Well, folks, when we last left our hero (that's me!), she was distracting herself with the holidays, entertaining her family and dealing with her disorganized older brother, shopping for gifts for everyone on her list, and whipping up a bowl of champagne punch for her inaugural Christmas party, what she hoped would become a new annual tradition.
She spent New Year's Eve alone with a bottle of wine, enough Italian take-out for 2 people, and an endless queue of NCIS on Netflix. She fell asleep by 10:30 P.M. She made a resolution this year to start treating herself like a lady. To start doing more of the things she loved, like going to the theatre, the museum, to nice restaurants, and to dress herself up to do it. What was the point of having pretty clothes that never got worn?
I tried not to be horrified when my 27th birthday rolled around, not out of some fear of growing older or because, as so many people seem to assume, I think I'm "running out of time." Merely because at 27 I am so very far away from where I once thought I would be at this age. I can't afford to live without roommates. I'm not engaged or, indeed married and starting a family. And for a living…well, let's just say I'm not getting the intellectual or artistic stimulation I crave.
It's not to say there's nothing I like about my life. There's plenty. It's only that it gets very overwhelming trying to figure out how I ended up so very far away from where I thought I would be. Some of it I had no control over, and some of it is the direct result of my own choices. And some of it hovers in a very blurry area in between.
So you'll understand why, once again I nearly let my birthday pass unnoticed by most. At the last moment I chose to celebrate with a few friends at my favorite wine bar, but—as it often goes with last-minute plans—no one could make it except my roommates and a new friend named Devon whom I had only known for a couple of weeks. Needless to say, it was a quiet affair. But I was satisfied for the most part. It was good not to be alone.
Eventually, I stumbled back into the world of dating, clumsily, out of boredom more than anything. I downloaded bumble and went window shopping. Within five seconds of having the app, I came across something unsettling. I recognized an account as belonging to someone I'd gone to college with. Someone I knew to be engaged. It had nothing to do with me but it was horrible. I had come across accounts that belonged to married men before, the ones who kept their faces out of their photos and admitted in their profiles that they were looking for an affair. But there was something about this, about recognizing the person, about knowing that any other woman might stumble across the profile and assume the man was single—a natural assumption—it bordered on traumatizing for me. I was Just. So. Tired.
I told my mother about it on the phone one day, explaining how miserable and weary I felt, and we agreed that perhaps I should try a site that wasn't free, in hopes of filtering out some of the scum. After a long debate of eHarmony vs. Match, I ended up on eHarmony and on a date with Mr. Not Bad.
Mr. Not Bad is extremely difficult for me to describe, and therein lies the problem. After two perfectly nice perfectly normal dates with him, I couldn't tell you a thing about him. I could tell you that he was very polite, that he did everything right, and that I had no complaints about the way he comported himself on our first and second dates. Thanks to eHarmony, I knew without having to ask that he was a non-smoker, that he didn't drink in excess, that he had no children but wanted to have them someday, and that he was marriage-minded.
In other words, all the romance, intrigue, and excitement had been drained right out of the situation. I found Mr. Not Bad to be reasonably attractive, reasonably polite, and reasonably employed. But after two dates that's all I could think to say about him. Nothing I recall had much emotional impression on him. I knew that he wasn't particularly fond of his coworkers and therefore his job. I knew that he had a sister but not how he felt about her. I knew that he liked craft beer but wouldn't go so far as to stand in line waiting on a case of a limited supply of a special brew.
I was bored. Horribly, horribly bored. And worst of all I felt guilty because I couldn't verbalize an explanation for why I was attracted to Mr. Not Bad. Memorizes of my frustration and misery after Mr. Goodman came flooding back and one of my roommates was sadly subjected to a nervous breakdown on my part.
How had dating become so agonizing? How did anyone get over the guilt of not being attracted to someone for no good reason?
And then came revelation. Hadn't I just hit the nail on the head? Was the bar finally set so low that by mere virtue of not being an asshole, I expected myself to simply fall in love as easily as that? Just because someone didn't treat me badly, I had to come up with an explanation for why I wasn't attracted to him? I judged myself and beat myself up and tortured myself over why why why?!
But as the poets will undoubtedly tell you, love is not a formula. As anyone person who has fallen for someone bad can undoubtedly tell you, there is no controlling who we are drawn to. And trying to torture myself for not falling for the right people is a recipe for insanity.
After one very brutally awkward and unsolicited goodnight kiss, I forgave myself for not wanting Mr. Not Bad. He is a good man, and he deserves a woman who doesn't have to force herself to like him. Somewhere out there is someone who will appreciate him and who won't have to try to like him.
Forgiveness, I can safely say, was the first step. Since then, my dating experience has been significantly less torturous. The important thing I've learned is, if it's not a "hell yeah," it's a no. And I'm proud to say I've been carrying that philosophy through with me steadfastly.
Up next: Speed Dating & The Virtues of Staying Home