I Haven’t Held Someone’s Hand Since The Recession, And Other Facts.

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Pairs well with Sweet Design, by Sia

You need to pace yourself. I forget that sometimes. I’ll schedule two, three first dates during the workweek. It’s not that the actual act of going on a date and drinking two glasses of Chinon are physically exhausting. Would I rather be on my couch in my favorite overpriced pajamas watching the newest episode of The Blacklist? Yep. But the only dating adage that’s ever had any real truth to it in my experience is “you’ll never meet anyone in your living room.” So dating is how I spend my time. Sometimes I like to think of how I’ll replace that time once I’m companioned. I think maybe I’d like to see Italy.

As a kid I remember my mother keeping all sorts of Ephedra-laced pills and supplements around, as they promised to provide additional hours of productivity to even the most exhausted single mothers of two. My grandmother would often remind me that she would go to bed “at 8:30 if I felt like it. When you’re tired, you’re tired!” In some respects I suppose fading early runs in the family. For the most part I’ve been proud of my 30-something, genetically inferior energy level.

It’s not anxiety that wears me out. I’ve done this so many times in fact that I no longer have those first date “jitters” (call them butterflies if you want and then let me know what the weather is like on the frosted cupcake cloud you live on in the sky). I am now utterly fear and nerve-free when I walk into a first date. It’s the mental part. The getting up of hopes (even though I’ve had them at half mast for the last few years anyway), and the inevitable, disappointing letdown that finds room in its suitcase for a little regret. Over and over. And over many more times after that. I go on dozens of dates a year that I know, I literally know are bad ideas. Because the dating adage that has zero truth to it in my experience “you never know…” squats at the back of my brain and reminds me that if I don’t obey it, I’m missing opportunities. I have a very hard time with missed opportunities. Professional, romantic, etc. My great-grandmother was from Poland and scraped the sides of cooking bowls entirely clean. I wasn’t bred to waste.

So I go on a date with him. The trader. The patent lawyer. The bad speller. I walk into dates with professions and personality types I’ve never once really connected with in a positive way. I try to be open, judgement-free, I’ve been waiting for someone to surprise me for an entire run of a hit sitcom on NBC. And there have been hints of surprise. I won’t write someone off just because of a weird phrase in a profile or a text that wasn’t awesome. It’s uncanny how much, and simultaneously how little you can learn just by texting someone. The one-word answer chap might actually be smart and witty in person. The typo-prone guy might have total command of the Oxford comma, it’s just been a busy week.

The best texter I’d ever met turned out to be close to mute in person. His hands shook, he was a good six inches shorter than promised, and he could barely form a complete sentence. It took him quite a while to figure out where to actually sit, longer to figure out if he’d prefer beer, wine, or water. I wondered if every time we’d texted in the days leading up to the date he’d tapped a co-worker on the shoulder and handed him his phone. (By the way Coworker if you’re out there, hi). He was my shortest (time wise) date on record, at 25 minutes. When I die, I’d like an accounting of the number of minutes I’ve spent on bad dates. I’d like those minutes paid out in nickels, thank you.

It’s best not to look at bad dates as a conglomerate, but rather one date at a time, so as not to feel overwhelmed, disappointed, or a sense of complete and utter failure. I haven’t failed, of course. Falling in love isn’t a task in an obstacle course or a pre-qualifying exam to move on with the rest of your life. But every now and then a mental accounting does occur and I can’t help but shudder at the red in the ledger.

Usually it’s when I’m at dinner with a non-single friend. A happy friend. At least I hope they’re happy. Even as well as I know them, I can’t really know how happy they are in their relationships. I just know they’re in relationships. I know that most of them have never downloaded a dating app in their lives, much less eight of them in the last year. I’ll hear stories of good times, milestones, travel. So yeah, I guess they’re happy. I wouldn’t want them in the quagmire of bad dates and unanswered messages and never-ending solitude that has become my day-to-day. I’m grateful they don’t know what it’s like.

Really what they do is remind me of just how much effort I’ve put in, which then prods me to tally up results, which doesn’t take very long at all, those results being zero. This is the one instance, truly, where I’m good at math. Sitting across from someone who hasn’t spent more than five minutes, much less five days, waiting for a returned text is one harsh mirror, I can assure you. Mostly because they didn’t have to put in the time that I’ve clocked. They met their spouse or boyfriend in college. At a party. Through friends. They were just going along with their twenty-something lives and there he was, like a pre-assembled Ikea bookcase and I’ve been fucking with an allen wrench for more than half a decade. It’s so easy for some people, for so many people. If this wasn’t what it took for them, why is this what it takes for me? Is this really necessary?

There’s no answer of course, no one can tell me exactly why someone people meet partners and others don’t. The only potential cause is “there’s something wrong with you,” and I reject this, not because there’s nothing wrong with me (child, there’s plenty), but because there’s something “wrong” with everyone. Even the married people. They’ve got quirks and personality traits and all manner of things their beloveds have had to chalk up to compromise. Perfection only exists in pizza.

Lessons, you’re thinking. Learning lessons, growing a person, becoming a better future partner with heaps of perspective to keep me grounded, and committed to putting work into relationship maintenance. Look at how healthy I sound. And that’s entirely true, I learn something from every dating experience, good or bad. But honestly at some point you have to stop studying and take the goddamn test already.

I’ve received texts that would turn your hair white. I’ve sat across tables from men who insult me right to my face, and then shame me for taking offense. I’ve been lied to, oh good grief let’s get brunch and I’ll tell you just how much I’ve been lied to. I’ve met cowards and bad tempers, lazy sacks of shit and overly eager hustlers. I’ve also met wonderful, inspiring, hilarious men who had zero interest in me whatsoever.

After awhile you can’t help but wonder why. Logic begins to set in and nothing makes any sense. How a girl who broke up with her boyfriend of five years can meet her husband in a grocery store the next morning and I haven’t held someone’s hand since the Recession. How I can go on a wonderful date, better than any I’ve had in months, but the man sitting across from me is having a horrible time and never wants to see me again, and I won’t notice. How I can spend my entire adult life challenging myself and working on things about me that I don’t like and striving to be a better person and still get 5am “sup?” texts from drunk men looking for vacant, willing vagina.

At some point it’s perfectly natural to think, “haven’t I learned enough lessons?” Aren’t I done? I thought I would have served my sentence by now. In the absence of having an actual jailer, I could certainly stop, and have many times. That doesn’t work either. It’s funny, but you actually meet more people by meeting people, rather than by sitting at home and watching The Blacklist. But I’ve reached the point where lack of return on investment is getting a little ridiculous.

Complaining to friends has become sad, and not that welcome. Therapy is expensive. I don’t want to scare my mother. My constant need to move forward, to find what’s next, to see goals achieved and accomplishments accomplished is the hardest part of seeing nothing come of this particular effort. When the end result of years of effort is nothing, what happens? What do people do when they get here? I guess maybe this one writes about it.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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