When you’re dating, people in (and frankly, out of) relationships have a lot of advice to give on how to turn that single status upside down.
Some folks will tell you to give up, let it go and watch the magic unfold. Others will say that when you least expect it, a man will just appear in your life. Others will claim the key is playing hard to get and never act interested (even when you really, really are). They will tell you not to worry and to put yourself out there more (because all those dates you go on apparently aren’t enough). They will reassure you that you’re wonderful and men are silly not to latch onto your hip and claim you as their very own (because that’s healthy). So many ways to look at being single – and so many words of um, wisdom that feel anything but helpful, and mostly, infuriating.
But of all of the things people tell you – the worst piece of advice to stomach are these six little words:
“It happens when you stop looking.”
But wait? How can you date without looking?
Isn’t the point of playing the field and sorting through all of the jerks and the could-be great guys… is that you’re looking? If you’re saying “yes” to drinks with Mr. Maybe-I-Could-Feel-Something-Big, it’s likely you’re not just doing it to pass time. Surely, you don’t endure the truly terrible experiences without the glimmer of possibility that one could turn into one of those really amazing first dates. If you are signing up for Tinder and Hinge and OkCupid and Match, going on Grouper dates and letting people set you up with strangers – aren’t you looking? If you’re not looking, then you’re not dating, right? Aren’t they one in the same? So how can the love of your life (or of the next few months or years) waltz into your life if you’re not going on dates, or well, looking out for his grand entrance?
I never understood the difference until recently, while out to brunch with my friend C. In between sips of mimosa and listening to jazz in the West Village, I said: “I have so much going on in my life that’s bringing me joy and getting me excited: a new job, possibly a new apartment, a trip to London, summer trips and marathon training. It’s not that I wouldn’t be open to a relationship, it’s just that I have so much more to focus on. Meeting someone would be great and fun, but it’s not the priority. It’d just be a really nice addition, not a necessity.”
And that’s when it hit me: there’s a difference between looking and being open.
When you’re looking, everything feels rushed and pressured, like you’re attempting to meet an imaginary deadline to meet someone before your time runs out. When you’re looking, a guy that really seemed like he would work out and somehow, he didn’t – would be disappointing and possibly, devastating. When you’re looking, you put more weight on every word he says, every texts he sends, every thing he does or doesn’t do. When you’re looking, drinks with friends are never just a catch-up with the girls, instead, it’s an eye-prowl of the establishment, checking for any available men. When you’re looking, you fill your calendar with maybe’s and you stop committing to plans – just in case someone great comes along. When you’re looking, you’re anything but relaxed.
And that’s what people mean when they give you the advice to stop looking. If you’re constantly seeking, you won’t find what you want because you’re so focused on the chase that you never notice your prey. And you never give any spark time to grow. Or to bloom. The shade of your hand keeps it hidden because the pressure is just too heavy.
The difference between looking and being open doesn’t feel that contrasting. In fact, I hadn’t even realized it until I looked at my life and noticed my own big changes. If we’re being honest, I haven’t been looking for love in quite some time.
Instead, I’ve just been open.
I’ve filled my days and nights and weekends with the things I actually want to do, regardless if a man is involved or not: brunch and flying trapeze, picnics in the park, long runs at dusk, dog play dates, trips abroad and trips just an hour away, trying new cocktails with old friends, and going to old staples with new friends. I’ve been focused on experiences and adventures instead of romance and happily-ever-after. I’ve said “yes” to dates that I thought could really go well, and when they didn’t, I’ve let them go with such ease that I forget just how many I’ve gone on. I’ve spent time and money saving for what I want, and I haven’t considered anyone else in the process, instead, I’ve just enjoyed the dreams of what my life could be, the places I could go, the things I could see.
With all things that could happen, I’m open. I’m curious. I’m excited.
And if some man does come along, it won’t be because I looked for him. Or sought him out in desperate attempts or with elaborate, calculated plans. Or because I put on that one dress that hugs in all the right places. Or because I said the right thing or replied in the same way, or went out with the sole purpose of finding him.
It’ll be because of what happens when apparently, I’m not looking, not expecting it and not trying so hard and not giving up, and letting go.
Or ya know, just when I’m myself. And open to whatever is next.