I was not expecting to find myself single and looking for love at the age of 40. But two years after the end of a 20 year relationship, an amicable break-up, and divorce proceedings so fictional they could qualify for the Booker Prize in 2015 I found myself ready and willing to venture out into the world of relationships again.
But how times have changed since the 1990’s: the last time I was single…
Back then, we dated within the limited pool of people available to us in our home towns, colleges, universities and jobs. We knew not of who else could be out there, and we were happy enough with our choices. Reader, I married him!
Fast forward to present day, and we have so much CHOICE. Online dating not only brings us the people local and accessible to us, but nationwide, and indeed all over the world, if we choose to set our search parameters so wide.
I was like a kid in a sweet shop, except that this was a very grown-up sweet shop where the popular choices seemed to be sex, kinky sex, really quite weird and disturbing sex…or, in the slightly dusty and neglected jars on the top shelf, maybe even potential relationships and love.
Obviously, I availed myself freely of the first couple of options because a lady has got to have some fun, right?
But then, this vast amount of choice seemed a bit…empty. Hollow. And so I started being more selective: looking harder for people who seemed like they might want what I wanted, which was (whisper it) COMMITMENT.
And lo, they seemed to be out there. This online dating lark is easy, said I.
And yes, the dating bit is easy. It is the bit after that that is the problem: the ‘where do we see this going?’ To which the answer seems most often to be…nowhere, because few people seem to really want to commit. They are: on the rebound; having some fun; experimenting; trying to find their “type”; seeing who is out there; lonely; bored; trying to make themselves feel better; unsure what they want; or unsure how to find it. There is nothing wrong with this, and I was guilty of all those things when I started. Kids in sweetshops, all of us.
But too many sweets leaves you feeling a bit sick.
And even some of those who do find love and commitment are still keeping their options open. A widely reported survey by OnePoll in September 2014 found that of 1000 married women surveyed, 50% had a “back-up partner” in mind, just in case their current relationship failed. And 25% of these said their feelings for their “back-up partner” were as strong or stronger as those for their current partner.
So why are we all so reluctant to commit, fully, with our hearts and our minds, to one person at a time? No back-up. No “I’ll keep looking just in case someone better comes along”. No “but what if…?” And no ”I’ve settled for Mr/Mrs Right Now, but Mr/Mrs Perfect will be along sometime soon.” I don’t have an answer to this question, and would be interested to hear your theories.
My personal theory is that too much choice actually paralyses us into procrastination and inaction: the massive amount of information, knowledge and connections at our fingertips, 24/7, actually causes us stress rather than convenience. We don’t commit because we have too much information to absorb and no time to process it all, and so we are simply too overwhelmed to make effective decisions.
And this does not just apply to relationships but to life in general. By always looking to move forward, strive for something “better” than we have (when “better” is completely undefined), and achieve our next goal – are we actually missing out?
The Oxford English Dictionary has 3 definitions of commitment:
1. The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
2. A pledge or undertaking.
3. An engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.
And I wonder – how many of our current commitments fit with the definition number three, which implies a chore and a certain reluctance, as opposed to the first two, more positive definitions? I can think of so many: reading a book I don’t really want to read; dating people I am not sure about; meeting up with family and friends because I think I should, rather than because I really want to; staying that extra hour at work when it really could be left until tomorrow.
So for 2016, I am adopting a new approach: ‘commit or quit’.
Dating: I am applying a ‘six dates and you’re out’ rule. I know what I want, and when I do find it, I am making a pledge to be 100% dedicated. No back-up plan. I will block out all the background noise from my brain and the Internet (the glut of (mis)information) and focus simply on what IS. Six dates is more than long enough to know whether to commit or wave goodbye.
Living: I will appreciate what I have and get rid of some of the activities and obligations that restrict me from committing fully to what I value, enjoy and appreciate. I am not going to actively seek out more knowledge, learning or experiences, although if opportunities come my way, of course I will take them. And if I do, I will commit and give my full attention, for as long as it takes. And if my attention starts to wander, I will refocus on my new mantra – commit, or quit.
And above all else, I am going to appreciate ME, and all that I already know. You can’t get to 40 without accumulating a little bit of wisdom, instinct and intuition, and it is about time I used it. I will report back on how I get on.