Dating is a way of getting to know just how impatient we are as we plot to take a victim hostage. No, that’s not it. Dating is what we do when we’re trying to convince our sponsor that we can handle sex. Shoot! It still doesn’t sound quite right. Dating is that thing I saw on a Donna Reed re-run where a guy in a letterman’s jacket gives a girl in a hoopskirt a wrist corsage. God I wanted that skirt. I wanted the letterman’s jacket, too. (And the guy!) But I digress.
I don’t know how the drafting sessions went for the loving and generous souls who came up with the 14 Characteristics and the 12 Tools. But I thank God that they did the work and that I have some wonderful and clear guidance about the tools that I can use to help me through this stuff.
I don’t have to run out and get laid today. I don’t have to have sex unless I really want to. I don’t have to have sex until I’m ready. I don’t have to feed my addiction at the expense of my inner child and spiritual growth. I hate this part, but I’ll write it anyway, I don’t have to have any sex today.
Dating can be fun. Or it can be hell. It’s a time when I might get validation or rejection. And, of course, I am not looking for rejection. Worse, I might have to reject someone. I might have to reject someone who has a perfectly fine body! Yuck!
I might have to learn that the person isn’t who I thought they were, isn’t who I wanted them to be, isn’t looking for what I’m looking for, or isn’t interested in spending time with someone like me. Or, I might learn that the person is wonderful and thinks I’m fabulous.
Even if the guy doesn’t have the sense to wear socks that match his outfit, he might turn out to be nice, sweet, smart, fun, and pleasant to spend time with. Man! Dating is weird.
So why bother? Why go through the headache of getting to know people and why forego the instant pleasure of tricking? Well, first of all, because being drive-by sex can be very unfulfilling.
And, until you get to know a person, it’s potentially dangerous to be alone with someone. I’ve heard stories in SCA about guys pulling knives, tying people up, and worse. And then there were the guys who "tricked" with Jeffrey Dalmer. He was kinda cute!
Now I ask ‘em right out, "Did’ja ever kill your parents or anyone?" (Of course, this can throw a wet blanket on a first date). But ya gotta know, honey, so I ask: "Ever take the HIV test? Got a frequent flyer card at the free clinic? Do you own any of those sheer black opera socks that I find so irresistible? (You might want to skip this last question or to substitute your own inappropriate conversation stopper.)
I swear, sometimes I think I say things on a date just to scare the guy away. He’ll ask something innocuous, like "How many brothers and sisters do you have?" and I’ll let loose with that story about the time my father…never mind. The point is, I have to remember to go slowly and that I can choose how much to reveal, and when. In the same way I can choose what I do with my body.
Last night I went on a second date with a guy I find very attractive and fun. I don’t have a 3-date rule. Besides, I knew him before we started dating and I checked his freezer and there were no severed heads. This guy is age-appropriate, has a good job, lives in the same city as I, and is honest and open. But he’s "old fashioned."
On our first date, we didn’t even kiss goodnight. I’m thinking "is he in program?" What’s up with that? But I felt good about it. At the end of the second date, he asked if I’d like to see him again. Shit. It’s like he knows how to date! I really want to kiss (and "stuff"). I asked him if I could come up to his apartment. He hesitated, but then invited me up. We had tea. A nervous expectation hung in the air. Would we KISS? Who said that? I thought I wanted sex… and here I am panicking that we might kiss!
OK. I’m complicated. I have conflicting desires and needs. On one level, since I haven’t had sex in months, I think I REALLY want sex. But since I am so nervous, I guess I’m also not ready. When I left his home (after a little kissing but no sex), I felt fine. I can’t believe that this is me, but I’m satisfied. I’m a little confused that I can feel like such a sophomoric innocent after all the wild things I’ve done in my life, but TODAY I’m happy to just be getting to know the guy and to go slowly. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
I have no idea. However, in New York, at the Center on Sundays at 5 P.M., we do have a Dating Workshop. So, maybe I’ll keep going to that meeting and keep talking about this whole "process" thing. I hate it, but I also think it’s great. And today I’m glad I am on this path.
Alan W. (San Francisco)
I have sometimes heard at meetings that we addicts are people who are content with black and white but are uncomfortable with shades of grey. All or nothing, now or never, yes or no, a thousand partners or a stranger seen some enchanted evening across a crowded room. That is true of my sexual compulsion. During the years of my wildest acting-out, you might find me wasting entire weekends in pornographic bookstores, sex clubs and other acting-out spots, racking up dozens of sex partners. Or getting infatuated with an attractive person, as often as not another addict I'd met in one of those places sighing, daydreaming, telling my friends how excited I was about my new acquaintance.
One of the chief benefits for me, of joining SCA has been a gradual cutback on those behaviors, while taking time to get to know people, reflecting and praying about my experiences with and knowledge of them, seeking counsel from other SCA members about the appropriateness of my behavior with each person I see. Going slow, not being sure, not giving up very much of my time, my attention, or my body to someone I don't know very well all of that has seemed to work better than the way I lived before. In other words, the color grey is becoming acceptable.
Dating has brought change into my week-to-week life. For me, it is related to the bottom half of my sexual recovery plan, that list of all the things I want to add to my new life of recovery. Once I started to slow up on the compulsive sex, I became more acutely aware of the unmanageability in my long-neglected life. The lawn needed mowing more often, letters sitting in piles, sometimes literally for years, needed to be answered, items of furniture I needed had never been acquired, friendships and civic life had been slighted, bills needed paying more promptly. My sex plan has cleared up a lot of logistical problems, soaked up a lot of idle time, raised my self-esteem and left me less desperate for the attention of other people, much less people I am not yet sure can enhance my life.
While writing steps 4-7, I identified laziness as a defect of character and, strange as it may seem, I wondered whether it didn’t have something to do with my addiction. Dating turns out to be hard work, much more difficult for me than living in a relatively undemanding world of sex and fantasy. Talking with people at length on hikes or in restaurants has required me to pay real attention to their lives instead of focusing on my agenda for their bodies or their hearts. I have also had to risk being known better, warts and all. I"ve needed to strengthen any number of disused skills: intuition as to who might be appropriate for me to get to know better, honesty and proportion in self-disclosure, courage to pursue further contact with people I want to know better, graciousness in turning down the ones I don’t.
Among the most difficult skills for me to develop has been patience, that is, letting the potential for a friendship reveal itself over time and in more than one setting. One acquaintance I liked the first time we met. Our conversation flowed easily for hours, our interests seemed to overlap extensively. But this attractive person proved extremely difficult to make live phone contact with and, when we finally did set a date, showed up nearly half an hour late with no excuse except business. My intuition, which had early suggested "go", began to say "stop". I did not follow up with another date. I could see that the program was working, because I had kept an appropriate distance and decided to hold out for someone who was more available and respectful.
Another new face had seemed charming, funny, verbal, attentive, and serious about looking for a relationship. Over several dates those qualities grew, and then suddenly faded away. One evening I pleaded to understand what was happening, but found my new acquaintance curiously inarticulate about where we were headed. Only then was I able to see how inappropriate we would have been as partners. I did spend the next day or so feeling sad, but, if I had gotten emotionally involved too quickly as I had in the past, I might have wallowed in self-pity for a few weeks.
Two years into the SCA program, and after a few months of practice of this tool, about which my poor fellow members heard nearly every printable detail, I met someone who over time proved to meet most of my criteria. We endured a few months of false starts, which in themselves honed my patience and proved my newly developed lack of desperation. As we started dating, we met each other’s family members and friends, spent time on things we both like to do talked a lot by phone. When we finally started having sex we rushed into it faster than I supposed we might have, but we made a point of checking with each other frequently to make sure our behaviours were appropriate to our feelings. We have been monogamous now for eight months (a new record for this recovering addict), and have a lot of fun together. Our ages and backgrounds are roughly similar, the sex is usually good and hardly ever rushed or compulsive, and we communicate pretty well.
The relationship has its problems for me, particularly around the amount of time we plan for each other. When I am stuck in resentment and start remembering all the fun I had in my old way of life, I run a tenth step. Writing it down usually reveals my fear of getting too close or, simultaneously, of not getting close enough. I bring those fears and inconsistencies to trusted SCA members at meetings, during fellowship, on the phone or by e-mail. With their counsel, their ideas, and an awareness of just whose defects of character are a chief cause of my dissatisfaction, I can go back to my partner and try to work things out.
I often have to remember that in getting to know another human being there will be slow, hard work interwoven with the fun and the sex and the happiness. I always have a choice: to stick with the program and grow through my defects of character or to turn away from the difficulties by heading back to my old haunts. So far, so good, one day at a time.