Remember the days when you randomly met a cute guy at a bar, through friends, maybe even at work? You would chat a bit and then go home thinking “does he like me?” You’d banter a little over email, maybe even over the phone and then he’d ask you out.

You’d get so excited about your first date. You already knew you had a lot in common, that you are attracted to each other and he makes you laugh. It was all about thinking of the perfect thing to wear. Not too casual so as to make him think it’s just a friends thing and not too suggestive to make him think it’s a one night thing.

You weren’t seeing other people. You were dating in advance of heading towards a relationship when the time felt right for that romantic declaration. Your first kiss was the first of many. And you eventually became a couple. It was so fun, mostly happy….only minor communication frustrations along the way as you tried to figure out what he was thinking without showing too many of your own cards too soon.

Your friends would meet him and say “good catch.” Your family next and they would agree. You became part of a community who rooted for your success.

Unfortunately, I remember it vividly as I navigate dating present day and it’s so alien to me. It’s actually depressing.

You spend a bunch of time swiping right on online profiles and match with a few people. You get about 4 different conversations going but they eventually just fade out never to be heard from again. Once in awhile one asks you on a date and means it so you make plans.

You are meeting a stranger which isn’t fun to anticipate. It’s more like looking for libations to rip off a band aid to see if this is someone you would want to see again for real. It takes a couple beers to ease into it but it goes well. He texts you the next day to say ” you are way better than your pictures like I looked at you and whoa! I am pleasantly intrigued. Are you free Friday for a drink?”

You aren’t free then but figure out a day next week that works and you go your separate ways. But you know he’s talking to other girls and he figures you are too. You try to put it out of your mind and trust he’s that into you because he said he was, including worrying he might come across as too eager. Not at all. I’m a person who respects people for owning what they want and skipping the games. But you don’t talk about him with anyone to spare yourself the embarrassment of constantly having to explain why things don’t work out every couple of weeks. You’ve survived 20 years of people asking what’s wrong with you because you are still single and it has taken both decades to build the belief in yourself that it’s not you. But it’s something.

For every day in between then and date number two, you know he is going on other dates. You figure you would too if you had something lined up. Then you check in ahead of date number two and something has come up, are you free next week. Funny question considering how clear I am that I don’t audition and compete with other women. That I walk away very quickly if I perceive that’s happening. And it always is.

Even if date number two happens and it’s great, he kisses you but you know you aren’t the only one. He’s trying on a lot of shoes and you are in consideration for first place but you aren’t first place yet. So there’s no magic, no weak knees, only very cautious optimism.

You don’t let down your wall in anticipation of building towards something together. In fact, you further erect the wall to protect yourself from being put back on the shelf so you don’t give it your all purposely.

You give short answers to next week availability to make it clear he blew the excitement and made this experience basic like all the others. You hope he still pursues it to show you he really means it when your gut says he doesn’t. You sit on a beach and keep swiping and starting conversations with new guys… your back ups.

Everyone is a commodity. There’s no excitement, only caution. No anticipation, just skepticism. It’s honestly not at all fun or cute. I suppose it wouldn’t bother me except that I remember a time when those things did exist…when the pursuit of love was joyous and nervous. Instead, it’s now dreading and self loathing. It’s a task of ruling things out.. like ruling out cancer when you become mysteriously ill.

I have always been a romantic at heart so this just holds nothing of that. Even sex is a transaction. You can have it but you can’t possibly hope you will have it with the same person twice.