I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by women who are smart, independent, charismatic and fun. We discuss our dreams, books we’re reading, issues we’re thinking about and what we’re working on. Or at least most of the time we do.
There was a period of time this winter when it felt like all my straight girlfriends and I talked about were the men we were dating. We puzzled over their poor behavior, we endlessly analyzed their text messages, we drank too much wine and googled their exes. We completely lost our minds.
I was an active participant in these obsession sessions, as well as their frequent instigator. After a bad breakup, I’d taken a dip back into the dating pool with a brilliant yet emotionally unavailable architect. My time with him was confusing, and I made it more so by combing our interactions for hidden meaning. Between the affectionate way he treated me when we were together, the stylish manner in which he wrote to me when we were apart and the spare bits of information that flashed across my online landscape, there was so much to examine and decode! Or was there?
After a couple of months — yes, it took that long — I came to. As if a fog had been lifted, I saw that my friends and I were being destroyed by a new and gendered kind of madness. It’s the madness provoked by men who are cruel or awkward in their unwillingness to articulate their lack of interest and so instead do it slowly, using technology as a shield under which to slip away. Unfortunately, trying to control another human’s actions is as futile as trying to reverse the direction of a river. So I wasn’t about to change these men. I realized I had to change my behavior.
It wasn’t hard. Harm-reduction therapy teaches that a person will practice a problematic behavior until they’re done with it. I was done.
I guarantee if I put together all the time my assorted friend groups spent talking and group-texting about the troubles created by indirect men in the past year, we could have learned passable Russian. Elevating the pursuit of romantic love above all else did more than distract us; it deprived the communities we serve of the contributions we could have been making; it kept us from making better versions of ourselves. It robbed us of clear views of our lives.
“I think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says my friend Hanna, 25. “Because I don’t have greater fulfillment, I turn to this insane dating world, and in that world, I lose more of myself out of negligence. And then I keep digging deeper into something that makes me feel worse.”
Most of my friends want relationships based on mutual understanding, trust and open communication. It’s not too much to ask. So, in February, I decided I wasn’t going to pretend to care less than I did or be an easier person than I am. I wasn’t going to fret about what time a man I went out with twice was or wasn’t going to text me. (God, it got bleak.) I chose to only walk alongside those who would treat my time with respect. And damn, it felt good.
Of course, the impulse to indulge adorable yet unsuitable men still arises. In May, I had a million cocktails and called the architect from a field in Iceland. But only once, and I treated myself with kindness the next morning. I still find myself occasionally drawn to men who are maddeningly unclear. I’m human.
But now, when I recognize that I’m spending too much energy fretting over what might be or might have been, I end the cycle gently. I say to that part of myself: “I hear you, I see you, and I can’t afford to spend any more time with you.”
The best part is, since I reframed my approach to dating, I met the love of my life.
I’m kidding! I didn’t. And that’s fine. I have an abundance of loves in my life already — my family and friends. Now I have the time to focus on them.