At a party celebrating my 33rd, surrounded by married friends talking about honeymoons and Preggie Pops, I gulped red wine and hoped the hot Nordic IT consultant in my office I’d taken two weeks to get up the nerve to invite would show. As the night progressed, and Sven didn’t, I realized: it was my ninth consecutive birthday without a boyfriend.
I switched to vodka and wondered how that alarming statistic had managed to escape my notice until now.
Waking up alone the next morning, I decided: this will not happen again. No more self-organized parties, not another year of one-off dates and two-month textlationships to nowhere. This would be the year I’d kick my single status to the curb and find someone who’d take me out for a nice fish dinner at 34 – a proper boyfriend.
But how? I’d tried everything. Speed, blind and online dating, Anti-Valentine’s Day parties, Meet Market Adventures, around the harbor singles’ boat cruises, to no avail.
A friend suggested I get some expert advice – at my local Barnes & Noble.
Always an avid traveler and active nature lover, I was skeptical of love self-help books. Browsing my subscription to Outside magazine was more interesting that improving my “Guy Q.”
Maybe that was the problem. I’d spent so much time chasing adventure, I’d missed the memo on how to have an adult relationship longer than the life span of a fruit fly. And since the guy in my last “three-month undefined whatever” had flown home from our ill-fated international vacation in first class without so much as paying me a visit in coach, I knew I needed help.
I decided to enroll myself in Love 101: Home School Edition, resolving to read one book a month until I got a clue.
For nine months I acted on the advice of various authors; from a Buddhist reiki healer to a Harvard M.B.A., the Millionaire Matchmaker to Dr. Phil. Where I’d normally coast passively through my romantic life, hoping some handsome specimen with wavy hair and great shoes would notice me in the produce aisle; I now practiced flirting with everyone from cashiers to cab drivers. I crafted a list of “Nice to Haves” and whittled it down to my “Top Five Non-Negotiables.” I practiced making uber-uncomfortable “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” eye contact and didn’t answer the phone whenever a new guy called (but always called back within 24 hours). I read alone in a public place, salsa danced solo and wore eye catching accessories to “draw attention to my product” – me. An attempt to use subtle body language to attract led to my hair catching on fire during a holiday party. In my quest to try new things and follow the rules, I even struck up conversation with handsome males on the subway about their belts.
I tried. I mean, I really did. And it yielded: one actor who preferred hours on the phone to actual dates, one over-sharing artiste, one too-busy-to-date triathlete, and one disappearing Cuban.
After micro-managing my pursuit of love and getting no closer to what I wanted, I was exhausted. I wanted to hang up my lip gloss, retire my dating jersey, sink into my couch and stay there until they made Bridget Jones’ Diary III.
After a few weeks of rock bottom, I cracked open a book by Dr. Phil.
“You can’t fake fabulous,” he said.
Duh, I thought. Obvi.
But as he went on I realized, even though I’d heard it before, and knew it as a concept—I didn’t really get it.
All my ice-breakers and jaunty caps wouldn’t work if I thought I was a problem that needed fixing.
I had fooled myself that all I needed was to toil away in my Love Lab Coat, read the textbook, check off to-do’s, and problem solved.
All of which ignored the underlying issue.
I was stalled out; stuck in a comparison tailspin with my peers and wondering what was wrong with me. After years of dating mishaps, I doubted whether I was even capable of sustaining a long-term relationship. And I carried this disappointment with me everywhere.
That’s what I had to take care of.
So I put down the books and embarked on a “Take Back Sarah” month with one purpose: joy.
Instead of coffee shop pick-ups, I shifted my focus to fun, pure and simple; road-tripping, beaching, hitting golf balls and doing karaoke. Anything that made me feel carefree and happy. Without my maniacal focus on “getting it right” or meeting someone I let go of my attachment to the man outcome and felt the worry leave my body.
After booking a two-week hiking trip to Machu Picchu, I shared the news with a married male co-worker. In a great mood and buoyed by a month of dating detox and mojo rehab, I asked if he had any single friends.
“Nah. They’re all dogs,” he replied.
But a week later, I got a text from my co-worker. He’d forgotten two – who weren’t dogs – and invited me to join them for drinks.
So, with little technique except a more upbeat me (and asking for what I wanted), I met Kyle. A fellow world-traveling hiker, we shared stories and a cab home to Brooklyn, where we both lived. Three months later, on my birthday, I didn’t have to host yet another shindig promising margarita madness and inappropriate grinding. Instead, I got to have a quiet meal in a beautiful setting with the man who would become my husband.
In the end, I got what I wanted, but not by following any dating algorithm. I learned the hard way, no amount of crafty techniques piled on top of a fearful, dating-scarred brain, could substitute for a healthy sense of inner awesome. Now I tell every woman I know: if you’re looking for love, go cultivate that first, then work on finding him.
Sarah Showfety is a New York-based life coach, speaker and author of Dating by the Books: One Blundering Singleton's Search for Love in the Self-Help Aisle. An avid fan of Tostitos, cheese and the Snuggie, she'll travel just about anywhere you invite her. After years of bad jobs and silly dating shenanigans, she got hitched and founded Straight Up You to help women create careers and relationships that rock. Connect with her on Twitter @straightupyou or on Facebook.
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