Our contributor Katherine Chen, who is a junior English major at Princeton University (check out her personal site here), is penning a series of confessions for EMandLO.com collectively called “The Virgin Diaries.” Here’s her seventh installment:
A few months ago, I was interviewing a relationship doctor for an online women’s magazine I was then contributing to. The doctor, who was leading a series of private workshops in New York City for single women, claimed her advice applied universally to “all women, every woman.” The first tidbit she offered was that women should always dress femininely on dates, especially the first one. Men, she asserted over the telephone with a slight click of her tongue, do not want to see a woman wearing pants on any romantic occasion. “Wear a skirt or just a dress!” she said, and after a short pause in which I was busy jotting down notes, she added, “with some jewelry and makeup. You can’t forget the makeup.”
Though the interview ended on a positive note, I hung up the phone feeling pangs of dismay and dread. According to this doctor, women who wore high heels, powdered their faces, and sprayed on chock loads of floral perfume were more likely to get hitched than women who, well, did none of the above. Of course, I fall into the latter category, with my loose t-shirts (most of which are attained at free giveaway events and school occasions), comfortable jeans, and old sneakers. I haven’t worn makeup since the eighth grade prom, and incidentally, feel less confident with makeup on than without. I dislike standing in front of the mirror for too long, and while I consider my appearance well-kept and clean, I am no Carrie Bradshaw. No, not even a Miranda Hobbes.
In addition to the out-of-character fashion statements the good doctor would have me make, she recommended flirty behavior, which has never come naturally to me. And then there was the concept of “actively seeking.” She insisted on having an assertive attitude and going out to as many bars and clubs as humanly possible to find a mate. Her logic was: the more dates you go on, the likelier it will be for you to find the perfect match. This meant stepping outside of your comfort zone, striking up conversations with strangers, and putting yourself on the line for flat-out rejection.
It was this third and final “seeking” tip that really brought back the agonizing memories from my high school days. When I was a junior, I had this huge crush on a senior who had just broken up with his childhood sweetheart. My friends encouraged me to take the first step in the relationship, which I did. Since he lived only three or four streets away from me, I innocently asked him if he would like to take a walk. We were always able to hold semi-long conversations at school, so I just assumed this would transfer naturally outside of the classroom. In short, it did not. He said something along the lines of, “I’m not sure what we would talk about while walking,” which quickly and definitively ended any hope of a relationship. He also had a friend of a friend inform me that he was uninterested in pursuing any kind of romantic relationship with me, just in case I hadn’t gotten the message already.
I didn’t give up on seeking out connections, though — not immediately, at least. On not one, but two more occasions did a boy I liked instruct his best friend to deliver the bad news, so as “not to hurt my feelings.” One young man decided to elude me by ducking behind a crowd whenever I passed him in the hallway. Another actually laughed in my face. After about the sixth instance of outright rejection, I gave up on dating entirely.
And talking with this doctor only confirmed my belief that the dating scene is just not for me. Why would I want to pretend to be someone I’m not? Why would I want to experience those painful rejections all over again? Especially from guys I’m not even sure I’m that into (which turned out to be the case in high school, considering how fairly quickly I was able to get over those six rejections). I don’t even really like the person I become when I’m dating someone: in the (very) few instances this has happened, I’ve lost sight of myself and my own interests. For example, a few years ago, when I started dating a Star Wars geek, I spent hours online, scanning Wikipedia pages, memorizing names, rewatching the movies, and trying to figure out the difference between Jango Fett and Boba Fett. I even wrote a few Fan Fiction-esque romance stories with Star Wars themes to impress the object of my affection. Unsurprisingly, all these efforts crashed and burned in the end when he discovered his Princess Leia somewhere else.
As alienated as I feel from the dating world, I still have fantasies of one day finding the perfect partner. This has, however, become such a remote concept over time that I wonder when, if ever, I will jump back into the dating world. In many ways, dating has become like sex to me: not only is it nonexistent in my life right now, but I have also built it up to such great heights that I’m terrified of being disappointed. I have no doubt in my mind that the longer I put it off, the harder it will be to jump back into the swing of things. But for now, it just seems easier, safer and a lot more comfortable to be an inactive seeker — in both departments.