I wrote this a few years ago, and I so stand by it today. It came to mind when speaking with a 40-year-old, never-married friend who was recounting her recent dating exploits. It so resonated when she detailed the horrors of an otherwise promising man's foibles: one failed to bring enough cash to the cash-only restaurant, another chose a too-expensive restaurant, then accepted her feeble offer to pay, yet another shared that he was only recently separated on a second date. Etc.
My pretty, smart friend seemed surprised when I pushed back against her presumption that these dating errors were reason to call it all off. After all, these were examples of crappy courtship etiquette, and I imagine her other friends commiserated with her disgust — and refusal to respond to later date invitations.
“Let me challenge you here,” I said over brunch. “You said you were really excited about him — even got a wax for the big third date.” My friend nodded and sipped her mimosa. “You're going to have fights in a relationship. How you fight is so critical to the relationship. Why not have an argument early on and see how he handles it? Why give up so soon?”
In my late marriage, we fought all the time (recent advice to an unhappily married friend: “Pick and choose your battles. I did in my own marriage. I picked and chose ALL the battles!”) and we fought horribly. Loud, mean, unfair, and lots and lots and lots of bringing up past issues. There was never resolution, so in effect, we were always fighting. It never stopped.
Yet here is how it began ….
At my wedding my mom stood up and gave a heart-felt little speech, which included, “After Emma went out with him for the first time, she called me up and said, ‘I know he's the one!'” That's a really sweet story, the one a mom is supposed to say at a wedding. It wasn't true. The real story was when I met my ex, I was also carrying out a long-distance romance with an older British school teacher who lived in Santiago, Chile, and in my youthful, South American-sized ego told anyone who would listen how I was tormented in my inability to chose between the two men. Ultimately, I made the right choice, but, well … the rest is history.
I tell this story to illustrate how there is very little room in our culture to commit romantically for any other reason other than a soulmate, love-at-first sight, meant-to-be, heaven-sent connection. I'm open to that kind of magic, but I'm not banking on it. In fact I made a commitment to go on second dates with really nice guys who don't send a lightening bolt into my heart and pants upon first glance.
But how do you learn to trust your dating instincts when they were likely horribly wrong once? How do you learn to trust your own judgement when your judgement lead you to the painful fate of divorce?
The answer, as I've written, is listening to your gut, but also digging in, being patient and committing to knowing someone. This is increasingly difficult, thanks to our culture of instant gratification. This Thought Catalog essay captures the affects of online dating, social media and a general culture void of longterm commitment.
Our choices are killing us. We think choice means something. We think opportunity is good. We think the more chances we have, the better. But, it makes everything watered-down. Never mind actually feeling satisfied, we don’t even understand what satisfaction looks like, sounds like, feels like. We’re one foot out the door, because outside that door is more, more, more. We don’t see who’s right in front of our eyes asking to be loved, because no one is asking to be loved. We long for something that we still want to believe exists. Yet, we are looking for the next thrill, the next jolt of excitement, the next instant gratification.
Oh man, is that the cold truth. Except for this: I want to be loved, and I know a lot of people out there who want to be loved, too. In fact, everyone wants to be loved. But we can confuse an exciting date, sexual chemistry or a glamorous person for the promise of love. Sometimes, the problem is not that we don't commit enough, we commit too much.
I'm guilty of all the above. My recent history includes going bananas over a guy who made an excellent first-date impression, but ultimately had little to contribute to a relationship. Or the cute cardiologist with the glamorous life resume full of charity work and swing dancing and media startups that would give any mom love at first sight. I'm guilty of overlooking an entire evening of his self-references of being an “alpha prime,” all the way to his trying to sneak around my insistence of condom use before I finally committed to not committing to a second date.
But, ultimately, what is wrong with any of it? In my two little examples, I spent four mostly nice months with a good person, and in the second I enjoyed some fun company, a free dinner and left the scene with my dignity in tact and a good story in my pocket. I stuck it out in each one until I couldn't stand another minute. What if you look back on your courtship with your ex, only to see the red flags waving like crazy all over God's creation? Do you regret every moment you spent with him? The kids and the memories? Would your life really be better if you had left him sooner — or never got involved at all?
The answer is that if you're really committed to finding love, if you really want to make your current relationship work, you stay until you can't stay any more. Maybe deep down you're terrified of love and bolt when shit gets real. Maybe you cling to those glossy rom-com plotlines and friends' glittering relationship narratives on Facebook and jump ship when your own romantic story deviates from the meant-to-be-love script. But maybe what you should do is dig in and scrape below expectations of shine. Maybe you ignore all the messages about how finding The One and things Meant to Be and create your own love story.
Or maybe you're older and wiser now. And maybe like me, when you go on a date with a really brilliant guy and the walking date turns into the burger date which turns into the dessert date and you still want to know more, and even though lightening didn't hit your heart or pants when you saw him waiting for you on the sidewalk, you go out with him again. Because that is what adults do. Yes, that is what is done by adults who have told stories about love-at-first sight and got their hearts busted up and whooped on and thrown into moving traffic. And then they get up again and write their own love stories.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.