When a dude says he should head home at 8:30 on a summer Saturday night and he walked to meet you and there is literally a thunderstorm brewing, with lightning visible through the windows of the wine bar, you know you should probably just quit showering, festoon yourself in sweatpants made of sackcloth, and adopt eight cats.
Instead of just never texting me again, it was pretty gracious of him to stop on the corner of 15th and South and straight-up say that he’s not interested in going out again (even though he kissed me rather boldly and a tad sensuously on our first date), but he didn’t need to announce it. It’s not that I wasn’t attracted to him. I was. But he gave me an anxious feeling. He’s a maniacally athletic scientist — an intelligent, handsome, witty, maniacally athletic scientist — and our lifestyles clearly would never match up.
As I headed for the subway (he didn’t even walk me there), I was already thinking how happy Ginny would be that I was coming home early. She curled up on my lap while I found four or five people to ignite furious text conversations with, on topics including but not limited to the rank injustices of dating, and I passed the remainder of the evening as pleasantly as it’s possible to do when you’ve been blatantly rejected.
That night, I had a vivid dream — the quality of dream I always get when my life is in significant transition (I’ve written about the weird grip of my dreams before).
I dreamed that I was living in some kind of fortress built out of a former public school alongside a faceless mass of other people. In the dream, I used to have my own place to live: a stony cluster of rooms apparently carved out of some nearby caves. I had lived alone there, but when I moved to the communal fortress I had left a lot of things behind: clothes, books, even food. In the dream, I had gone back to my old home because somehow I knew that an endless winter storm was coming, and the fortress needed whatever provisions and entertainments I could find.
But I couldn’t organize anything well enough to get things packed and out the door. My possessions were cobwebby and my plants were dead. I kept going from drawers to shelves to refrigerator and back again, making messy piles, with my fear of the impending blizzard squeezing at my throat.
My efforts to grab all my belongings in the dream in preparation for a winter famine were probably related to a passage of The Ethical Slut that stuck with me, about approaching relationships with an attitude of plenty rather than scarcity: the belief that there is enough love in the world to go around for everyone in whatever way suits them, instead of the belief, often ingrained in childhood, that we need to fight for slivers of affection from others and guard them jealously. (Plus, I admit, another recent date had been wearing a Game of Thrones tee that said “Winter is coming.”)
I think the dream’s overpowering sense of limbo and frenetic dread (a storm on its way; owning things but being unable to marshal them to any use; rummaging helplessly in the space between a teeming community and a solitary former life) was my brain’s way of working on the romantic rejections I’ve received recently.
The athlete wasn’t the only one to turn me down. A fellow writer with an intense but warm and funny demeanor got my guard down. It was a rainy night and we made out like teenagers in the back of a Lyft after a couple of dates. I could feel rather than see his grin in the dark and we laughed out loud when the driver turned the radio up. A couple days later, he canceled our next date via text message because “things may be moving forward with someone I’ve been seeing.”
While disappointing, I found this wildly fair. I did the same thing to others in the past, when I decided to commit to someone — though I got my heart thoroughly trounced when a prestigious PhD program across the country sounded its siren call.
Since then, rejections of me have run the gamut from polite and kind to what I am now convinced is one serious, Matrix-level bullet dodge.
Sometimes I worry my own prospects are hindered by the fact that the world is full of nice people who assume that a few good dates mean you need to stop seeing anyone else. Right now (though I don’t rule it out in future), I am not one of those people. This is partly because I’m working on consciously tackling the question of whether the one-partner default setting for relationships is the best lifestyle for me in general, partly because I’m rather terrified of getting hurt as badly as I did the last time I agreed to get monogamous, and partly because I’m not convinced it wouldn’t be better just to focus on my career.
Given my experience over the last several years, committing to one person seems like a terrible risk.
So there are some perfectly nice men who are, I believe, opting out because I might not fit the typical relationship mold.
And I have to admit, there’s at least one that I probably chased away, but I’m convinced it was for the best.
We had one date that I found mildly boring, and I was content to let it go, but he kept texting me for weeks. Not to ask me out again, though — just to repeatedly say things like “busy week?”
I was friendly but not effusive in my replies. (Maybe the next step was on me: “Why, no, I’m not busy! I’m just dying to go out with someone!”) But I wasn’t interested enough to step up to the plate. If he really wants another date, I figured, I’ll give him a chance, but why doesn’t he just say he wants to see me again or suggest an outing?
Finally, I lost patience.
After sending this missive, my iPhone showed that the recipient was typing. Then he stopped typing. He didn’t send whatever he was typing. To this day, he has never texted me again.
And then there was John.
He wrote me a couple charming OK Cupid messages and suggested we talk on the phone. I prefer meeting in person if we think it’s a match, but I took a half hour and humored him one night with a call.
I enjoyed talking to him and asked if he wanted to get together in person. He enthusiastically said he did and we set a day, but no concrete plans.
Then he didn’t contact me. So I texted him a few days later to check in. And he answered.
At first I was mildly disappointed, but the subtext of his text rapidly dawned on me.
I don’t want to date you, he was saying. But I still have the need to pronounce that I approve of you.
Add this to my sneaking suspicion that he’s done this to a lot of women (chat them up from afar, make them think he’s fun and interesting and interested, and then turn them down when they make the next move) — I mean, who are all these “petty” women? Has he not acted in a way that might engender some pettiness? — and his rejection turned out to be a relief.
(For anyone who thinks that I should’ve been grateful for the compliment about how classy I am, compare John’s text to the first one I share above, which is a model of the honest and gracious post-first-date rejection: he directly tells me the situation while acknowledging the vagaries of life, and wishes me well. He does not assume that his judgment of me, for good or ill, must be spoken and will be meaningful to me.)
I told a dear friend and sometime lover about the scientist athlete at the wine bar who in no uncertain terms is not interested in me, angling for a little sympathy, but my friend opined that this is what happens to most people at some point. “This is what dating is, girl,” he said.
At the same time, I complained to my cousin that nobody I am interested in is interested in me (which is objectively, patently untrue, but I was feeling unlovely and morose).
“Welcome to everyone’s problems,” she texted back, and I laughed out loud.
What was I expecting?
With a lot of support, I left an abusive marriage, kept my freelance career afloat through a rotten divorce, and recovered from grueling surgeries, all in one year. It turns out my reward for facing all this is the problems that everyone else was already having all along.
In some ways, I can bring a certain perspective to all the big and little heartbreaks of dating (and except for people who have been partnered long enough to have a few grass-might-be-greener daydreams, everyone pretty much agrees that dating is the worst thing ever, maybe second only to apartment-hunting). There’s not much anyone can do to me now that could hurt, frighten, or betray me more than some of the things my ex-husband used to do.
On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that disappointment and rejection don’t hurt. Sometimes I think they hurt all the more because each one injures a part of me that’s already bruised (hell, some days, it’s on life support). And I have every confidence that more men will meet me, charm me, and then withdraw in favor of another choice, whatever that means to them, and however it feels to me.
But love and lust are not finite resources, despite the fears that play out in my dreams. This is a true telling of rejections, but (for the sake of being honest here) I’ve had plenty of successes, too. Those are just a different story. And sometimes I think the pain along the way means that a vital part of me is still intact, instead of cracked and indifferent.