Shonda Rhimes started it with her “Year of Yes.” After reading her 2015 memoir about how saying yes for a year changed her life, I decided that I too would embark on a year of yes in 2016. If Rhimes could be a single mom to three children and the showrunner who brought the world “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and more, then surely her advice could change my life for the better.
It was December, and a new year was around the corner. I’m a “new year, new me” junkie. I make poignant Facebook status updates about the potential ahead. I am that newbie all the gym regulars complain about in January. I am a failed New Year’s resolution vegetarian three years running.
One week after committing to a year of yes, a man who had messaged me on OkCupid but whom I’d never met before offered to drive from Washington to Louisville to be my New Year’s Eve date. I was flying out early the next day, back to grad school on the West Coast, so all we would have is one night together on the last night of the year.
The idea of being trapped in an all-day, all-night first date was not appealing. I always worry that a man will take my acceptance of a grand romantic gesture as an unspoken promise for sex. But I was hyped up on Rhimes’s inspiration. And I was just days away from my 31st birthday, about to start another year very single.
In some ways, this man felt like a unicorn trampling into my life. I thought it could be my black power-couple dream come true: He was wrapping up his PhD, shared my love of Paul Beatty books, had a sense of humor and was interested in settling down.
He lived in D.C., but we’d been in light contact with each other since he first messaged me on OkCupid in May. He was the sort of man I’d fantasized about meeting when I enrolled in graduate school. Instead, I’d spent my first year of my 30s running into the same kinds of men who’d wasted my time and energy in my 20s. There was the man I’d met on my actual 30th birthday who insisted I look him up online. When I questioned his Facebook relationship status, he responded, “Oh that’s just my baby mama,” and texted me pictures of his newborn. There was the man who tracked me down after reading an essay I had written and then proceeded to take some other girl to Las Vegas for Valentine’s Day and send me casual texts like I couldn’t see the photos she’d tagged him in on Facebook of her in her panties in his hotel room. Then there was the man who spent so much time texting me and such little time actually with me that he felt like the Tamagotchi of love interests — a virtual pet I checked in with a few times a day to keep him happy.
The thing I failed to appreciate about meeting losers is that they make it easy to explain to people why you’re still single. Obviously, I just hadn’t met the right man yet. What’s harder to explain is when a man uses two tanks of gas, spends the day doing touristy things with you in your home town, meets all of your friends on one of the most romantic nights of year and yet something still doesn’t feel right. Single women in their 30s are not given the luxury of dismissing a man because there’s no “spark.” We’re branded too picky or told we need to let go of our unrealistic expectations.
Spark or not, this man was in my city, and I couldn’t abandon him on New Year’s Eve. Besides, he was a perfectly nice person. So I spent the entire date hoping each hour we spent together would get the fire going. Even a kiss at midnight under a spray of confetti failed to be the magical moment I was hoping for.
Around 4 a.m., I decided to call it a night. He asked the question I’d known was coming: “Do you want to go back to my hotel?”
But there was still no spark. So less than a few hours into the New Year, I broke my year of yes resolution and said no. He accepted my answer and was equally respectful when we chatted a few days later, and I told him we were better as friends.
At first I thought Shonda Rhimes would be disappointed in me. But then I remembered a short chapter in her memoir where she also said no to a man so that she could have more time to say yes to things in her life she truly cared about — like her career and her children.
My year of yes was short-lived. But it did show me that it’s okay to put yourself out there and equally okay to pull yourself back in.
For 2017, I’ll keep my resolution simple. Maybe this is the year I finally become a vegetarian.