After I was separated and had spent a few months getting my bearings, I threw myself into dating. For nearly 18 months, I dated. A lot. A whole lot, actually.
Not everyone around me was comfortable with this. Well-meaning friends suggested that I “take some time and get to know myself first.” This truly bewildered me, because I learn more about myself through my interactions with others than I could ever discover sitting at home with a book or a movie. Only recently has the source of their discomfort dawned on me: they thought that I was dating to avoid being alone, that I was simply afraid of not having a man in my life. They were wrong, but it is only in hindsight that I see clearly what I was actually doing.
I was doing research. Serious, focused research.
Coming out of my marriage, I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want THAT anymore. But what did I want? What did it look like, feel like? What did he — this mythical soul mate that I had left my marriage to discover — look like, sound like, act like? I dated all kinds of men. I went through a period of younger men, and a period of former pro-athletes, and a period of very tall men. Some of them had doctorates, some had diplomas. Some had private jets, others lived like college students. I tried them on (most only metaphorically), and I made copious mental notes of what felt good and right and what did not. And slowly a sense of what I want in a man emerged….
But one of the worst parts of my marriage was who I became within it. So I had work to do there, too. Who did I want to be in a relationship? What parts of myself did I value, did I want to nurture and grow and share with someone? What parts of myself did I never want to see again? Each new man taught me something about myself. I discovered whole new parts of myself that I had never known before and made instant friends with! I slowly came to realize which kinds of men brought out which parts of me and how I responded to the various situations and challenges that dating presents over and over and over again.
My laboratory work is over, and I have stopped dating. This is not a permanent situation, but every scientist needs a chance to quietly and completely examine the results of her multiple experiments before synthesizing the results into a statement of discovered fact. And that’s where I am. I think I know who the best version of myself is, and I know that I want to be her. I think I know roughly what I’m seeking in a mate, and I want to meet him. And that will most likely require more dating. But my friends can relax.