We both arrived wearing red vests. I thought it was a sign. It was an unseasonably warm December day in Boston and we had decided to take advantage by meeting for a walk followed by drinks.
I didn’t know much about him before we met. His elite dating service (tinder) profile had sparse information and after a very brief exchange of messages, I had agreed to meet up with him for a date. I had minimal expectations. It was a random Sunday in the middle of the afternoon. I felt cool, calm, and casual…hence the red vest.
He was several minutes late, one of my biggest pet peeves, as I would tell him later. As we strolled across the city, conversation flowed back and forth easily. And it was not the usual first date “small talk” to which I’d grown accustomed. “Ok, so tell me what makes you weird, just lay it all out there,” he asked me in his subtle Southern drawl. (I don’t really like animals or pets. I hate driving and I can’t parallel park. Also, I’m super Type A.) “What do you value in a relationship?” (He valued honesty and communication. He didn’t like it when the girls he dated played games; it turned him off. He wanted to know that she liked him.) “What are your views on religion?” he pressed. (I’m Jewish but I’m not religious. For me it is about the community, traditions, values and food…definitely the food.) And on it went, open and refreshingly honest conversation about our past lives, relationships, and thoughts about online dating.
We eventually wandered into a small bar, cozied up to our wine glasses, knees just barely touching. His hand gently grazed my arm. There was definitely an attraction, a spark. I could have stayed there all night but he had dinner plans and it is my firm belief that first dates should be “short and sweet” leaving you wanting more, like an amuse-bouche before a 10-course tasting menu.
We split an Uber home and just before he left, he leaned in and kissed me. Brief, soft, and perfect. I smiled the rest of the ride home.
For our second date a week later, I cooked him an extravagant dinner of Beef Wellington, his choice, with duck-fat roasted vegetables. He brought wine. It was a relatively ambitious dinner to make, especially for a second date. I researched dozens of recipes before I found the perfect one, actually a combination of three. He watched me intently, wine glass in hand, as I deftly chopped mushrooms and shallots, seared the beef tenderloin in a hot cast iron skillet, and rolled out the delicate puff pastry. I remember glancing up at his face, his blue eyes wide and his mouth curled into a subtle smile, as if he were in awe.
Over the next month we went out to dinner, watched movies, cooked together (well mostly I cooked and he watched), cuddled on the couch, went bar crawling, whiskey tasting, and made plans to go swing dancing. He was energetic and full of life. He smiled and said hi to everyone, a credit to his Southern roots. One night while grocery shopping for dinner, we set down our grocery baskets in the middle of the store and rocked out to Taylor Swift. We went shopping at TJ Maxx for candles and picture frames for his apartment. He had told his friends and co-workers all about me and wanted to have them over for dinner (cooked by me). He asked me about kids (he wanted 4) and my hopes and dreams for life.
Needless to say, I was smitten. But also scared. I had been single for quite some time and had almost gotten used to being on my own and going out on frequent dates that never went anywhere. It had been a while since I had liked a guy the way I liked him. I was terrified of “scaring him away” as if any little thing I did or said wrong could magically flip a switch and he would be gone from my life forever. I imagined him floating away like a balloon; one little slip of my hand and he’d be released up into sky, a small dot growing smaller and smaller until I could no longer see him.
In the past, my coping mechanism would have been to practice what I have termed “defensive dating”, aka dating other men to distract myself from getting too attached to the one I actually liked. In this modern world of dating it feels like everyone is constantly swiping, dating, and moving on to the next best thing (many apps even allow you to see how active your match is). Why try to see past a person’s flaws or idiosyncrasies when there are thousands of other potential dates waiting in the wings? I’d felt pressured to act similarly, to play the same game, at the very least to protect my heart for when he (whomever he may be) eventually decided to reject me for another match. After dating for several years, this was a game I knew well and provided me some false sense of security.
But this time I decided to try something different. Maybe all of that “defensive dating” was actually hurting me, keeping me from really getting to know and like a potentially great guy. Plus, I liked this guy; did I really need to see what else was out there? There probably was someone better (smarter, cuter, nicer, etc.) out there, but I would never find that out unless I really got to know this guy.
Furthermore, I realized, I am a busy and accomplished surgery resident, researcher, and writer with many varied hobbies and friends; why did I need another guy to distract me from getting too attached? Surely I could find something else constructive (or maybe even just a relaxing night on the couch with a glass of wine) to occupy my time?
So, I stopped going out on other dates, I ended my occasional flings, and even stopped swiping on tinder. I focused on my work and friends and my one current romantic interest. I felt elated, liberated, and overall more productive. Why hadn’t I thought about this before? Maybe this was what had been holding me back all along?
I wish I could say that it has now been 7 years and we are happily married with those 4 adorable kids he wanted (well maybe 2). But alas, this is not a fairy tale. After over a month or so of dating something changed. It was subtle, almost too subtle to notice, but slowly he started to pull away.
His text messages, while still responsive and effusive, became less frequent. He no longer initiated plans to meet up and any attempt on my part was met with some variation of “I would love to but I’m pretty busy this week” with no suggestions for an alternative date. After 2 anxiety-ridden weeks I finally called him to confront the inevitable. While on a train to Connecticut for business with anemic cell service he told me, “I may be moving to NYC for work soon,” followed by “And I’m not really looking for anything serious.” He pretended he would call me that weekend to “catch up” and that maybe we could hang out when he was back.
After moping around for a few days and generally feeling down I decided it was time to move on. I didn’t call him to “catch up” that weekend (he didn’t call me either) and when he eventually texted a week later to wish me a good trip to Miami for a business conference, I didn’t reply. He had told me all that I needed to hear. It was over.
So, I’m back to square one it seems. Alone and continuing to contemplate myself, my dating habits, and that elusive concept of “what I am looking for” in life or in a man. I tried to alter my dating habits and where did it get me? What did I learn from this dating experiment? I keep waiting for some grand revelation to emerge from the sparse remains of this relationship, but it doesn’t come. Maybe this time there was nothing to learn, no cute lesson conveniently tied with a pretty little bow. Instead, I’m left with the realization that dating is hard, and often heartbreaking, and seemingly arbitrary at times, beyond my control. Perhaps that is lesson enough.
I am still uncertain how I feel about abandoning my “defensive dating” crutch cold turkey. I know it is not the ideal strategy but my heart still feels vulnerable in this crazy unpredictable world of too many dating options. It still craves safety and protection, even if it is just an illusion. For now, I may still need that illusion, that crutch.
In the meantime, I am back to swiping and dating again. Maybe this time around I’ll be a little wiser, a little more cautious, but more open to possibility. Maybe I’ll finally figure this dating thing out. But for now, I have to go, I have another date.
Like this post? View similar content here: An Open Letter to the Tinder Date Who Said My Moisturizer Smelled Like Pringles