There’s a moment in Reese Witherspoon’s 2017 film Home Again, where as a 40-something single mother, she’s telling her 28-year-old lover Harry why she can’t see him anymore.
Harry has done that classic fuck-boy thing, where he was supposed to turn up to her friend’s dinner party, then ended up being a no-show without bothering to tell her.
He’s begging her to change her mind, but she says: “No, I should know better.” Then she adds with conviction: “I know better.”
Having not seen a huge number of strong female leads in modern-day rom-coms, this was nothing short of a punch-the-air moment.
In that one line, Reese summed up my ethos about dating. I’m not talking about the first, stumbling forays into sex and love dusted in the effervescence of hope and naivety. I’m talking about the kind after your heart has been in battle, when it has been dropped from a height but still keeps on beating.
Credit: Open Road Films
If you haven’t been single for a while or, if like me, you thought you would never be single again, figuring out how to date is not always the easiest of tasks.
I found myself back on the scene about a year after my husband Rob unexpectedly passed away, and I’ll have to admit, I approached it with a combination of nervousness and dread. Not because I wasn’t ready, but because most of what I remembered of my dating life in my 20s was bog-awful.
I remember nights prowling in an all-female wolf pack across the tundra of Revolutions bar, and more often than not, being messed around by anyone who showed me the slightest bit of attention.
Dating is not made easier by the fact that everyone seems to have their own theory on the subject, which creates an overwhelming buzz of contradictory advice. Who here hasn’t heard a friend mutter the dark commandment of: ‘ye shall wait three days before sending a text message’?
I tried to steam ahead regardless, but still the opinions still came and for me, the final straw was telling a friend about a guy who was being a bit of a jerk after two dates.
She said: “Well, that’s what casual dating is like, babe.”
Well actually, it isn’t. Because like Reese Witherspoon said, I know better.
Really, a lot of what we know about dating is based on a weird set of rules cobbled together from self-help books, magazine articles and unqualified mates.
One of the most damaging of these ‘rules’ is that if you’re casually seeing someone, you – the woman – has to accept being treated like shit by a man. I’ve lost count of the number of times I put up with terrible behaviour from men because I felt I had no rights or say in what was happening because we weren’t in a committed relationship.
In my infinite wisdom now, I realise I always had a choice: to firmly say no, and walk away. I just didn’t feel empowered enough to do so, and was too busy listening to everyone else.
The amazing thing about being loved and married to someone like Rob, is that he set the baseline for how I wanted to be treated in any future encounter with a man.
“Yes, but,” my friend said, “you and Rob were in a long term relationship.”
“Hang on,” I replied, “so are you saying that kindness and respect are only the preserves of long-term romantic relationships? What about all the other relationships we have in our lives? Or even something as simple as being nice to the person serving your coffee? Isn’t that just basic decency?”
The greatest trick the world has ever pulled is to tell you relationships are easy, dating is hard. Sorry, but it isn’t true. Relationships – good ones, anyway – don’t just run themselves and it isn’t always sunshine, roses and Instagram hearts.
The real benefit about knowing better, is that a slight shift in mindset can mean dating isn’t this scuzzy terrain of regrettable encounters. Even if it’s casual dating, you still need to ask yourself the same questions that you would of a relationship.
- Is this person making you feel good about yourself?
- Do you like spending time with them, when you’re with them?
- Do you feel like they respect you?
If my answers to any of those are no, I don’t want anything to do with the guy. Because dating isn’t also just about the other person – it’s also about you and how you see yourself. If you keep interacting with human trashbags, inevitably the smell will rub off onto you.
I know enough of life by now, that if a guy is interested, me being the first to text him isn’t going to put him off. If I continue to be involved with someone who’s making me feel bad about myself, then it’s going to impact my self-esteem in the long-term. I also know that any prospective partner who really follows the three-day rule is going to be so bananas, we probably won’t get along anyway.
Accepting anything less would be regressing to a time I didn’t enjoy, and I think dating should be fun – not just something to be endured.
Plus, as Reese Witherspoon would say: “I know better.”