As a non-expert on the matters of the heart, it’s in my best interest to find new ways to learn as much as I can about love and relationships. I consult with friends, watch daytime television, peruse blogs and eavesdrop on conversations at the salon. These are fertile places for love experts and amateurs to relay both enlightening and cautionary tales about their experiences and lessons learned.
Never had it occurred to me to seek professional help or consult with someone who has a degree on the subject. So when a friend sent an email about an upcoming seminar aimed at women between the ages of 35 and 45 who were looking for love, I knew I had to attend. But I was worried.
Would the seminar be chock full of desperate cat ladies so lacking in social skills that they’d need to take a class on what is said to be the most natural thing in the world…finding love? No matter your education level, your income, your size…whether or not you cheat on your taxes…Everyone seems to be able to find love without taking a class on how to do it. Would attending this seminar be admitting defeat? When it comes to love, an education from the School of Hard Knocks somehow feels way more credible than successfully completing a formal course.
I attempted to get out of my head and step back from the situation. Think critically. We never stop learning. Though I’ve officially been out of school for far more years than I care to say, I haven’t stopped taking courses to acquire new skills or brush up on certain subjects. These things only enhance who I am as a professional and make me more marketable. I never enter these classes worried that I might appear clueless or stupid. So why should this be any different? It helped that several of my friends planned to attend. Smart, confident, attractive women who were willing to acknowledge that they didn’t already have all of the answers.
I arrived to class open-minded and eager to learn, pen and notebook in hand. The women running the seminar did so as part of a project needed to complete their doctorates. They encouraged us to speak up, saying the class was meant to be collaborative. I opted in the beginning to remain silent as bolder women shared their battle stories. As the evening went on, I began to ask questions, but I didn’t really delve into my own personal experiences and setbacks. I remained especially quiet and slumped down in my chair a little when it was suggested that in order to move forward you need to pack up all of your emotional baggage. One good way to do this is to write a letter to the one who hurt you, but NOT send it! I didn’t want to admit that I was that girl who wrote AND sent someone a 4-Page letter, all Aaliyah style and got nothing but crickets in return.
We were given little quizzes along the way. They weren’t meant to be regarded as pass/fail, but the nerdy student in me couldn’t help but do the math and determine that I was essentially a failure in a couple of areas. Let’s just say that in the Southwest Airlines of Love--where the first 2 bags fly free--I’m still paying a freakin’ fee! On the positive side, I’ve never let my previous experiences with men keep me from believing there are decent ones out there (Whether or not I believe I’m lucky enough to snag one of them is a whole ‘notha story).
Some of these women began to hijack the class with their tales of woe. While at times, it started to feel like a bitch session, I didn’t really mind it. Maybe it’s because misery loves company. All jokes aside, it was comforting to hear from women who have struggled and battled through some things, yet remained optimistic and open enough to show up for the seminar. While I’m the first to admit that I’m no expert on the subject, I didn’t truly believe there was much I could learn about love in a classroom setting, anyway. After the instructors regained control of the class, they summed up the evening with several bullet points, including the following:
Lesson # 1 – In order to meet men, you have to go where the men are. Check. See my post entitled There Are No Straight Men in Zumba
Lesson # 2 – Dragging old baggage into a new relationship is a surefire way to doom it. We weren’t exactly breaking new ground here.
Lesson # 3 – There is no subject off limits on a first date. Ok, this one caught me a little off guard. I’d always heard that politics and religion and salaries were off limits.
Lesson # 4 – Dating is a skill!
Lesson # 4 was something of an eye-opener. While I kinda, sorta, maybe knew that already, it really resonated with me. I’m not a good dater. I’ve managed to get caught up in several romantic entanglements that involved very little actual dating. While this might be cool for the millennial set, who’ve come up in the age of social media and Netflix-and-Chill, a woman of a particular age should be used to more old-fashioned ways of interacting with men. I need to sharpen my dating skills.
One way to do this is to go out on dates with anyone who asks, even if you’re not attracted to them or don’t see a real future with them. In theory, I totally agree with this. I tell myself that even if it’s a bad date, at least I’ll have a story to tell. In practice, I’ve completely failed at this by either politely declining, giving out a fake number (side note: this has become incredibly difficult to do these days because the guy will call you right then and there to make sure he got the number right) or flat-out lying that I’m already in a relationship. I recently read Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes, which has reinforced the idea that you should accept these invitations. If the brain behind Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy says this is a good thing, then dammit, it is! I’m re-committing myself to the idea.
Don’t worry about “using” someone or getting their hopes up when you know there’s zero chance of the date blossoming into a full-blown relationship. Perhaps the other person needs to brush up on their dating skills, as well. You’ll both get a chance to work on your conversation skills, try out different relaxation techniques and improve picking up on various social cues. Think of it as a group study project where both team members are enhanced by the experience. You’ll only come off as foul or “bird” like if you string the other person along for many dates while enjoying surf and turf and accepting and/or encouraging little tokens of their affection along the way.
I may not have come out of the experience feeling like a love-and-relationship genius, but I found it to be worthwhile. I stepped out of my comfort zone and into the classroom. That, in itself, is a win. I learned dating is a skill, and like most others, needs to be sharpened periodically. There was a follow-up class, which I didn’t attend. Not because I wasn’t interested, but because I didn’t complete my homework assignment in time. Some things never change. In my defense, there was some really good TV on that week, which is a much better excuse than, “The dog ate my homework.”