Drinking with Strangers

People always complain about dating, saying it’s such a chore.

Granted it can be frustrating—especially if you are interested in a relationship and not just dating for sport. You keep thinking: when am I going to find someone special, someone with whom it just clicks?

I wonder though, why are people having such a rough time? Don’t they enjoy meeting new people . . . learning a thing or two that’s new?

I have always found that being open-minded, trying (hard as it may be) to not have an agenda, and relishing the process of getting to know others is quite rewarding. I might meet a fun new friend, a temporary lover, a valuable professional connection, or simply just revel in the task of stepping outside the bubble in which I live, seeing myself—or life itself—through a different lens, even if for just one night.

While I owe almost all of my jobs, apartments and adult (post-IKEA) furniture to craigslist, I likewise owe almost every close friend of mine to the efforts I’ve put forth while dating.

Sam turned out to be a real blessing in disguise. He and his band-mates anonymously invited me to a weekend pub performance via Friendster and we proceeded to date for the next four months—a time when I found myself juggling a final graduate school semester’s workload and Sam’s vastly swinging moods, lack of interest in sex, and obvious confusion about his feelings for me (he would ask me to attend dinner parties/concerts and then ignore me).

The end of “us” was even more challenging than maintaining our unhealthy day-to-day relationship. He broke up with me on graduation day after visiting the East Coast and starting a romance with my friend’s 19 year-old sister.

Despite the sad ending, I took a couple of really important things away from this short, yet determined, attempt at sexual and emotional fulfillment:

1) The friendship of Brady, Jon and Anna (the one with the irresistible young sibling)

2) A lesson which functioned as silver lining, discovered with the help of a dear friend, Erica, the roommate of another ex: you can’t force a square situation into a round hole. “Picture a dog,” she said, “he’s in the corner of a room and just won’t budge, even though you are shouting at him to move. This dog is you and Sam, one type of animal, but not the kind you want.”

The metaphorical animal I wanted would have been running around the room—celebrating life, representing two people in a fun-loving, non-anxiety producing relationship. “You can’t make someone be your boyfriend, Beth.” You can’t?

I think about this advice often—to justify trial-runs with people I find just okay, sex that’s leading nowhere fast, but mostly because I keep forgetting to follow it . . . which has worked out finely.

While I have twice tried to make other unavailable men my boyfriends, I have collected more gem-like friends (all with permission from the non-boyfriends; guilt often leads to consolation prizes). Is it even possible to make friends without a voracious appetite for romance and the aggressive pursuit of people-who-don’t-know-they-are-perfect-for-you-yet?

Gained friendships aside, one-off dates can also be highly entertaining. I will never forget meeting a German-Ghanian Stanford business student at a New Orleans themed bar in Palo Alto, discussing McDonald’s at length—practically and theoretically—over fish tacos and margaritas, practicing Tae Kwon Do forms in suburban streets and then going to bed with chamomile tea and a Kanye West serenade in his concrete dorm room. It was a perfect night.

There’s something so wonderful about the awkwardness of two nerve-filled adults, wearing their weeknight best, meeting after dark to surmise whether the other may be “the one” or exactly what they need at a given point in time. To me, there’s nothing more exciting. When it works, it’s magic.

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