When my ex-fiance and I broke up, I'll admit it. I was terrified.
When you live with your S.O. it's a whole different ball game. The scale on which you have to remove yourself from each other's lives increases with every milestone. And when you separate, for at least a little while, the fabric of your life seems to have been torn apart.
For me, my address didn't change for a few months, and I'm still in the same job, but my diet, my semblance of a routine, my heart — they all changed.
This person that became a staple in my life for so many years, even before we were romantically involved, was now like a stranger to me.
And we tried to be friends for a short time. But that became obviously hopeless about a week in when he found it appropriate to respond to my question: "Are you dating that girl you work with?" with "It's so funny you think that! Everyone at work thinks that too."
A week after the end of our three-year relationship.
Adele, ABBA, Bey, the Spice Girls — all of them have said it in one way or another, and each one is apt.
Breaking up is hard to do.
But what no pop song seems to want to delve into is the intricacies of trying to date someone new after a long-term committed relationship.
I'll admit, it would probably be difficult to work something like "fuck, now I have to meet an entirely new family that'll probably think I'm pretentious" into a catchy, Billboard 100-worthy hit. But I still feel like there's not a lot of info out there about how to navigate dating post long-term relationship.
I also don't have answers, but I do now have some experience. And, most importantly, I feel it's important to say: it takes an incredible amount of courage to put yourself back out there after a breakup.
And I don't just mean to put your cute ass on Tinder and meaninglessly text some fool you never plan to actually meet. I mean to allow yourself to meet someone new. To let yourself be open to who they could be in your life.
I'm not really even saying this about myself. Sure, I joke about being a motherfucking phoenix in terms of dating. Like overnight I went from crying over some child who needed him mom to break up with me for him to B 2.0, turning down wannabe Hemsworth brothers left and right. But I'm more actually referring to some of the guys I've met in my casual (and not-so-casual) dating crusades over the past year.
Twice now I've gone out with guys who've informed me on the first date that they were once married ... and also that the reason they aren't anymore is because their wife turned out to be gay. Most people, as I was initially, are astonished by that statistic. Then I tell them how many guys I've been on first dates with and in-between judgy looks they say: "I guess two isn't A LOT."
Other guys I've met have been more in my camp. When they were first split from their former S.O. they were more confused than anything. I mean, the only positive to being dumped because your S.O. is secretly gay might be that at least the reason for the breakup is pretty damn clear.
When it's just over because it's over, that search for a reason tends to take up some valuable time you could be spending making out with cute computer geeks in button-ups. (If that sounds oddly specific, it's because my example is odd, and specific. But more on him at a later date.)
Being now closer to 30 than 20 (someone get me a shot), it's more and more common that men I meet have had long-term girlfriends, if not fiancees or even wives. A lot of them, like me, asked that person they were with to marry them, move in with them, meet their parents —whatever — thinking they'd probably be with that person for the rest of their lives.
And then a few months or years later, they're staring at the Tinder (Bumble, Match, Christian Mingle, Farmers Only, etc.) app thinking "How the fuck is this going to work?"
God forbid that man matches with me and makes it to a first date. You have to be made of fairly strong stuff to survive a possible first-rate roasting from moi.
I know for me the online dating experience was kind of overwhelming at first. Pre-first boyfriend, I was super fucking oblivious when living, breathing males in the same room as me liked me. Hell, I really still am. But, there I was almost a year ago literally flipping through a catalog of men like:
"Yeah, I guess he's cute. And he hates Trump. Ten points to Ravenclaw."
"Oh, he never takes the sunglasses off?! What the fuck, dude?"
*looks at photo of guy kissing his mom on the cheek*
"Aww. How cute. He has a good relationship with his m—"
*scrolls to read 10-line bio exclusively about kinks*
"Hmm... Every photo is a group selfie ... And they're all guys. Who the fuck are you?! The short hairy Indian guy or the 6'4" redhead?? Thank u. Next."
And more often than I'd have expected, when I swiped right, there was Tinder saying "It's a Match!" and making me practically spit my hard cider all over S.
But the swiping isn't the brave part. Hell, I'd argue that sending a message is definitely not even the brave part. Look at any Facebook thread on a well-populated page (so not Millennial Pink's) and you'll see some troll hiding behind their keyboard talking to strangers.
No. Like I said, it's the actually taking the time to know someone that's a big deal.
I literally meet new people and talk to them, often in a scenario freakishly like a first date, for a living. I still thought on several occasions while on my way to dates:
"Okay, but being braless and pantsless and binging 'Great British Baking Show' in your apartment is still an option. Will talking to this guy over food you could've cooked yourself/coffee you could've made stronger be better than seeing Paul Hollywood destroy someone's hopes and dreams of ever making the perfect biscuit?"
I've gone on my fair share of dates with duds. Sometimes I feel like most guys on Tinder could legitimately be categorized based on Wizard of Oz characters.
You have your tin men, your cowardly lions, far too many scarecrows, a frightening amount of would-be wizards (based on their self-perceived importance, not their role in D&D) and even a few you'd be happy to write a reference letter to the Lollypop Guild for.
Yet, somehow, I still see all of those nights of forced conversation or uncomfortable situations as worthwhile experiences. And, hey, it's like S originally said to get me on Tinder. "Do it for the blog!"
Part of me has. Part of me has continued to date even when things haven't always worked out for the sheer experience that makes for good blog fodder. Fortunate for them, I never learned most of those gone-but-not-forgotten men's last names.
But part of me I guess, if I'm being honest, continues to date because "What if?"
What if I meet someone great? What if I meet someone who changes my life (on my terms, of course)? What if I finally find a guy who can handle my sass AND remember to put the fucking toilet seat down?
And I think that's why even the most anxious and pessimistic people still let themselves be vulnerable, regardless of past experience. Because they've already experienced what probably feels like the worst in terms of romantic outcome. So why not try again?
In a world of cowardly lions, tin men and scarecrows, be brave enough to leave "Kansas" and what's familiar. Be like Dorothy.