That awkward moment when you don't know if you're dating or just "hanging out"
So Here's The Thing
Dating is a lot like going to a party. The fact that it's fun is a given. Though hyped for the possibility of surprises of the good kind, you go in with certain expectations attached to previous experiences. That expectation could have something to do with alcohol, sex or just making eyes with a cute somebody across the table — whether that table is covered with table cloth or lined with beer pong red solo cups is entirely your choosing.
Most of us won't survive it without good friends, so we keep them close; at parties, joined at the hips, on dates, on speed dial. It's hard to say how the night will unfold, yet your optimism shows in your open calendar — for supper or a private after-party for two.
On one hand, you're wise enough to expect to Instastory couple of stupid things that you'll laugh about the next day; on another, you're also not nearly smart or smooth enough to effectively prevent them from occurring. But every seasoned partygoer is aware of a fundamental survival rule: If you want to be able to call it a night in one piece with your dignity intact (read: without the shame of spending a chunk of it with your head buried in the toilet) you don't mix your alcohol.
Make a decision early on. Is it going to be classy? I guess we're drinking whiskey. Are we here for the conversation? Gin then. Turning 30? Vodka is a crowd-pleaser. Does the occasion warrant a little bit of self-destruction? Shout to the bartender, "Anything with tequila!"
This fundamental moment comes at the crossroads of the second and third drink. You may keep going with your poison, or you may opt to tap out. Better yet, some lucky ones are able to stay committed and afford an upgrade to a premium alternative within the liquor family. What you want to talk yourself out of is the rookie move of jumping ship. In dating terms, that means after date two (or three), you should have enough information to decide if you want to:
- Keep seeing the same person
- Abort the mission
- See someone else "better"
What I advise against in dating echoes my drinking sentiment — don't mix the alcohol and definitely don't mix the signals. The former confuses the liver, the latter convolutes the mind, and while our human bodies are more than capable in flushing out the toxic we feed them, the mind, though a far superior organ to the liver, is hugely flawed in this arena. It's not rocket science. If you like someone, let it be known. If you don't like someone, be kind about it — also let it be known. If you like someone else, well, we're familiar with the phrase, "shit or get off the pot" are we not? In case you need a clue, this is when you get off the pot.
So here's the thing: Despite my best efforts to colour inside the lines, I've been playing the victim and the convict in mixing alcohol and mixing signals with Brandon*.
Brandon is tall, he wears a permanent 5 o'clock shadow with his piercing green eyes that probably come in handy more often than he thinks, and his hair challenges that of a 28-year-old Shah Rukh Khan. Maybe I'm shallow but taking those features into consideration, I didn't exactly mind when he hijacked what I intended to be a 7 am solo hiking trip. It's unclear if the first time we met constitutes as a date, since he didn't go the traditional route of asking me out. While I don't usually award points to men who follow the books too closely, inviting yourself to someone else's party is not my idea of flirting.
Cue mixed message number one. Did he really want to see me, or was our meet just a convenient activity given that he was new in town? Alas, that strike one was soon forgotten when he more than made up his faux pas during our non-date date.
Our conversation took a lot less effort than climbing up the steps at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Breathless and exhausted, we were running low on energy but that didn't hamper the thoughtful questions, the witty repartee on both ends; together, we accomplished the rare balance of real conversation and casual chitchat.
I knew Brandon was in sync with me when he texted me no more than a couple hours after our sweaty session, leading to a date two that would happen a fortnight later. This time, he asked.
Being objective about the second time I see him is a task, for an ordinary rendezvous it was not. You see, cycling together is cute enough, but a guy teaching a girl how to ride a bicycle while the romance is still budding, is the stuff of romantic comedies. How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days type of romantic comedy. That Saturday, I felt like Kate Hudson — apt too, since girlfriend thinks she's above the dating game (I'm self-aware) and runs a how-to column in the film's fictional magazine Composure. When I wasn't repeating, "I'm going to die, I'm going to die, I'm going to die," or screaming my way up and down the Punggol Serangoon Reservoir, I definitely felt butterflies.
It's disgustingly cheesy and I'm actively hating myself for what I'm about to claim next: Brandon was the perfect Matthew McConaughey too. Funny and patient, I didn't even mind when we had a little accident that involved me bloodied by a fall at the end of the evening, scraped elbows, bruised knees and all.
After we cleaned me up, we sat on the floor of his living room eating takeout, talking all night about music (he's the Dream Theatre to my David Guetta), our parents (mine are together, his are divorced) and what our careers mean to us (I'm governed by passion, he's in it for the money). He wasn't exactly a smooth operator when he finally kissed me — surprising for an ex-musician who has signed a couple of boobs in the height of his career, a refreshing change for me from the slick dudes I've been subjected to in the recent past.
"Don't mix alcohol and definitely don't mix signals. The former confuses the liver, the latter convolutes the mind, and while our human bodies are more than capable in flushing out the toxic we feed them, the mind, though a far superior organ to the liver, is hugely flawed in this arena."
Despite that, mixed message number two followed suit. When I left for a one-week holiday, a departure he knew about, I never heard from him. Not even after I got back. The part of me that argued on his side considered that he was simply being courteous, giving me the space to do me. The part of me that argued on my side felt sure that a week and a half is too long a time to not text someone you're keen on seeing again. Succumbing to an itch I couldn't not scratch, I used the excuse of me wanting back the T-shirt I left behind at his house to ask him about meeting up again. Yes, I'm that girl. Fashion was my insurance policy in securing a subsequent date, just as it was Kate Hudson's Andy Anderson's. She dubbed this method, "dangling the bait", one that my real life McConaughey clearly didn't go for. There was nothing out of the ordinary in Brandon's reply though — it was almost instantaneous, and he sounded happy to hear that I was back in the +65. That weekend, I found myself in his pool... and then in his bed.
Weekday correspondences were always few and far in between. Several of them initiated by him, several initiated by me — reluctantly. I had previously invited him to a yacht party with my friends so by now, I was kicking myself for giving him easy access to my social circle, and for making plans for the future. Especially since his first thought was, "August is a long way from now, but sure, I would never say no to a yacht party." I hadn't realised until now that it was a far shot from the more enthusiastic, "I would never say no to a yacht party with you" I deserved.
"Yes, I'm that girl. I used the excuse of me wanting back the T-shirt I left behind at his house to ask him about meeting up again. Fashion was my insurance policy in securing a subsequent date."
Mixed message number three came from me. What can I say? Cheered on by Jack Daniels, soggy cigarettes, adrenaline from paddle boarding, and a certain Cheat Codes song, mistakes were bound to be made in a large body of water. Instead of confronting our dating arrangement straight on, I floated around the real issue: Me wanting Brandon and I to date exclusively. So it was too early to label us a couple. What wasn't premature was establishing that we weren't grossed out by that idea. As usual, I lacked the cojones and the stiff upper lip to be honest about what I really want from the people in my life, hence our conversation went something like this:
Me: Hey, can I ask you something?
Brandon: Sure, what's up?
Me: Actually, don't worry about it. It's nothing.
Brandon: No, no, tell me. What's going on?
Me: I hate doing this, so we'll only talk about just this once. You're okay with keeping things undefined for now, right?
Me: Cool, me too. But if it's okay with you, I'd like us to tell each other if we want to see other people. Like if you wanted to sleep with someone else, I'd rather know about it. And I'll do the same for you.
Brandon: I like you. I'm not sleeping with anyone else. I'm only sleeping with you. Now come here.
Excuse the over-dramatisation, but when you've gone on as many bad dates as I have, Brandon's declaration is a key victory in emotional warfare. "I'm monogamous" may be one small step for a man but it sure felt like a giant leap for womankind. Over the rest of August, I found myself inching closer to him. I didn't go rogue with my feelings — he led this horse to the water, with his offerings of physical displays of affections during our next hike trip and by cosying next to me in a booth during supper, our fingers entwined under the table, dancing over soup. My playing with his hair grew to be a new habit. And when he moved to a different condo, he teased me with photos of his giant pool, reminding me that I'm invited for a swim anytime I wanted.
Progress! Or so I thought. As if his singlehood could sense an impending siege, he pulled the rug under me before I could even dip my toes in his new pool. Sex had already been out of the way when we were sipping hot tea, casually combing through our sexual history when he shot any chance we had at a real thing straight to hell. "By the way, don't let me hold you back in Europe," he said, referencing my upcoming trip for work. To my baffled expression, he clarified that our sexual exclusivity remains, but I'm permitted to have sex a la carte should I wish, since I'll be traveling for a long time.
He was so skillful in taking point A to Z, this discussion was swiftly followed by an "I don't believe in love" proclamation. He went on to explain that he's only been in one serious relationship, and he found it to be such a waste of time, he has no intentions of involving himself in another. "Surely you don't mean you don't believe in love. You've just never experienced it," I probed. Apparently, he's never allowed himself to get that far because to him, there is no such thing as a good relationship. To thwart my rebuttal, he challenged me to name every couple I know who is happily attached. When I did, he questioned the legitimacy and endurance of their affection for one another. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or to be annoyed, so I changed the topic.
I've been in enough futile quarrels with men to concede that arguing to win gets us nowhere. Plus, pursuing the discussion any further would only taint what we had. He gave me an answer, one clear as day, and me asking the same question 20 times wasn't going to change the fact. It didn't matter that I believed I was right about love and he was wrong. It wasn't my place to change him, or his mind. And though the fight wasn't mine to win, I went home with an unmistakable sense of loss.
"'I'm monogamous' may be one small step for a man but it sure felt like a giant leap for womankind."
Naturally, I pulled back. My replies took longer, yet they were shorter. I was careful not to change my tune, just the fervour of my singing, for I still wanted him in my life. I just wasn't entirely sure I would feel the same way when the dust has settled. Frankly, it still hasn't. The mixed messages didn't cease either. He called me several times on my birthday to flood my line with merry wishes. It was rather sweet. He offered to take me out to dinner, but I politely declined, refusing to move my already well laid plans around to accommodate his request to see me before I disappear for weeks.
I had hoped I would find some resolutions to my own questions on transit, but even as I sit here in my bed in Milan, I'm still pondering the following: Is Brandon reaping the benefits of a relationship without actually being in one? By continuing to see him, am I allowing him to skip the commitments that usually come with holding someone's hand physically and emotionally? Is he just not that into me, or is he just not that into relationships? Or am I missing the mark because the distinction doesn't matter?
"It didn't matter that I believed I was right and he was wrong. It wasn't my place to change him, or his mind. And though the fight wasn't mine to win, I went home with an unmistakable sense of loss."
Perhaps one real question — and the answer to which — beats in the heart of all the above. Knowing what I know about Brandon, and knowing what I ultimately want for myself — a boyfriend whose singlehood isn't threated by the idea of loving me — am I wasting my time if I continue seeing him? Should I stay and enjoy the fun while it lasts or am I just flirting with danger, because it's only a matter of time that I get hurt?
I don't pretend to be Aunt Agony, so I've a favour to ask of you, my dearest readers. What should I do? Keep him? Dump him? Give me a sign, by voting below.
*Names have been changed.
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