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Dating and Fear

July 22, 2011
by
‘Holding Hands’ by nic snell via Flickr.com

The “Dharma of Dating” this is not.  Those of you who know me in person or have followed me from Buddhist in Nebraska know I don’t date.  It’s not a matter of policy, it’s just the way my life has shaken out.  I’ve been in college now for longer than I was in public school.  One would think college would be rife with opportunities for dating.  Being a little older, a little more introverted, a little more intellectual, and a large part more clueless than my fellow students, it never quite worked out that way for me.  Being a liberal, vegetarian, Buddhist in a conservative, Christian, beef state didn’t help. 

No longer!  I am a coming up on one year in Los Angeles.  When I arrived, I signed up for an online dating service.  Actually, I signed up for several and went through all the little personality profile steps so they could start matching me up.  I was stupid enough to pay for one of them (that’s how you then are allowed to contact your matches) and went on a few coffee dates with three utterly uninspiring gentlemen.  Now, they were all perfectly nice people and I genuinely hope they each find a lady out there who is excited to meet them, but I was not that lady.

Then I became busy with schoolwork.  Rather, I made myself busy with schoolwork and student government and socializing with my new friends and classmates.  It’s what I do.  I forgot about this entire dating thing until May rolled around.  This time I was a little smarter and signed up for the free service with the stupid name: Okcupid.com

Stupid name it may be, but stupid site it is not!  In fact, as a bit of a data geek, I can honestly say this is the most intelligent site of the lot.  I was immediately delighted by my results, far more so than any those so called “match by your personality” sites.  I won’t go into all the details of why this particular site is so much smarter.  (Although, my geek side is practically begging me to.  Down, girl!)  Suffice to say within the first two weeks I had eight dates with four lovely men, each different and interesting in their own ways.

It’s very surreal when one’s life becomes a sitcom.  Suddenly I was having very Carrie-esque conversations with my girlfriends.  Once again this identity I’ve accustomed myself to – Monica doesn’t date; Monica doesn’t run; Monica doesn’t join the Navy – was undergoing major revision.  Monica does date.  And not just coffee dates, but museum dates and movie dates and hiking dates and fancy restaurant dates.

Monica also takes precautions.  Now we come to the heart of the matter: fear.  There are many things to fear when dating, the first and foremost being life and limb.  This is wonderfully summed but in an essay called Schrodinger’s Rapist or A Guy’s Guide to Approaching Strange Women Without Being Maced written by Phaedra Starling (pen name) and originally published over at Shapely Prose

“Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. … You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. …

“Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted. …

“So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?”

The simple fact is that all men are possible serial killers until proven otherwise.  It’s not fair and don’t I know it, but women can’t afford to act differently.  According to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the United States.  Within her lifetime, one in six women can expect to be subject to rape or attempted rape.  So while I am very rarely scared, I am very frequently cautious.  I tell a close girlfriend where I am going, when, and with whom.  I meet in public places and I don’t share phone numbers or addresses until I’m fairly certain this very nice man is not an axe murderer.  

Oh, and one other thing: I thwart men.  Usually in small ways, but I never just go along with everything they request or suggest and sometimes it’s not even due to the content of the suggestion.  It’s because I need to evaluate their response when they don’t get what they wanted.  I never even realized I was doing this or why until I read Schrodinger’s Rapist, where it is very simply explained.

“If you fail to respect what women say, you label yourself a problem. …Because a man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well.

“So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.

“For women, who are watching you very closely to determine how much of a threat you are, this is an important piece of data.”

Now, this is not a “no” means “yes” situation.  “No” doesn’t even mean “maybe.”  If you ask for my telephone number and I politely say “I’m sorry, but I have a policy of not giving out my number until I’ve met someone face to face,” you must respect that.  If you don’t, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get to meet me face to face.  I have called off dates for that very reason.  “No” means “no.”  Even if you’re being very gentlemanly and offering to drive me home, when I choose the hour-long bus ride over the twenty-minute car ride, please don’t try to cajole me into being “reasonable.”  I have very good reasons for my choices (who gets into a car with a man they only just met?) and even if I didn’t they are still my choices.  It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the offer.  It will certainly win you brownie points, but respecting the polite “No, thank you,” will win you even more.  In addition, it’s simply the right thing to do.

If this still doesn’t quite make sense, read the entire Schrodinger’s Rapist essay for an example.  Also, Nella Lou over at the blog Madhushala has posted a breakdown of a seemingly innocuous incident and why women find such behavior objectionable in a post titled Perfect Women in Chilly Climates.  These are ways in which women evaluate men’s behavior ALL THE TIME.  Now, this does not mean we are constantly paranoid or suspicious.  This kind of evaluation goes on in the background, similar to a computer automatically checking for software updates while you read your email.  In fact, it’s become so normal that we hardly even notice we’re doing it until that early warning system is triggered.

Now, this kind of fear is bad enough, fear of physical harm, but it’s not the only fear that comes with dating.  There is also fear that is associated with ego.  We carry both a fear of being rejected for who we are and a fear of losing who we are while trying to be who we are not in order to please another. 

Of course, this is all predicated on conventional notions of self.  How do we deal with these very real and contradictory fears while simultaneously cultivating an awareness of the nature of nonself, anatta/anatman?  This is probably why Buddhist monks and nuns do not date.  Of course, we do this all the time with everyone we meet, but when seeking a mate, either temporary or permanent, these fears are somehow enhanced.  One hopes as part of our Buddhist practice that we have been able to cultivate enough mindfulness to be aware of our ego’s machinations when they are happening, even in the midst of a candle-lit dinner, and even while focusing on the person we’ve come to have that dinner with.  I don’t know about you, but I fail at that quite a lot.

I have no wisdom to offer on this subject, only questions, only thoughts.  I told you this was not about Dharma.  It’s just about dating.  While it has never particularly bothered me to be single, either then or now, I must admit I am thoroughly enjoying myself.  To all the other singles out there, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, I wish you luck.  And try Okcupid!

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