Changing our Mindset: “Casually Dating” Helps Us Find Ourselves

Alrighty. Whoo!! Here we go! I originally was going to save this post for later after I’ve discussed ways that I’ve learned to cope with a new job, new friendships, and other major changes that we encounter after college. But hey, dating and relationships are important, too! The way that I think and go about relationships/dating has taken a 180 degree turn after college. A HUGE turn… it’s like I’ve been going the wrong way on a one way for 23 years and finally realized that I’m going to get run over. The change was for the better, of course. 😊

Maybe some can relate to the way that I used to look at dating and relationships. Background: I had a long-term boyfriend throughout high school for about 3 ½ years. I didn’t have a relationship during my freshman year of college, but was then in a relationship for about 2 ½ years starting sophomore year of college up until my ex-boyfriend deployed to the middle east shortly after I graduated. *Unrelated Side note: a huge, appreciating THANK YOU to all of our military service members! The work and things you do for our safety and security is underrated. I am forever grateful.

Needless to say, I was very monogamous (I hate that word, but I’ve found myself using it now more and more. Anyone else do that?). My happiness was dependent on the mood and actions of the person I was in a relationship with. I eagerly rearranged my plans to see this person. I sacrificed a lot of who I was, and my wants and needs because it’s what I thought I needed to do to keep this person loving me. Yeah, UNHEALTHY.

I didn’t find the need or want to date around. I thought I found someone that I wanted to be with, move in with, spend my life with, etc. After college, I thought I wanted to settle down at age 23, get engaged and eventually get married by the time I was 26, so that I could start having kids by the time I was 28. After all, my parents got married after college, and it seemed like many of my friends were engaged. To answer your probable question, Yes. I’m overboard when it comes to planning. I’m a color-coordinated, organized freak. I love it, and I am fully aware of when it becomes irrational. This is one example. I had an entire life plan set, didn’t want to “feel behind,” and thought following it meant I would be happy, and my life would be everything I wanted.

Ha. That failed.

I’m glad it did.

I’ll be forever grateful my plan didn’t work out. I don’t mean to say that I’m glad the relationships failed. I dated really, really awesome people, and I’ll always fondly look back on our memories, adventures, highs and lows. I was happy my “life plan” failed. Why? Because I forgot how young I am. I forgot that there are so many people out there with different goals, interests, quirks, personalities, values, etc. If I would have followed through on what I originally thought was best, I wouldn’t have been able to explore this. I remember coming across a blog that read, “date as many people as you can in your twenties!” I am now realizing that this person was on to something.

At that time, “casually dating” seemed intimidating. It seemed uncomfortable, awkward, superficial, and weird. How do you meet people? Dating websites? To me, downloading one of those was a “hard no.” I was biased and thought they were only for “desperate people that couldn’t meet anyone anywhere else.” Yep, that opinion changed, was flushed down the toilet, thrown overboard, closed out… whatever you want to call it due to some perspective-changing advice from one of my good friends.

This friend was 26 and totally comfortable with casually dating people. She dated people that she met out-and-about, and also from dating websites. Her opinion on dating websites? “Why wouldn’t we use technology to our advantage? Sometimes it’s easier than fishing through others at bars or wherever to see who has similar interests, goals, and values. Instead, you see some of that right in their profile. You can also choose to go out with people that are different than you. In my opinion, that’s super nice and helpful.” Oh. My. God. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. Of course, there are always pros and cons to meeting people in each way, but this made me want to give it a shot. Why not? 😊

What happened next? I downloaded Hinge, started chatting, and started going on first dates. I was nervous going out with the first couple people, but the majority of my dates were incredibly casual, easy-going, and went surprisingly smooth. There was one week where I went on 6! I had one on Wednesday, 2 on Friday, 2 on Saturday, and 1 on Sunday. Was this overboard? For me, absolutely. Would I ever do that again? Definitely not. However, it was a great experience. After that, I started going on dates sporadically with people that seemed interested and seemed interesting.

How did it go? I actually loved it. I think I loved it because I was putting so much energy into building new friendships, my mental health, getting to know my new job, searching out new hobbies, exercising, etc. meaning that I wasn’t putting any pressure on myself. It was a thing on the side, not a priority. Overall, I enjoyed learning about different lifestyles, careers, interests, hobbies, and random facts about that person. I dated people that were quiet, extroverted, athletic, artsy, family-oriented, career-oriented, smart, hilarious, etc. I definitely had dates where I knew that we weren’t a match, just like I had dates where I felt an immediate connection. I had dates where people didn’t seem super interested, just like I had dates where I wasn’t super interested.

At first, it was difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that I was going to get ghosted and turned down (S.H.A.M.E. trigger, for sure), but I’m learning how to deal with that. The most useful piece of advice I have received is that we need to look at relationships in terms of interests, needs, values, and personality styles. If we are turned down,it’s not because we’re not worthy, it’s because some people match our personalities, likes, and interests better than others. I feel that it’s similar to how we choose our friends. We’re not friends with everybody and we don’t have to be friends with everybody. We have friends that either match, balance, and/or complement ourselves. Thinking about it this way is definitely way more realistic than “I suck, and nobody is ever going to want to be with me.” Is this easy for me to do? Absolutely not. I’m working on it.

By casually dating, I am learning about what I enjoy in others as well as what I need in a relationship. Here are just a few examples.

  1. I went on dates with a guy for about 2 months. I really enjoyed spending time with him. He had tons of hobbies that included fishing, hunting, dirt biking, and lifting. The kicker? He completely ghosted me. That was the first time I’ve ever experienced that. How did I feel? Absolutely awful. Terrible. Shocked. Angry. Ashamed. Pissed. Bummed. Of course, this was followed with the classic hang-out-with-your-friends-and-eat-ice cream phase. This taught me that not everybody will like me as much as I like them, and I have to be accepting and prepared for that. I learned that being in a relationship with someone that has hobbies, is outgoing and social, and prioritizes fitness is important to me. This person taught me that I need clearer communication, someone that is considerate of my feelings, and honesty in future relationships.
  2. I went on a date with someone that appeared to be exactly the opposite of me. It was the most quiet, awkward date I have ever been on. Every topic of conversation ended after about 2 minutes, and I was struggling (and sweating up a storm) trying to think of another conversation starter. (Side note: I write down things to talk about on a piece of paper and put it in my purse. If things ever get awkward, I go to the bathroom, read through the list, and come back with more conversation starters. Is that creepy? Weird? Acceptable? Idk and I don’t really care, TBH.) I chugged the rest of my coffee and was quickly out of there. What I learned? I enjoy people that share similar interests, are outgoing and talkative, and are humor-oriented.
  3. I went on a date with two different people that were nice and great conversationalists, but for some reason I just wasn’t into them. I can’t even put my finger on why. It was weird, but I had to go with my gut. What did I learn? Spark and initial connection are important to me.
  4. I was recently on a few dates with someone that I thought initially “wasn’t my type” (I used to have a strong AF type. I made a list. It had like 30 check boxes. Yikes.) He was tatted up, played videogames, and was overall the complete opposite of anyone I’ve ever dated. What happened? Well, I found out that he was literally the most thoughtful person I’ve ever met. He was interested and asked me questions about my hobbies and values. He was completely honest, upfront, and clearly communicated everything that he felt was important. He was a gentleman, chivalrous, and kind. He was athletic, funny, and we were overall similar. He asked me what my goals are and how someone can make me feel appreciated. My jaw dropped to the floor each time I went on a date with him. I am interested and want to continue to learn about him. I learned that everything I listed was important to me, and some of it I didn’t even know I cared about.

Moving from a “monogamous relationship-oriented gal” to “casual dating” in my 20s was a big, scary, and challenging, but much needed change. Getting to experience different personalities, interests, careers and hobbies has been eye-opening. No matter what way I met people, and no matter how the date went, I learned something about myself, and what I need/want to be in a fulfilled, successful relationship when the time comes.

My goal for the week is to continue exploring, learning and growing.

Have a wonderful week,

Jen

Welcome To My 20-Something Life!

HELLO and WELCOME to my first blog post! My name is Jen, and I am a recent graduate of the University Wisconsin- Madison. I am working on trying new things (FINALLY, I have time to do something other than study!!). Blogging has always been at the top of my bucket list, but I’ve always thought, “what in the hell do I have to talk about?” Today, it came to me: the [horribly underrated] college to adult life transition. So far during this crazy change, I think I’ve experienced every emotion under the sun: from excitement, happiness, love, motivation, and gratitude all the way to loneliness, anger, depression, worry, and fear. My goal is for readers to think, at least once, “holy mother, I thought it was just me.” It’s not. You and I are not alone. We’re all in this together (yikes… sorry if that HSM song is now stuck in your head).

Follow me on my journey as I discuss my experiences of applying for jobs, starting my working career, searching out hobbies, making new friends, dating as a 20-something, and all the bumps and bruises along the way. Literal bumps and bruises… I’m as clumsy as they come. One of my biggest goals has been to find out who I am (yes, that what-does-that-even-mean phrase you always encounter in your classic “10 ways to survive a breakup” article). I also strive to be comfortable and confident being myself. By no means have I accomplished this goal; it’s a work in progress, but I’m happy to share how I’m gettin’ through.

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