Last year I decided to say yes to anyone who asked me out on a date (unless I had good reason to say no). There was a cocktail of reasons why I wanted to do this:
• I had zero friends in the area and was quite bored.
• I was burnt out on serious relationships that heavily hinted towards marriage but never lasted long due to incompatibility.
• I hate missing out on life experiences.
• It sounded fun.
Unfortunately for my mission, I have a very young face. Yes, I’ve been told a sickening amount of times that I’ll appreciate it when I’m older.
The first person to ever ask me out did not do so until the day he found out my age. I was working at a pool in Idaho one summer and had a lil crush on a male coworker. Like all of my crushes before this, I expected it to go unrequited and slowly fade away in a couple months. But one day we were doing some pool maintenance together and he asked about my weekend. I said it was a good one because I’d just celebrated my 18th birthday (yes, shut up, I didn’t get asked out until I was an adult…I was very homeschooled).
The coworker dropped the rope he was untangling, said “you’re 18?” with a bewildered look on his face, and then asked me out for smoothies after our shift ended. (This guy was 18 himself, and I later found out that he thought I was just another one of the fresh faced fifteen year old lifeguards who worked there).
It was awkward for a good minute after he asked me out because I didn’t fully register what was happening. I’d come to terms ages ago that no one would ever ask me on a date, so my brain couldn’t even process that specific question. I stared at him with my mouth slightly open until he actually began walking away. But his movement caused my brain to function properly and I shouted, “wait, yes, smoothies!” at his retreating back.
It might have been the realization of date = free food that finally woke me up.
But six years later, I’m still constantly getting mistaken for a fifteen year old.
It’s hard to crack into the casual dating world looking like a child. Unless I wanted to hit up the senior citizen scene, because some of them are into that (this is known as pedophilia and it is a very bad thing!!!)
For every young person who asked me out last year, I was asked out by an equal number of old men. And I know they all thought I was younger than I am, because they found out my age after asking me out and they were all COMPLETELY shocked I was over 18.
The sad part was that the dates the old men asked me out on were way more interesting than the dates the younger guys suggested. The seniors proposed hitting up some cool coffee shops, kayaking on the lake, and hiking a nearby mountain—which are all things I enjoy doing. (Just to be perfectly clear, I said no to all the creepy crusty old geezers!!!!!!). One of them was partially my boss and he made me so uncomfortable that I ended up quitting a job I really liked.
Here are some of the dates I got asked out on by the younger guys (all ages 18-20):
• “I actually hate coffee, but I’ll take you out to Starbucks if you want.”
• “I can go get some alcohol for us with my fake ID.”
• “Want to watch my friends play Fortnite while you and I take vodka shots?”
• “Hey, I don’t actually have my driver’s license or a car and I live an hour away from you, but if you come pick me up I’d love to take you out this Saturday.”
I should have been hanging out in bars and getting to know the local musicians. Or getting a rock climbing gym membership so I could meet outdoorsy people like myself. But I was on a serious “Moving Out Of My Parents’ House For The Fifth Time” budget—and every dollar I spent on fun gave me anxiety instead of enjoyment.
The small town boys I met completely randomly were at least entertaining, if nothing else.
On one of the dates, the guy picked me up and took me to his house for a party. But it turned out to be a birthday party. For him. With no one else there except his entire family. They insisted I stand in every single photo with them, my date’s arm slung around me. In most of the photos, I’m holding his two year old nephew because the kid kept crying and reaching for me.
These pictures, including a video where my date is trying to feed me a piece of birthday cake, are forever on Facebook. This was the last time I hung out with him and his seven sisters.
Of course, for every funny anecdote I also have a series of uncomfortable events.
But my thought going into each situation was: no matter how terrible it is I can probably return with a good story for later.
I put a poll on my Instagram story when I was in the thick of saying yes to random dates. I asked the question, “Is casual dating with no physical contact an appropriate form of socializing? Or are there too many potential catalysts for drama to be worth it?” It wasn’t to ask for permission or advice from my followers—just a general curiosity.
The reason I specified no physical contact was because I didn’t want that to be included in anyone’s answer. No deviating from the primary focus of the question to instead talk about purity culture, please and thank you. I was planning to make out with everyone anyway (sorry Mum).
The answers didn’t really surprise me, because disclaimer—the majority of the people who follow me on Instagram are from my churchy past: bible college, my hometown youth group, and a Christian camp I used to work at. (But that’s not my intended audience, so please follow me on insta if you like comics, thank you so much!!!1!)
These are the only affirmative responses I got from the poll:
• “If you can be practical, maybe. It’s hopeless if you’re a romantic.”
• “If it will leave you better off as a person then you were before the relationship, then yes.”
• “It’s all about the mindset you have going into it.”
• “Do it for the vine.”
In Mari Andrew’s lovely illustrated book, Am I There Yet?, she says “This is the bonus of a good date: you find things you love about yourself when you’re impressing someone else. Falling in love with someone else is a little bit about falling for yourself.”
Even though the people I dated weren’t the kind the kinds of people I want to end up with long term or keep attracting short term, I am appreciative of each one of them. Every new person I met handed me the opportunity to present myself in a different way.
I learned a lot about myself by observing the things I chose to say and the things I chose to leave out.
Oftentimes I don’t realize how exactly my mindset and childhood beliefs have evolved until I’m forced to say them out loud.
My old beliefs all came rushing back in full force thanks to some of the other answers on my Instagram poll.
Someone from my old youth group said, “Casual dating is never a good idea. If you’re dating, it should be to find a partner.”
A friend from the bible college I attended said, “If you don’t plan on getting married to them, don’t date them.”
This is definitely the culture of the faith community I grew up in. As a preteen and early teen, I constantly dreamed of the day I would meet my soulmate. I wanted to marry young.
But during my high school years none of my friends were even dating. Not a single person. I kept waiting for someone in my youth group to ask me to be their godly girlfriend, but it never happened. I grew increasingly frustrated with the fact that everyone seemed content dating Jesus or practicing celibacy or whatever the hell was going on all through high school (and a bit beyond that as well).
Boy, did I shock my church friends (and myself) when I finally just ended up dating an atheist (the lifeguard coworker mentioned earlier). Our worlds weren’t meant to cross. We were like Romeo and Juliet, except we weren’t in love and nobody died (as far as I know).
It was actually my mom who encouraged me to go for the relationship.
In the church bubble of “modest is hottest” and “do not be unequally yoked”, she was a completely different voice. When I was younger, she encouraged me to pick out two-piece swimsuits in the store and to be more comfortable in my body. When the cute atheist boy asked me out, she said “oh I trained him to be a swimming instructor, he’s such a dear, you should go out with him!”
I felt pretty rebellious being the only one of my friends who was dating—and a non-Christian at that. But it was a fragile rebellion. Thanks to my belief systems being challenged and the judgement cast by my church friends, I had really bad anxiety during the bulk of my relationship.
It was so bad that I couldn’t even hold this guy’s hand without feeling sick. One time during a movie he put his arm around me and I put my head on his shoulder and we appeared very normal for a couple hours—but when I drove home later that night, I sobbed.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of being physical with someone. I wanted to hold his hand and cuddle during a movie and maybe even kiss him. But there was just so much guilt over the fact that I believed my first boyfriend was supposed to be my future husband, and instead here I was dating someone who I knew I could never marry and would have to break up with once I found the courage.
It would have been such a great summer fling had I just let myself loosen up. Come on, hot lifeguards working a summer pool job together? Classic. He’d even been popular in high school before graduating that May and he got me in with the cool lifeguard crowd who invited me to parties occasionally (which I declined, of course, ugh).
For an awkward churchy homeschooler who owned a well read copy of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I had been handed the teen dream on a silver platter with a virgin mimosa on the side. And I completely squandered it.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized how horribly I treated him. I barely got to know him, because somehow I thought there would be no way to relate to someone who didn’t go to church. I even dumped him partway through the summer to try to alleviate my guilt, but I regretted it and for some reason he wanted me back (???). He was very gentlemanly and never pushed my weird sheltered boundaries even a millimeter. He had a lot of good qualities which I subconsciously looked for in the people I dated after him. But at the time, all I could see were my own insecurities.
I thought all my relationship troubles would be over after the atheist and I amicably parted ways at the end of the summer to attend different colleges. (He later graduated as a mechanical engineer whereas I dropped out of community college fter two months. Definitely dodged a bullet there amiright??!? LOL.)
But it wasn’t all peaches and cream in my later serious Christian relationships either. Particularly when I dated two different guys during my time at bible college and I didn’t marry either of them. Do you know how horrible it is to have two ex-boyfriends on the same tiny campus at the same time?
There was a time during one of my night classes when they were both in the room. Only one of them was actually registered for the class—the other was sitting in on his night off just for funsies, because he was that kind of person. My nerves were so shot I spent the first hour of the class giggling nervously to myself.
Oh yes, I was sitting alone. I had no friends in this class because I used to sit exclusively with my boyfriend. At the first class break, I made a beeline for the door, ran to my dorm, and spent the rest of the night crying under my covers.
I’d discussed marriage with both of them (Christians move fast), but instead of holy matrimony they just turned into awkward situations to avoid (but couldn’t).
One of the guys worked side by side with me in the AV department and the other one was the TA for my Gospel of Matthew class. I was a terrible student because I skipped most of my classes and never did my homework (southern California was way too distracting for me). My GPA was below 1. But just to spite the boys, I never missed an AV work day and my Matthew class was the only one I passed that semester. It was worth the emotional effort every time my boss gave me an “attaboy” in front of the AV ex or the TA ex was forced to comment “good job” on my completed homework assignments.
Suck it, bible college ex-boyfriends. Look at me now, throwing shade on a blog that nobody reads.
The reason I felt so much shame from being surrounded by two failed relationships was because it seemed like everyone around me was either married, not dating because they were focusing on Jesus, or they had found their soulmate in the first round. I felt like a whore in comparison.
It was actually right after I left bible college that I initially considered casual dating. I wanted to distance myself from the Ring By Spring™ mindset, at least for a little while. But I wasn’t very successful.
I ended up moving back to my little Idaho hometown in early 2016 (my parents didn’t even live there anymore…I just decided it would be a good idea to relive the past????) and fell in with the same narrow-minded church crowd I grew up with.
My longtime crush on a friend returned in full force, but he ended up playing me and dating the pastor’s daughter who I despised. A friend I worked with, literally side by side in a sound booth, declared his undying love for me (I’m starting to think close periphery AV jobs are a calculated risk), but I did not feel even remotely the same.
My small town had never felt quite so claustrophobic before.
Though there was a small chance to salvage the casual dating plan.
One of my friends worked night shift at a hotel, but was quitting soon due to failing health from never seeing the sun (vitamin D, y’all). She’d worked there long enough to earn a free night’s stay, so she and I planned to have a girl’s night at the hotel before she quit. It mostly involved eating ice cream in bed, watching trashy television, and soaking in the tub. I can’t remember if alcohol also made an appearance, but I do remember flashing people in the parking lot from our upstairs window, so maybe something external influenced that.
My friend had had a crush on one of her coworkers for over a year and he happened to be working that night. She dragged me downstairs so I could meet and evaluate him. He was rather quiet and my friend got pretty awkward around guys she liked, so I amped up my personality and did most of the joking and talking to fill the silence.
Apparently he liked it, because the very next day he found me on Facebook and asked me out for coffee. I couldn’t believe how amazing my ego felt. Granted, I did feel bad being asked out by my friend’s yearlong crush a day after he met me, but she seemed strangely fine with it (I knew her well enough to know she wasn’t being passive aggressive…maybe she wanted to live voraciously through my experiences). She had encouraged my decision to date casually and was excited I finally found a catch.
But I was really nervous about this date for some reason, and I told him yes only under the condition that my friend came along too.
Unsurprisingly, he asked for a rain check the morning of our date.
We never talked again after that, never picked up the rain check, but a few months after our almost date, I sneaked a peek at his Facebook to see what was up. He was expecting a child with his somewhat recent goth girlfriend. Life had taken him on a journey far away from me within such a short time.
I was still searching for a resolution to my own journey. Not “the” resolution—just ”a” resolution.
If I could go back to various situations in my life, I would tell myself to take more risks involving potential relationships. I can’t really think fondly of any time I said no to someone. Especially the time I couldn’t even bring myself to say no and instead avoided the guy for four days while a migraine grew in my head and only went away after I finally confronted him and said “no I don’t want to date you but please still be my friend and play soccer with me every Monday night”. Thankfully, he was agreeable.
Towards the end of 2018, in the fall, my year of casual dating was starting to wind down and come to a close. I considered downloading Tinder to keep things going and introduce a new dating dynamic into my repertoire of experiences, but decided against it. Partially because intentionally short relationships were beginning to wear me out, but also because I felt content with what I’d accomplished.
At the beginning of 2018, I did a “2017 Year In Review” assessment worksheet. Once the worksheet was completed, it listed the areas I needed to focus on in the fresh new year. The areas in my life with the lowest scores were: career, finances, and romance. Having a tangible list of things to focus on and improve was really helpful, because when I did a “2018 Year In Review” at the beginning of this year, those three things had vastly improved.
The reason I, a single person who last year had been dumped by someone I was falling in love with and then gone on a string of subpar dates following the breakup, had assessed the romance in my life and considered it acceptable was because of this:
I began to see the beauty in impermanence.
In Spinster, a book about unmarried female writers, written by an unmarried female writer, Kate Bolick says, “I considered myself lucky in love: I’d had the pleasure of falling in love several times, with men who loved me in return. Just because one or the other of those relationships hadn’t lasted my entire life didn’t detract from what I’d gained.”
The book opened me up to the real possibility of a life as a spinster, or “Girl Bachelor” as Neith Boyce (one of the women featured in Spinster) called herself. Not a crazy cat lady—but a fabulously unmarried woman who was successful and had a large network of friends. But I can also see the thrilling possibility of being in a lifelong relationship. The point is that after growing up with a one track mind for Young Christian Marriage™, I now see a world that had so many more options than that.
I stopped mourning the time I felt I’d wasted on failed relationships, because I don’t see it as wasted time or failures anymore. Some of the most beautiful and memorable experiences in life are quite brief, like Christmas morning as a kid or watching the sun set over the ocean. Hell, the very planet we live on has an expiration date.
I now see my ended relationships as exactly what they were: important life lessons that also included lots of adventures, laughs, kisses (sorry Mum).
Part of me wonders if I should be embarrassed about the things I’m choosing to publish on my blog, like my dating experiences or my drinking experiences. Especially since my mom reads my blog (and subscribes to my newsletter). Maybe some people would be embarrassed about their mothers reading stuff like that.
But when I told my mom a couple weeks ago that my next blog post was going to be about all my past relationships, she clapped her hands and said “oh goodie, I can’t wait to be entertained!” Can’t ask for a better fan than that.
I hope this entertained you, Mum. Sorry I’ve kissed so many people.