Articles

Time to Wave a White Flag in Dating War
By Dennis Goodenough
Wisconsin State Journal
1-22-1994

Love is a Battlefield. I didn't think much about that song when Pat Benatar sang it back in the mid-'80s, but the phrase has taken on a new meaning since my marriage blew up two years ago. That's when I became a reluctant player in the Madison forty-something single set.

To say we're single seems a little dishonest, since most of us are divorced. In case you hadn't noticed, roughly half of the married people in the country are in the process of “reshuffling the deck,” and it's my guess that before long, being divorced will mean that you've entered mainstream America. So much for social trends.

About now, you marginally married folks are probably thinking how great it would be to unload the old spouse and start over. Well think again. Divorce is more stress-inducing than marriage and parenthood put together. But I consider it only boot camp when compared with the thermonuclear war of midlife dating. Personally I'd rather have a sharp stick in the eye than single life.

I must admit I was feeling pretty smug when the dust settled behind my wife's exit out the door. I thought, “OK, so I'm single, only now I know everything I didn't know in high school.” Trouble is, everyone else knows it too, and some of the more experienced players have moves that will leave you dazed and in need of a tourniquet.

My first encounter is a good example. I was mingling at a singles party and feeling quite dapper when I met her, a bodacious velociraptor with an engaging smile and an appetite for cardio-ectomies.

At that point, the evening faded into a haze of flashing teeth and writhing tail, as I fell victim to her nefarious charms. A month later I collected myself in a bushel basket when her interest in me ended as abruptly as it had started. Getting shot out of the sky can hurt a guy's pride, but the real pain comes when you auger into the tarmac at a very high speed and burst into flames.

Most of us know the feeling. Welcome to the dating game.

After losing at love, I regrouped by spending long periods of time in a dark room overdosing on Chet Atkins and Enya tapes, all the while admonishing myself that life in Bosnia is no picnic either. In time, I emerged into the daylight squinting and more or less ready for another try at romance that went something like this.

She: “I've been hurt so many times by opportunistic, insensitive men. I just want someone who can make an honest commitment to a long-term relationship.”

Me: “Well, now that you mention it, I do feel rather fond of you. I never have cared much for playing the field, and I hope to get remarried some time in the future,”

She: “Oh, ish! What a sentimental sap! You're too needy! Give me some room so I can breath!”

Me: “Please excuse me. I thought that since you have been asking me out, you might have some interest in me, I've been such a fool. Don't get up, I'll find my out.”

I can't seem to figure out what the other half wants. Apparently, satisfying emotional needs is out of style. I'd better get in step with the rest of the world and go after my sexual needs first. Look for a nice “utility date,” as we singles say. (better bring my germ warfare suit just in case.)

So I try cruising the Friday and Saturday night meat lockers in search of a wonderfully shallow relationship. I've never been much good at this sort of thing. Even a shallow relationship requires some sort of mutual respect, which is hard to generate when you find yourself thinking rather debasing thoughts like, “Hook No. 17 has too much marbling in the loins.” Then there were times when I wound up in a place where everyone was engaged in what looked like group loneliness. I guess it's OK, but being the maverick I am I'd rather feel lonely all by myself.

Answering personal ads is a nice change of pace when you get burned out from socializing and want to try a one-on-one approach. Most ads feature the standard option package. Movies, biking, travel, canoeing, and of course, dancing. Other ads can be quite challenging. “Psychotic chainsaw collector seeks emotionally secure pony with spandex and black rubber wardrobe for spiritual fulfillment.”

But I keep looking for the woman who likes having my kind of fun. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, meaningful conversations with a 9-year-old about Mortal Kombat, house payments and leisurely walks behind the lawnmower. Maybe I'm expecting too much from an imperfect world.

Even when you do set up a date to get acquainted, odds are that one of you gets rejected and the other walks away feeling guilty. That's the way it seems to be in the world of romance. Everyone takes a turn at being the “dumper” or the “dumpee,” the “winner” and the “loser.” Truth is, few people escape these encounters without bandages.

I know I'm sounding cynical. It's not always as brutal as I've made out. Occasionally people do relate to one another in a compassionate manner. Sure, there are times when the spirit soars. Yes, it's been been my privilege to escort some truly wonderful women. But, on the whole, single life is a bust. And in my conversations with singles, I don't get many arguments to the contrary.

So, where am I going with this diatribe? Have I gained any wisdom, insights, or hope after two years of frolicking with the walking wounded? If I have, it's this: Almost no one is fundamentally cruel. Vicious behavior is usually a sign that someone is feeling threatened or injured.

If each one of us would make a sincere effort to understand the position of the person we're involved with. If we give them the benefit of the doubt rather than the last tag. If we would make that effort not just coming into new relationships, but especially when leaving old ones, a lot of anguish and bitterness could be avoided. People relate to each other far better when their own stress doesn't become unmanageable.

In a matter of the heart, rewards are among the richest that life has to offer, enticing all of us to continue playing the game that has no rules. But, sadly, opportunities for disaster lurk everywhere. Cupid's landscape is littered with emotional wreckage. What can be done? Maybe it's time to try mending fences instead of burning bridges. Will it happen? Probably not. But until something changes, love will continue to be a battlefield.