Anyone who is dating will know that the question we are asked most often is
“So…what are you looking for?”
In my naivety, at the beginning of this journey, I thought people were asking me what sort of a man I was looking for – and frankly I had no idea. I’d chosen badly once, but I didn’t want to see all future men through that lens, because it seemed so negative. I found you frequently met people – men and women – who had a long list of things they knew they weren’t looking for, and they were nearly always all the things they had ended up hating about their previous partner.
I say ‘ended up’, as it’s a sad irony that often the very things that we once thought were appealing and attractive about people often end up being the things that in the end we can’t stand. For my own part, for example, I originally loved my ex husband’s lack of emotion, as I came from a family which could fairly be described as being emotionally labile. But after 21 years, I realized that this lack of emotion was not actually a cool, calm and stable disposition, but literally the absence of any sort of emotional landscape – and it’s very hard to have a meaningful and connected relationship with someone like that. Or at least it is for me.
Anyway – I digress.
Later, I came to realize that the ‘what are you looking for?’ enquiry was, in fact, code for ‘are you up for one night stands?’. I suppose it’s helpful to at least ask – and this often happens well before you’ve met I person – and it does mean that no one is wasting their time. But the last couple of times I’ve been asked it, it’s got me thinking.
Once upon a time – long, long ago (i.e the last time I was dating, over 20 years ago), this was not a question people asked. When you were dating, everyone knew what that was – you go out on dates with someone and you see how it goes. If it doesn’t go well, you stop dating and you find someone else to date. Repeat. Simples.
These days it all seems to have all become a bit unnecessarily complicated.
It seems to me that there are now two answers to ‘what are you looking for?’ and they both sit at extremes of the relationship spectrum. On the one end there is just looking for someone for tonight, thanks very much. And at the other end there is the search for ‘the one’ with whom I spend the rest of my life.
Now, it can’t just be me who is thinking that actually there is a lot of space between those two choices.
But more importantly, it occurs to me that whether we decide we are looking for something fleeting or something long term, every time we discard someone because they say they are looking for something different, we miss the opportunity to just let something grow. In the old days, occasionally one night stands led to long and happy marriages – probably because people weren’t obsessing about where this was all going. People didn’t go into relationships with an agenda – or at least I don’t think they did. And sometimes they would be taken by surprise and find themselves falling in love with someone at a time when it hadn’t occurred to them to be thinking about the long term. Certainly that happened to me – I was at University and couldn’t have been less interested in finding a husband, but I met a man and 3 years later we were married. And although it didn’t work out terribly well, we had 21 years and 2 beautiful children to show for it at the end.
But more importantly, while we are fixated on where the relationship might go, right from the beginning, we cannot claim to be being present. And by not being present, we risk enjoying the moments, which might be incremental and which, in fact, we do not know to where they might lead.
I’d like to advocate a dating movement. We could call it ‘Present Dating’. We just forget about our agenda, about finding what we’re looking for. How about we just enjoy the moments? We stop asking about what people are looking for, and we just go on dates and see how it goes. If it’s fun and you enjoy one another’s company, you carry on dating until you don’t feel like that anymore. And that could be tomorrow, next week, next year or never.
Just like the old days.