04/23/2014 02:05 pm ET Updated Jun 23, 2014

Learning About Sex and Dating As We Go Along

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I learned a couple of things yesterday that turned a light on in my brain. In the spirit of self-examination and self-deprecating humor, I thought I would share and illuminate them for you as well.

Lesson 1: Dating is not marriage. In fact, dating (which I admittedly don't know much about) can be shut down by getting too serious or too future-plans oriented. As my schedule and future is quite flexible, I was surprised at how quickly my "relationship" concepts changed yesterday when confronted with a challenging dilemma. On one hand, I had met and "dated" an amazing woman. One the other, she was telling me how our closeness and chemistry was freaking her out. And my reaction to the fourth letter in a series of Dear John letters was to accept her appraisal that we weren't really all that well-matched.

Perhaps I just wasn't listening, I thought. She was trying to be clear with me, we were not really a match, and she was in no way ready to be a couple. Wait, what? "Okay," I responded. "I am disappointed, but I will accept your judgement." And that night I went to sleep saddened that I had missed or lost an opportunity for growth, and maybe some more great sex.

I'm not sure what I dreamed about, but I know my inspiration was a lot lower when I woke up the next morning. And even after two cups of coffee, the bright enthusiasm was not returning. How close do we have to get in the early stages of a "relationship?" (Oh, the "R" word.) What if we just kept it casual and "dated?" But wait, hadn't I just stated that the "long-term potential was critical to my plans" in a previous post? Hadn't I just sent her the "Dating a Single Dad" post?

I was imagining giving her a quick exit. Another one of my strategies when given a less than enthusiastic response has been to withdraw all energy towards that person and use that momentum towards some creative project or goal. So, I was initially quiet when she texted me a nice "You're great, it's not you," message. I took the confused feelings and dug into my writing for the entire day.

But something stuck in my heart. Something didn't feel right. I was not the cold type to just freeze someone out when the spark and energy had been SO right. By 10 p.m., my resolve or strategy was cast aside and I texted back.

"You did not do anything wrong. I'm not mad, I'm disappointed. You too were great. Namaste."

And then I headed back off to dreamland, at least feeling like I had proposed the repair that might mean friendship, even if my heart would be at further risk of attachment.

And again some transformative sleep brought another level of acceptance and peace, so that when she suggested playing tennis the following day, I was excited and open to the idea. I measured my response and checked in with my heart. I would keep it within renewed boundaries. If I didn't venture my heart, perhaps I wouldn't be so dependant on her response.

Lesson 2: 90% of our relationship hangups and aspirations are in our heads, and perhaps it's OK for most of them to stay there. See, as I was professing "going slow" and "openness to whatever," I was ramping up my activity in a way that said, "Let's do this! Let's be together. Let me be a stepdad to your son, I'm a great role model."


Even that was too far for me. My imagination, my internal romantic clock had gotten off and I was shooting way ahead of our relationship and knowledge of each other.

Lesson 3: Stay in the present. When you get ahead of yourselves, you tend to idolize or add catastrophe to your visions of the future. And the future is NOT where it's at. It's about being open and honest with the time you spend together and learning what works and what doesn't.

In my past, jumping too far into the WE was disastrous. And this moment was no different. But now, we had no driving desire to make plans, only driving DESIRE. It's important not to confuse desire with love or marriage. Desire is critical to the success of a relationship, but the "R" comes a lot later.

I don't have much experience in "D" (dating) post-divorce. The game has changed and my intentions and priorities have changed. I am full of contradictions. That's OK. I may profess that I'm only interested in a relationship while also saying I'm all about going slow. While the two things aren't mutually exclusive, they do present internal conflicts rather frequently.

But I am also a learning individual. I can adapt and make changes in my plans and trajectories. So, while I was thinking I had lost orbit and was shooting away for some new destination, I may have been only slowing to the gravitational pull of this amazing lady and learning what her fears and passions were as well. By trying to adhere to some map I had of what I wanted, I risked another journey into the dark aloneness of outer space.

Today we played tennis. That's enough.

My new mantra: Reset, review, and repeat what works. Stay present.

Always Love,

John McElhenney


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