Casual dating: my first dating experience in the USA
My mother told me to wait until after high school to go out on a date.
So I waited a long time before getting any kind of dating experience. She said it could be a major distraction while I was trying to achieve the kind of education I wanted for myself. I agreed. When the time comes, “the right guy” will find me, and of course, I will then have my own happy ending like in the movies. Right? Right. At least, that’s what my mother and I believed.
I knew I was on the right track towards my goal when I was accepted into a university in the U.S, with some scholarships. My parents fully supported my plan, despite the painful reality of me being away from my home in Burma for a number of years. To reassure their several concerns, I made a promise that I will take care of myself, and that I will try to make good decisions in college. I always enjoyed being responsible, so I had no doubt that I would keep my promise strong. However, I did not know then how complicated it is to define the “good” in making decisions in life. For instance, in dating. In all honesty, I had no clue on the subject of dating.
I met my first boyfriend one summer in college. Let’s call him X. Love was the furthest thing from my mind when X came along. I was overwhelmed with school and my research work. But I found myself constantly hanging out with X, and enjoying our hours-long conversations and laughter every evening. We shared a common interest in medicine, cooking, and hiking. I often thought about how handsome X looks, and how smart he presents himself. But I did not recognize that I had feelings for him. Until one evening, he held my hand, looked into my eyes, and said, “I really like you, we should be more than friends.”
I was nervous to be more than friends. Since I had no dating experience, I needed advice.
Calling my friends, I was flooded with suggestions like, “Enjoy his company, but don’t lose yourself,” “Be honest with each other, always,” “There is no rule, just go out with him already,” and so on. But the most important advice was found within myself. It wanted me to stop running away from people/feelings which make me happy. My heart wanted me to give love a chance.
The best thing about my relationship with X was being able to draw a boundary between us, both physical and emotional.
He was sweet and understanding when he agreed “I know, there is more than sex in a relationship, and I want that with you.” We started dating. X became both my boyfriend and my close friend in town.
We were a good match, complemented each other with our different personalities. At least that is what I felt then. He would tell me about football games, and I would share the ideas in my writings. His carefree and relaxed heart calmed my nerves, always reminding me to live in the moment. At the same time, my workaholic nature came in handy on his dull days, kindling the spirit he needed to get going.
Of course, some differences between us were not as pretty as the others. He did not like how often I would say “sorry” for things I was not even responsible for. I told myself to learn the fine distinction between being polite and feeling small. I did not like how rarely he knew and used the glory of the phrase “thank you”. But I also did not know how to point it out to him. To let him know the importance of making people we love feel appreciated.
No one had taught me what in the world “casual dating/relationship” meant.
Have I heard of the term? Yes. Can I guess what it means by the sound of it? Er, sure. Did I realize it when I was in one myself? Turns out no. It turned out X and I were just casually dating.
I shockingly learned the fact when one day, X whispered, “I love giving you piggy back rides. I hope my next girlfriend is as cute and light as you.” I was on his back, feeling all loved and fluffy one second, and then all confused next. He just told me how he would like his next girlfriend to be. I admit I was not planning to marry him or anything, but the relationship was so meaningful to me all along that I sure did not spend time thinking about my next boyfriend.
It all eventually made sense. The fact that he often seemed apathetic was not just because he had a laidback attitude, but also because we were in different relationships. The relationship I had with him was a passionate one, the kind they write songs about. The relationship he had with me was merely a fun dating experience in which two people learn about each other without being truly committed.
How can two people engage in romantic activities without being serious about each other, you ask?
I don’t have the answer either. But maybe “dating” does not always have to be a hardcore emotional experience of love, like in the movies. Maybe, we date because we want to learn about ourselves and about people. About love. It’s perhaps about putting small puzzles together until you see a grand picture of “love” you want for yourself. X did not want the kind of love I had in mind. I did not like walking on the grey line, being in a casual relationship while holding my feelings for him.
So, I broke up with him. It was one of the hardest things I had to go through. But it was also one of the best learning experiences of my life. In my culture, when a girl has to end a relationship like this, whatever the reason is, people would feel incredibly sorry for her. It is as if the heartbreak would wreck her life out of balance.
It is as if she failed to make good decisions for herself, for having caught up in a so-called wrong relationship.
I beg to differ. I also doubt if there were any “wrong” relationship if it inspired us to want to become a better person. Being with X was not a wrong decision for me. I came out of the relationship, expanding myself bigger and gaining one more friend in life. Years ago, I used to think there is this perfectly right guy for every girl on the planet, thanks to the movies and Disney stories. But maybe it is an illusion. Maybe how love works in real life is more interesting and more fulfilling. Maybe we will not marry the first boy we ever loved. Instead, maybe we will learn to lead and design our own lives from that experience of loss.
Relationships are just difficult to understand if you are someone like me, who didn’t have much experience in dating. Or, someone who takes relationships seriously. Or, most especially, if you are living in a different culture. But it does not have to be always painful for us. I cannot imagine myself “casually” dating, again and again, in the name of immersing in the culture. But I can see myself stepping outside of my comfort zone to date, once in a while, for the experience of learning. So, we will keep trying. Here is to making choices for ourselves when it comes to love. And, to feel happy about it.