Back in May, two months into lockdown, I found myself newly unemployed, broke, and depressed. I packed up my things, cleaned out my one-bedroom apartment in Richmond, VA, that I shared with my pet rabbit, Covey, and moved into my childhood bedroom in Virginia Beach. At the time, I had been seeing someone for about 10 months. I could tell it wasn’t going anywhere, but navigating my new reality didn’t allow me much energy to do anything about it. Then, after barely speaking for a week, he dumped me. I wasn’t surprised. Part of me was even relieved; it was one less thing to worry about. But as time passed and the timeframe of when things would go back to “normal” got further and further away, I started to wonder: Will I ever have sex again? Where am I going to have sex? And with who?
I spent most of my 20s in monogamous relationships, but my 30s are off to a different start. The past couple years have been plagued by casual flings and unfulfilling flirtations, and I’m starting to realize that I may be part of the problem. Specifically, I’m tragically prone to commitment. As a result, even my “casual dating” tends to look a whole lot like a relationship. I’ll spend months sleeping with one guy, going out to restaurants with him, and meeting his friends. The only casual part is that I avoid labeling it — because then when things fizzle out, it won’t count as a failure.
This pattern of behavior goes way back. Even in high school, one of my best friend’s moms encouraged me to date around and not get so serious with any one guy. I pleaded with her to understand, “Wouldn’t it be great if the first guy is also the last guy?”
“That would never last,” she said. I was convinced she was wrong.
But here I am, a few months away from turning 33, and still single. Clearly my hyper-committed approach isn’t working, so I’ve decided that it’s time for me to learn how to casually date.
No, I haven’t forgotten it’s 2020. You might be thinking this a terrible time to date around, what with the pandemic and social distancing guidelines putting a pause on most events where you could easily meet new people. But trust me. I’m a Capricorn. I don’t make any decisions lightly, and I almost always have a plan.
These are weird and sad times for everyone. But while we look at ways to organize and restructure systems that haven’t worked for us in the past, couldn’t we also do the same for our romantic lives? On paper, a lot of us are probably having the worst year of our entire lives, but working in the nonprofit world has taught me a few things about changing the narrative. And I argue that the current constraints can actually work for us, encouraging us to build a strong foundation for a future relationship. So in that spirit, here’s how 2020 has revealed itself to me to be an opportune time to date.
I am almost completely unemployed
At an art show in college, someone once asked me, “What do you do? I haven’t heard of you.” It left such a bad taste in my mouth that after more than a decade, I still refuse to follow that person back on Instagram. I think I mentioned I’m a Capricorn.
In any case, our society’s emphasis on work has never made much sense to me. I’ve had some really cool jobs, but for the most part my passions and my source of money have rarely intersected, and I don’t think that’s uncommon. I also think it can be easy to blame poor communication skills, bad attitudes, or other negative traits on the effects of the daily grind, when they’re actually symptoms of a not-very-well-adjusted person.
After a few months of seeing this one guy, for instance, I realized that for the first half hour of almost every phone conversation, he would talk — mostly negatively — about work and his coworkers, none of whom I knew. The conversation would be so draining that I would often feel I had nothing to add, except an, “I’m sorry.” And as a minority woman, I resented that a little. Eventually, it became clear that if we weren’t talking about work, we really didn’t have much to say to one another.
All that to say: When you strip away work, you have a chance to see who people really are much more quickly, and it’s easier to know if you’re really compatible with them. I want to hear about a person’s childhood, how they got that scar on their chin, why they hate oceans but love lakes — not about their coworker drama.
Sex is off the table
I feel I should say that I tend to get caught up in things (read: the sheets) pretty quickly when I like someone. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just the truth. And, yes, this is easily the least Capricorn-like thing about me. Most of my long-term relationships have begun like this: We hang out, we start having sex, then I wait until they broach the subject of defining the relationship. But this habit, when mixed with my classic codependent tendencies, often leads to me committing my time and energy to something or someone that doesn’t deserve it.
Now, it’s almost impossible for me to fall into my past patterns. I’m living with my parents, for one. Plus, there’s more communication involved — conversations about getting tested, pre-meet-up quarantining, forming a pod, general safety — and more communication is always a good thing. I’m taking the opportunity to slow down and make more thoughtful decisions about who I spend my time with and who I let into my bed — or, since I’m living with my parents, my car.
In the middle of writing this, for instance, I reconnected with an old acquaintance. It had probably been about 10 years since we last had a conversation, and I agreed to meet up almost solely because I remember him having a nice smile. Was it a date? Honestly, I don’t know. Was it fun? Yes. Maybe I’ll see if he wants to get tested and make out in my car. Maybe we won’t talk for another decade. Either way, it felt good to get to know someone new and not worry about the things I’d consider in that same situation pre-pandemic: Do we go to someone’s house after? Should we hug or kiss? Am I going to have sex with this person?
If they don’t care about the world now, they probably won’t later
We can learn a lot by discussing the pandemic with a prospective partner. Do they care about the well-being of others? Are they responsible? Do they believe in science? We don’t need to date people who agree with us on everything, but we should draw the line somewhere. Flat-earthers, climate deniers, COVID conspiracy theorists — y’all are out.
We can toss the all-lives, blue-lives, and devil’s advocates out, too. Black lives matter. Either they get it, or they don’t — and now we have a chance to find out sooner rather than later. I’ve dated two (2) white guys who told me they didn’t feel white. That’s right, they told their Filipino-American girlfriend that they didn’t feel white. I realize now that I was dealing with white fragility, and even with all my spare time from not having a full-time job, I will never have time for that again.
Sure, conversations about racism and equity can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re talking to someone who has only benefited from the system. But wouldn’t it be more uncomfortable to find out that you’re dating a closet racist two years in? That applies to their family, as well. I come from a very Catholic and mainly Republican family, which is to say: I grew up swimming in discomfort. I don’t want to grow old in it, too. If another partner’s dad calls me exotic, or their mom says their family doesn’t see color, I can no longer be expected to simply bite my tongue, force a toothless smile, and share a glance across the dinner table. I don’t totally know what I want in a future partner, but at least I’m starting to understand more of what I don’t want.
I used to worry so much about what other people thought of me, that sometimes I barely examined what I thought of myself. This year changed that. How could it not? It is undoubtedly the most time I’ve spent alone as an adult. And without work, money, and sex as distractions, all I could do was focus on what needed fixing: me. I had to change my narrative. I began making a conscious effort to remind myself that my self-worth isn’t connected to my employment status, having more money won’t solve all my problems, and good (and definitely not mediocre) sex doesn’t automatically create a good relationship.
In the past, I don’t think I really knew what I wanted in a partner. But now I know who I want to be, as a partner. Not that I’m in any rush — my mom just stopped bothering me about her lack of grandkids. I want to take my time, stay safe, and have fun. We don’t know what things will look like in the future, but one thing is for certain: if someone’s not willing to ruin a few family dinners with me, I don’t want to sit at their table.
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