What I learned during my year as a casual dater

My mom told me once that the worst thing about a break-up is how you can’t speed up the process of healing. If you think about it, it’s almost like a hangover for your heart. You can drink a lot of water, nap, take some aspirin, but time passing is the only thing that gets you back to feeling like yourself.

As a person who prefers to be pro-active about everything else in life, the idea of sitting around wallowing irks me to no end, even as I know it to be an imperative part of alleviating the pain of a relationship ending. But once after a particularly brutal smash job of my heart, I came up with what I believed was the genius idea of taking a year to be a serial casual dater.

The plan was to use any and all means to date at least one new guy each month for a year. There could be more than one, but I had to go out of my way to meet and ask out or be asked out by someone new every month. The only avenue I didn’t use was any online dating site because for one thing I was too depressed to come up with an acceptable (or probably likable bio) and secondly, I was hiding under my covers for so many days that I decided I needed to force myself to go out more in public. It felt a little bit exciting to willingly be taking on a different persona. Someone bolder and braver than how I felt. Almost like going out on stage to play a part, and the role was “Girl In Charge Of Her Emotions Who In No Way Is Letting A Broken Heart Get Her Down.” It was a life changing year, and here’s what I learned.

Planning dates is a huge confidence builder 

Even though a huge part of me wanted to be hiding in my bed, eating Ben & Jerry’s, especially in the beginning, I couldn’t deny the ego boost I received from having lots of plans with different guys. For the first time in my life I put aside the “what if we don’t like each other” anxiety and just went with the mindset that I was accomplishing a mission. Constantly having plans gave me some structure to align my week after so much time spent being listless. I enlisted friends to set me up, asked out guys I met in line at coffee shops, emailed past missed connections due to timing. It was empowering to wield so much control.

It’s so important to remember to treat people how you want to be treated

While I didn’t unveil my strategy to these guys in the beginning, I made a point of stating that I wasn’t looking for anything serious. Remembering all the times I had dated guys who were frustratingly noncommittal but when pressed about what they wanted in a relationship, they failed to be honest. I refused to perpetuate that cycle and when asked about what I was looking for, always said I wasn’t looking to settle down anytime soon. I had zero interest in sending mixed messages.

Even with the best intentions you can still mistakenly hurt someone. Own it

Closer to the end of the year, I had a few too many cocktails while out with one of my September dates and I confided to him what I had been up to all year. He was offended that he was just a number I was checking off on my quest to personal well-being and also accused me of using the experiment to avoid actually getting to know anyone. “How can you even know if you like someone if you’re just logging us all in your journal as random dinner dates and meet ups for drinks?” He asked. I was defensive at first, claiming that I wasn’t really interested in liking someone, just playing the field. And he said, “then what’s the point of dating?” It was a solid argument and we actually ended up good friends because of our in depth conversation that night.

In the long run, I am not built for casual dating

And that’s okay! Many people are and many people aren’t. I happen to be terrible at it. We are all individuals figuring out what works best for us and we can’t know for sure until we try. Jumping from date to date, guy to guy felt exhausting and unfulfilling to me and while I still wasn’t ready for most of the year to engage in a new serious relationship, I knew that all this running around was not a fit for my personality. I’m grateful I did it, because I stepped outside my comfort zone and did a little outside the box thinking as a unique way to nurse a broken heart. Love makes us do zany things, and I don’t regret one minute of trying to pro-actively put as many dates/memories as possible between my ex and I. And in that respect, it WAS helpful and made me feel like I could handle anything going forward.

It’s true: life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. Pay attention

Towards the end of that year I was so focused on completing Project Broken Heart that for an entire month I overlooked someone who had become a friend and was hinting that he wanted something more. I was interested as well but the determined side of me felt that if I didn’t devote a whole year to my original plan, I was failing. But that’s silly. The whole premise was based on trying to feel better, so why ignore someone or something that is positive and contributes to that goal. Who cares if it didn’t fit the original plan? When does life ever go exactly as we expect it to?

In the end, the most important aspect to all of it was how much I learned about myself. Life to me isn’t about finding the next romantic partner to fulfill you and everything in between those relationships is a vast empty wasteland. Quite the opposite. The time in between is discovery of yourself and that’s what I did for that entire year. Plus I learned to be exponentially more outgoing and brave and that’s helped me in every other area of my life. However you choose to date, or cope with a break-up, it’s personal and you’re entitled to how you deal with your pain just as much as how you deal with your joy.

[Image courtesy Fox]