For about six-and-a-half years, I desired a relationship as fiercely as I desired a colonic. It just wasn't my thing. For five of those years, I was celibate — that's another story in and of itself, but the Reader's Digest version is 1) I was messed up in the head over a college breakup and 2) I wanted to spend a ton of time focusing on my career.
For the last year and a half, however, I've been off doing my thing. And for someone who dates in New York, my love life was fairly uncomplicated because I could meet a bunch of people off Bumble or Tinder or whatever other apps I could find to get dick, no strings attached, and go about my business. I was upfront about the fact that I didn't want anything serious, and the guys I dated felt likewise. It was the perfect system.
Until suddenly it wasn't.
That's when I met Kyle*. On our first date, we witnessed someone getting the shit beaten out of him with a broom in Tompkins Square Park. I should have taken that as a sign.
When I first met Kyle, I didn't even like him. I thought he was really boring and... wholesome. He looked like the kid on the Cracker Jack box if that kid had recently gone through a divorce. I've mentioned before that I have a habit of dating recently divorced men, and that's because almost all of them don't want anything serious (as they shouldn't). So it wasn't a surprise when Kyle told me the same thing I've heard from every other guy who's recently gotten out of a long-term relationship and started dating me: "I'm not looking for anything serious. I'm not ready for a relationship right now. I just want something casual."
And my response was my usual response: "Me too." Because I truthfully had zero desire to date the Cracker Jack kid.
After spending more time with him, however, that ended up being a lie. I fell for Kyle. Hard. We both had our guards up pretty high, but we talked about some pretty heavy stuff. I learned that he was going through a lot in his life, putting on a brave face, and I respected the hell out of him. Admired him, even. He was a fighter and so am I. Despite the craziness of his life, we managed to have a lot of fun together.
I liked being around him. I didn't want the casual thing anymore. I was scared to tell him — embarrassed, actually — because he'd made it very clear that he needed to go out and date for the first time in 13 years (and I agreed with him on that) and not settle down. I kept my mouth shut, which just made the lie grow bigger and bigger.
I know that sometimes peoples' minds change. I initially thought I was down for a casual thing, but then a month later, I was like, Ah shit. I actually kinda want to commit to this person. (So, to reiterate, Dana on Date 1 with Kyle: "Meh. I'm not even sure I want to see this person again"; Dana on Date 5: "OH HELL YES.") There are some people who have met their partners because they started off as fuck buddies and then it developed into something more. It happens. But, in my experience, 99% of the time, men who have the emotional intelligence to say, "Hey, I just got out of a long-term relationship and am still kinda weird about it, so I really don't want something serious right now" — they mean it.
What I should have done in the moment I realized I wanted to be exclusive with him was broken it off immediately. We were both looking for two different things. But what I ended up doing was holding out for the "right now" to end. I know I'm not the only person who's ever been in this situation. I have had so many friends who have been told "I'm not looking for a relationship right now" and what they hear is "right now" instead of "I'm not looking for a relationship." I never thought I'd fall down that rabbit hole, but I did. Because instead of realizing, Oh shit, I need to get out of this situation, I thought:
Maybe if he gets to know me better, he'll want a relationship.
Maybe if he hangs out with me enough, he'll want a relationship.
Maybe if we sleep together enough times, he'll want a relationship.
What started off as a fun and exciting and stress-free situation suddenly got really stressful, because dating someone when you want a relationship and the other person doesn't is a very specific breed of torture. It is essentially in the tenth circle of Hell, wedged somewhere between the fitting room line at Forever 21 and sitting next to your racist, senile great-aunt at Christmas dinner. And to make matters worse, Aunt Trudy just stole the rest of the sweet potato pie and you're just like FUCK YOU.
It took up a lot of real estate in my brain. I questioned everything I was always so sure of about myself. My physical appearance, my intelligence, my humor — were any of these things good enough? What was missing? I'd drive myself crazy with questions. What if I wait it out until he does want a relationship? How long will that take? Is he truly enjoying the time spent in my company when we do see each other if he's not interested in me?
Eventually, I was experiencing the absolute last feelings I want while dating someone: fear, sadness, anxiety. I gave it a few months. And that's when I came to the difficult realization; I may have been all in, but Kyle was not. And he wouldn't be anytime soon. It was obvious he didn't have the same change of heart I did. I had to call it off.
So when friends come to me after hearing the "I don't want anything serious" speech from the people they're having sex with, my advice is: don't lie to these guys. Please don't say "me too" if you don't really mean it. Say that you're looking for something else, wish them the best, and cut ties. If you don't, you'll just get angry and resentful and sad and drive yourself crazy.
You'll ask yourself, "What is wrong with me?" when there's, like, nothing wrong with you. It's really not personal at all if the dude isn't ready or not looking for a relationship. It doesn't mean you're not awesome or fun or attractive. (Even if he immediately starts dating someone else after you. I promise.) It doesn't even mean that they don't like you! (Which is the biggest mindfuck of all.)
All it means is that person just isn't looking for a relationship. And there is literally nothing you can do to change that. Nothing. It doesn't matter how hot or funny or exciting you are — they don't want what they don't want, no matter how awesome of a package it comes in. It just means that person isn't looking for what you're looking for.
And so then you go off and find someone who does.