The Dating Sabbatical

It is a truth not universally acknowledged that increased dating effort does not result in finding a romantic partner. In the world of instant results, why can’t someone click a button and find their person? You can find a person, but maybe not your person.

You couldn’t convince me of this unfortunate truth at the start of 2017. I went on a lot of online dates. Most were not fun. There was the farmer who I walked with for 8 miles throughout Golden Gate Park and the surrounding neighborhoods — but the whole time he and his dog were a good five steps ahead of me. Or the actor, who after our second date wrote a scene about me — and it was terrible. Or the actually great guy — who froze when I moved towards him for a kiss.

I knew I had traveled off my dating path. I also knew what needed to happen. Like any malfunctioning piece of technology, I had to be returned to factory settings.

Routinely, I would declare to my married friend (K) that I was DONE with dating. I needed a break and now I would take it.

Then, according to K, two weeks later I would be talking about another guy.

She told I needed more time between relationships, that the periods of solitude were too short. So I did what any mature adult would do in the face of sound advice: I asked a different friend.

J, who I thought would disagree with K, to my dismay agreed with her. Over gin drinks at the Riptide Bar, J suggested taking six months off from dating. This was not going as I expected.

And yet, I trusted both of them and their advice resonated in that annoying way only wisdom can.

So on June 15th, I committed to a dating sabbatical that would end December 15th. I wasn’t completely sure what needed to shift during that time. I just knew something had to change.

One of the shifts I longed to make was my uncanny attraction to emotionally unavailable men who needed a lot of time alone. I’d have to constantly adjust and negotiate the time I needed to feel connected, but it never felt like enough. When we were apart, my brain would be hijacked with thoughts of them. It was frustrating: I wanted to be in love, and be able to think about other parts of my life.

Hoping for that change felt nearly impossible. Yet, there was a small voice of the divine that assured me this sabbatical would be worthwhile. I entered into the six months trusting that inner knowing but also terrified of the loneliness that was sure to surface.

As these things tend to happen, within the first week someone asked me out. I probably would have said yes… but sabbatical. With time and reflection, I realized I wasn’t interested in him, I just liked the attention — a common factor in several of my mismatched dates.

The comedy of timing during this sabbatical didn’t stop there. Men from my past continued to surface throughout the six months, and I found myself playing “unhealthy dude whack-a-mole”. There was the author who gaslit me in a three-sentence email, the friend asking too earnestly what I was looking for in a partner, and the Big Ex who texted me late one night to tell me “therapy is working!”

While exhausting, each response felt like I was laying to rest an old way of being — that desperate Dani who would rather take anything over nothing. The sabbatical made me realize nothing was better than most things. 

Since I wasn’t dating, I didn’t have a hijacked brain and a lot more free time. So I created a life that felt more me: starting a radio show, co-hosting live concerts, changing jobs, writing and preaching a couple of sermons, and finding kindred community. I learned more about who I was and who I wanted to surround myself with — in both friendship, and a romantic partner. I also realized that the same tall order I always wanted in a partner hadn’t changed, and if anything he got more specific and seemingly rare. Exploring the terrain of who I was and what I was looking for made me realize I was worth what I longed for in a partner, even if it meant being single for a while longer.

This six-month period wasn’t all victories over exes and positive self-discovery, though. There was also a lot of loneliness and grief I had to face. Grief that perhaps I would never build a home or family like I imagined all these years. Grief that the tall-order of an emotionally-available and affectionate man who was aligned spiritually, politically, and creatively meant I would date less. And a gnawing insecurity that I was single because there was something wrong with me.

Throughout the sabbatical, I carried around a small dull ache in the center of my chest. It never lasted long but would sweep in like a wave at low moments: when I was sick at home alone and wanting care, when the sludge monster of depressive feelings would raise its grey head and I’d lose my appetite, or when I was in a mass of couples at a party. I’d remind myself that even though I felt alone, I wasn’t. I’d reach out to friends for comfort, or have solitude with the divine. Sometimes I’d rage at God about my frustrations. At my lowest depressed moments, I still found my resilience, whether it was the strength to push through or self-compassion to cancel plans.

That is what I am most thankful for discovering during this time: Not my achievements or creative endeavors, but finding and experiencing my inner strength. It felt part divinely given, part me co-created. And I was grateful for all of it.

By the time the sabbatical was nearing the end, I surprised myself by not wanting it to. Life was good, and getting back to dating terrified me. I didn’t want to give up the life I had cultivated on my own and was worried I would go back to my old ways of having a hijacked brain over unavailable men. But I still desired to be partnered. What I hadn’t fully realized was that there was a snag in this sabbatical that ended up making the transition back to dating a lot easier.

Let’s call that snag G. Throughout these six months we had been going to shows together. He was in a dark place like I was, had similar spiritual leanings, and we enjoyed the same music and each other’s company. I had a small crush on him, but ignored it and focused on the internal work of the sabbatical. I did notice he was communicative, present, and unlike anyone I had dated. And the last month or so, I fell for him. Hard. I knew that when the sabbatical ended, so would our platonic courtship. Turns out, he knew it too.

I hesitate to include him as a part of this story. The sabbatical was impactful because I faced my loneliness and grief and not only survived but thrived — not because I got a boyfriend.

But it’s now almost three months out of my sabbatical as I write this, and I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and pride for taking on that challenge to better care for myself. And the work continues with a new challenge: holding this new strength and solitude from the sabbatical with this new tender and connected relationship.

It’s a foreign experience to have both a boyfriend and a working brain. To be totally in love and also be thinking about the other aspects of my life, asking “What’s next?”

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