A lot of people my age are engaged or married now. However, as I approach my late-twenty-somethings, I still know even more single people my age and older who are cruising the dating scene. I’m not entirely sure of my need to mention this particular age group, but I suspect it’s because this population seems especially burdened by a weird, impatient nonchalance about their relationship status. Sure, we can say “30 is the new 20” or that pursuing a degree and career is a priority, but I don’t think these statements completely displace some fears, like the fear that the “good ones” will soon all be taken or that we aren’t lining up with the date-marry-pop-out-babies timetable we’ve been raised on, even if we claim to reject such conventional mores. I should know; I’m one these (progressive but still looking to settle down) kinds of folks.
With ready references to biological clocks that tick like the tell-tale heart, single people can come down with a bad case of the “maybes” where everyone and anyone is considered as a potential lover or partner. Maybe that cute stranger in the coffee shop who just looked your way is totally perfect. Maybe the history between you and an old friend is comfortable enough to be totally worth a shot. Even imaginary people become “maybes.” Maybe if you move to another city you’ll meet that special someone. Totally likely.
And then there are the checklists: Is s/he funny? Check. A dog-lover? Check. Capable of breathing? Check! Match made in heaven. Of course, these checklists can be more rigorous tests of so-called compatibility: Does s/he share my political perspectives and social values? Do I respect his/her line of work? Do I want to see her/him naked? In light of all this, throughout the process of meeting and courting our “maybes” we can become consumed by relentless scrutiny and evaluation of the other. Oh, those poor others! And poor us when we are those others! It’s no wonder so many of us battle insecurities and worries about being good enough, smart enough, and having others like us. These are the woeful tests of dating and relationships! Ultimately, it’s often a part of break ups, too.
Ready? Here it comes.
I don’t think it’s a horrible thing for us to be picky and choosy about who we pick and choose to date and potentially even marry (if we legally can and/or choose to go down that road, which is a different story, a different blog post). But I do think there is something missing from the whole process that was just described: An honest evaluation of ourselves. With all of that searching for the most terrific (or even moderately acceptable) significant other, I wonder how much time is spent reflecting upon whether we are in the position of being a terrific other for someone else?
Such reflection involves a different kind of checklist – one where you think about what makes you totally dateable. In other words, why should any of your “maybes” ever consider you for a handfasting ceremony? To answer these questions one can’t just rehearse cliche lines from personal ads about enjoying candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach. This goes deeper than sharing similar interests; it requires taking an honest look at oneself and composing some “I” statements. This can be really hard.
At the risk of suggesting too much, here are some examples for consideration: “I am a warm, accepting person who is fully capable of taking another person’s feelings into account.” “I am honest, confident, and happy on my own without needing another person to make me be or feel these things.” Of course, a really honest look at oneself will probably bring other qualities to the surface. “I am afraid of commitment.” “I’m still healing from my last breakup (or any other emotionally/psychologically/physically/financially traumatizing experience).” “I am not sure of who I am or what I want in life.” “I can hardly take care of myself let alone anyone else right now.”
To be clear, I didn’t write the last set of “I” statements with any kind of negative judgments in mind. It’s completely acceptable and even expected that there will be times when we aren’t ready or capable of doing certain things, especially for other people.There should be no shame in simply saying, “I’m not in a good place to _______.” In fact, sometimes this may be one of the most admirable things one could say as a not-really-all-that-eligible-after-all bachelor/ette. Acting on it is even more admirable. In both cases, the ability to acknowledge one’s “stuff” and act on this kind of self-awareness by refraining to get wrapped up in the whole dating scene shows a deep amount of respect for any potential partner. It shows a great deal of care for oneself, too.
In a way, I guess I’m describing something similar to that other old cliche that chimes, “You can’t love another until you really love yourself.” There is a shared theme of being in a good place before you can be good for someone else. To paraphrase this one could say, “Don’t date others unless you would be willing to date yourself,” but I’m not a big fan of this “golden-rule” formulation. Instead, I prefer to think of it like this: “Before you jump at the chance to pursue a “maybe,” take care of yourself and others by being sure that you actually could take care of yourself and another in a relationship.”