I started out my dating life as a serial monogamist.
From my teens until well into my twenties, I held on tight to my relationships, especially the difficult ones. Nothing worth having should be easy to get. I would find the formula to make a difficult relationship work.
Guess what? No formula. No success. In my late twenties, I gave up on serial monogamy and started dating in earnest for the first time.
I had no idea what I was doing.
As an identical twin, I grew up with a healthy respect for rules governing fairness and equality. I became an adept rule maker and follower, and eventually a lawyer.
So, when I decided to start dating, I devised some rules:
Rule #4 was the most important one. All the others were made to be broken (albeit with often-disastrous results). But hide the crazy—hide my insecurities, my fears, my everyday peccadilloes (like my rule of allowing only liquids on the fridge’s top shelf), basically, hide the real me—that one was a keeper.
I had to appear perfect to find the perfect partner.
The result was seven years of bad dates, as if my rules had shattered a mirror and jinxed me.
The worst date happened over dinner at a Thai restaurant (on a Tuesday, thank God). After ordering, my date grabbed an empty glass, pulled out a wad of chewing tobacco, and asked, “Mind if I spit?”
Um, yeah. Which of course I didn’t say. Because, you know, Rule #4: Hide the real me.
So he chewed and spit for the entire meal.
Following Rule #4 produced more disastrous results than breaking all the other rules combined because it gave my dates unrealistic expectations that I couldn’t possibly sustain.
For instance, if my date wanted to watch MMA for five hours straight? No problem! I’d cheer alongside him even though I’d rather have spikes stuck under my fingernails. If my date showed up an hour late without calling? So what! I was just hanging out, playing with the cats.
I didn’t have a temper. I didn’t have needs, wants, desires. I was flexible. I could be anything he wanted.
But pretty soon, all my pent-up crazy burst out: my no-liquids-on-the-top-shelf rule, my insistence on alphabetizing my bookshelves and color-coding my closet and refusing to brush my hair on weekends, and on and on. I got bitchy, tearful. I insisted my needs be met, and not just the reasonable ones (be on time; call when you say you will). Instead of seeming endearingly tweaked (which is how I liked to think of myself), I wound up seeming batshit.
Which was not a good look.
Make or Break Time
All those bad dates made being single look sublime. I stopped dating and focused on my dream of becoming a writer. I quit lawyering and applied to MFA programs.
Romance was overrated. I spit on romance (with chewing tobacco, no less). I laughed in its duplicitous face.
After months of sitting home writing and cleaning up the cats’ hairballs, I agreed to another blind date.
The date broke Rules #1 and 2. It happened during primetime on a Friday evening: Dinner at a sushi restaurant. When my blind date walked in—tall, dark-haired, handsome—I remember thinking, “Whoa. Not bad. Good, even. Really good.”
He turned out to be funny, smart, and unafraid to show he liked me. We went from dinner to a bar, where he smashed Rule #3 to smithereens: before we even paid the tab, he asked me out again. Right there, during our first date–our first blind date.
What was he thinking? Didn’t he know that meant he was too eager and untrustworthy?
I said yes anyway.
Because if he was confident enough to break Rules #1 – 3, then I had to have the guts to break my most important rule, the one that was never to be broken.
No More Hiding the Crazy
Rule #4 had to go. No more hiding the crazy.
My friends were worried.
“We love your crazy,” they said, “but this guy’s a keeper. Don’t scare him off.”
I didn’t listen.
I liked this man more than I’d liked anyone in ages, but if he couldn’t handle my crazy, then he wasn’t for me.
Within a few weeks of dating, he took one of my favorite coffee mugs to brunch with us, despite my rule that mugs didn’t leave the house lest they get broken. As he got out of the car, he dropped the mug and shattered it in the street.
“I told you this would happen,” I said, my fists clenched.
He unclenched my hands, kissed me. “Yup, you did,” he said.
Then he drove me to Bloomingdale’s to buy a new mug.
He didn’t follow all my rules, but he was good natured about them. If he didn’t want to do something, he said no in a way I heard and respected.
Suddenly, my rules about the way things had to be didn’t feel as necessary. Their importance faded.
I became a more joyous kind of crazy that could be cajoled and teased out of her rules, the kind that could marry this man and build a life with him across decades.
The kind of crazy that could be happy. Finally.
This post appeared as “The Dating Rules I Had to Break to Meet the Right Partner” on Hello Giggles.
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