On New Year’s Day I ventured out into the world at approximately 1:45pm to obtain an egg, bacon, and cheese bagel to fill my empty day-after-drinking stomach. I was famished and had nothing edible in the house besides frozen turkey patties and a can of lima beans. I grabbed $8 cash, my phone, and my keys and hopped in the car. As I turned the corner, the usually-swamped parking lot appeared frighteningly empty. Alas, my fears were confirmed when a note on the door read that the shop was closed for the holiday – a possibility I had not previously considered. No worries, I thought, as I drove to the next bagel store three blocks away. I was greeted, sadly, with the same fate, as the outline of upside-down chairs on the tables by the window became clear. At this point, I’d reached an uncomfortable level of hunger. I headed toward the next bagel shop about five minutes away. Like an oasis in the desert, the door was open. Thank you, baby Jesus. I walked inside and my heart dropped – all the bagel bins were empty and the lady eloquently called out, “We closed.” I had missed my savory third-choice of a breakfast sandwich by 30 minutes. On to plan D. I drove to my local Trader Joe’s to pick up a pack of their delicious pretzel bagels. MUCH to my absolute dismay, the parking lot was a ghost town. Closed again. Tears welled up in my eyes as I drove through the empty lot to the exit on the other side. I now had to think on my toes if I was going to survive this major first world problem. With only $8 to my name, my options were severely limited. I reluctantly abandoned my desire for breakfast (imagine that gut-wrenching disappointment when you go out specifically for brunch but they ended their brunch menu 15 minutes earlier) and drove toward my next option.
Fast-forward 2 minutes and 30 seconds: I’m in line for Jersey Mike’s, reminding myself that I have to speak loud enough for the guy on the meat cutter to hear me (serious problem in my life), when I realize that the regular size #7 is $8.75. I can’t afford it. Instant panic sets in. Heartbreak follows as I realize that I will only be able to get a Mini, which will likely leave me hungry in three hours and in another dire situation like the one I’m in now. I’m up next. Stroke of genius – “Do you have Apple Pay?” I ask. He says yes. Thank baby Jesus in a mock turtleneck (think about it). Go time. I considered ordering a Giant so I can have some leftovers for dinner, but I didn’t want to be too overzealous given my previous failures. My sandwich is ready and I am at the register to check out. I enter my phone number for frequent-sandwicher points. He tells me my total. It’s $9.53. As soon as I begin to initiate Apple Pay on my phone, he says “oh, I’m sorry, our Apple Pay system isn’t working right now.”
My face flushes red as I realize I am now too poor to afford my sandwich and will have to either give three inches of it back or ask a kind stranger for $1.53. As I consider just running out of the store and ditching the sub and my dignity all together, the clouds part and as if from the heavens above. The cashier delivers the sweetest words I’ve ever heard. He says, “You have enough points for a free sandwich though. You’re good to go.”
And just like that, my 2018 starts off with a big fucking bang.
I find this story to have a number of solid morals. First, it’s demonstrative of the ancient Greek saying, “I stay ready so I ain’t got to get ready.” In this instance, the multitude of sandwiches I ate in 2017 had prepared me for this trying moment in time. Second and more important, this situation is a perfect example of how everything works itself out in the end the way it is supposed to. It was not my fate to have a bagel that morning, even though it was my desire. I just needed to trust in the process and know that in the end, everything was going to turn out exactly as it was supposed to.
And now I present my not-so-smooth segue into the real and much more serious topic of this blog. Trusting the process is just one of many of the vital lessons I’ve learned from my dating and relationship experiences thus far in my life. My twenties were plagued with unnecessary angst caused partly by men, but mostly due to my own mistakes in my approach toward these men. Through trial and error, countless conversations with friends, enlightening self-help books, and even some brilliant memes, I’ve learned some invaluable lessons. Many of the following lessons may seem decidedly simple now, but each took a significant amount of time to learn.
#1: Trust your gut
This one is as simple as it seems. You know yourself best. I think that women especially have a tendency to ignore their intuition and question themselves. We wonder, “Am I being crazy?” “Am I too picky?” “Is this the right decision?” At the end of the day, the only thing that is “right” is what is true to YOU. So, whether your friends think you’re making the wrong decision or if your partner calls you crazy, your feelings are your truth.
#2: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket immediately
On the rare occasion that I did meet someone I instantly clicked with, I would almost immediately start visualizing our future together, planning our wedding speeches, doing Instagram background checks, and turning into a madwoman in fake love. I’d fizzle out my other prospects and dive headfirst into the new guy, putting all my eggs in one basket. More often than not, I’d catch a whiff of sulfur a few months later and realize that there was A LOT about this guy that I didn’t know. When you’re already committed and deeply emotionally involved, it’s much harder to evaluate situations logically and rationally. Take your time and get to know someone before committing yourself to them.
#3: Trust the process
Forming a relationship with someone takes time and cannot be forced. In my younger years, I didn’t have the patience to see something through at a slower (read: rational) pace. I also felt like every relationship that didn’t work out was a failure on my part. Now I realize that I learn a bit more about myself, what I want, and what I don’t want from every date and interaction I have. It’s all part of the process. And just as my hunger was abated on New Year’s Day, my desire for true love will also happen whenever it’s meant to.
I’m not religious nor a country fan, but I absolutely love this line from Rascal Flatts:
“Every long lost dream led me to where you are, And others who broke my heart they were like northern stars, Pointing me on my way into your loving arms, This much I know it’s true, That God blessed the broken road That led me straight to you.”
#4: Don’t try to be the Cool Girl
When I read Gone Girl, this particular monologue about the “Cool Girl” resonated with me so much.
Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
At first I was kind of offended because I’m pretty sure I’ve always considered myself to be the cool girl, although the activities she mentioned aren’t at the very top of my list. What I realized, though, is that being the cool girl all the time is exactly as she defines it – fake. Sure, I can talk shit and be nurturing, play sports and rock designer heels, turn up and lay low, be happy at IHOP or Mastro’s, discuss slant routes and beat you at Mario Kart, but at the end of the day, I can’t just chameleon myself into whatever my dude wants at the time. Even if you’re as cool as me, your desires are equally important, and you need to voice them.
And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be.
#5: Maintain your ME time
This is something that took me a very long time to learn. I’d often give up my routine and personal activities to spend time with whomever I’m dating. This creates a problem because it increases your expectations. When I’ve skipped my spin class to go see you, and you just want to lazily sit around and watch Mad Max for the 18th time, I become frustrated. Had I gone over to visit on a day where I was free, this exact same scenario would not upset me, although a two hour movie has really got to have more than 10 words. It’s absolutely imperative that you maintain your routine and continue to do the things that YOU love to do alone while you’re dating someone. You can and should make time for others, but don’t do it at the expense of the activities that keep you sane and happy.
#6: Refrain from expecting perfection
I think anyone who’s type A like me has struggled with this one. We have our ways of doing things and are pretty convinced that they’re the best ways (I know all the best ways, ask anybody – they’ll tell you. I have a good brain, the best brain). It’s hard to let go and allow someone to do things their way, because it likely feels imperfect and flawed. However, when you don’t have expectations, you can’t be disappointed. Plus, your partner will become resentful if they feel like they’re constantly under a microscope – ask my ex.
#7: Don’t ignore red flags
If you walk away from a first date thinking there’s a 60% chance this guy’s a total dick, he’s likely a dick. If a guy asks you on your second date when the last time you’ve had sex was, he’s likely a jealous person. If you’ve gone on ten dates and he’s never touched you other than the hello and goodbye hug, there’s probably no chemistry. Believe what they show you; you don’t need a year to find out what they showed you during week two.
#8: Communicate directly
I am guilty of being aggressively passive, actively inactive, and directly indirect. Most people tend toward roundabout communication or worse, making assumptions without asking. They passively imply, dance around, or joke about their real opinions and feelings. They wait for someone else to make a move, reach out, or express feelings first. I’ve personally wasted countless hours of my life being frustrated by others, waiting to hear back from someone, or contemplating every possible scenario instead of just asking direct questions to get the information I need.
Moral of the story: be direct. Ask, call, text, talk.
#9: Understand that you can’t change people
I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve tried to “fix” over the years. I’ve concerned myself with their self-awareness, motivation level, etiquette, outfit choices, spelling and grammar, daily routines, cleanliness, fitness levels, etc. to the point where I drive myself mad. As explained in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love, “whenever there is a gap between what we have and what we want, we will feel dissatisfied or in some way frustrated.” This is a fruitless task. I’m going to again quote my robotic ex, as he explained this perfectly in an email in response to some concerns I had about his reciprocation and attention levels.
“I am a really big believer that people don’t change. They can make adjustments at the fringes but at the core they are who they are. I really don’t think we are at a stage where we should be making serious adjustments to our behavior.”
At the time, I was too emotionally involved because (See #2) I’d gone all in too fast, so I read this as laziness and lack of desire for self-improvement. Now, however, I can see that the robot was right (but don’t tell him). Either you commit to loving your partner the way they are and accepting their brand of suffering, or you can find someone who doesn’t have the traits that irk you, but don’t expect anyone to turn into someone new on your behalf.
#10: Know that you are always in control of your happiness
To reference my favorite book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, again, “if you believe that the answer to your happiness lies in someone else’s hands, you’re in for a load of trouble. Eventually you’ll be let down and will be discouraged. You’ll be left with that helpless and dependent “It’s her fault: feeling.”
This is the single most important dating lesson I have learned over the last ten years. I always knew that I should be in control, but society’s pressure or my own insecurities led me to believe that I wasn’t holding the reins. It wasn’t until I ended things with the Robot that I really took control of my own happiness and decided that I never again wanted a man to be able to affect my mood the way he and and his predecessors had. For years I was so easily upset by my relationships that my whole day would be off if something were off. I’d sit around feeling sorry for myself and wondering why he couldn’t just do x, y and z the way I wanted. And the reality is that my dissatisfaction was as much my own fault as it were theirs. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” nor can they can have any impact on your mood if you don’t allow them to.
These 10 lessons have given me more peace than I ever knew was possible before. I decide how I feel, whom I date, what treatment I accept, and how I allow others to impact me. This power, strength, and control over myself is liberating. It’s possible that I’ve swung too far to the other side of the pendulum now… because I’ve recently become mad with this power, leaving men on read left and right. But I’ll take this version of me any day.