Emily Heist Moss likes the idea of having a partner one day, but for right now, there are plenty of things she’d rather be doing than going on multiple dates with the same guy.
My roommate has an analogy for the relationship between the dating game and the pursuit of an actual partnership. Going on first dates is like going to church, she says, or praying. These are the chores we suffer through in the hopes that we eventually find God. In pursuit of a greater, deeper, more substantial relationship, we practice hope over and over by returning to the site of greatest possibility, the first date. But what if, in this analogy, I’m not looking for faith, I just really, really like to go to church?
I like first dates. I like them for the same reasons I like chatting up any old stranger or reconnecting with an old acquaintance; people are full of stories and I want to hear them. I don’t “go to church” to find “God,” I just like going to church for church’s sake. The music is good, sometimes there are snacks, and people are usually in the mood to chat.
My threshold for first dates is very low; I like to think most people are worth a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. In the last year, I’ve been on about 25 or 30 first dates, so many that the Daves, Dans, Ricks, and Andys are now just a jumble of sweet potato fries and craft beers and entries in my phone filed under “O” for “OkCupid.”
Second dates, however, are a whole other story. My threshold goes from “You? Sure! Why not?” to “Thanks but no thanks, you seem nice but I have other stuff to do.” On a second date, there’s no thrill or novelty, I know what I’m getting into. Before I go to schedule that next dinner or follow-up coffee, the second date has to stack up against time with my friends or time with myself, a match-up in which the second date rarely wins. My curiosity about this new person is almost always dwarfed by my desire to do things or spend time with people I already know I like.
I was supposed to be on a date tonight. It was with a cute, sweet, smart guy, a raging liberal like myself, a book lover, a winner all around. Look up “boyfriend material” in the dictionary and find this dude staring back at you. Despite such on-paper potential, we called it off this afternoon because neither of us could find enough excitement, enough urgency about our impending evening to justify devoting more time to each other. There were some solid building blocks, we both acknowledged, but not enough spark to solder them together. Could it have become something real if we were inclined to pursue it, to push it a little further? Who knows, but neither of us was willing to bet on it.
I know I’m in trouble when the list of things I’d rather do than invest time in getting to know a new person starts to grow. I could go to yoga, I say to myself, and get the laundry done! I could call my brother, finish my book, catch up on New Girl, browse Pinterest, spend some quality time with Powerpoint for work, or make popcorn on the stove and watch the Bears get crushed. Or…I could have dinner with this person—this smart and lovely person—and chitchat, discuss family and friends, compare book recommendations and maybe share a kiss goodnight. I could entertain the potential that this person has some potential for me. Looking for a partner, or “looking for God” as my roommate puts it, is not super high on my list at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still like all the accoutrements of “going to church.”
Where does that leave me? By most accounts, the way you ultimately end up with a partner is by going to “church” a lot, dating up a storm. This has never worked for me and I don’t really expect it to in the future. Instead, I identify with those people who say they found God while doing dishes or taking out the trash, the ones who weren’t looking for it and for whom it just kind of happened. That’s the only way—accidentally—that I anticipate finding a partner.
When I come home from a date, my roommate always asks how it was. About eight times out of 10, he was nice, cute, and smart. The food was invariably good, since I frequent the same four restaurants on the regular, and I’m a pretty good talker, so conversation rarely flags.
“Are you going to go out again?” she invariably asks.
“Eh,” I say, “Probably not.”
There might be potential for real potential, if I gave it another date or two, but sticking around to find out never strikes me as worthwhile. In theory, I like the idea of a partner somewhere down the road, but it’s not the kind of thing I can control. It’ll either happen or it won’t, whether I keep building that “O” section of my address book or not. In the meantime, I’ll go to church when I feel like going to church, for the stories and the smiles, but I won’t be looking for God. He can wait.
Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.