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Unhinged, A Dating Series: Contact Sports

Love and dating aren’t a race—but sometimes they sure feel like one

(Note: If you’re related to me, please skip this week’s post, pretty please.)

It had been the better part of a year since my bed had had another body in it. And nearly four years since it had anyone but his body in it. It’s a funny sort of feeling when you sleep with someone new after years of waking up next to someone so familiar. 

When I eventually slept with Ryan (not his real name), I texted my best friend immediately. It was a little before midnight, and everything inside of me was screaming. There was this overwhelming sense of confusion—I liked him, but I felt like I knew absolutely nothing about him. A flood of memories of my ex swept through my mind, and I found myself comparing all that was familiar about him to all the information I lacked about Ryan. 

Does Ryan sleep with a fan on or, worse, socks? Does he prefer pancakes or eggs and bacon for breakfast? I didn’t know the curves of his face. I was questioning everything about the person lying next to me. There was once love in that bed, and yet there he was, this stranger taking up space. 

When my friend texted me back, she reminded me that these types of emotions are normal the first time you step back into the dating world. The thing is, I wasn’t missing my ex, not really. The memories were just a byproduct of what I was actually experiencing: the feeling of being smacked upside the face with all the firsts of starting over that I’d need to go through.

All of the “What do you do for a living?” questions, the anxiety of waiting to see if they’ll text you back, the wondering if my messy parts will be too much, and the highs and lows of understanding how another human views the world. 

I couldn’t look at Ryan, or anyone else for that matter, and guess everything he was thinking. He didn’t know about my family dynamics or what type of pizza I liked. These things would have to be earned through hours of time together, months of phone conversations, and many nights in the same bed 

But it’s exhausting. I’m tired. 

I’ve been dating since I was 16 and have loved four men in that time. In between, there have been dates, months-long relationships, situationships, and names that exist only in my Notes app, but none of them have changed my last name.

Twenty-four years of searching had led me to this moment—a brand-new starting line. I’m guessing that, like me, many of us at this age are frustrated with dating because it feels like the finish line keeps moving further and further away. And we can’t do anything about it.

I get it. I’m with you. Like I’ve said plenty of times, I don’t have the answers. But I’m holding onto hope that there were reasons why nothing ever worked out previously. And maybe the finish line isn’t moving—instead, our distance is getting shorter.

Over the next few weeks, Ryan and I talked almost daily. He was good about texting, just not about making plans. One night, he asked if he could come by after work. It was a Friday at 8:30 p.m. Other than asking me to lunch when he was already in my neighborhood once, he hadn’t made any other attempts to hang out. 

Admittedly, I felt lukewarm about our connection, but since I’d been intimate with him, I felt like I should try and give it a fair shot. I texted him letting him know that I didn’t want to be just another hookup, and, if wanted to see me, he’d need to start being more intentional with hanging out.

He agreed and said he’d be sure to plan something for us to do. When he left my house the next morning, I didn’t hear from him again until Sunday, when he let me know he couldn’t put that much effort into dating. 

I’ve barely thought about him since that text. Part of me knew the whole time that it wasn’t going to be anything significant. Connor (not his real name) and I also had our second date. We had a nice evening getting to know each other, but we both felt there wasn’t a romantic connection.

So, here I am again, toes on the line. I don’t know if it’s going to be a sprint or a marathon—all I can do is keep running.

If you’re new to Unhinged, catch up on all the dating chats you’ve missed here and follow along at @monicles and @sandiegomag on Instagram to know when a new article drops each week.

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By Nicolle Monico

Nicolle Monico is an award-winning writer and the managing digital editor for San Diego Magazine with more than 15 years of experience in media including Outside Run, JustLuxe and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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