It’s I Think We’re Alone Now Week at Autostraddle — a micro issue dedicated to being on your own, whether on purpose or by chance, and all the ways we’re out here making it work.
Of my friends, I am often referred to as the “professional dater.” I’ve gone on a lot of dates, some of them quite successful and sexy, some of them rather dull but all together friendly. I am also the one who laments about how awful dating is the loudest. I’m an introvert and I absolutely hate leaving my apartment. Getting dressed up is cool but then I have to go through the ritual of open and closing my mouth to make polite conversation, and UGH who needs that? Lately, I find myself asking what it means to be a professional dater and I’ve come to the conclusion that to most people, it’s a matter of volume and not necessarily quality. If you go on a lot of dates that means, objectively, lots of people find you attractive enough to sit down and face you for at least an hour. But you don’t need me to tell you that every date isn’t going to be a good one; one where you and your date have both agreed that you are into each other and would like to see each other again, possibly have a sleepover that very same day. If you do get a “yes” to going on a date, there’s a possibility that you won’t have a good time, or that you’ll only have an okay time and sometimes that’s worse than a flat out bad date.
About two years ago I ended an abusive relationship with the first woman I ever truly loved. Immediately after my break up, I was back on tinder, going on a number of dates with women I had never met before or some that I had known for a while. I wanted to feel like I could fall for someone like that again and not get hurt; I was certain the next person I met would be the real love I was looking for, the kind that wasn’t a constant barrage of pain. Jumping headfirst into new people without taking a breath or dealing with my grief was not surprisingly, a poor way to cope. I ended up going down an emotional spiral that ultimately ended up in getting sober, a celibacy stint, and some intense therapy with two different therapists.
Now that I’ve worked through many of the things I had been ignoring post-breakup, I’ve been back in the dating game heavy. One thing that I’ve been dealing with is facing rejection after I’ve gone out with someone. Now, I’m a poet, so 90% of my professional life is dealing with rejection from literary journals and magazines. That kind of rejection is a different kind of painful, and I’ve found I’ve learned a number of lessons about handling a “no thank you” from someone I was interested in. It’s so easy to take a “no” personal and use it as justification to question your worth. However, there are a number of ways to intervene before this happens, and they’re all relatively simple.
Getting a No Before the Date
This is arguably the hardest type of rejection to deal with. You muster up the courage to ask someone, going through every possible scenario in your head. If you’re like me you’ve already started planning what life will be like when she is your girlfriend before you’ve secured the first date. This is a bad move for a number of reasons, chiefly being it sets you up for a hard disappointment if things don’t go your way.
I want to share something with you that still haunts me today. I could allow you to believe that I’m witty, gorgeous, and completely irresistible to every human being alive but let’s get vulnerable here. Many moons ago I was a young dyke that had just moved back to her hometown and was ready to start dating. I used to hang with a crew of what, in my hometown, are called Yinzer dykes. If you’ve ever been to Pittsburgh you’ve probably met one. Me and this crew of yinzer dykes would galavant around our local gay bars getting wasted and chain-smoking like our lungs were already black. One night at my favorite bar, I saw a woman with what I can only describe as the loveliest arms I’d ever seen. Thick forearms, broad shoulders, rocking a rugby tee; I zeroed in immediately and knew I had to get her number. She was at a table of dudes so I was struggling to find a way to approach. We both ended up in the bathroom at the same time and what I wanted to end in a makeout session ended with her telling me she was straight and there with her boyfriend (??) but she was flattered. First off, get straight people out of gay bars. Secondly, I was pretty humiliated. I loved flirting with women in front of my friends and always wanted to appear very sexy and in control. Getting rejected that way bruised my young dyke ego pretty badly, and while that hasn’t happened for me in a long time, it’s worth mentioning because it’s possible to recover from an upset like this.
Fortunately for me, I was surrounded by some friends at the moment that were able to help me take my mind off the sting. Remembering the existing relationships in your life that are fulfilling in whatever way, shape, or form is a great way to divert yourself before you start to shame spiral.
The next thing you can do is remind yourself that dating is a game of odds. There are billions of people in the world, and maybe a few thousand in your area that would be available to date you. Not every single one is going to be into you. Some may be taken, some might not be your same orientation, some might just find a different kind of person more attractive. I’m not a statistician or a person that knows math at all but I would say for every one person that has rejected you there is at least one that’s waiting for you to ask them out, or building up the courage to do it themselves.
In my situation, I had hit on a woman that had a boyfriend, so it was a little easier to forgive myself. It wasn’t that I was ugly or inadequate in some way; she had made the questionable decision to live as a straight woman and it had nothing to do with me. I think I responded to her statement with “oh, okay cool, have a good night.” which is a perfectly fine way to respond. Acknowledge the rejection and leave with a well wish, very adult and brief. When you’ve walked away and shaken a little of the rattle off your shoulders, remind yourself that everyone has to take an L every now and again. Being able to bounce back is a sign of strength and resilience.
The Date Going Poorly
So you’ve secured a yes, now its time to woo your date with your good looks, charm, and sex appeal; but what if it doesn’t go as planned? There are many ways a date can go wrong. You can get together and realize there is no chemistry mutually, only one party can realize there is no chemistry, they can talk forever about themselves or their ex. What constitutes a bad date will vary from person to person, and your situation will control how you respond to said date.
To this day, one of the worst dates I ever went on was one where I wish I had known what I’m about to tell you. She was an art student at a renowned university and we had met on some app. We decided the date would be that I’d make her brunch and she’d provide the booze. When I got to her apartment. she made numerous comments about how brunch couldn’t be good if it was vegan and that all good food needed bacon or butter. A vegan, I became more determined to wow her with my culinary prowess. I made a great brunch and she ate all of it. I mean all of it. She also insisted that all writers were sociopaths and narcissists and she’d never date one. This was all information I had put on my profile and I couldn’t figure out if this was some sort of joke or if she was deadly serious. AND she didn’t even let me take leftovers, so I went home confused and empty-handed.
Not every date is so blatantly bad; sometimes you have what I like to call a lukewarm. The conversation is fine, maybe you’ve made each other laugh a few times, maybe you exchange a hug or kiss in the aftermath, but all the while you were thinking “where is the spark?” While not every first meeting is going to start with fireworks and end four hours later, a lack of blatant chemistry is a pretty good indicator that things aren’t going to go so well for a next date. So what do you do in these situations?
If you’re on a bad date — like she inadvertently calls you a sociopath bad— (and this might blow your mind but) you can leave. You can say “hey, I think you’re lovely and I enjoyed getting to know you a little better but I’m not getting a lot of chemistry/good vibes from this situation and I’d like to call it a night.” If you’re not worried about being nice, you can be honest and say that things aren’t working out because (list transgressions) and leave in a dramatic huff. I wish I would have respected myself enough to walk away from dates where the other person made me uncomfortable or didn’t respect my needs and boundaries. Now that I’m a little older I realize that I can stand up for myself and not settle because I feel lonely and unappreciated.
I recently was on the receiving end of a text much like the first. To paraphrase, she had a good time but didn’t feel any chemistry between us and would prefer for us to move forward as friends. I admit I was slightly disappointed. I agreed that the date was pretty banal but she was someone I would have hung out with again. In this case, I had to come to the realization that I only wanted a second date because I wanted a date — not necessarily a date with her, but a date with someone so that I didn’t feel like so much of a romantic failure. If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, the key is realizing how and when you are settling, for what reason, and how you can move forward and away from the notion that you don’t deserve the best of what is offered. This might mean sitting down with yourself and locating the source of whatever insecurity is driving this need to just “take what you can get” and coming out on the other side of it. In lieu of sitting and asking yourself why you aren’t good enough, you can treat yourself like you are by taking yourself out. Going on solo dates is one of my favorite ways to help me realize what I want out of my life and in an eventual partner.
Getting Stood Up
Getting stood up is the most blatant way to get rejected; it’s also one of the worst. What makes it so awful is the onus is put on you to guess what exactly is going on. You are left to figure out if you were truly stood up or if they had endured some life-threatening injury that has left them on the side of the road. If they have truly stood you up, it could have been for a number of reasons, but they all boil down to a reality that they didn’t want to go out with you. That may sound harsh, but only because I haven’t listed the number of reasons that this might be the case. Getting stood up and can be jarring and heartbreaking, but it isn’t the end of the world.
If you do get stood up, I recommend spending no more than five minutes cycling through the list of reasons they never showed up. Then do a hard stop. You can’t spend hours contemplating every worst-case scenario to justify that they didn’t come. It’s an exercise that may make you feel a little better but ultimately isn’t worth it. So, take your five minutes, do what you have to do, and then let it go. I don’t recommend sending a text to convey disappointment even if you really really want to. If they can’t give you the respect to send a text or give a phone call, they don’t deserve the same from you.
So what can you do? Reach out for support, tell a friend what happened and have them shower you with compliments. Remind yourself of all the good things you have to offer. Once you’re done gassing yourself up, take a moment to remind yourself that this person didn’t have the emotional maturity to communicate with you directly, and emotional maturity paired with communication skills is something you want in a date and in a future partner. You don’t want to spend your time with someone that doesn’t value it. These are the kinds of things you can tell yourself instead of spending time thinking they’ve fallen unimaginably ill and can’t get to the phone.
Now, when you’re done with this period you can move to the next phase, which is getting back to other dates. Those can be self-dates or dates with other people. Have fun, remember that you’re hot and deserving of affection and attention, but don’t strictly rely on that from other people. The key to dealing with rejection is to remember that having a successful date that might lead to a relationship is not a measure of your worth. Other people’s desire won’t make you, won’t fill you up. Only you can do that for yourself. My therapist once told me that people like myself who have endured emotional abuse or degradation from outside sources often need the opposite (love, validation, acceptance) from outside sources more than the average person, and that makes sense. So don’t judge yourself for needing that validation, but know that at the end of the day you come home to yourself, and it is your primary goal and responsibility to show that person in the mirror the love and respect they deserve.
Being single is often portrayed as a space of lacking, you are without, and being without makes you both invisible and highly susceptible to the opinions and assertions of others. Some of your more pointed partnered friends might groan about how they are so happy they aren’t single, and how grim the dating landscape is. These kinds of attitudes have made me rush to tinder or Lex to see who and what is out there for me. At the heart of a lot of despair around singledom is the difference between being alone versus being lonely. Being lonely puts focus on the emptiness one might feel in their lives without someone in it. Sometimes this loneliness has a face and a body and is as real as we are, it can be devastatingly haunting. Being alone is just a state of being, a place where you stand by yourself and are not concerned or disturbed by the blank space around you. Before I go any further I want to say there is nothing wrong with loneliness, with feeling it and sitting in it from time to time. We are allowed those feelings. The trick is learning how to be alone without loneliness, and I believe that comes from valuing the existing relationships in your life above the potential for a romantic relationship. A line in one of my favorite poems by Nikola Madzirov goes:
“Be alone, but not lonely,
so that the sky can embrace you,
so that you can embrace the lonely earth.”
Shifting focus from our loneliness allows us to be embraced by the other forces outside of us. Sometimes those forces are friends and acquaintances, opportunities and dreams, spiritual practices and deities. Other times the thing that embraces us is ourselves. I know that coming around to self-love might make you want to roll your eyes, but in the time that you are single, it is crucial to love on yourself as much as possible while you wait for whoever to see how amazing you are. I’ve also found that channeling my romantic or sexual energy into my personal or work projects is a great way to get shit done. Instead of spending hours swiping away on some app I get to work on the thing I’ve been putting off for god knows how long. Refocusing your energy on yourself after a rejection is a great way to keep from dwelling on it and cycling through the “what’s wrong with me” thoughts that often come up as a result. Instead, you can dwell on how great you are and just how much you have to offer for the person patient enough to wait to meet you.