Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I recently (about 6 months ago) ended a long-term (4.5 year) relationship. Over the past 6 months, I have been enjoying being single. Not in the picking-up-people-for-hot-sex way, but in the I-appreciate-my-own-company and love-having-free-time way. I had totally lost my sex drive, so I really didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I had gone so far as to think that dating wasn’t for me anymore because I’m not likely to find someone who meets my high standards (like having a job, being able to care for themselves, and speak in complete sentences) and I won’t settle for less. Since I wasn’t interested in sex at all, it all made perfect sense.
As what tends to happen in life, when you think you have things figured out and like where they are, everything gets fucked up. I met a man with whom I immediately connected, had stimulating conversation, and out of this world sex. What’s the problem, you say? This man lives in Europe. He was only here for a week. Now, my sex drive is in high gear, I have zero prospects for sex/relationships and am totally infatuated with a man who couldn’t be less attainable.
We’ve both agreed to stay in touch and have talked about meeting up in Europe in the future. Part of me thinks this is the best thing ever (He likes me! He really likes me!) and part of me just sees more pain down the road. When I meet someone I connect with, I tend to get too attached too quickly. Yes, in only a week’s time of talking every day, multiple rounds of sex, and a night of cuddling, I am more attached than I should be.
My question is: Do I stop talking to him and try to move on and never see him again? Or do I say fuck it and ride the train until it inevitably derails? I’ve already looked at flights and found some for a price I’m willing to spend for a long weekend, which wouldn’t be until May. Keep in mind, I’ve only known him a week, so there are plenty of things I don’t know about him.
About half the people I’ve talked to about this say I should “cauterize the wound” now and just never talk to him again. The other half say to go for it, because you never know what might happen. What do you think?
About to Buy the Ticket
Dear About to Buy the Ticket,
Congrats on the hot sex! And, even more, congrats on getting your sex drive back. I’m sorry that the key to unlocking your sexuality is a man who’s now on the other side of the Atlantic, but Toys in Babeland is pretty terrific and will definitely get you through in the meantime. You know, sex drives are like trees—they go dormant if they don’t get enough light. But on the reverse, the more you use it the more you USE IT.
As for the guy, here’s my summary of your problem:
1. You’re newly single.
2. You met someone you like and had great sex with.
3. Which is terrible.
Now, I don’t think this situation is a problem.
I think that being attached to this new man is quite normal. It’s not a “you shouldn’t like him so much” thing as much as it is a “muscle memory” thing. You were in a relationship for 4.5 years. You know how to be coupled. You broke up with your ex-boyfriend and since then you’ve been in an uncomfortable situation of figuring out how to be single again. So you’re going out, enjoying your free time, but then this guy happens. And you’re together, staying up late, having sex, being physically intimate and emotionally intimate, and it’s like being home again. Not because this guy is “the guy,” but because finally you’re back in territory you’re familiar with. Being attached to someone is, in many ways, your norm.
Being in a relationship, being alone, and dating are three completely different skill sets. You know what it looks like to be in a relationship, and you know what it looks like to be alone. What does it look like to date someone? How is that different from being coupled? What does it look like to enjoy someone, to talk to him and see him occasionally, but to not be his partner?
When I was 29 years old, I had a 6-year relationship end. I moved into an apartment by myself in Chicago and set about the grim task of dating. I didn’t want to date, I didn’t know how to date, I hated dating, and every time I went out with someone who I sort of maybe liked, I was terrified that he wouldn’t like me, which meant that I would die alone. Clearly, I was doing it wrong.
As I dated, periodically I would find someone I got along with. He would be nice, funny, attractive, and I would immediately melt. Finally, my man is here. But after a few months of dating the relationship would fizzle out and I would be devastated in a manner wholly out of proportion with the relationship. No matter who the guy was, no matter the fact that us not becoming a couple was, in each case, a good thing. Every time, I was devastated. I wasn’t devastated at losing the guy—I was devastated at losing a chance to, once again, be coupled. I hated being single and I was desperate to find a man to save me from this state.
One day, I was dating a guy who was a wedding DJ. It was a Sunday afternoon, we were texting, and said he would call me later if he had time to come over. But then I didn’t hear from him. And I was sitting in my apartment, feeling terrible, feeling unwanted, on the verge of tears. And then I stopped. I shook my head. This guy, the one who didn’t call me, wasn’t the complete best. He wasn’t even partially good. He was fine, we had fun together, but did I really want him to be my boyfriend? No. So why was I basing my self-esteem on a phone call from him? Why didn’t I just treat him the way I treated my casual friends—it’s great if I see you, but if we can’t meet up, that’s OK too? And then, sitting on my couch and eating tortilla chips out of sadness, on a Sunday night, I finally figured out the difference between dating and being coupled.
Once I figured out how to date, I was no longer miserable dating. I loved dating, I loved being single. And then I had the opposite problem: I became so comfortable at being single and dating that, once I met my husband, it look me a minute to get back into couple mode.
Dates should be fun and enjoyable and light and make your head buzz with excitement and possibility. Relationships should root you to the ground, they should feed your soul and make you feel safe and reassured. You’re not attached to this guy—you don’t know this guy. You have a crush on this guy. You’re attached to the new possibility that you, a single lady, can meet fascinating people and have great conversations and great sex. You’re attached to this evidence that dating doesn’t have to be a monotonous, ego-killing chore. It can be funnnnnn.
Yes, please, keep talking to this guy. Enjoy him. But know that he’s not your salvation. He’s not the thing that rescues you from this period of your life. He’s one dude who lives in Europe and lays it down well who wants to talk to you more.
Go to Europe, though. Do that for sure. Because one day, years from now, it’s going to be a Sunday night and you’ll be completely coupled and your significant other will be in bed already and you’ll be brushing your teeth and noticing the soap scum on the bathroom faucet and remembering that you have to make a dentist appointment tomorrow and then you’ll stop and put your toothbrush down and look in the mirror and think, “Remember that time I flew to Europe to bang that hot guy? That was awesome.”
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.