Learning to Date Again

It had been a long time since I’d been on a date that January evening, a couple of years ago. I’d told myself, my friends, and my therapist, that it wasn’t a big deal, but I wasn’t being honest with myself. The truth was, I was scared. I didn’t want to get hurt again.

As I went about my days, those words from my therapist played in a gentle loop in my head: “Is it time to try dating online again?” Finally, I sat on her lime green couch and told her that it was.

This early January date was the result of that decision. I had put myself out there, created a profile, and connected with someone who seemed interesting and artistic. He was from Seattle, a few hours away, in town on business for a short while. Still, something made me want to connect. We went back and forth about how we’d like to meet and finally settled on a walk through a large bookstore. We would meet in front of one of his favorite authors.

Have you ever met someone and felt like you knew them from somewhere? That’s what happened to me on this date. I was so nervous, waiting for him to arrive, that my head was pounding and my hands were shaking as I flipped through a book, trying to look casual. But when he arrived, I let out a long breath. Something told me I could relax around him.

We walked through the bookstore, heading into the children’s section and picking out our favorite Dr. Seuss books. I touched the spines lightly as we passed, reconnecting with old friends. Even though we’d never met before, he felt like an old friend, too.

We wandered into the connected coffee shop and ordered steaming mugs of tea, swapping stories about our lives, our dating histories.

I’ve often been called an over-analyzer. I turn conversations and encounters over and over again in my mind, wondering how I came across, what the other person thought of me, and what I had to say. It was as if this guy knew that, maybe there was something about me that gave me away. As we sipped tea, he talked to me about how the date was going (really well), he spent a little time telling me how I was coming across. He told me that I was lovely, and that I wasn’t single because there was anything wrong with me. My muscles relaxed even further.

I drove home with a smile on my lips, using all of my lungs to breathe for the first time in a while. My date had given me a precious gift: I wasn’t afraid anymore.

Still, something nagged at me, what was that familiar feeling I got with this man? It was several days later, as I was listening to music in my car, that I figured it out: I felt like I was in a Noah Gundersen song. Noah is one of my favorites. His music is slow, and usually sad, in a world weary way, but there are snatches of hope, murmurs of comfort, along with the mournfulness. He sings about love lost, but also found. My date was one of those songs personified.

That month, I used my newfound bravery to go on several more dates with people I met online, one of them with a self-important physical therapist who spent three hours talking about himself over dinner, barely letting me put in a word. When it was over, I called my bookstore date, and we returned to the restaurant I’d just left. I can’t imagine what the servers and bartenders thought as I walked in again, the second time in one night, with a different guy, but I like to think that if they were paying attention, they’d have seen me start to laugh and loosen up a million times more comfortable than I had been with the physical therapist. We ordered tequila and I told him all about my terrible date. “I want to say you’re in the wrong city,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s it. I think it just hasn’t happened yet.” As we parted, he kissed my cheek.

That night was the last time I saw him, and even though I loved our connection, somehow that felt right. He was a reminder that there were people out there who could spend an evening with me and read me like a book, knowing intuitively how to put my mind at ease. He was a reminder not to give up on the real thing.

A few weeks later, one of those online dates turned into a relationship and I texted my bookstore date. “I just want to say thank you,” I said. “You helped me to hope again.” He texted back a few minutes later. “That makes me feel really nice.” That sense of hope and well-being didn’t end when that relationship did, a little later, it continued to sustain my steps.

For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t fearful about my romantic future. I wasn’t shrinking back from meeting new people or from conversations with strangers, and whenever a Noah Gundersen song came on in my car, I turned it up, thinking about the moments when I’d slipped into these songs to live for a while, and felt at home. That lingers still. I never fail to sing along.

Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook or at www.carastrickland.com

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