Tuesday, February 10, 2015

We're JUST Dating...by Najah Rodgers

Honoring the “We’re Just Dating Stage”
“An often heard truism is that it takes at least seven months for the representative to leave the room and for the real person to show up.” Many of us have found this to be true. If we have been unlucky in love we can pull out a cache of dating experiences, an arsenal of hindsight, and reveal the keloids from heartbreak shrapnel. For some, past relationships can range from Nightmare on Elm Street horror and trauma to the less dramatic and less taxing, “round peg in square hole” or “we just weren’t a good fit.” No matter the previous levels of discomfort, we can still file the relationships or stunted dating experiences into investments that did not yield a life partner. How long did it take for us to see the representative leave the room? Many of us proceeded forward anyway because we had already invested too much to walk away. Too much what of what? Perhaps too much time, money, hope, optimism often by way of denial, to walk away. How could we have preserved ourselves and our sanity if we stayed just dating longer before proclaiming we were in a relationship?
The Seven Month Facade

Are seven months, or if we are going to be honest, much less than 7 months truly enough time to find out what you need to know in order to move into a commitment with someone? Depending on the weight in which we regard our relationships, there is significantly a much greater level of commitment and investment associated with relationships of those seeking something long-term as compared to just dating. This transition from “we’re just dating” to “we are in a relationship” is usually marked with some level of formality, and with good reason. Thinking back to when we were 9, we remember the little folded piece of paper asking, “will you go with me? (check the box) YES or NO” In high school it was symbolized by wearing our amore’s letterman jacket so that not only did we know we belonged to each other, but the whole world (or at least our peers within the high school walls) knew as well. As women loving women, all too often, blurred lines remove the formal transitions from dating to relationship to marriage. Not only are the lines blurred, but the speed in which we move through each stage seems stereotypically fast with us. There is this rush towards the sense of shelter, security and propriety of a relationship and towards the greater destination of marriage of some sort. Often, our desire to reach the end goal is despite the benefits of each step of the journey and the possibility that the journey is not meant to be taken with our most recent dating partner.

If seven months is the magic number for the intentional or unintentional façade to fall, then anything less than seven months of dating is still the precursor to deeper levels of the getting to know you phase; a phase in which no major commitments are required. Would our greater comfort levels with extended times of the just dating phase allow us to avoid the all too familiar, “one second she was this and then all of the sudden she became that!” “That,” being the exact opposite of who we thought she was-like day and night. One second she was so giving and sweet and less than a year later, she was sucking me dry.” “At first she seemed so loyal and all about me and less than a year later, she was sniffing the air every time another woman walked by.” “Low and behold, she was a go-getter, working and going to school, but the moment we moved in together, she said she needed a break from work and I never saw her crack open a book or write a paper for class! Of course, I had to foot all of the bills during her break.”

The flipside of people putting their best face forward and hiding their flaws are those who just put it all out there because they choose to keep it real. They say, “I lay my issues on the line and I am completely transparent from day one!” Those individuals should be applauded for their candidness, however, the cerebral understanding of the issues being relayed by mouth is incomparable to the shared experience of those issues-when we are actually walking through the fire, so to speak. “She told me she had anger issues but I never thought that would translate into her laying her hands on me.” “She told me she liked the finer things and to be spoiled by her mate. I never imagined that would be the sole depth of our relationship.” “She said her family had issues but that she was down for them no matter what. How was I to know her family and their issues would be affecting our lives, our bank accounts, and our personal space on a daily basis?”

Visualizations vs. Delusions

So often many of us are deluded by the temporary high that newness provides. We are hopeful
and expectant. We have spent copious amounts of time creating images in our mind’s eye for whatwe want and deserve. We’ve envisioned this ideal just so, then she comes along. Immediately, insertnew woman into the picture in our minds, overlooking the obvious mismatches and ill-fits. If the new woman possesses even just a few of the qualities and characteristics that we have envisioned that the right woman for us would have, then she must be the one. Hopefulness in this instance, distorts our perceptions. Additionally, many of us are also affected by deep levels of loneliness which can also refract our view of things when an opportunity to end the loneliness arises due to a new dating interest. Whether it be hopefulness or loneliness, both states of being can have a very real effect on our ability to judge a situation with equal levels of openness and objectivity.

In our desire or active search for mates, when we find ourselves with the potential for the relationship that we desire we jump on it, throw ourselves into it, prepare to fall in love donning our rose colored glasses. Rose colored glasses that all too soon crack a lens. Once we’ve gotten the first case of the butterflies we want more and more, like our favorite dish. Attempting to resist the urge for gluttony, but those cravings for togetherness have us moving full steam ahead, giving away so much of ourselves and often without reservations. We believe the best in people and often times our wanting and beliefs match stories that we are fed by our new interest. We simply see what we want to see because we want to. So we proceed, fast in, fast out to find ourselves right back to where we started-with another notch in our belt, another line spoken of “how did I get here,” rubbing our temples, breathing sighs of relief, or lamenting the demise of yet another experience.

Insanity is…Well, You Ought to Know by Now

Quantitatively speaking, at some point deductive reasoning kicks in and that’s when things start looking up for our relationship forecasts. A combination of weariness from hitting brick walls, investments yielding poor kickbacks, broken hearts, public embarrassment, and many other displeasing outcomes of the “rush to relationship” take their tolls. It becomes almost foolish for a woman with much experience to continue to point the finger. We have to decide to change how we do things and how we present our hearts, even those of us who are practitioners of vulnerability and wear our hearts on our sleeves exercise responsibility for ourselves in new ways. We will not be taken, nor will we give everything away. We begin to sound like this “…what I do have is a very particular set of skills. Skills that I have acquired over a long period of time.” The allure of the love drug loses its appeal, the intoxication of a million fluttering butterflies is no longer worth the risk of extending so much of ourselves too soon. It becomes time that we start using not only our hearts, but our heads as well, by reconsidering the significance and benefits of just dating and by utilizing this period for all that it is worth.

With all of this experience under our belts, we begin to get smart about it. Moving on not just with more clarity on who we don’t want and what characteristics we do want in the next one, but with lessons learned about ourselves. Lessons about areas of our own needed growth that we can focus on to make us better partners for our future Loves. Hopefully, we’ve gained more usable information on our comfort zones and how far we are willing to step outside of them. Are we willing to date women with young children again or have we decided that we unapologetically prefer not to? Are will willing to be honest with the next woman about our previous struggles with anger, or drug use, or overspending, overeating and what level of therapy and corrective actions we are in the process of applying? Are we going to be willing to expose ourselves to the type of woman who is able to see us and challenge us? Are we willing to date a woman who will call us out on areas that we may need to improve upon or are we going to remain guarded and living on the surface for fear of discomfort? Do we hide the truth because we are afraid that the next one will use the information against us? Are we willing to date someone who makes minimum wage, who is differently abled, who does not have a college degree, who does not make six figures? Are we willing to communicate in a way that encourages growth, healing and health or are we going to cut the tree down at the base with our tongues the first time we perceive our new love interest to have hurt us?

Becoming Comfortable with the Unknown

If we decide to step outside of our comfort zones for whatever reason, time needs to be allotted for adjustment. Getting it right with the new one is the goal. For many of us, a life partner is our intended destination. With the newness comes a level of zeal. The excitement of a true connection is on the horizon. However, those of us with enough experience, also carry the inverse of zeal; weariness. How many times have we heard, “At my age,” “I been through too much to deal with _______ (fill in the blank),” “After all I’ve been through, I wonder if there is even someone out there for me?” At some point we may have even asked God, our mother, our friends, or even an ex, “what is wrong with me? Why can’t I seem to find my mate?” But, then comes spring-another chance to do it all over again. Here she comes, and with her comes a new opportunity to utilize our experience. Let us not waste it with the insanity of doing the same exact things in the same exact ways again.

As we move forward with our new interest, we understand that she is just that-an interest and not a guarantee. She is a hope and a possibility. She may be worth the world, but she is not worth everything we have right away. Prudence and preservation are key. We know what we are willing and not willing to deal with. We take our expressions of love slower because we want to make sure that we even like her seven months from now. Our professions of togetherness can be placed on hold because the pressure of togetherness is much too heavy a weight to bear and unfair to the youth of our dating experience. Nor are our public proclamations of togetherness necessary right away, no matter how many times we are seen out together and encouraged by well-meaning onlookers who want us to have somebody.
Four Seasons
The goal is not to have someone on our arms just for show, but to experience the adjustments, bargains, explorations, negotiations and growth together, in private, as we have the right to non-disclosure at any stage of our interactions. We move slower because not only are we being responsible, but we are being reasonable. Holding each other at enough high regard to allow time for patience and practice to see if we can create our own personal recipe for a satisfying future relationship. In our new experience we allot more time to explore how well we work together or not. This is the necessary work of the dating stage in which our only investment is to be fully present to engage with each other and consider if we are able to negotiate life and togetherness in ways that are healthy, healing, and harmonious for our spirits. This applies for those of us seeking a fulfilling long-term union.

Just dating is an amazing stage if we are prepared with the wealth gained from previous experience and introspection. It’s a special and necessary period that should not be rushed through with the goal in mind to be in a relationship. To rush through the process would be like licking the icing off of cake batter. What a relief to know that in dating there are no guarantees, no pressure and all that is required is to honor ourselves and each other’s unique experiences while navigating the possibilities or deciding after considerable review and discussion that it’s best to go our separate ways. Whether we wait seven months to see if we can deal with the real or we just date for at least four seasons before we graduate to the stage of a relationship, being in the present each day and giving our best is the investment and the pay-off.

By Najah Rodgers

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