I shared an awesome story on facebook recently about a really classy guy I dated once who told me if he was going to buy me another meal on our next date, I’d better “wear less clothes.” Two things: I’ve been criticized for wearing too few clothes already as a pastor, and I got a lovely word of encouragement from my ever optimistic friend Ayanna: “One less frog to kiss!” Meaning my prince would show up eventually.
I’ve been practicing a discipline a little bit in my dating life lately: asking for what I need and listening to what my partner needs. That first part is a big deal for a lot of women with anti-feminist internalization going on: we’re afraid that if we ask for what we want, we will scare the man into the arms of a woman who doesn’t need anything except the joy of taking care of him.
Messed up, I know. That’s why I’ve been practicing.
Except it hasn’t worked out quite the way I planned.
The last time, it was the second part that backfired: I asked the guy I was dating what HE needed, since he hadn’t been telling me and I wanted to be a better girlfriend. What he needed, he said, was to not date me exclusively.
It turned out he had actually made that decision several months earlier, when he went back online and started dating and sleeping with other women (including the 21-year-old he left me for, although tragically she didn’t fare much better in the long run–important lesson; when dating alcoholics, it is best to wait until they are in recovery and have figured out how not to use substances OR people).
Undeterred, I felt the principle was still a good one: ask for what you want and find out what your partner wants. So when, about a month into my newest relationship, I found myself feeling a little neglected and not prioritized (we had only seen each other four times and he had cancelled on me twice because he was “tired,” including the time I was in the middle of making him a homemade meal from scratch), I dutifully sought the opportunity to name my needs. But I wanted to make sure not to impose my assumptions of what a relationship looks like, so I started with this question: “When you asked if you could be my boyfriend, what exactly did you mean by that?”
“Wait, did I say that?” he asked, genuinely (I believe) surprised.
“Yup,” I said, already seeing the problem. “The first time you came over to my house.”
“Wow. I’m sorry. I don’t remember that. I was drunk.”
Nope. Not drunk.
I decompressed my humiliation to a work friend by saying, “I was DUMPED this morning. What’s worse is, HE DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE DATING.” I told her the story and finished by saying, “So for a month, I’ve been in a relationship that has been COMPLETELY IN MY HEAD.”
“Not in your head!” she responded dutifully. Trying to save me, she said, “Did he have early onset dementia?”
“No,” I said. Then, with dawning realization: “Daily pot use.”
I can feel you judging, midwesterners. Just to be clear, my town’s nickname is Oaksterdam, and I believe marijuana is way less harmful than alcohol (especially when you look at domestic violence rates for alcoholics versus regular pot smokers). Now, I have been known to see some of the guys in my neighborhood get really fuzzy and lose some opportunities to move forward in life because they’re always kinda cloudy, but they’re usually not harming folks, and if they don’t feel like their life is inhibited by it, I’m okay with their choices. Unless their choice is to date me (and be really emphatic when I ask if it’s too soon) AND THEN FORGET THAT THEY’RE DATING ME.
Now I promise you I can give you even more reasons for why I’m not a catch than you can: I am WAY into my work and am constantly geeking out about all sorts of nerdy stuff; more than one date has suggested we could try to make the conversation a little lighter than child slavery and systemic racism over our first cocktail together. And I’m not a romantic, so I can be really, really blunt. And I know how to use words, which is awesome when I’m preaching but not so awesome if you’ve hurt my feelings, because…I know how to use words. And I’m not always patient with people who don’t see the world the way I do.
In my head I’m still kind of a great girlfriend–I will do anything to support your dreams if you’re trying to make yourself a better person. I will be totally present to you when we’re together if that’s what you want. I love to cook and I’m pretty good at that part of playing housewife. (Not so much at the cleaning.) I don’t need you to be bringing much money into the relationship. I will definitely let you know I think you’re funny and charming and sexy, because I know that matters, and I’m really good at affirming without patronizing.
But there’s a really big flaw I have that I left out: type a. Control issues. I’ve heard that helpful critique from two different sources recently: My friend Lee said he was surrendering his dating life to God and subtly encouraged me to consider doing the same. He pointed out that many of us worked hard to surrender every other aspect of our lives but held on tightly to this one with failed results. (Did I mention that this was my third time trying to date the guy who didn’t know we were dating? Must have slipped my mind.) And my friend Jason also suggested that part of my recent sense of helplessness regarding my singleness might have to do with the fact that I wanted to be able to control it like I did in other parts of my life, and when I let go of that need to control it, maybe things would get better. (He told me that just before I started dating this most recent guy for the third time, so I showed him who’s…oh, wait.)
So maybe I should give that a shot. I mean, the rest of my life’s pretty awesome, and I have a lot less control issues wrapped up with the rest of it. But I do believe that God is found in the midst of community. If you’ve read this far, it’s probably because we’re good friends. You know me and what’s fabulous and what’s challenging about me. So I’m going to invite you to be the hands of God, or to play matchmaker, whichever makes you feel more comfortable. I’ve posted an ad on Plenty of Fish. (EDITOR’S NOTE: I originally posted it on Craigslist so your friends could email me without setting up an account, but it kept getting removed…apparently the phrase “great race analysis” sounds racist if you don’t know what it means.) If you have a single male friend that you think might want to go on a date with me, share this with him, along with any quirky details I conveniently left out of the ad. (“Dude, she’s hot, but she has control issues,” for example.)
Just help me avoid the non-recovering alcoholics and the chronic pot smokers for now. One more frog down, one more lesson learned. This is me trying to let go and let God.