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Susan Winter Headshot

9 Months. 98 Men. Here's What I've Learned

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I hate dating. There. I've said it. Let's be clear about the mechanics of this concept. Dating is only a flirtatious first sniff of what may later be mounted. No more, no less. And like the unwilling sled dog harnessed in line, my soul squirms at the thought of having to "put my best foot forward" to gain a man's sniff of approval.

Dating is the required presentational stage for a possible future interlude. For this very reason, I chafe at having to be "on point." I rail at the notion of being appealing, engaging and alluring.

There's a great myth that's been hoisted upon all women that "dating" is fun, and as women we should like it. I'm convinced it's a conspiracy crafted to guarantee an ongoing form of economic revenue, women are forced to buy new clothes and makeup while men are lured into exorbitant restaurants to prove their merit.

The dating experience is tedious on every level. The need to dress up, straighten my hair and wonder if I'm good enough feels like poison running through my veins. It reminds me of my summers at the Minnesota State Fair where I'd see local farmers parading their cows, pigs and horses in hopes of winning a Blue Ribbon.

I have a colleague who's a dating expert. She teaches the art of flirting in order to capture a man's attention. I don't want art. I want to meet a man organically in an environment where I can be myself and interact naturally.

I'd long been criticized for never having "officially dated." In an attempt to put this argument to rest, I decided to say "yes" to any agreeable man who asked me out. I had 98 dates in nine months.

Firstly, let me define my usage of the word "dating." I'm referring to the traditional meaning -- that of "courtship." Dating has now been construed to mean sexual hook-ups. I didn't sleep with 98 men. 98 men courted me.

I ate my way through every restaurant in Manhattan and spent far more time in Starbucks than any human who has their own WiFi. No less than three times a week I'd put on the same outfit (perhaps a little half-hearted on my part) and meet a new man for dinner or coffee. I sat. I listened. I ate. I drank.

At the end of my social experiment, here's what I learned. Men parade their toys while women serve as the cows, pigs and horses parading for our Blue Ribbon of acceptance. Men name-drop their friendships with celebrities and clarify their numerous positions of power and influence. They rattle off their trips in foreign cities, identify their cars by the manufacturer's name and list their homes by prestigious locations. They dangle their toys in front our eyes in the hopes that we'll bite the bait. Oddly, they're not the bait. Their possessions are the bait.

In the midst of their parade of toys, men yearn to see our eyes dilate with interest. They wait to hear the, "Ooohhhh, really?" And they too, hope they'll be worthy of our acceptance. This is why I hate dating. Now that I've done it, I'm even more certain I was correct in not doing it in the first place.

Is it possible to create a meaningful connection without the dog and pony show? Do we really need to sell ourselves on the auction block in order to gain affection? Can't one leapfrog past all this nonsense and move straight into partnership?

Yes. It's possible. I've bypassed all of this and done so. I've had real love and real connection. But I didn't date, per se. Not in this form. While I'd like to be able to date, I don't care enough to parade for a man's approval. I don't want to wait by the phone wondering if he'll call or obsess over what I said or didn't say on our meeting. And I absolutely refuse to lead with the "sex card." Though the most powerful form of bait... why flaunt the sex card when I don't yet know I want him? So he'll want me?

I've consistently found my own way to partnership without all this nonsense. I'm not brilliant. I don't have "game." But I know who I am. I love easily and effortlessly. I find more to admire in a man than not. I have few complaints as I see more of what's good in a man than what's bad. The men who've shared my life have moved easily from a first date (or initial meeting) to a natural form of ongoing connection. It's been fluid and comfortable.

Dating in today's world is more akin to an extreme sport. High-heeled women flaunt the sex card as they savagely stampede each other for a man's attention. Running with the bulls in Pamplona has never been on my bucket list. And after having tried my hand at 98 men, I can honestly say that I'm exhausted at the attempt.

So, while I've satisfied my friends and family with giving dating a fair shot, I still prefer the old-school method of connection where I'm just doing my thing and happen to meet someone special. Whether walking my dog or at the gym, I'm where I want to be while living the life I love. And we meet. Naturally. Organically. The spark we find serves as our connection. We merge.