Dating: The Grand Experiment
Usually when I'm writing I have some song in mind that embodies a feeling that I am either feeling in that moment, or have felt strongly in the past, about the subject. Music is as expressive as the words that I write for me so it feels only natural to include the song in my head with each post starting now...so here we go!
Paired Musical Selection
Dating is this weird experiment when you really step back and, for me, has taken on very different flavors throughout my life.
High school was not a time of major dating for me. I was incredibly introverted, and really only felt less so around my closest friends. When I think of this time in my life, I don't really think of dating at all. I had one notable relationship, my first, which was REALLY short. Maybe a month? I still remember the feeling though...having that feeling of someone you didn't even expect liking you in a way that isn't standard was INTOXICATING. For a kid who grew up watching romance movies and rom coms it was the ultimate dream come true...and something that would set me up with some unrealistic expectations that would last me a while into my future. I was 16, deeply in the closet, and was the unexpected recipient of some heavy flirting. Now that I think about it, we were never actually official and she used that fact to her advantage when I saw her kissing and holding hands with another (I thought at the time very attractive) guy. Other than that, I have a few half-hearted attempts at rom com level note passing that didn't work out for me.
Now, if we're talking crushes...BABY. I had a shit ton. Unrequited love was the name of the game for teenage Henry, and it ran the gamut of who's who in school. Teachers, popular kids, music nerds, drama nerds, parents. My imagination was running wild. Internally, I was exploring what I couldn't externally: what to make of my sexuality. It was in this time that I had a talk with myself in the mirror with what I found and came out verbally to myself. With this newfound knowledge of myself I knew that the climate wasn't right for a great experience with dating like I wanted so badly. The few kids in school who were out, either through rumor or speculation due to some quality of them that was unusual, weren't treated great outside their circles and that wasn't something my people pleasing self could endure. I told myself, it'll all be different when you're out of the house and on your own.
I fulfilled that dream by graduating high school and making my way to college after a gap year to make some money. By the time I made it Florida State, I was freshly out of the closet (not to mention, the confines of people thinking they “know who you are”) and ready to do what I spent most of my teenage years avoiding: touching and talking romantically to men. I wasted no time jumping head first into the dating pool in the way I was most familiar with: AOL chatrooms. They RULED my dating life in college. You could get whatever flavor you were feeling like from intellectual to raunchy sexual. Within my first year I had my heart broken. That first love break where you walk through the streets crying because you don't know how to stop. Movie level shit for real.
College was my first major, long term relationship and, looking back, I bumbled my way through just like someone who has never done it would. What I remember most is the passion that led us to loving deeply but as fighting like cats and dogs on a regular basis. There are so many stories from that time that I shake my head at, laugh loudly at, and treasure even when they are the painful ones.
Now, the thirties. I’m steeping in it as we speak and I’m starting to feel like a full bodied coffee in its richness and complexity. Like a coffee bean, I can see how I had to go through the grinder and heat my charred remains to break me all the way down so I could see what was really inside. I had thought I knew who I was and what I wanted without realizing that those answers weren't even mine. Without this time and someone caring enough about me to tell me that I needed help who knows when I would have discovered two of my greatest loves: meditation and talk therapy. Thanks to the help of those two beauties I can now look at my past self with compassion instead of repulsion and fear. That gift is one of the many notes of my coffee that was steeped directly from the turmoil. I'm only 38, so we're not done yet...and can't even imagine where I'm going next.
Dating for me now is this Ouroboros. I have been dating almost exclusively online since college with all it's ups and downs. I've made it to a place with online dating where I show up, give my authentic self and see who's attracted men who see that. Here's the magic: then I see if what I intended is actually what I want. There are times when read a profile that rings me like a bell and it makes me think, “Holy fuck, that’s the energy I want to connect to” so, of course, I message them and anyone else that I run across with that same energy. That profile was the inspiration for this very post. Then, I reflect on that feeling, return to my profile, and see if that aligns with my words. the level of revelatory clarity about your own dating patterns that can come out of this regular observation is pretty incredible.
Because online dating feels forced in interactions, has very prevalent monetizing schemes that usually aren’t a value addition for the dater, and tend to lead to the same doom scrolling as Instagram I keep my time on there as light as I can. I actually deleted all my profiles for about six months to give me a break and to reassess what I was really doing and wanted. That period only ended recently when I felt that tingle to get "out there" and mix it up. I very recently downloaded Hinge which at least says their values align with mine and how I want to meet people online. A profile on there was .
Ultimately, I know that these apps are a tool and they can be used in many ways far beyond that of what was intended by their creators. It’s something I’ve known intellectually for a long time but I’m really **feeling it** now in a way I hadn’t before and I know part of it is the space I gave myself to relax and reflect before making the decision of what to do next. It’s a lesson that I’m applying to many areas of my life right now, and doing this simple act for myself has shifted my perspective on what life is and what it can be.
My views on dating have similarly shifted. For an activity that was once fraught with anxiety is now is revelatory. I'm learning something about others, myself, and my relationship to others. Reminds me of something a friend of mine recently told me that I completely connected to: "A single relationship is actually three. Self, other, and both together." How could it not be a wonderful experiment when you are putting ingredients together to see how they work, or don't work together?