It's been almost two years since I was in a relationship, and lately, the casual flings have been feeling more and more empty. I've begun to ask myself, “Am I ready for a relationship again?” The feeling started a month or two ago, when I drove to meet up with a fellow who lived about an hour from where I was staying with my parents.
He turned out to also be staying with his mom, so we got in his car and drove to the basement of a hospital parking garage about a mile or so away. We hooked up in his backseat.
Twenty minutes later, as I got back in my car to drive away, I felt a kind of void open up in me. I drove to get a burger alone and sat and ate it on the sidewalk, watching couples strolling along the Potomac River, holding hands and pushing their babies in strollers. I licked the ketchup from my fingers and thought maybe I was ready to be in a relationship again.
Obviously I wouldn't find a good potential partner overnight, but it's been a possibility I have felt more open to with every dating app exchange I've had since then.
Fast forward to last night, when a new Tinder notification lit up my phone. Some cutie had thrown me a super like, and I enthusiastically swiped right.
Even though I usually take a good gander at people's bios before I start messaging them, this guy's bio was written in Spanish, and I don't speak a word. So I scanned over the phrase “relacion abierta” without giving it another thought. He definitely seemed into me, and for a second there, I was kind of excited. We exchanged a flurry of messages back and forth and agreed to meet up next week when he gets back into town.
“I'm in an open relationship,” he clarified, since it hadn't been mentioned. “I'm married.”
“Oh,” I responded. "That's cool."
I waited for disappointment to set in. We had connected, but it seemed the relationship I thought I wanted clearly wasn't going to happen with a married guy. Were my expectations or hopes really tampered down?
I was surprised when my honest answer was no. I was actually fine with still wanting to meet up. It actually seemed simpler, because if it worked out, it would offer some level of stability, while also allowing me to continue to do the work of building up myself.
When you want a relationship, you crave all the positive aspects of intimacy and commitment. There are certain privileges that a relationship affords you. The one that is most important to my every day well-being is probably having a built in big spoon, but that isn't all.
Being in a relationship means you have someone to help you move all your crap when you are relocating to a new apartment. You have someone to cook you dinner once in a while or check in on you if you aren't feeling well. You have someone to cry to when you get in a fight with your mom or when your dad ends up in the hospital again.
For years, I have relied on friends to fill this role, and most to them have risen to the occasion, moving my stuff across state lines, fixing me food, picking me up from urgent care when I was too sick to drive myself, even checking in on me when my sick parent had another round in the hospital. And while I have reciprocated when I can, I have admittedly had a particularly difficult last two years, which has probably prevented me from providing equivalent care. If I could, I would be ready for a relationship.
When you're single, your support network is a shifting one. While I am grateful to those who can step in and lend me a shoulder when they can, I am also aware of how nice it would be if there were one, primary person who was regularly able to be there. It's in these difficult moments that I feel my single-ness the most.
I become the person who has to hold myself, who has to make sure that I am fed and watered, who has to show myself tenderness even when I want to ridicule myself for being late to work, for missing an appointment, for winding up with a $50 parking ticket I can't afford.
When you simply want a relationship, you are aware that being with someone could lift the burden of being alive off your shoulders every once in a while, or at least give you a bit of a distraction.
When you are ready for a relationship, however, you are able to share in the burdens you both have. You are independently strong enough to carry them together. This is how I know that no matter how much I might want a relationship, I'm not actually ready for one yet. And no, that's not a cop-out.
It's not that I think I am unlovable or that I couldn't find someone to be with me. It's that I am not able to offer an equivalent amount of care that I would want to provide.
If I were ready for a relationship, I think I would feel more whole in myself.
I am considerably more independent, capable, and resilient since my last relationship ended. Being alone through difficult times is the best way to learn how to swim instead of sink. Still, I am not where I want to be yet, in terms of building up my self-reliance. Instead of knowing I'm going to be OK, I want to actually be OK enough to help support someone else.
If I had reached the end of my swimming lessons, I wouldn't be meeting up with this married guy. I would probably be looking for something more serious than what a relationship with a person in an open marriage could offer.
But even though I have learned how to keep my head above water, there are still more strokes I have to master before I am able to be everything I want to be for someone I can commit to loving for a long time.
Until then, there's no harm in continuing to explore the whole pool. Right?