Friday, April 22, 2016


As I may have mentioned, I went from a monogamous relationship that lasted more than half my life to living single. From that perspective, dating seems like a strange solution to a strange problem. And the problem is not just physical intimacy, but the natural craving for companionship and emotional intimacy. There's not a quick and easy way to find those things, to find someone who fits well enough to make those things with me. So I make more or less random connections, hoping that one (or more) becomes real, that there's someone on the other end who matches up with me in some meaningful way. Every time I swipe right or optimistically send a message to a stranger, sometimes funny, sometimes earnest, sometimes tired and half-assed, I think of "A Noiseless, Patient Spider" by Walt Whitman:
A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.
And most of those filament, filament, filaments that I launch forth out of myself catch nowhere at all. There's probably a thorough science made of how attraction works in the various online dating apps. Often my magical words and charm are met with silence. Often my profile photo does not inspire anyone to swipe right on me. It is fascinating to me how different we all are, how different our experiences and likes and fears are. I ain't for everybody, certainly. Sometimes, though, the gossamer thread does catch somewhere. Sometimes I am told that I am "easy on the eyes" or that I "sparkle." I sparkle! Me and Robert Pattinson, we're like twins separated at birth!

When, now and then, those threads do catch, I'm stupefied by how quickly all my free time disappears. I always thought I had tons of it until I started filling it up. I'm scheduling casual interactions weeks ahead on my Google Calendar. I'm way behind on my blood donations, and I wouldn't be surprised if I've dropped from a Level 5 to a Level 4 this quarter. My weeks with my son are for him and me, so they're off the table for my social explorations, but still, with half my time I thought I had great swaths of evenings to fill. But in reality I have no time to drive for Lyft, my brilliant solution for additional money to afford my social life. So far I've given exactly 8 rides for a grand total of $37. That's not going to pay for many dates. And it was inevitable, but somehow I thought I'd avoid the pitfall of mixing up which plans I had with which women. Happily, when it finally did happen, all parties were already aware of each other and able to express feelings of awkwardness and hurt without making it more awkward and hurtful. Still. Embarrassing. I need a secretary. I make it sound like I have a harem of women clamoring for my attention. That's not at all the case, but I'm still juggling. I don't know how they do it, the guys who maintain two separate families, each completely unaware of the other, for years. I'd need an entire staff to help me keep up with all that.

So I've had first dates. Not so many seconds. I've been brushed off, blown off, and stood up. Now I'm involved with a woman (she was my second first date, and my first second date) with whom I've gone from "going on dates" to "dating" (we stopped counting after 6). She is exactly the person I was looking for when I started this weirdness: someone who is on board for the open relationship, who values openness and honesty, who derives as much value from this experience as I do. She's learning about herself and pushing her own boundaries, too. It's odd and refreshing and liberating to discover from very early on that it's not just OK, not just acceptable, but downright safe and desirable to be as direct and genuine as possible. About everything. About feelings! Madness!

Madness because still, with most of the people I meet or interact with online, it's all a dance. All of it. It's a performance. It's a manipulation. It's a test to see if we can pretend to be what we're not in order to attract someone we wouldn't. I was told by one of my first dates that maybe in the future I shouldn't tell the woman sitting at a table at a restaurant with me that one of my goals in life is to pick up a woman at a bar. Nope. I absolutely should tell her that. Because if she's not a willing and informed participant in the adventure as I intend to pursue it, then she should know as soon as possible that this particular adventure is not for her. Fair play all around! I'm not hiding a damned thing, and that's incredibly refreshing.

It's all much simpler than I would have guessed when I was conceiving of what it might be, and it's all much more complicated than I thought it would be when I actually started doing it. The feelings are real, and not always under the immediate control of the people who are having them. Feelings in general are messy and riotous and rebellious, and they don't listen to the calm and reasoned logic of the brains that they agitate with their messiness. I've more than once been surprised by the emotions passing through me and the physical sensations in my body when they do. I don't think I've ever before in my life gleefully texted somebody to say, "Huh! I think I might throw up!" because I was stunned to feel something that I thought I had logically processed right out of my soul. Nope! Your heart doesn't give a shit what your head has decided, and your body is more than willing to go along with the example your heart is setting, even while your brain is yelling, "Guys! Come on! This isn't what we talked about at all!"

The beauty of emotions, a beauty I already knew but am now beginning to really understand on a deeper level, is that they are always temporary. Every single one of them, the ones I want to stay forever and the ones I wish would never come back again. They may come and go, and maybe even many times, but no matter what, they will pass through me like a hot or a cold wind, and I will still be here, and still be me, when they've blown on down the road. I'm still here. I'm still me.

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