The rule in my house growing up was: no dating till you’re 16. Instead of following said rule, I remained true to myself, and with all the courage and secrecy I could muster, forged my own path.
I had my first date when I was 13 years old. We met at the movie theater on a rainy Friday night. I was tiny and petrified, obviously, but steam rolled past my fear anyways (I’m a big supporter of the “don’t knock it till you try it” mantra). We met awkwardly in front of the ticket booth, both barely making eye contact, both seemingly far too interested in the inactive air hockey table to our right. The movie (Bring It On) was mind blowing for me at the time. At one point he grabbed my hand and continued holding it until the movie finished. I couldn’t concentrate on the movie from that point forward, I was so afraid that he would feel my left pointer finger and discover that I had a wart, and that he would never like me again. Such profound logic can only be found in the mind of teenagers.
I had about a dozen boyfriends from age 13-15. Yes, sure, a couple of those boyfriends were pitiful one-week-boyfriends, the kind where you don’t go on dates but you tell everyone at school that you’re together. A few of the boyfriends were skateboarders (I’ve always liked skaters). One boyfriend was a guitar player. One boyfriend was 19 when I was 15 and surprisingly he was one of the best, until he cheated on me for no apparent reason other than “it happened.”
I had a couple of long-term 3-4 year relationships, interspersed with casual dates. Casual dates that entailed sitting on a beach blanket all night, laughing and talking until 3 a.m. Casual dates where you drink tea together while watching black and white Bing Crosby movies, and then he leaves and never calls. I’ve spent hours wondering how to respond to texts, how long to wait before responding, how eager to seem. I’ve read books on relationships between men and women and had many opportunities to learn about dating first-hand, but as it is with most things in life, there’s ALWAYS something left to learn.
A few years back when I was living in Vancouver, I met a guy through a writing collective. We met for coffee a couple of times and I embarrassed myself multiple times, blurting things out too quickly or trying to be profound and botching it. One night he asked me on a date.
I rushed home after work to change quickly before we met at the modern Chinese restaurant that he’d picked. I had a total of 5 minutes at home in which to change, thus I spent the entire bus ride home deciding on what to wear so that I wouldn’t waste time staring at the closet when I got there. Barreling through my apartment door, I bee-lined it for the closet, ripping jeans down from the shelf and throwing my skirt behind me onto the bed. There was no time to take off my tights, and it was cold outside (yes, Canada cold), so I threw my jeans on overtop of the tights, slipped into a casual tank with an alluring neckline, and raced back out the door to catch the bus again.
I was sweating and breathless when I arrived, but I had made it. I knew that the rest would unfold as it was bound to. Maybe he would like me, maybe he wouldn’t like me – I’d thought about all options and was as prepared as I could be. The only thing I hadn’t accounted for was how uncomfortable my fleece-lined tights were to become after 10 minutes of sitting inside the warm cozy restaurant. I first noticed the sweat beading and then dripping down my thighs as I sat there, smiling and trying to focus on the conversation we were having. My entire body was hot like an overworked radiator. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and check my face. It was horrifying. My face was beet red like a tomato. Beet red like you just got embarrassed in front of the whole class. Beet red like you’re wearing fleece-lined tights with jeans overtop and your legs cannot breathe AT ALL. Oh – and my face wasn’t just red, it was sweaty too. The wispy hairs along my hairline were even starting to stick to the sweat. It was just perfect. Exactly what I wanted to discover during my trip to the bathroom.
The food was beyond delicious, the ambiance was perfect, yet I was the definition of a hot mess. I felt mortified for days, and then when he didn’t call, I felt mortified for weeks. What the hell, I thought. I’ve dated lots. I know dating. We were attracted to each other, I know it! He liked me, and now he’s not calling because of one slightly weird date? Come on! Why!? I mean, he totally dropped off the face of the planet, faded out into the background.
Looking back now, the answer to my confusion appears clearly. Simply put: you win some, you lose some. That’s dating. And yes – it’s totally embarrassing at times, but also totally wonderful. That’s the risk you take in putting yourself out there. You have to be willing to kiss a few frogs before you find the one that fits. And you know what – everyone SHOULD kiss a few frogs, it’s good for you! Everyone should try dating, as awkward as it can be, because each experience teaches you about yourself. Through dating and putting yourself out there, you begin to discover what you like, what’s important to you, what your deal breakers are. And in that process, you begin to know yourself.
You see, THAT is the beauty of dating. Finding yourself amidst a swirling sea of sex appeal, expectations, and love. And once you’re able to stabilize your boat, once you can hone in on the qualities you want in a partner, the swirling sea of the dating world becomes a lot more enjoyable (and you get far less sea-sick). So, don’t let fear stop you. Get out there. Try things. Meet people. Find yourself. Try. Fail. Succeed. That’s what life is all about.
If you need help getting out of a bad date, please refer to this list of fabulous excuses from New Girl. If you want to remember what it’s like to date as a teenager, please refer to this rather accurate video.