His face is haggard, his eyes tired, but he misses nothing. His body, though broken, is strong and poised to strike at a moment’s notice. He is sizing up this stranger to see whether or not he’s a threat.
“How many walkers have you killed?” “How many people have you killed?” “Why?”
If you’re familiar with The Walking Dead, you know that when Rick Grimes and his crew meet new people they might want to bring into their group they ask them these three questions. These questions are loaded and heavy and quickly cut to the heart of a persons character. And they MUST be answered before he’ll even consider bringing a new person into the fold. It was while watching him ask these questions on an episode recently that I had an a-ha moment.
Rick Grimes and I are basically the same person. Yup.
His character is trying to survive the wasteland that is America after the zombie apocalypse happens. I am trying to survive the wasteland that is the dating scene in Dallas in my mid-30’s.
IT IS BASICALLY THE SAME THING. Just kidding … but, no really … kinda the same. Let me tell you why.
Much like the landscape in the Walking Dead, the dating ‘apocalypse’ has a hell of a lot of ‘walking dead’ out there, just looking for a warm body, heart and mind to devour. There are also a lot of ‘survivors’ out there who may or may not be good depending on what they’re doing in order to survive.
What’s the zombie equivalent in the dating-after-30s world, you ask? Well, I define them in a few ways, but basically it boils down those men (or women) who are ultimately emotionally unavailable. They may have become this way due to an earlier injury, maybe being ‘ripped apart’ by another zombie. Or maybe the wound stemmed from childhood. But what it results in is a person who looks alive, can go through all the motions, but they’re unable to connect in a meaningful way with another human. They devour heart after heart, never being fully satiated, maybe even unaware that this is their curse.
Unlike the rotting grotesque zombies in the show, these guys and gals look perfectly fine, even beautiful. It’s only after time spent that you can tell what they are. Their interactions inevitably give them away.
Then there are the survivors … those of us who’ve been connected to people and lost them for whatever reason. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ survivors really. The dating world isn’t black and white. We’ve all done things to get by as we had to, and we’ve all likely hurt someone (whether intentional or not) at some point in our history. But there are certainly survivor types to avoid. Those who are so guarded, so hell-bent on avoiding pain they have every wall up. They too often take what they want or need without concern for the person they’re taking it from. They aren’t completely dead. They know enough to tug on the heart strings of a human connection and it feeds them too. But they take what they need to survive and move on leaving you feeling scavenged emotionally.
These kinds of ‘survivors’ do this in a number of ways. One is to go through the motions of looking like a ‘good’ guy/girl. Take you on a date, treat you like a gentleman should. They might even give you the label you’re seeking. But … there is a lack of depth, of true emotional vulnerability. They have no intention of growing roots and building something. They know how to be the good guy/boyfriend on paper, but then the relationship ends up being just that .. paper thin. But if you question it, they will simply go back to this paper and say, ‘but look – I’m doing this and this and of course that means I’m invested and a good boyfriend.’ All the while you’re still the only one truly emotionally invested. Another way these survivors protect themselves is to wow you and woo you and flirt and have chemistry but reveal much too late that they’re really only interested in sex. Or sex and friendship. They often wait till you’re hooked to drop this bomb. Because … let’s face it … even the most guarded of men/women still need connection and physical contact to survive. We all do. They might even hide behind the guise of ‘monogamy is too hard and isn’t natural’ etc. So it sounds completely logical and maybe even science-y and like it’s a part of their belief system. But again, it is likely another defense mechanism to guard themselves against investing in someone and having that potentially ripped away. They’re trying to survive too, but their survival comes at a cost to others.
Ok so I might’ve run a bit too far with that analogy (ha). But for some reason it resonated with me. Especially with regards to my own personal dating journey.
When I first started dating, I was utterly clueless. I had just ended my second relationship ever and while I’d actually had a lot of experience with longterm relationships (and also with strictly casual sex, oddly enough), I’d had very little experience … just dating. Going out with someone. Vetting them. Getting to know them in a traditional manner. I didn’t realize what a terrifying scene it was out there. The zombies? They were easier to spot. I met a few right out of the gate and learned quickly how to side-step them. But the hardened survivors? They aren’t so easy to recognize. Especially for a girl new to dating.
When I first started meeting people and going on dates, I was trying to just go with the flow … I would ask questions … but I didn’t really know the relevant ones to ask. I kept it light and flirty … I didn’t wanna be ‘that’ girl, the girl making things all heavy too early. I wanted to trust them immediately, without waiting to see if they were worthy of that trust. I ended up dating a lot of guys who were nice but weren’t looking for anything and certainly weren’t clear about that. Or dating guys that had all the red flags of someone who might crush me, but still I chose to trust them because they ‘seemed’ nice and like they had potential. As I said I was clueless. I had no boundaries in place, no guideposts to make it clearer which men I should invest in vs which ones were fleeting or worse.
I foolishly believed if I was open and earnest and honest about who I was, my past and all the little things in between, whoever I was with would be just as open and just as honest. But … it doesn’t work that way. We’re all survivors here right?
At this age and point in my life, I’m starting to realize that the guys I’m dating (usually) have been through serious relationships and serious breakups. And the harder the breakup, the more guarded and protected they are. The more hardened a survivor they are.
So I ended up giving myself emotionally to men who were just looking to take what they needed to survive. Not killers, per say, but thieves and scavengers in their own way.
It took me a lesson or two (or 25) before I started realizing to date and survive, and to survive WELL, you have to develop your own set of questions. These are CRUCIAL and can tell you a lot about a guy in a short amount of time.
My first three questions:
“How many long-term relationships have you been and why didn’t they work out?” “What was your part in it?” “What are you TRULY looking for?”
These are hard-hitting questions for a first date or hell, even a first drink, I know. But it’s a good test in my opinion. Quite frankly, I think no question should be off limits. If a guy bristles at this, I get it. I do. I understand we don’t all want to bring out our baggage right away, but guys, this is the dating apocalypse. At least it is if you’re dating in your 30s and 40s. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly a more real thing. No more time for fluff. Ask the hard shit, right away. And if there is a reluctance to answer or there is a lack of authenticity behind what is shared, then you know. Not that they’re bad guys or horrible people, but that there is a guard in place and you should put yours up as well. It’s a code yellow to proceed with caution.
If a guy responds well to these questions, seems open and authentic, then the even HARDER hitting questions should start being asked. There have been times I’ve been afraid to ask these as well. Again … I don’t want to be ‘that’ girl. But after encountering enough of these hardened, emotional thieves, I wholeheartedly embrace being THAT girl.
I’m a survivor. Of bad relationships, of terrible dating situations, of heartbreak, of emotional abuse. The dating scene is a minefield of misogyny. And I’m done catering to it. (Oh there’s gonna be a series of posts I will dedicate to just that. You think women are crazy? My god, there are some nutty, frightening guys out there.)
I know who I am and what I have to offer. You want to be in my crew? You need to answer the tough questions and be prepared to do some honest soul searching. Because I am and will continue to do the same. I have no time for surface level relationships or friendships. I have no energy to invest in emotional scavengers or to give up my time, body and mind to shallow thieves.
I get it. You’re just trying to survive too. I can have grace for that. But much like Rick and his crew, I’m looking to build a new world. A better one than the ones I’ve been a part of in the past. A world in which we both work and contribute to make our lives better. A world where human connection is valued as the scarce and precious commodity that it is. And the really good news is? We all get a second chance and a third chance and a millionth chance to cure our own disease. Just because we’re a zombie or a hardened survivor now, it doesn’t mean we have to always be that way. It takes asking ourselves the hard questions and it takes answering them honestly.
“How many long-term relationships have I been in and why didn’t they work out?” “What was MY part in it?” “What AM I truly looking for?”
It takes being present emotionally (not just physically) with a new person. It takes being willing to take the risk and invest in someone beyond your immediate level of comfort. It takes giving someone new a REAL chance to mean something to you, even knowing one day you might lose them.
Let’s build a new world of emotional vulnerability and honesty. Because this … THIS is what separates us from the walking dead.