for me both alleviated my on-the-road loneliness and enhanced the satisfaction of being normal. Look, Ma! I’m sexting!
The morning of what was supposed to be our third date, I sleepily texted him from bed to work out details for the evening. It was an action both of courtesy and strategic planning: my apartment was a mess and I needed to figure how how much time I had to clean my dirty domicile before his arrival. His reply came quickly, but even my always-expect-the-worst intuition didn’t see this coming.
“Hey, sorry. We probably shouldn’t meet up tonight. I just met someone this week and we really hit it off. I want to see where this goes.”
I’m hit with a wave of emotions: shock, anger, embarrassment, disappointment. But the one emotion that affected me the most was surprise. I am no stranger to crappy luck in dating, but I have always taken pride in being able to see it before it happens. Even if I have to endure the ache of rejection, I have always taken comfort in the ability to see it coming. This has always softened the blow.
But this time around, there was nothing to lessen the impact. The second date had gone well and we’d kept in steady contact during my weeks on the road. I — the person who is always looking for a bad sign — had not predicted this; there were no mixed signals to even try to twist into a negative analysis! My cynicism and anxiety, the two near-constant feelings I carry in (potentially) romantic situations, were not there to protect me.
I replied before I thought too much about it. “Oh OK. Thanks for letting me know!” I didn’t want to be the “crazy” girl who wrote a diatribe in a series of texts. I had to be chill. If I wasn’t, I’d only prove that he was right to choose someone he’d known for less than a week as more worthy of being his girlfriend than me. So I fed my rabbit breakfast, returned to bed, and cried for the rest of the day.
When mulling over the sting of rejection I asked myself, “What’s wrong with me?” What happened with Dan was completely different from anything else I’ve experienced in my love life. There had to be something somewhere that’d provide new insight as to why I’m consistently not seen as girlfriend material, right? The fact that our date was cancelled because of someone he’d known for a few days particularly stung. What hadn’t I shown Dan over the past two months that this woman had? Do I give off a “don’t-commit-to-me” vibe?
Deep down, I knew that I would never figure out the answers to these questions and that my time was better spent keepin’ on in my dating ventures, so I kept trucking on. Fortunately for me, I’d had my first meeting with Emma, my matchmaker from The Dating Ring, and she was on the hunt for my first match. I hoped that she would find one quickly.
Then, a few days later, something unexpected happened. A notification that I’d received a text from Dan popped up on my phone. I wondered what could possibly be inside — An apology? A declaration of love? — and took a deep breath in mental preparation as I opened the text. Its contents were not quite what I was looking for. “Never date a doctor. They’re so classist!” it read. I was instantly pissed by this curveball. Any satisfaction I felt from Dan initiating contact was instantly quelled by a complete lack of recognition from him about flaking on our last date. He acted like nothing had happened between us!
Is this the dating normalcy I’ve been craving all these years? Because it sucks.