Dateless-Man vs. Zen

“This is the life I got left. Know what I mean?” – Mercy, “THE WARRIORS” (1979)

Longtime readers may know that we are at the tail end of what I usually considered my “loneliest time of the year”. To briefly recap that 2014 entry, it’s the period between October thru March (roughly from the build up to Halloween thru Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and ultimately my birthday). I won’t reveal whether I am an Aries or a Pisces partly to remain mysterious and partly because I place little if any stock in astrology. The point is that usually for this six month span, I would become even more morose and depressed than usual. It would remind me of my own failings in life, especially with my love life, even more so than the six months prior.

Therefore, October 2016 – March 2017 represents the third such period I have gone through while crafting this blog. It began in July 2014 as a bit of an experiment. I hadn’t seen a therapist since high school and I was curious what the effect would be if I were to find a format to lay out many of my own memories about my love life (or lack thereof) since it often caused me great emotional pain. I’d tried to write (or type) personal journals for years but never could put pen to paper. But the blog format, where there was always the potential of interaction with a reading audience, seemed to do the trick. And so I laid out practically every major memory and interaction I had regarding the opposite sex. I wrote essays about my own feelings about romance, my own angst over my virginity, and so on. In quite a few articles recently I have stated how I have felt that blogging about my state has had an effect on me, I was just trying to pinpoint what.

In particular, a few times I’ve stated feeling at a crossroads; I certainly did last year. I am in my 30’s and am woefully behind the curve in terms of dating experience. As I laid out, all of my previous attempts have been few and far between, and often unsuccessful due to my own inability to cope, bad luck, or circumstance. Ever since the end of college in my late 20’s I sort of put these feelings in a box, trying to move past the intense feelings of isolation, inadequacy and love-sickness which often depressed me when I was younger. I felt caught between two possible choices. The first is to make one last ditch effort at dating with whatever woeful attributes I have before it is really too late in terms of age to make any impression. This requires literally ignoring the great body of evidence that I’d complied and gotten out of my mind into text regarding my past attempts and thinking success was remotely possible anyway. The second choice was to “find my zen” as I called it, and finally abandon any hope or desire to be romantically successful. To abandon it as I’ve abandoned many childhood pursuits which were unrealistic and move on with my life.

As of now, I have to say that this has probably been my easiest “Loneliest Time of the Year” that I can recall. My angst was at a minimum compared to 2014-2015 or 2015-2016. My birthday in particular was just a normal work day. There were no pangs of regret or frustration, no feelings of inadequacy or failure that I often felt on that day. Even one of my very best friends commented on how she noticed that I wasn’t “freaking out” about everything days before like I usually do. But it wasn’t just the tail end. New Year’s and Valentine’s Day came and went with noticeably less negative feelings than usual for me. I genuinely think expressing so many harrowing memories and feelings in an honest way, which I rarely get to do since I don’t like dumping emotions on my pals too much, has helped. I’ve unloaded years worth of memories with stories I genuinely hadn’t told anyone, or explored angst in a way beyond a vague comment in real life. Furthermore, simply knowing I have a safe space has also helped. If I do have a relapse, I know I can whip up a blog post about it. Some of the stuff regarding “Carrie” is an easy example; rather than need to bury some romantic drama for years from my high school or college years, I could blog about it in real time. It’s helped me move on.

(Incidentally, I had dinner with one of my friends and his now very pregnant wife. “Carrie”, who is the ex of a friend and one of their pals, apparently has had drama with them. She had a shortlived relationship with another friend of theirs who I know, and without going into detail is now persona non grata with most of my local social circle. It explains why she was so surprised that I attended her birthday party, and why she was interested in what I could tell her about the “old crew”. While I don’t judge women based on what others say about them – even friends – it certainly has added a wrinkle there. That even if that 1% chance of her being into me was possible, it would probably poison the well with a few of my closest friends. Ah, drama. How much I hate it.)

This isn’t to say that I am a happy camper, or have accepted myself and all of my flaws in the ways some would prefer. What it does mean that I feel less tormented by my own pangs and romantic lamentations than before. In fact I hardly have any lamentations now. I’ve let go of a lot of it, at least for the moment and the recent past. Maybe I am making peace of things which were never meant to be. I’ll never have a successful “puppy love” crush in elementary school. I’ll never have a hormonal high school fling, or a free spirited college affair or two. I’ll never have a successful romantic prom or school dance. I’ll never have a relationship where, due to youth and circumstance, it would have been be okay to make any growing pain errors or for it to be acceptable if I just want to enjoy things like walks in the park, beach walks, hanging out or watching the stars on park grass instead of more “mature” dating like bars and clubs or more expensive trips. All of those milestones are behind me, and there’s no way to make up for them as a man in my 30’s, when I am supposed to be experienced and together. There is no do-over, no second chance. And these days that’s sort of okay. The notion of that doesn’t fill me with any negative feelings. These days it feels like a statement of fact. It is who I am, the hand I was dealt. I’ve groused about it plenty, and now I feel spent and empty.

I have described myself as going through the five stages of mourning the death of my love life more than once. When I was younger — especially throughout college — I was often caught in a web of denial, anger, and bargaining. I have waded through depression a while, and I feel very much that acceptance is in reach. This isn’t to say that I am promising never to relapse for a moment or two; that’s not how emotions work. But as of 2017, it very much feels like less of a big deal than it did in 2016 or at any point since I’ve begun the blog in summer 2014.

It is possible that it’s due to outside factors. I often find comfort in routine. The company that I work for (and have for over 5 years) has seen quite a few more shifts over the past month and a half. Things at home rarely get easier regarding a handicapped mother and not having a lot of spare money. And the administration, as well as dealing with people who are reacting to it in one way or the other can become exhausting. But I don’t think it is entirely due to these factors alone. I think I may have genuinely reached  a place where I have vented enough, and in a different way, then I have before. It’s the emotional equivalent of having hit a heavy bag until I have nothing left but to collapse and recover, and then walk away.

I have visited another message board on occasion – the one hosted by Doctor Nerdlove, who is among the saner advisers of male geeks online – and I have encountered some criticism that all I have done is make being “the Dateless-Man” into an identity that I can’t let go of. I suppose some of that may be true. I certainly didn’t want to become like this; it’s been a combination of society and my own inability to put myself together in a shape which fits in anywhere. I’m too normal for the true out and proud freaks, but I’m too freaky for the norms. But if so, what is my alternative? The dating game isn’t golf; there are no handicaps or mulligans. It’s difficult for anyone in their 30’s to reenter it for any circumstance. For a man to do so with less romantic relationship experience than the average junior high student is nearly impossible. I’m not a bachelor; I am a collection of red flags and underwhelming attributes in the shape of a man as far as others see. Sure, my friends might talk the world of me and consider me a funny, smart, loyal guy — but none have every been in a rush to set me up with anyone they know, either. None have ever seen me as a romantic being. I simply have never projected that vibe. Men like me are given no mercy, no understanding, no patience — and why should me? Most women have been annoyed, victimized, or even threatened or attacked by men with even fewer red flags. They have no time to take a chance on me, and I certainly don’t blame them. I’m IN me. I know I’m not all that. It is too late to make up for lost time. It would be selfish to inflict myself upon them, expecting miracles.

If being the Dateless-Man has become an identity, it’s not one I chose. It’s one that I discovered I was while I was already midway through it. But to me it’s just a cute name to call myself on WordPress. At the moment I find myself in a place where all of the old rejections, lamentations, romantic frustrations, and lovelorn yearnings just don’t hurt much if at all anymore. I have become numb to it, but not numb to all feelings. I have regrets, of course. It is a shame that I will never get to know certain feelings. I’ll never get to caress someone, hold them, kiss them, make them feel special and lovely in the way that only a lover can. Or, heaven forbid, do all that more than once. But, it’s also a shame I’ll never get to ride a dinosaur  or punch out a bank robber. Life goes on, and I have things to do, hobbies to enjoy, and so on. Regret is a terrible motivator, and I’m not motivated by that. The emotions regarding my lack of a love life haven’t been as hot or passionate as they were at this time last year. The old slings and barbs, the memories and thoughts, even some of the songs, which used to bring me terrible pain are now nothing to me.

If this is what acceptance looks like, I am not minding the view so far. The irony is that if I’d reached this state about a decade ago, or even 7 years ago, I might have thought, “Good, so if it doesn’t hurt so bad anymore I’ll give OkCupid another go!” Can you imagine that? “Oh, now that I feel no pain anymore, I’ll run face first into the inferno.” That’s just crazy. Thank goodness I’m old enough to know that it’s no use chasing pipe dreams, nor is it worth it to lament about them. It’s possible that something could trigger a relapse, but I have no clue what, and I am not eager for it. At the moment I am as close to Zen as I have ever been, and it feels much better than the alternative. To realize and accept, or at least be the closest to accepting, what can never be can be very liberating.

I mean, it could be worse. It could always be worse. And that’s not bad.