One of my earliest posts was about the sliding vs. deciding phenomenon and my own determined nature that I would never “slide” again. If you’re not familiar with this concept, take a moment to read that post; it was a body of research that really shook up how I think about relationships.
In my earlier post on this subject, I wrote about my commitment to being a “Decider” in my future relationships. This is still a value I hold dearly to my heart and place the utmost priority on. But just being a Decider isn’t enough. Your partner has to be one, too. And dating in your 40’s has a unique set of circumstances that serve to undermine the delicate business of romantic decision-making.
To start with, my admittedly unscientific dating research has uncovered a large portion of the male population that simply wants another wife. I’m going to call them “Wifers.” I can understand this, to be honest. I’d like to have a wife, too. I’m tired of doing all my own laundry, and making every dinner, and buying every birthday card for my family members. I’d like to have someone to clean my house, and sit next to me while we watch what I want on TV, and to make a nice impression at all of my work functions. I mean, seriously, what’s not to like about having a wife? But in all seriousness, it really is understandable that a man, who was basically content in his marriage and never wanted the divorce, might be looking to simply resume his previous status quo. I guess I can’t fault him, but these are clearly not men who are Deciders in the manner of which I am seeking. They might well “decide” that some woman is good wife material, but that’s not what I (or the sliding/deciding research) meant by being a Decider. So, count me out of that pool. (P.S. – I suspect that the female equivalent of the Wifer is the woman who misses being married and “cared for” so much that she’s really intent on finding another husband, and preferably one with a healthy bank account or lucrative job.)
Then there are those individuals who resemble Sliders, but whom I am going to call Treaders. Treaders are people who aren’t looking for a great love, but for something good enough for now. They want someone they like and respect and to whom they are attracted, but whether love follows from that is mostly inconsequential to them. They are content to find someone nice and tread water in the relationship indefinitely, even for years. Moving the relationship forward, creating a deep and lasting intimacy isn’t really a priority for Treaders; in fact, they’re pretty resistant to it. They aren’t exactly sliding into the relationship or allowing it to slide forward; they are more likely to simply reach a comfortable space in the relationship fairly early on and then start treading water.
In defense of Sliders, Wifers, and Treaders, I have to admit that the circumstances surrounding dating in your 40’s — as opposed to dating in your 20’s — can really sabotage efforts to be a Decider. The demands of a career in full-swing, children still living at home, aging parents, and attempts to create a new life around you can leave little room in your life for a truly intimate relationship. I have gone on dates with several men who were more than capable of making time for me in their lives, but I could quickly see that there was no emotional space in their lives for the kind of relationship that I want. Their attention and priorities were obviously and solidly committed elsewhere. This is especially true of those of us who are single parents. If your children are your top priority, the absolute best a potential partner can hope for is second place. That potential partner might understand and appreciate your priorities, but it’s still going to feel lousy to them. And those lousy feelings aren’t exactly going to create fertile ground for blossoming intimacy. So, it’s easy to see why so many of us become Sliders or Wifers or Treaders the second time around. Our circumstances tilt us strongly in that direction.
Recognizing that you’re in a relationship with a Slider, Wifer, Treader might take some time. I mean, really, it’s not like they come with labels tattooed to their foreheads. Generally what happens is that the Decider is happily moving along in the relationship, thinking that it’s going forward and gaining momentum and depth and breadth, when suddenly she realizes that she’s in a relationship with a Slider, a Wifer, or a Treader.
How does she know this has happened to her?
Example No. 1: She asks the Slider if he’s ever thought about them moving in together. His answer is “Not really, but okay. Sure. Why not? Would save us both a lot in bills.”
Example No. 2: She asks the Wifer if he’s ever thought about them moving in together. His answer is “Sure. I’ve thought about it a lot. I think you’re a great mom and it would be nice for the kids to have you around.”
Example No. 3: She asks the Treader if he’s ever thought about them moving in together. His answer is “Why? Things are great the way they are. I don’t see why we’d need to change anything.”
Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about a needy person who is pushing the relationship along at a faster than appropriate pace. But we all know how relationships progress and what feels natural and normal to most of us. Our society has mores and norms that signal to us when a relationship is going too fast or too slow or when it’s stalled.
I think it’s possible for any of us to be a Slider, Wifer, or Treader at various points in our life, depending on our circumstances and our emotional state. Recognizing that has made me — and several of my friends — truly mindful of making deliberate decisions in our relationships that reflect our personal goals and create opportunities to find what we’re ultimately seeking. But damn it’s hard. Sliding is easy. Treading is easy. Deciding is hard. Walking away from someone who is perfectly nice and a decent partner but incapable of giving us what we really want or need is not nearly as easy or simple as it seems. I think the only thing that keeps most of us who’ve been Sliders from sliding again is the memory of the emptiness that exists inside you when you’ve slid into something that can’t possibly be what you need or what your heart most desires. That, and the recognition that extricating yourself can be painful and difficult for everyone involved.
So, I’m still committed to deciding. But in a sea of Sliders, Wifers, and Treaders, finding another Decider who is also going to decide on me seems like a monumental task. Sigh.