Dear Lovehacker, I have what may be an impossible question to answer. For lack of better phrasing, I've been a non-participant in dating since university. I've always had an excuse not to do it, ranging from preferring to concentrate on my studies to not having my own place. The timing just never seemed right.
Flash-forward to roughly two months ago. I finally agreed to go on a date with a friend/coworker who'd shown interest in me. We were both nerds, had some common interests and things were going really well. Unfortunately, the relationship ended in the worst possible fashion. She died unexpectedly last month from complications from her prescriptions.
I have only just started to get some closure on this. I'm holding myself together, but I feel alone in a way that I never did before I dated her. I know I need to go out again and try at some point. My question is twofold. When is it a good idea/socially acceptable to dip back into the dating pool, and how do you go about doing it? The way my previous relationship started gave me no experience in the 'getting to know you' phase since we already knew each other. Thanks, Might Have Loved And Lost It
First of all, I'm so sorry this happened to you. Losing someone you were close to, whether it was a friend or a lover, is a major blow. Even more so when it happens unexpectedly. It's like a betrayal of the harshest kind — we have a lifetime of potential ahead of us, a multiverse of plans and potential and then suddenly… it's gone. No warning. No reason. Just chaos.
So, here you are. You're feeling hollowed out. You're more than a little numb. You're wanting to feel… well, almost anything but certainly to at least feel normal again, even as the hits just keep on coming. What do you do?
I hate to say it, but you're asking the wrong question. It's not a question of "when/how should I start dating again," it's a question of "how do I heal?"
A couple of personal notes. This isn't quite the same as what you're going through, but it's a moment in my life where the rug was yanked out from under me. There was a point in my life where, after years of depression and an incredibly toxic relationship, life finally seemed like it couldn't get better.
By some miracle, I was dating someone I thought was absolutely perfect. Gorgeous, a geek, loved many of the things I did and was busy introducing me to music and TV and books I'd never considered. Meanwhile, I had what I thought was my dream job; I was getting paid obscenely well to draw alongside some of the best artists I've ever known, many of whom have gone on to be legends.
And then it all fell apart. Right at what should have been the first climax of awesomeness with my job, I got let go. A lot of us did, and we kinda saw the tidal wave of shit coming but… that didn't exactly soften the blow, y'know?
I had a couple of days of being drunk and feeling sorry for myself before I started trying to pull the tattered remains of my ego together and figure out what the next stage of my life was going to be. And just as I was putting the finishing touches on a new plan and getting a new job lined up, my girlfriend left me. And everything fell apart.
I got fired from my perfect job. I got dumped by the perfect girl. It was a good thing my car was paid off because otherwise I would have hit the Country Song Trifecta. Believe me, nobody wants to see me go full-on Hank Williams Jr.
But I was gutted. Hollow. Everything I thought I'd ever wanted, not just gone but as thorough a refutation of me as could happen.
I thought the best thing I could do was force myself to go on like I was OK. Go out, start dating again. Get over her by getting under someone else.
That was the worst thing I could do. All I was doing was trying to pretend like I wasn't bleeding and that it didn't hurt. I was just trying to force some semblance of normalcy, as though going through the motions would make it better. It didn't. All it did was make it harder to get over her. I had to give myself time to grieve and to heal and I wasn't doing that.
It doesn't sound to me like you're doing that either. "Holding myself together" and "feeling more alone than ever" doesn't exactly sound like someone who's ready to get back out and start dating again. That sounds to me like "If I stop for five seconds and let myself think about this, I'm going to fall apart." You don't need to be in perfect mental or physical health to date, but you do want to be in good working order. And it doesn't sound like you're quite there yet.
Right now, everything's in chaos. You're still mourning the loss; not just of your friend but of all that potential of what might have been and now will never be. All those possible futures are gone, snuffed out before even a single one of them could be born. It's hard enough to get closure from a break-up; it's even harder when your relationship ended because someone died.
Dating is the last thing you should be doing. What you need, more than anything else, is to get your feet back under you, to have a feeling of stability and purpose and to fill that hollowness inside. Believe me: Dating and sex don't fill the void. At best, they numb it. And that numbness goes away pretty damn fast.
You need to take some time and do things that are going to settle your soul and help fill that void in you. You need to connect with folks around you — your friends, your family and your community. Find the places where you can help, even in small ways. Volunteering. Organising. Build a network with the people around you, that you can support and who can support you in turn.
These are the things that build you up again. They help heal not just the loss but the loneliness and the helplessness. It's how you get to a place where you feel like you have something to offer — and women would be crazy to not be interested — instead of a list of reasons why you can't date.
The good news is that you know what to do when you are ready: You really just ask someone out or you accept a date from someone who's interested in you. Some will say "no", and you move on. Some will say "yes", and then it will be a matter of getting to know them and finding out if there's enough there to make a relationship work beyond that initial spark of interest.
That getting-to-know-you phase isn't terribly different from how you got to know your friend in the beginning. You talk. You ask questions. You hang out together. You argue and you debate and you make discoveries and try things you may never have thought to try before. There'll be false starts. There'll be first dates that go nowhere, second dates that seem promising but weren't… even third and fourth dates before you realise that there's not much there.
But then there'll be those magic nights that never seem to end. And the relationships that will last months, then years, and you'll be amazed that it's been so long because it still feels like you just met. You'll wonder why you were ever worried about your lack of experience.
Don't try to chase it now, when you're still hurting. Let yourself heal. Rebuild your foundation. Connect with other people and find healing as you help them heal too. When you're ready, you'll know.
This story originally appeared on Kotaku.
Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove.