lessons in dating

Unquenchable Optimism of the Heart: 12-Years of Dating Lessons

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In various periods over the last 12 years, since my divorce, I’ve been in the HOT PURSUIT mode of dating. I wanted a partner. I wanted sexual fulfillment. I wanted a path to building a lasting relationship with my NEXT PARTNER. And though I failed in my first FIVE attempts, I kept my optimism and focus on the ultimate goal: uncovering a partner with potential who was up to the challenge.

Racing Towards a Potential Lover

I learned early in my single dad dating routine that I was not interested in casual dating or casual sex. The minute I uncovered a red flag or felt the meanderings, I was done. Over the years, I wrestled with a number of wonderful women, who seemed to be on the same quest for BIG LOVE.

With each failure, I took a moment to recalibrate, reconfirm my treasure map, and refind my joy and passions before setting out on another vision quest. I used every app and site at my disposal. I refined my *must haves* and my *red flags* as I rebooted each of my profiles. A time filled with excitement and frustration. Excitement at the potential for a *new* partner, and frustration at the pace and quality of the potential matches on Bumble/Match/Tinder/OKCupid.

I watched my own inspiration get fueled by a simple detail in a dating profile. In her smile, in her love of horses, in her sobriety, in her literary references, in her love language, in her offer as spelled out in online dating. Online dating lies. And, online dating brought me three great partners. Each time, my heart got fired up about something, some detail, that fueled a spark in my imagination.

I remember driving 4.5 hours to Dallas for a “hello date,” being disappointed and turning right around and driving back home. A 9-hour detour on the road towards uncovering and nurturing a loving relationship. Driving up, I was full of vigor and plans. Driving back home, tail between my legs, I made a commitment to not waste time on “hello dates” that had not been fully vetted. At least a phone call, to seek the first signs of chemistry.

Intentional Dating

By the time I was engaged with my second girlfriend (SEE: Single Dad Seeks) I was learning a very important lesson. She kept saying she didn’t want a boyfriend, she didn’t want a relationship, and yet we kept having sex and finding ourselves back in the *relationship* she didn’t want.

“If we don’t have the potential for long-term compatibility, I’m not interested,” I said to her, one night on the back porch of her house. “Dating is not my goal.” She taught me a valuable lesson. When someone says, “I’m not ready for a relationship,” take note.

And from that point on, I didn’t waste any introduction dates on marginal matches. If there was a match I would take the time to exchange some messages and ultimately, unless I got impatient, a phone call before we ever met for coffee or drinks. (I also learned that meeting for coffee or a walk was a better litmus test for me. Meeting someone over margaritas might be fun, but what’s more intoxicating tequila, or caffeinated sexual tension?

I’m not going to take my partner to a bar, why would I want to meet at one?

Near Misses In Love

When the right one comes along, when you’ve run some traps and the signals are all go for launch, that’s when the heart’s energy is limitless. Today, driving home from a tennis tournament, I passed back through a tiny town about 45-minutes from home, where my 4th wonderful girlfriend came from. Today, I can’t imagine the optimism that was willing to drive 1.5 hour roundtrips to see about a relationship. And what if it was a yes? What then?

I remember talking to her on the phone, “So, what’s the idea here? I mean, how would this even work?” “Well,” she said, “There’s damn sure not going to be many suitable men here in this town.” Was she so inspiring in DMs and phone calls that I was willing to consider a commute girlfriend? Yes.

Finding Safe Harbor

Today, in my current relationship, I’m learning a lot about feeling safe. One of the factors that I had not done so well on, in the past, was AVAILABILITY. When someone is really available they have time, they make time, and they bring their own ideas to the party of planning our journey together. It was her availability that scared me at first. One year in, it’s OUR availability that continues to grow out trust and our love.

What all of us want at our core is to be heard, seen, and adored.

When you finally get met at your core, you may begin to feel at ease. You maybe begin to trust in a way that was not possible in previous relationships. You might exchange joy and hope in a way that includes the other person in the vision. A shared vision is what we want. But at the core, I think we want to be heard, held, and feel safe.

I kept asking myself, “How can I ask the right questions to gauge emotional intelligence during the early stages of dating?” I wanted to waste less time on the whims of the heart, and sparks of sexual chemistry. I wanted to zoom in on the most important features of a healthy relationship and start there.

I learned it was important for me to stay focused on two main things:

  1. A person who was available, affectionate, and shared my optimistic approach to life and relationship-building
  2. A person who could hold me in my fears, celebrate me in my victories, and remain close even when things were difficult

What are your *must haves?* How do you keep from glossing over the red flags because the sexual chemistry is so overheated? How can you keep your clear head in the game and stay focused on your long-term goals? When the person shows up, who is ready, willing, and excited to share your journey, you will know.

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