In Dating Years, I’m 22

“The last time I was single, AIM was popular.” I’ve used that line on a number of occasions to try to give people a concept of just how far out of the game I have been. I was single for about 2 months of my 21st year. I was attending Ithaca College, living in an apartment just up from the Commons that was full of other college students. You met guys in class, at parties, in bars. Dating played out mostly in-person with some conversations over phone and IM. Texting on your little Nokia brick phone was a PITA and I don’t remember people using it much.

Dating as an adult is a whole new world. It’s weird enough for those who’ve been in it a while, it’s downright bizarre to hop in after 14 years off. Too old for the bar scene, old enough that most of your friends are coupled up and/or having babies, so meeting someone socially is a slim to none chance for most of us.

Given the status of my social circle and the fact I wasn’t looking for anything serious, I went straight into online dating. Picking which sites to join, deciding on usernames, profile photos, witty profile commentary. Setting search parameters, browsing, deciding who to contact and who to respond to. It’s enough to give a critical thinker like me some serious analysis paralysis. In college, you flirted or you didn’t, he reacted or he didn’t. Maybe you saw him again, maybe not. There was certainly plenty to over-analyze but it happened after you’d met the guy.

And then there is meeting the guy.

I will say one thing for dating in my 30’s – I may not know what I’m doing half the time but I’m not nearly as concerned with what men are thinking. Obviously I am looking to make an impression and get a favorable reaction, but I am not hung up when a guy doesn’t respond or isn’t that into me. There was one point where I’d been seeing a guy for about a month – having fun, nothing serious – when he abruptly cut it off with an upset, partially incoherent text. It took me about 24 hours and one reminder that “people worth a damn don’t act like that” before I can say I truly was over it.

Look at All the Fucks I Give

Over the course of the summer and fall, I had first meetings with a bunch of guys. I was deliberately not that picky, trying to give a variety of guys a chance. Afterall, I was out of the loop for so long, I only knew what I liked in theory, really. Most were nice guys with no connection. A few were jerks. Only 4 guys made it to a second date, only 2 of those went on to a third date. Neither of those lasted long but they provided a much needed distraction as the logistics of divorce muddled my life. By the end of October I had some adult dating experiences under my belt and a better idea of what worked and what didn’t.

Then dating became a relationship.

At the beginning of November, I began seeing a new guy and it has become my first real relationship post-divorce. I may not have been looking for a “serious” relationship, but this one is not another short distraction – it looks like it’ll be lasting a while. Partially due to the time of year and due to how fast we were falling for each other, a lot of “dating firsts” came up pretty quickly. When to meet the family, when to become Facebook friends, when to become “Facebook official.” All of which happened before the 2 month mark. Which seemed pretty fast to me, but I didn’t know what the “normal” time frame was either – I’m sure it varies but it felt like others I’ve known have waited quite a while. I was a full and willing participant in how fast it was though – he left those decisions up to me. It was about 30 days in when he simply told me “whenever you feel comfortable.”

My accident has brought in a whole new level of complexity. As I mentioned in that last post, he’s been my chief caretaker. He’s making my meals, doing my laundry (I do try to fold it myself at least!), running my errands and helping me keep sane during all this. He’s got my mom and my ex’s cell phone numbers so he can coordinate with them around my care and my dogs. While we had already been spending more nights together than not, his “duties” now mean that he is in Gray with me nearly every night. He’s spent one night in his own apartment since this all happened and it was because he went to a late night event in town, so sleeping at his place was safer than trucking back out my way. I feel guilty that he’s paying for a great Portland apartment that he is essentially using as a storage unit because the stairs are not at all medicated crutch-bound Julia friendly.

Sometimes it’s been a hard for me. We haven’t been together long enough to understand some of the nuances of our personalities. I can’t always tell the difference between tired and annoyed. Some times he teases me but happens to use a phrase that was a trigger between the ex and I – and I feel myself flinch because I’m afraid of history repeating. There have been days where my situation has had me feeling low and I’ve over-analyzed our relationship or questioned whether I was worthy of all his care and affection. When I look back at those moments it feels like the “22 year old in dating years” version of me, someone who isn’t mature enough, not used to the ebb and flow of new relationships. I don’t trust myself to know which things are issues and which are simply getting to know each other.

Still, for the most part it has been very positive. Somehow he’s remained happy to have me in his life even though his days consist of waking up, taking care of me, going to work, taking care of me and the house, and maybe an hour of downtime before he helps me get setup with my leg elevated for the night (and grabs some ear plugs because he may or may not have to attempt to sleep through some rather impressive snoring that I blame on the meds). And I’m incredibly grateful to have him in my life, as my caretaker, my emergency contact, my significant other.

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