I started out my dating life as a serial monogamist. From my teens until well into my twenties, I held on tight to my relationships, especially the difficult ones. Nothing worth having should be easy to get. I would find the formula to make a difficult relationship work. Guess what? No formula. No success. In my late twenties, I gave up on serial monogamy and started dating in earnest for the first time.
I had no idea what I was doing.
As an identical twin, I grew up with a healthy respect for rules governing fairness and equality. I became an adept rule maker and follower, and eventually a lawyer. So, when I decided to start dating, I devised some rules:
(1) Blind dates could happen only during non-primetime (e., coffee or lunch, maybe weeknight drinks if he came highly recommended).
(2) Primetime dates (e., Friday or Saturday night) had to be preceded by at least one non-primetime date.
(3) No calling him after the first date. If he didn’t call me within a week, write him off. If he called too soon (within a day or two), regard his eagerness with suspicion and distrust. Something must be wrong with him.
(4) No matter what, hide the crazy.
Rule #4 was the most important one. All the others were made to be broken (albeit with often-disastrous results). But hide the crazy—hide my insecurities, my fears, my everyday peccadilloes (like my rule of allowing only liquids on the fridge’s top shelf), basically, hide the real me—that one was a keeper.
I had to appear perfect to find the perfect partner. Right? Nope. The result was seven years of bad dates, as if my rules had shattered a mirror and jinxed me.
The worst date happened over dinner at a Thai restaurant (on a Tuesday, thank God). After ordering, my date grabbed an empty glass, pulled out a wad of chewing tobacco, and asked, “Mind if I spit?”
Um, yeah. Which of course I didn’t say. Because, you know, Rule #4: Hide the real me. So he chewed and spit for the entire meal, which was, for me, a huge turn-off.
Following Rule #4 produced more disastrous results than breaking all the other rules combined because it gave my dates unrealistic expectations that I couldn’t possibly sustain.
For instance, if my date wanted to watch MMA for five hours straight? No problem! I’d cheer alongside him even though I’d rather have spikes stuck under my fingernails. If my date showed up an hour late without calling? So what! I was just hanging out, playing with the cats. I didn’t have a temper. I didn’t have needs, wants, desires. I was flexible. I could be anything he wanted.
But pretty soon, all my pent-up crazy burst out: my no-liquids-on-the-top-shelf rule, my insistence on alphabetizing my bookshelves and color-coding my closet and refusing to brush my hair on weekends, and on and on. I got bitchy, tearful. I insisted my needs be met, and not just the reasonable ones (be on time; call when you say you will). Which was not a good look.
All those bad dates made being single look sublime. I stopped dating and focused on my dream of becoming a writer. I quit lawyering and applied to MFA programs. After months of sitting home writing and cleaning up the cats’ hairballs, I agreed to another blind date.
The date broke Rules #1 and 2. It happened during primetime on a Friday evening: Dinner at a sushi restaurant. When my blind date walked in—tall, dark-haired, handsome—I remember thinking, “Whoa. Not bad. Good, even. Really good.”
He turned out to be funny, smart, and unafraid to show he liked me. We went from dinner to a bar, where he smashed Rule #3 to smithereens: before we even paid the tab, he asked me out again. Right there, during our first date–our first blind date. What was he thinking? Didn’t he know that meant he was too eager and untrustworthy?
I said yes anyway. Because if he was confident enough to break Rules #1 – 3, then I needed to step up and break my most important rule, the one that was never to be broken: No more hiding “the crazy.” No more deciding that, to impress someone, I needed to hide who I really am.
My friends were worried. “We love your crazy,” they said, “but this guy’s a keeper. Don’t scare him off.”
I didn’t listen. I liked this man more than I’d liked anyone in ages, but if he couldn’t handle my crazy, then he wasn’t for me. Within a few weeks of dating, he took one of my favorite coffee mugs to brunch with us, despite my rule that mugs didn’t leave the house lest they get broken. As he got out of the car, he dropped the mug and shattered it in the street.
“I told you this would happen,” I said, my fists clenched. He unclenched my hands, kissed me. “Yup, you did,” he said. Then he drove me to Bloomingdale’s to buy a new mug.
He didn’t follow all my rules, but he was good-natured about them. If he didn’t want to do something, he said no in a way I heard and respected. Suddenly, my rules about the way things had to be didn’t feel as necessary. Their importance faded. I became a more joyous kind of crazy that could be cajoled and teased out of her rules, the kind that could marry this man and build a life with him across decades.
The kind of crazy that could be happy. Finally.
Colette Sartor writes and teaches in Los Angeles. Her award-winning work has appeared or is upcoming in The Chicago Tribune, Kenyon Review Online, Club Mid at Scary Mommy, and elsewhere. Find her at http://colettesartor.com or on Twitter