I've met some fascinating and accomplished women, and I'm becoming more comfortable around the dating process. It does, however, continue to present its challenges. I still feel anxious when I reject a woman's online invitation, or when a woman rejects mine. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, and I don't want mine hurt either. Rejections remind me that no one is everyone's cup of tea. It's an ego adjustment.
Online dating profiles don't really explain a person, and chemistry requires a face-to-face, so online dating has its limitations. Then there's the issue of dating etiquette, which doesn't appear to exist at all, and since there aren't any rules, dating behavior ranges from polite to rude. I've received responses from women who insist they've met their true love and are dating him exclusively, but are open to friendship. I have enough friends already, and I find it curious that a woman who has found the love of her life still posts her profile online. Spiders don't take their webs down when they've caught their dinner. Perhaps there's a parallel.
If I meet a woman, and we date and like each other, what's the next step? I realized after a brief relationship recently, that I wasn't ready to trust her. This became clear when a few weeks into the relationship, she wanted to step it up to the next level -- commitment -- and I backed off. I was anxious in part because a few weeks just aren't enough for me to feel trusting.
But trying to go slow in a dating world that operates at supersonic speed is difficult, because it's really easy to get caught up in the partnering race. There's enormous pressure, both self-imposed and societal, to be in a relationship. But rushing to fall in love makes falling in love impossible for me, because the pressure to commit doesn't allow my feelings to develop naturally. In truth, falling in love is hard to resist in midlife. Finding a partner is important to me, mostly for the right reasons.
In a fledgling relationship, issues like dating exclusively and consistently showing up emotionally, require serious consideration because they imply intention. When the feeling that something wasn't working for me in my new relationship kept plaguing me, I figured it was time to regroup. She was pressuring me to become sexual and go with the flow, neither of which felt okay with me. For me, this isn't the time for 60s casual morality, and bouncing back from a failed relationship is too painful to just go with the flow.
After a half-dozen dates, I began noticing the cracks in our relationship, and some were too big to paint over. I felt foolish for having gone off to the races so quickly. Sure, she had pushed for more intimacy, but I didn't have to acquiesce. My old demon, the need to feel loved, had been activated. I've defeated this pesky nemesis, but he's resilient. Staying out of my head and remaining true to my feelings is my best defense. So I gave my thoughts a rest and opted out of our brief relationship based entirely on my feelings.
We had glibly skipped the courting phase. But I need to court, because that's when it's still possible to see the other person without rose-colored glasses, and determine whether or not the relationship has legs. It's also an opportunity to discover the sweet subtleties of a woman's nature. Skipping the courting phase is a huge mistake for me, because courting is the only way I know how to fall in love. I won't repeat this mistake.
Fortuitously, our first big disagreement became our last, because it pointed to a bleak future in terms of resolving problems. I shared my feelings with her about something she'd done that had genuinely hurt my feelings. Her response was that I wasn't being emotionally honest. Since she had read my articles on emotional honesty in Huff/Post50, I was surprised by her accusation.
I told her that in fact I had just shared my emotional truth with her, and that my feelings are my absolute truth. Then she tried to convince me that my feelings weren't valid. Discounting, minimizing or judging another person's feelings is insulting and indicates a total lack of resolution skills. Circular arguments only occur when feelings are ignored in favor of opinions. Life's too short to engage in pointless arguments. Game over.
That we hadn't become sexual yet made ending our brief relationship uncomfortable, but uncomplicated. I felt good about having stuck to my guns regarding not becoming sexual too soon. A month of dating had exposed the absence of qualities I feel are important. I doubt I would have been able to see that clearly if we'd been sexual, because being sexual early in my past relationships had invariably obscured the problems and delayed the inevitable.
I'm sharing my dating anxiety in the certainty I'm not the only guy to experience mixed feelings about a woman. I hope this helps others who are uncomfortable in their relationships but can't articulate why. I didn't share my concerns about our relationship as soon as I might have, but a month isn't really enough time to be clear about anything. I'm reconsidering my dating behavior with the goal of becoming more adept at sharing my feelings more quickly. I'm also slowing down the getting-to-know-you process. I'm optimistic.
(Check out the slideshow below for five places to meet single people over 50.)