About a year and a half ago, I started this wild social experiment of dating after coming out of almost two decades of marriage that I entered in my early twenties. I didn’t walk away empty-handed but with four kids in tow consisting of three teenage boys and a toddler girl. That in itself is a mouthful and a whole lot of extra on my end. Now I also had to navigate and learn about guys. Hardly an easy task since the last time I went on dates, I was in college and my potential boos and beaus were folks I met at clubs or in college classes. Dating “grown (ish) men as a grown-ass woman is a whole other beast.
Luckily I wasn’t embarking on the journey alone. My coworker and I were walking into this mishap filled adventure together. She was dating for the first time after as a widow of six years and mother to three grown children. She’s also a decade or so older than me. We came with different pasts and unique perspectives but were still signing up for the same online dating sites and discussing why we swiped right or left. She’s the type of strong-willed and independent woman I aspire to be like when I grow up one day. So in these early stages, I was all ears and ready for any advice in the unfamiliar territory of dating. In our commiseration of mishaps and bright spots, she shared the first dating nugget that has sat with me and taken shape in different ways since. Her words of wisdom, ” I never tell a man how he should treat me. Telling him means he wouldn’t have done it on his own.” That’s something to sit with.
Yes and no. When I first heard it, it made sense and I was on board. Hold those needs in until “the one” just knows me without me saying a thing. Yeah, that didn’t pan out since no one is actually a mind reader. I am no expert on men, but I happen to be raising three teenage boys that are 19, 17 and 14. Most of my interactions with them are spent explaining how their actions impact others, not because they don’t care how others feel, but they just don’t think about it until someone shows them that connection. Because the truth of interaction with men, old and young, is that knowing how and why people think is not something men spend too much time considering. They see it as just what it is and accept without questioning. It’s a form of self-preservation but also leaves some missed opportunities to understand a new person.
I, on the other hand, am an over-analyzer, and I would bet that’s not too far off from the majority of women. Cause and effect are something we need to understand to make connections between why things occur in our lives and learn how to either continue or stop them from happening. It’s a double-edged sword, with some serious drawbacks, but it’s also a form of self-preservation. So we think differently and see the world with different lenses. Why does that matter when you are dating and learning how to interact with someone you hope to see again and get to know? The men I know might not see that it does, but without the clarity and understanding, women can be triggered to react if they feel they aren’t valued and appreciated.
Lesson learned and my shift in thinking has been, men come with their own baggage and history of relationships. They only know as much as they were told and experienced. They might need us to shine a flashlight at the spot that’s broken in order to see the things they otherwise would have missed because it’s not part of their known. So even though, it would be great if every man I met knew how I expected to be treated. Chances are, they won’t without me guiding them to know what matters to me and why it’s important. Now, that doesn’t mean you date an ass and teach him the basics of not being a self-absorbed prick. There has to be a starting line. But if you see an opportunity for growth and potential, why not build connection through care and looking out for each other’s growth.
We can all use some insight into how to be better tomorrow than who we are today. Ideally, that’s the lasting partnership I will one day land on that accepts guidance as growth and supports my development of self because I know I could use it too!