Managing Expectations, Chilling Out, and Talking Too Much

For various reasons, when I first met my long-term ex there was no part of my mind that imagined we’d wind up in a serious relationship. The attraction was there, immediate and absolute, but he was older. I had recently dated his best friend. I wasn’t sure I could hold a conversation with him.

Next thing I knew, of course, I was long-boarding in hot pink tights around downtown St. Paul and moving in with the guy. I can’t really tell you much more about how it transpired.

Except that I always think the fact that I didn’t expect anything is probably not unrelated to the fact that something did: rather than performing my usual routine of “what does he want?” “what do I want?” “where is this going?” panic, I relaxed. I let things happen naturally. I wasn’t anxious about it.

And whaddya know, it worked out.

Of course, as seems to be a recurring theme around here, there’s a whole lot of daylight between recognizing a pattern and actually doing something about it.

And this one, it turns out, is an especially challenging lesson to apply.

This is what I thought about yesterday, as I contemplated someone who–until approximately then–I hadn’t seriously considered.

I mean, I’ve always felt attracted to him. But for various circumstantial reasons that may or may not be valid, I just assumed he wasn’t datable.

Until, suddenly, I didn’t. And I found myself spending much of the day in angsty conversation with girlfriends in which I bemoaned the fact that people don’t walk around with displayed relationship ID cards: “Casually dating.” “Looking for a summer fling.” “Want a serious relationship.” “Recently out of something long-term and lonely.” “Unable to commit.”

“Do you think men agonize over this stuff the same way that we do?” my friend V asked as we talked through the situation in the small patch of shade beside her building’s pool.

“Definitely not!” I responded immediately.

“I’m not so sure,” she said, contemplative.

“Well,” I modified my response: “They’re not supposed to.”

In other words, they might think about ‘this stuff,’ but it’s not expected to be the dominant theme of their interactions with each other–the way it is with women.

“We’re allowed to indulge all ‘this stuff,'” I commented.

The thing is that I started out the day feeling good about things: I’d had some unexpected fun and gotten to know a new(ish) person. I felt open to the possibility of it being something, or not. I wished I knew where he thought it might lead but accepted the fact that I couldn’t.

But by the end of the day, my outlook had completely changed. And I wondered if conversations with other women– indulging all the angst we have about “that stuff” that dudes probably, to some degree, have too–is sometimes all that stands between being chilled out, relaxed, happy–and a complete neurotic head case.

Maybe if–like men–we had to repress our insecurities, just a little bit, we’d have an easier time overcoming them.

Which, again, leads me to a lesson that is tough to apply: it’s not that I don’t have other things to talk about with girlfriends, but there’s an expectation as well as an impulse to share. And often that sharing is positive: I have a lot of really wise women around me who often give invaluable counsel.

But at the moment, there’s not much counsel to be given. (Besides, I guess, telling me to chill out.) It could be nothing, or it could be something. Either way I’ll be fine, and nothing any of them might say is going to change that.

As for the relationship ID cards, it probably makes sense that they wouldn’t really be acceptable–just the way it isn’t to immediately ask another person what they’re looking for.

I suppose, often, the answer depends on the person.

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