I was walking my dog when my friend called.
“How’d it go with Mike last night?”
I knew what was coming.
“Eh — I think it’s over,” I answered, while Jackson tugged on his leash, as if trying to help me escape the conversation.
“Seriously?” she asked, with a laugh at the edge of her words. “Jeez. You go through ‘em don’t you?”
My friend didn’t mean to insult. If anything, her accusation that I “go through them,” was likely meant to insinuate that I’m the heartbreaker. I’m always the one feeling bored or uninspired or antsy by date three, and merrily moving on to the next man. There might be some kind of twisted empowerment behind that, but it isn’t true.
I’m a single woman who has been single for most of my adult life. I’ve been on a lot of first, second and third dates — too many to count. I’ve ended things and been dumped by many people — again, too many to count. I’ve been ghosted, I’ve encountered zombies, and I’ve been both of those frightening things myself.
Despite these breakups occurring before moving in together or meeting the parents, they still hurt. The cumulative effect of regular dating and the unavoidable breakups that follow, is exhaustion, frustration and sometimes a little bit of heartbreak.
These heartbreaks are more like heart hair-fractures. They’re the kind you can feel, but no one else can see. Sometimes that pain is mild, but they can be surprisingly awful, too.
Mike and I had a lot in common. We both loved scary movies, whiskey and dogs. We both preferred bikes to cars, and often rode across the river together after dates in downtown Portland, Ore., which felt lovely and adorable against the pink sky of summer nights.
But after two months of weekly dinner-and-drinks that felt strangely regimented in their scheduling, I finally asked him if he was interested in dating exclusively.
“Oh!” he said. “Well, I’m dating other people right now.”
I hadn’t seen that coming. Looking back, of course he was. I was only his Thursday night date. I wondered what Friday was like.
Was I okay with continuing to date other people? He wanted to know. I wanted to play it cool. It was still early — I could give him time. But really, I couldn’t. I’d ventured out onto a branch I rarely braved, and I felt the dangerous sway. I really liked him, and that feeling wasn’t reciprocated. So I swallowed back some tears and told him this wasn’t going to work.
Mike wasn’t my boyfriend. I haven’t experienced the heartache of a committed relationship ending in a very long time. I’ve watched friends go through it — separating things from shared homes, agonizing over shared pets, and mourning over years of shared experiences, from vacationing to dreaming of a future that will never happen now. I imagine that must be devastating.
But my things, my pet, my experiences have remained mine.
The things you lose in a micro-breakup, whether it’s the kind I had with Mike or more of an unspoken fade-out, are much smaller, and less likely to inspire sympathy from those around you.
I don’t blame my friends for not attributing much weight to my short-lived romances. Those who are coupled find my dating stories entertaining. Those were the days, they must think. When the stakes were low and he still paid for drinks.
Newsflash, coupled friends: Most people are splitting the bill these days. And some of these entertaining stories really suck to live through.
The need to cope quietly, or to shrug it off when the new guy doesn’t text me back, has the potential to make me careless or jaded when it comes to love. At moments, it has. So what if that guy thinks this is going great. I’ve changed my mind and I don’t like his teeth. I’m not going to answer that text.
I try to remind myself that we’re all taking risks when we go out on dates. We get excited. We imagine our lives intertwining with this new person, much faster than we should. We hope they like us. Or we hope they don’t, because we didn’t really like them, and it’s so hard to be honest about that. Whatever the case, there’s always emotion on the line. That feeling of hope is addicting — possibilities wait for us in the bars and restaurants and coffee shops of so many first dates.
We’re all out there — single people, trying to remain hopeful that some app or chance encounter is going to lead us to the other side. Even if we’re okay with being single — which, often, I am — someone new is always going to come around and fill us with that fluttery feeling of hope.
Maybe I won’t have to do this any more. Maybe this person has that something I’ve been looking for.
Maybe not. And maybe we’ll break up in a very mundane fashion. Or maybe it will get messy and dramatic, and our friends will at least be entertained by the story.
Regardless, there’s always hope. Hope is what makes it hurt. But I’m not willing to let that go.