Ups and Downs of Dating

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– Originally published on DrKoop.com

I met Emily while riding the bus and, as sometimes happens in those anonymous, brief encounters, she shared with me a snapshot of her life. She was eagerly awaiting the arrival of her boyfriend who had been away for several months. They were both nearing thirty and contemplating a deeper commitment, and she was flushed with anticipation. Her happy story warmed me, and I wished her well as she left the bus. I may never have seen her again.

Two weeks later, however, we met again. This time she had a very different, though equally intriguing, story to tell. It seems her boyfriend had stood her up. He just didn’t arrive at the airport…..nor did he call. I asked if she was frantic that he was hurt (surely he must be unconscious to treat his loved one in this fashion!). No, she said, she had verified his good health. He’d last been seen moving on, but not in her direction. I was unsure how to react. Poor Emily. But Emily looked great. She’d gotten her hair colored, bought a few new outfits, and soldiered on. She was as animated as my first impression had suggested, and she seemed almost cavalier about what some would view as a dagger in the heart. How was this so?

And Emily shared her philosophy with me.

She explained that, while she had certainly known a few dark nights of the soul, she knew simultaneously that her dream was shattered, and that she had sorely misjudged this man. There was nothing that could be done to make it better, no way to excuse such behavior. Therefore, she reasoned, she could be thankful that the need to end this relationship was so obvious, so clear, and so final. Her grief had cut through her hot and fast. She accepted it but did not give it a home. She howled her rage and her hurt at the moon, then greeted the day with determination to keep things in a positive perspective.

Her story made me think about the value of dating.

Emily had wallowed, considered, and regrouped, all in short order. How had she managed that? One important factor was that she had never surrendered her independence in her dating relationship. She had her own place, her own job, her own money. She had been voluntarily bonded with her boyfriend, but was not bound to him. Consequently, when her frog became, alas, nothing but a frog, she was able to make a sensible, though painful, decision to leave. I am heartened that at least some young women are using such good sense in navigating the sometimes treacherous world of dating.

Perhaps we are making better choices all around regarding interpersonal relationships. More of us may have learned how to value ourselves sufficiently to be happy and single simultaneously. When we find someone who arouses our interest, we are better able to assess them from a perspective of ‘want’ rather than ‘need.’ We can mutually enjoy each other as we learn our compatibilities, commonalties, and differences. Independence buys the courage to risk romance. How many fewer divorces might we have if we dated more and married less? If breakups were considered not as failures but as successful attempts at filtering out those with whom we could not maintain happiness, would not our eventual choices of ‘keepers’ be guided by wisdom, self-confidence, and experience?

Emily was clear that she wanted, eventually, a loving, committed marriage. With the skills she has developed, and her sunny disposition, more suitors are surely on her horizon. Lucky and wise will be the man who recognizes her value. She symbolizes, I hope, the sensibility and sensitivity of Generation X.