Coffee for two?

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(I wrote this column for the Benicia Herald a few years ago – back when I was writing as ‘The Online Dating Coach – I’m reposting in honor of National Coffee Day…)

Today is National Coffee Day, so to do my part I got up first thing this morning and trudged over to my local Starbucks to grab a cup – which is pretty much what I do on the other 364 days of the year that are not National Coffee Day.

The coffee shop’s about a 5 minute walk from my place and my routine is to roll out of bed, into some clothes, and over to get my morning pick-me-up. On the way, while I was waiting for the light to change at the intersection, a lady in sweats came powerwalking up behind me. As the walk sign illuminated she announced “Be careful – they’d just as soon run us over as look at us!”

To her warning about the cars I replied “I don’t know – people are usually pretty good” at which point a car at the far end of the crosswalk poked its front bumper into our path. My powerwalking friend yelled “SEE?!” I pointed out to her that it hadn’t hit us. Her response was “Not yet…”

All depends on how you look at it I guess. Maybe it’s that whole glass half full thing – or, rather, coffee cup.

A couple of weeks back a woman I’ll call Maria emailed me about time with a man she felt had not been spent successfully – she wrote: “I met a guy on OKCupid and we dated for a while, about 3 months. We were very attracted to each other at first, I think we still are, but as time went on we seemed to drift and I don’t know why. If something starts so well, with so much promise, what causes it to fall apart?”

Without knowing more details Maria I’d be guessing, but maybe it’ll help if I share something that happened to me.

Over the last couple of months I had a summer romance too. She and I first met online after I saw her pictures (she’s quite beautiful) and then later we met in person. My initial attraction to her was immediate – not only was she very easy to look at, but she was strong willed and creative too, all things I like.

For the first couple of weeks we were in that crush phase where everything the other does seems cute or interesting. Where you’re learning all you can about the person and filling in the parts you don’t know with assumptions that work for you.

We found that we both liked running so we ran a 10K together. We both enjoyed hiking and did so up in the hills with her dog. She had a great sense of humor (so I say because she actually got many of my jokes – not a frequent occurrence) and this strong spirit inside of her that just made you want to be where she was.

Our walks to coffee in the morning were so cool – we’d sit and get bagels and read the paper and, well, just have somebody, you know? It’s such a nice feeling to just have somebody.

Things were going really good between us – until they weren’t.

Here’s what I think happens: Attraction is the easy part – it requires no work at all and explodes onto the scene to take two people racing forward with each other. It’s fun and makes your heart beat and causes you to think about each other every chance you get, but then something interesting happens: It becomes normal, almost commonplace. What I mean is that when you meet someone you’re newly attracted to that feeling of attraction, for this person, is a brand new phenomenon in your life. Sure you’ve felt attraction before, but not for this person whom you’ve just met and know very little about.

After a few weeks or a month the feelings aren’t new anymore – and even more importantly, the things you have to add to them to continue to grow the relationship, like respect and compassion and communication, require work. But sometimes even all the work you do cannot bridge the differences between you.

I think that the romantic experiences we have when we were younger, the ones that led to marriage and kids and such, play a huge part in shaping who we are as people – and teaching us what will and won’t work for us later in life. When we are young we’re both optimistic and naïve – and that can be a dangerous combination. It can take us down very long roads with the absolute wrong person – which is much of the reason we have a 50% divorce rate today.

But I think as we age – as we grow more aware of who we are and what we do and don’t want in our lives – it becomes harder to find someone who fits the way we want them to.

Here are some telling statistics: The 50% divorce rate is for first marriages. For second marriages it’s 67%. Third marriages? 74%.

Now doesn’t that seem to go against the conventional wisdom that practice makes perfect? Wouldn’t one think that someone getting married for the second or even third time would be wise enough to avoid the pitfalls of the first go ‘round? Or do the numbers mean that as we get older, as we know ourselves better, we become more willing to enjoy and savor the good and then move on at the appropriate time? And who says that a higher divorce rate is necessarily bad news? After all doesn’t it mean we now get to go find the one who fits our life better?

Maria I think that as we grow more seasoned we start to move away from the idea that a relationship, in order to be considered successful, has to last for years – or even for the rest of one’s life. The two months I had over the summer were really good. I was lucky enough to get to know a smart and creative woman – and I learned things from her that I will know for a very long time.

I don’t see that as failure.

So here’s a thought: What do you say we both get online, pick someone who strikes our fancy and set up coffee dates at Starbucks – I hear they serve ‘em way over half full.

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