Enjoy this pre-COVID oldie but goodie.
Here is the nightmare; it’s Christmas Eve and you are at the mall. Wait, no, that’s not it. It get’s worse. It’s Christmas eve and you are at the mall and you can’t find the gift that you need, and you keep running from store to store, but everything just feels meaningless, un-special. Nothing gives you that glow, that magic that says I will light up my person’s face, and you really need to feel you are lighting up your person’s face, for one hundred thousand complicated reasons that no one else really has to understand and that everyone else might judge terribly, with all kinds of sentiments and platitudes as to how it’s the thought that counts and the cult of materialism, and your obviously sold soul, and how you evidently don’t care much at all about this person because you could have found a gift one of the other 364 days of the year and now you are doubling down on your sell out because you are missing actual prime real estate family time which chimes, no, blares, no, GONGS in your head so aggressively that your inner genie of gift giving is careening from wall to wall like a drunk elf and cannot hear herself whimper let alone slip out of the bottle in a shimmering vapour cloud and grant a wish.
But it’s not Christmas, it’s summer. And I am writing to you today about a different kind of shopping. Shopping born of the technological age. The online dating age. It’s called relationship shopping. I hear all kinds of complaints about “perpetual shoppers”; the instant gratification of the swipe; the impersonal, dehumanizing nature of the process. Some have it down to an “art”, they have systems, and best practices and codes. They have defense mechanisms, and rules, and judgments, and reactions. Guidelines. “Street cred”. But underneath all of that business, somewhere somebody has a real live beating heart that’s getting ‘Macy’s on Black Friday’ trampled, and somebody isn’t making it home for Christmas dinner.
Because the thing that online dating has introduced is the element of selection which might be better understood as the illusion of control. There are some superior aspects to the selecting process. In addition to accelerating the permuting and combining of meet up variables, that is to say, the role of “chance” or “destiny” in landing you beside someone at the grocery who happens to attract you or feel attracted to you enough at the right instant, in which one of you practices 3 seconds of bravery and doesn’t end up sadly pining over a post in the “I saw you” section of your latest trending e-zine, it also allows you to screen, cull, and vet. Skimming profiles allows you to categorically weed out by job, or interests, or life goals, or history, or IQ, or charitable donations, or number of hamsters, or ability to skillfully answer a skill testing question without knowing the question in 3 different languages not including pig Latin. Okay, well not everyone is forthcoming about their deep and abiding affection for the noble hamster, but you get my drift.
You decide who you are willing to get in the grocery store line up with, and then scan for possible chemistry, rather than letting the wheel of spontaneous attraction determine your dating pool for you.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
Well, friends, I am here to tell you, all of that overachiever zeal that boosts us up the corporate ladder doesn’t always translate into relationship best practices. And that is because relationship isn’t a competition, it isn’t a test we must pass, and it when it has gone badly in the past this is not because it was a test that we failed and now must over-correct for. You can’t redeem yourself for dating Susie or Johnny by flagging all the S’s and J’s and sending them to your junk mail.
This is not to say we are judging you for not wanting to date the guy who is living in his parents’ basement, or the guy between jobs, or the woman who calls herself the Black Widow just because she has a girl crush on Scarlet Johansson.
Have you made some less than savvy relationship choices in the past? Did she sleep with your best friend and then put him through dental school with your alimony? Did he sit on the sofa crushing brewskies and belching while you hustled, brought home the bacon, fried it up in the pan, and dragged your tired ass to Pilates only to endure drunken sloppy groping that missed your happy place by a margin of 3 fingers if you’re being generous with your calculations?
Well, my good good souls, it’s time to forgive yourself. It’s time to shine a light on your dark chamber of secrets and work a little magic “IN THERE”.
Or else every box, ticked or unticked, is going to threaten you with the fallibility of your own decision making.
Remember that scene in The War of the Roses, when Katherine Turner meets Michael Douglas and they steam up the screen with a lusty rendezvous and lying in his arms she declares “This is either the most romantic night of my life, or I am a total slut”? Well, the shaming of women for their sexuality wouldn’t fly today, thankfully so, but that memorable line reveals so much more. Like how we make a decision, such as following our desire for fun and passion, but then retroactively condemn ourselves based on the outcome of the decision which we could not possibly know or control for. We are arbitrary and tyrannical with our poor little joy seeking decision making selves.
And that has us running around with our little (and by little I mean ten pages before appendices) shopping lists and spreadsheets for finding the perfect partner.
Which doesn’t solve for, oh you know, the real reasons we end up in those shitty and painful relationships in the first place. Doh.
And it doesn’t leave much space for a little BIG thing I like to call, connection.
It’s good to be intentional about what you want.
It’s good to steer the ship away from the iceberg and towards paradise island.
Two weeks ago I was on a road trip involving a lot of road with a tiny bit of trip in between, all alone for the first time in a gazillion years BC, by which I mean Before Children. There were no teenagers to run the Spotify or manage play lists. I was just this dinosaur, in a world of small agile reptiles, like lizards and newts. After a couple of hours of meditative silence I was all, Zen? Check. Mindfulness? Check. Empty silence? Solidly caught up. And I fumbled around for a CD I may have had hidden in the console. And that is when I found it. Another CD, not my own, not a band I felt particularly interested in road tripping to, or with. Alas, we were stuck there, alone, together, the hours of highway snaking into oblivion. So after pressing a few (twelve) buttons, I figured out how to load the CD. The first song was crap. The third song I kinda liked. Five or so songs in there was a ditty I recognized from eighties radio play. Nineteen songs later I thought, well, let’s start over and listen to the few we actually liked. Instead I just let the whole thing play again, more on account of driving safety than enjoyment. The third time I developed a strange crush on that first song. It came out of nowhere. I flirted with song three. I lingered over five. I was smitten with 8. Exchanged vows with 12. I fell in love with that band and that CD, and by the end of my 20 hours on the road, it was with stupefied awe that I contemplated my reluctance to give it the time of day ten hours before. How could I have underestimated so strongly? How could I not have known? And what if love was like that? (It gets deep on the highway friends).
The problem with the shopping afforded by online dating, is that it doesn’t leave room for the extended play; the magic that can happen when you listen to the B side, let someone grow on you, allow yourself to be surprised by the x factor you didn’t even know you wanted that now has the power to move you through mountains.
Not everyone will serenade you into Lalaland.
But you don’t need a Fort Knox built of boxes to identify a red flag (toxic, emotionally unhealthy unsafe behaviour).
What we all want is that kind of connection that is greater than the sum of all of the boxes, checked or unchecked. We don’t want to fit someone into our cramped little comfort zone, as much as we may try to convince ourselves that this is true. We want someone who inspires us to get out of it.
Then we don’t need to be doing the math, or adding up the pros and cons, or prevaricating.
We just say yes to the dress.
So my guideline for the online dating matchmaking modern age set up? Go ahead and have your list, but don’t forget when you’re making it to consider how you want to feel in that relationship you’re conjuring. And when you make it out to the lounge or the café, when you are sitting face to face with this actual real live feeling human being with a real live beating heart somewhere beneath their polished exterior and their best seven o’clock hair, a person you may or may not want to hang out with for the foreseeable future? Well, leave your spreadsheet at home. Pretend for twenty minutes or an hour that you met at the grocery store. Listen to the B side. You don’t have to have all of the answers. You can’t protect yourself from vulnerability with all of the strategy under the sun. So you might as well enjoy the music.
At the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather be trying to explain to your lovelies why what shouldn’t work just does, than listing all of the reasons why what doesn’t work should?
— Love Erin
P.S. You’ve been asking me how to get your friends and loved ones the help I’ve been able to give you. We can do that. Contact me and we’ll talk details.
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.