Useless Internal Narrative

Right now I haven’t been posting much because I’m sort of stuck on a post I started writing. The post itself covers a lot of ground, and is more feminist than some of my posts have been, so I want to take my time with it; and yet, I need to try to subvert the bottlenecking of thoughts that it’s caused, so I’m going to try to write a few shorter entries while the rest of this one cooks.

Dating causes anxiety. I am also an anxious person. This is not a great combination, in theory. One of the single best pieces of dating advice I have ever gotten has addressed the intersection of these two things.

Dating is often thought of as a game. I don’t like this metaphor, for lots of reasons, but I understand why sometimes people use it. Dating is a weird combination of both a genuine attempt to get to know someone else, and figuring out how you feel etc, and also a kind of exercise of and performance in judgement. So, you’re interested in getting to know this person, and you want to know what they think about you, and this causes all sorts of doubt and speculation and will very easily bring many an insecurity to the surface of one’s thought. At the same time, it’s hard to just be really honest about all of this, because you’re also trying to put on your best behaviour and show the other person not only a good version of yourself but that you have good judgement, you understand social cues, social norms, that you are not creepy, etc.

So you go on a date. It ends well, and as you part they say that they will be in touch or that you should go out again, or whatever. A few days go by, they don’t call. Doubt starts creeping in. What’s going on? You had a good time, you thought. It doesn’t make sense.

Has something happened to them? Did they get in an accident? Did they actually hate you and were just being polite? Did you have something on your face the whole time and they were so disgusted but they didn’t want to say anything but now their impression of you includes a big smudge over your nose? What if that thing I said about that thing was totally stupid and now they hate me? What if they met someone else at a party and eloped? WHAT IF WHAT IF WHAT IF.

Continue ad infinitum if you are an anxious person with a creative imagination, like me.

A good friend of mine, who was my dating guru for a time in my mid twenties, coined a term that exactly describes this line of thinking: Useless Internal Narrative. UIN, for short.

Once I had this concept, every time my mind would wander in the direction of the dramatic and unknowable, I would repeat this to myself, as a mantra. UIN. UIN. UIN.

Dating is seriously hard enough without speculating about people’s lives and motivations. It’s useless because it’s time consuming and anxiety-inducing and most of the time, it’s not even close to being accurate.

Maybe they DID meet someone else. Maybe they have a deadline. Maybe their bunny died. WHO CAN SAY. Maybe CALL THEM AND ASK THEM OUT AGAIN. If they don’t respond, or say no, then at the very least you will have that information and you can move on with your life.

Because honestly, even if the answer is that they aren’t, after all, interested, there probably is no dramatic reason for it. It is not personal, it is not a final judgement on you, it does not mean that you are failing or somehow un-datable. If I think of all the people I have had decent dates with but not wanted to go out with again, there was never a ‘reason’. It wasn’t that they said something stupid, or had something on their face or did anything in particular. It was that, on reflection, it just wasn’t a match. And there is something kind of banal about that answer, but it’s also often the most true.

And, if you can accept it, it is also very reassuring.

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Awkward Moments

In my last post I noted that most of the time, a date is worth two beers. Sometimes, this is less true.

I can usually tell if there is dating potential pretty early on in a date with someone. I don’t have a formula for this, it’s just a feeling I get, one way or another. Someone can be nervous and awkward and still make it into the second date category, and someone can be very charming and not. I suppose it’s mostly based on the connection I feel with the person, regardless of window dressing.

This date came at the end of a long week of socializing, so I was already a bit nervous about it. But I had to be downtown anyway, and had arranged this date directly after another hangout. It was at a tiny little dive bar in a hip part of town but one in which no actual hipsters would frequent. It had a …. stabby … sort of feel to it.

I was nervous but I grabbed a booth. A few minutes later he came in, and sat down. In the first few minutes I could just tell that it was a no for me, but he was educated and interesting and I thought well this is fine, I’m having a good time.

At one point I got up to to go the washroom, and he got up to get us another round. I tried to pay but he’d already started a tab. I used to go back and forth about this, whether to pay or not to pay, and I think that how comfortable I feel letting someone pay depends on a lot of factors – so like, if I think I’ll see them again it’s okay, or if they make a lot of money and we’re only having cheap beers. I used to let men pay more often but honestly even when men say they don’t think it entitles them to anything (and even when they think they believe that)… I dunno. It can sometimes lead to resentment when I decline a second date, and more than that, it means that I feel awkward saying no to another date, and that, more than anything, is why I resist it. But if someone is going to insist then it feels weird to fight about it so I let him, and headed off to the loo.

When I got back, as I was sitting down, he said ‘So. Was it a good pee or a bad pee?’

‘Pardon?’ I said, startled.

He repeated himself.

So, like, it takes a lot to startle me. It takes a lot to offend me, or to overshare with me. I’m very open and I like it when people feel comfortable being themselves around me. But I honestly just didn’t know what to do with this question? I didn’t even understand what it meant. It didn’t seem like a joke. I mean, I can tolerate toilet humour even though it rarely pings on my humour radar, because I get that it is funny to other people and I accept that. But this didn’t even seem like a joke? I just… had so many questions.

“What would count as a good pee?” I asked.

“Pffff how should I know what you consider a good pee?” he responded.

I wasn’t sure what to say to that. Had he just said something kind of ridiculous and then decided to dig his heels in? I mean, fair enough I guess. I’ve been awkward on dates, definitely. But it kind of seemed like he didn’t even know what he was asking at that point. I mean, just… what? (A better question might have been: what is a bad pee? Was he trying to figure out if I had a UTI? An STI? Was he wondering what I was up to in the bathroom and didn’t know how to ask that? Was he paranoid that I was sending texts? That I was snorting coke? That I was making covert origami? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.)

Anyway at this point I was staring at another whole pint of beer that I was going to have to get through before I could get out of there. After the next drink, he went to the washroom and came back and I was tempted to ask him if it was a good pee but I actually think I didn’t get the chance because he was like: So! Are you hungry?? And with a force that surprised even me, I was like: Nope! Sorry I’m at the end of a long week and my back injury (a real thing) is acting up and I think I need to go home to lay on my heating pad.

He was like: Oh. Okay.

So at that moment I knew that he knew that I was kind of done. And that’s hard, because I hate this part of dating, on both sides. It’s fine when you are both kind of ‘meh’ and it’s wonderful when both of you are into it, but just all of the awkwardness of the times when one of you is into it and the other isn’t, and feeling like I’m somehow responsible for other people’s feelings gets kind of overwhelming. It’s sometimes why I just avoid dating altogether. But anyway my point is that regardless, we finished our drinks and in fact I didn’t feel as terrible as I might have five years ago. Not because this person wasn’t a nice guy, he was. He paid for the drinks and stood with me waiting for the streetcar (which thank goodness only took a minute to get there) and we parted on good terms. And I think I’m realizing that being able to make a decision that is right for me, and then asserting my needs and wants and boundaries even when they go against the other person’s desires, is something I am getting better at doing, more comfortable at doing, bit by bit. And date by date. And that is something.