A Lesson on Dating for My Daughters

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The facts are this: I dated someone for a turbulent ten years. We broke up for good one morning, and I did not see him again for another ten years.  

The irony of the anticipation of seeing this person again, coupled with the flat, underwhelming calm when the moment finally happened, was too little to bear. 

I couldn’t drink hard drinks and lament with the friends who were around me when it happened, though I tried. I started text messages to old friends but closed them. Try as I might to force those salacious delicious bubbles to the surface–the moments of betrayal, the audacity of the cheating–I just couldn’t. The moment fell flat, a hollow drop in a bucket that had since been overflowed with too much good. My brain couldn’t recall the details of the cheating, the friends involved, the way he looked when he lied. And maybe worse was the way my heart couldn’t do anything but keep its same, steady beat as though he had never even existed. My seventeen, twenty-one, twenty-seven-year-old self would have never believed it.  

Sometimes, people fall in love young, and that puppy love matures and blossoms and ages like fine wine in oak barrels to something truly remarkable. And sometimes puppy love is just that. And sometimes, like in my case, puppy love is entirely too benevolent of a term. I felt uncomfortable when I first met my ex-boyfriend in the high school hallway. I remember it clearly. And whether through the course of teen rom-coms or high school pressure, I mistook that feeling of discomfort for butterflies–for a good thing. And don’t get me wrong, I started to like him, and then I started to love him, I thought. But what transpired over the next ten years was very few highs held to earth by leaden weights of constant cheating and narcissism.  

Somewhere, somehow, I convinced myself that he was the one for me. Maybe it was because my parents are high school sweethearts or maybe because I hated the idea of starting over or maybe because early on the breakups and the makeups were exciting. For whatever reason, I put my head down and determined that I would see this dating disaster through. If this thing failed, I told myself, I knew it wouldn’t be because I didn’t give it my all. All the while, my sense of self evaporated–I allowed it to be torn piece by piece into the wind by a person who never saw who I was.  

My point in sharing this is that contrary to what my younger self believed, the person I ended up marrying wasn’t the person who gave me that nervous fluttering of butterfly wings in my stomach. It was the person who gave me deep peace.  

When I met my now husband, I felt the opposite of flutters. I felt a wave of calm. We had our first date at Nada in downtown Indy. He was sitting in the back, and he stood up to hug me when I got to the table.   I felt like I knew him. I felt calm and safe and utterly at ease. I exhaled when I sat down like I’d been walking around holding my breath for years. He is constant and dependable where I am anxious and flighty. He sees me and encourages me. He is my partner. 

We have two little girls now, five and nearly two, and someday they will begin dating. I am thankful to be able to tell them the story of the boy who gave me butterflies in my stomach, the man who gives me quiet in my soul, and the incredible importance of learning the difference.