By Ashley Zoerner
I'm sitting at my local bar in Atlanta. One of the waitresses just got off and she sits on the stool next to me. We're enjoying banter with the bartenders and the topic of conversation gradually shifts to relationships, or more specifically, our longest relationships. Everyone shares their number; the average is three years. Tommy finishes wiping down the bar, throws the towel over his shoulder and looks at me, “What’s the longest relationship you've been in, Ashley?” I was hoping to stay out of this one, but I answer honestly, “About 14 years.” His jaw drops. We’re all about the same age yet my longest relationship easily trumps everyone’s collective dating history.
Without getting into the gritty details, I found a boy I decided I could love forever when I was 15-years-old. I married him when I was 21 and thought I pretty much had life all figured out. By doing so, I figured I had avoided the whole heartbreak thing for good. But about a year ago, he decided he wanted out and I quickly realized that you can’t force anyone to be in a relationship if they don't want to be. Hello, Broken Heart, nice to meet ya.
So here I am, new to my 30s and single for the first time in my entire adult life. I remember freaking out about turning 30, the fear of wrinkles and mom jeans slowly working their way into my life and taking over. However, those fears quickly fell to the wayside when I found myself faced with an entirely different future than the one I had invested in. All of a sudden, mom jeans were the last of my worries (however, if you ever see me donning shapeless, high-waisted denim please intervene immediately).
So I’ve made new friends; single friends. I had a lot to learn and needed people who could show me the ropes. Two of my newfound companions, Autumn and Sarah, have become pretty constant fixtures in my life. We group text about dates (sometimes in the middle of said date) and give each other pep talks.
We’re like the Southern version of “Sex In The City.” We drink beer instead of cosmopolitans and would balk at the price of Manolo Blahniks. They are more than happy to help me maneuver this weird world of dating I have found myself thrown into and I love them for it.
Ah, dating. My first real date was at 17 (by real date I mean my mother didn’t insist on tagging along). We went to McDonald’s for dinner and saw the movie Joe Dirt in the theater. We didn't have cell phones or laptops. Fast forward 14 years and there's Tinder and Hinge and OkCupid; oh, my!
I can only handle one dating app at a time and for me that’s Tinder. Tinder feels like I'm window-shopping for humans. People post their best photos, and in the South that often consists of holding guns or a variety of dead animals and posting a shout out to your favorite college football team. Every attempt is made to try and be witty in an effort to get that elusive Right Swipe. If both parties swipe right then you’re a match, yay! That means that you have the option to completely ignore each other, awkwardly message for several days without it ever going anywhere or agree to meet in person.
Tinder can be hit or miss (I’d calculate 10% hit, 90% miss). Someone catches your eye; they’re good looking, seem to have a good job and that picture of them with their grandma is adorable. You swipe right and it’s a match! You send a few messages back and forth; “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” Things are jiving so you exchange numbers. The first text you get is, “So, what are you wearing?” Ugh, back to the drawing board.
Of course, Tinder isn’t my only source of finding dates. I can snag a few the good ole’ fashioned way. The same problems persist, however. You just can't possibly know how creepy someone is during that initial meeting. Sometimes you have to put in the time and effort to discover that they collect rabbit foot key chains and live off their aunt's unemployment checks.
I'm discovering that dating is both fun and frustrating. It’s exciting to get dressed up and meet someone new. However, when you feel like you’re really hitting it off with someone yet never hear from them again it makes you question everything. All of a sudden, you’ve become this weird version of yourself that is constantly checking your phone for text messages and jumping towards it every time it dings. I don’t like being that person.
I meet my friend, Claire, for coffee to vent on occasion, “I don't get it. We had such a great time. He said it was one of the best dates he’s been on yet it’s been a week and he hasn’t contacted me.” Claire reaches for my arm, “Welcome to dating, sweetheart. This has been my life for years now.” A wild look in her eyes as if she’s excited that I’m finally part of her world. For years, she’d share her dating woes and I just couldn’t relate. Now, I’m in the trenches right beside her.
I’ve found a way to cope with this particular problem, however. Now when I go on a seemingly successful date and never hear from the guy again I assume he died tragically immediately after parting ways with me. I say a silent prayer for his family and move on. It’s how I cope.
I'm convinced that dating in the South is a special kind of dating. Guys here seem to be looking for that demure, soft-spoken Southern Belle. I am neither of these things.
First off, I’m probably going to be taller than you. The average height for the American male is 5’10. I am also 5’10 and heels are my friend. Many men don’t like having a woman tower over them. I’ve actually had guys ask if I can wear flats on our next date (which typically ensures that there is no second date). I go round and round with my sister about this via FaceTime:
Her: That’s what you’re wearing?
Her: It’s cute but do you have to wear three-inch wedges? You know that’ll probably make you taller than him. Guys don’t like that.
Me: But they make my legs look amazing.
Her: This is true.
Next, I’m stubborn. I understand that Southern boys were raised by their mamas to open doors and pull out chairs but I am capable of doing all these things myself and cringe a little inside when people do it for me. Now, I’m not going to say a peep if you happen to open my door on our first date but in return, I’m going to need you to not freak out when I do the same thing. I have long legs, which makes it very likely that I’ll get to the door before you. Get over it. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I open the door and the guy stops and takes it from me so I can walk through first. Walk through the fucking door, dude!
I also would rather pay my own bill on the first date. There’s always a back and forth, them waving my hand away, “I got this.” Many times the waiter will totally disregard me and take they guys card. I put my wallet away, defeated.
Maybe because I’ve never dated as an adult until now but I just don't feel the sense of entitlement that comes with first dates. I didn’t do anything to deserve my car door being opened or my meal being paid for. You don’t even know me. We’ll probably never see each other again, yet you’ve had to make all these grand gestures because you’re the guy and I’m the girl? This perplexes me greatly.
When I express these opinions to my girlfriends they gasp. “Oh, I will never call a guy back if he doesn’t open my car door. This is the South, we have standards,” they say.
Finally, I have a big personality. I don’t giggle, I laugh heartily. I’m usually the loudest, most boisterous person in the room. I have an overwhelming urge to know everything about everyone all the time. I talk to strangers on the train and am Facebook friends with everyone at my local Starbucks. I’m say that I’m not shy is an understatement. I don’t even know how to pretend to be shy. This can be overwhelming for guys. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re quite intimidating?” is something I've heard on more than one occasion.
Combine these qualities (yes, qualities!) and I can see how I can be intimidating to guys. Sure, I can try to be quiet and unassuming but it would be so out of character for me and wouldn’t last long so why bother. I don’t see a need to change anything about me because one day I’ll find a guy who sees this weird combination and is like, “Yes, finally!” Until then, I’ll put on my heels and meet new people and cringe when they pull out my seat.
And just a few things I’ve learned during my short time dating:
1. No one talks on the phone. Ever. All communication is done via messaging and texting.
2. As much as I’d like to, you can’t discount a guy just because he uses “LOL.” If you did you’d never meet anyone.
3. Guys take just as many selfies as girls.
4. You really can tell if it’s going to be a successful date within the first 30 seconds.
5. Never say never, one day I just may date a guy who clips his phone to his belt.