What dating taught me

Dating.It's a whole new ball game. Especially when you've never basically 'dated' before.When you're in primary school, you have a new boyfriend every five minutes (well, I didn't.. I probably pretended I did), and then you hit secondary school and you just 'hang out' with a guy, and then you 'hang out' with another guy, because he's nicer/cooler/hotter/funnier. And you always seem to have options. Backup as the girls and I regularly said.I've always been the 'relationship' type admittedly. I dated a few guys when I was younger (I try to keep those memories hazy...), and embarked on my 'first love' when I was 17. It was bliss.And just like things in life, it ended after two years. We grew up.I was heartbroken. Completely and utterly felt like life would never be the same.I didn't want anyone else, because I thought that was all love had to offer me.Within months, I moved abroad and I had a new boyfriend. At the time I didn't feel like I was going out of my way to find a boyfriend, but maybe in hindsight, it was peace of mind, a comfort, being in a relationship. I liked the security knowing that someone was there for me and I learnt to settle.But after eighteen months, it turned sour. I became a doormat.And I made the decision (after the tenth time debating), to leave it. To walk away.Even though he hurt me, he made me weak and he changed me - it was still hard.I became a person who didn't really know what she wanted. I felt a little unsure on relationships, and one night with a part time job under my belt, and Wednesday and Saturday evenings spent drinking, I trawled through my phonebook and messaged some 'friends'"Hey stranger. long time no speak, how are things? I'm back in the country now" Would be good to meet up... "I had backup. There was always X from school who we'd never quite had a thing with, or Y from down the road who made me laugh. And it's what I needed. I needed to feel needed.That's what I thought at twenty one. Because, all my friends had guys, so I wanted one too.My single period lasted five months, where I spent that Summer texting and hanging out with four different guys over that time. I didn't sleep with any of them. We just hung out a lot. Comfort.I wasn't really very good at being single.So I moved abroad again. Not to find 'the one'. But because I needed to break free from what I knew. From the same crowd. And sure enough, I returned to England, five months later with a boyfriend in tow.Actually, that's a lie. I was prepared to 'see you later' - but life had other options. And five years in, we had the house, we had a life built up. The longest relationship of all.  And it was content.But when that broke apart last year, things couldn't have been more different from the other break ups.I didn't want to be wanted.I didn't want to find another guy right away.I didn't want anyone.I wanted to find out about me.I wanted to do things for myself.And I wanted to just have fun.And if that meant being single, then I guess I'll take it.So I did that. I didn't think about men and I didn't go out drinking to find a guy, and after joining Plenty of Fish for five minutes and deleting it, I realised I wasn't ready at all. But it was OK, I didn't need to rush. I was a grown up, with responsibilities. New priorities. I was just floating about, spending precious time with the girls and doing things I'd never done before. And what happens, when it happens, will.And it did. One day, I decided that maybe, maybe I was ready to venture into the dating world.I joined Tinder.Yes, I joined Tinder.What people do not tell you however, is that being single at an age where you're friends are getting engaged, they're buying houses, or they're popping out babies and bringing home cute little animals - is that, being single is damn hard work.Nobody wants to go out with you to party. There's no-one to go speed dating with you. You don't have a dog to take for a walk. So you don't meet people on a night out, you don't get the opportunity to talk to strangers whilst being timed, and you can't accidentally fall in a puddle and be swept off your feet by the cute dog walker.2015 doesn't work like that anymore.We join dating apps, we talk to our circle of friends or we get matched up with our best friends sisters work friends brother. And we have to try and impress.And you know what, trying to sell yourself is no easy task."Hi, my name is Katy. I like eating cheese, and sitting in my pants wondering if I can have another ice cream after eating six earlier. I also have a cat, who's awesome! That's all."I mean, would YOU be interested?And don't get me started on choosing which pictures make the selection.The girls in the left corner are telling me that I look pretty, and cute and really nice in that lovely dress I wore to the wedding. But the guys are telling me I look hot and fun in the one standing in a field in a cute dress not taking myself seriously.Which one would show me at my best? That I can be all of the above, and more.THESE are real life issues. The daily struggles.But I persisted. People had done it. I'd heard mixed reviews that sometimes it was the worst place to go, it made you feel less of a person, and it wasn't 'real life'. But then I'd also seen the rewards from it, friends with partners who they'd met from it. So it CAN happen.And hey, as my papa always told me - try something, and if it doesn't work out then try something else.Although, I'm not so sure he meant that advice for dating too..Tinder taught me a lot. Actually, dating taught me a lot.To begin with, it was kinda fun, swiping people you thought were fairly decent, ones you debated if you'd take home to meet your parents, or ones you thought would make for a comical evening. I won't lie and say I got great pleasure from seeing some of the variety of images that men believe are impressive. No mate, I'm not interested in the tiger you met, or how low your v neck vest is, and I won't spend an hour debating which one in the group shot you are, because I'm bored, and luckily I can swipe away. Quickly too. I have hoovering to do, washing to put on, and girlfriends to catch up with.But that was the beauty of it. I could swipe anywhere. Whenever and wherever I wanted.It almost become a game.It was a game to some. As I so learnt.But I didn't learn to begin with. I liked that a guy who'd never met me before, gave me attention. That he potentially wanted to meet me. That he wanted to go out for a drink with me, or come and spend Sunday afternoon with me. It was exciting, because there was potential for it to lead to more (and no, I'm not one of those who was secretly pinning wedding things on a board, just incase!) rather than just hooking up. But like a lot of things in life, it doesn't always work out. People come and go.I tried to be someone for a while, I wanted to impress people and I tried hard to be liked. I tried really hard. I embarked on different things, and I became a free spirit.But all along, I wasn't being me.One guy questioned why I didn't wear clothes that fitted my body shape better rather than those baggy tops, or put on a little more make up in the evening to make myself more ladylike.  I ordered a bodycon dress the following night and invested in some face powder to make myself look more presentable.One guy told me I was needy when I asked if he wanted to hang out one evening in the week after we'd spent the last two weeks pretty much together on his terms. I debated whether he was right and asked my friends for reassurance and why I came across needy even when I'm not.One guy made me feel really good,, and then just like that told me the spark had gone and left my house where I never heard from him again. I cried all the way to work that morning.One guy accepted when I offered to pay half for the bill and then he decided he'd pay even though he wasn't quite so happy about it. I decided that actually, a free pizza was the best thing about that date.One guy turned out to be racist, and then belittled me saying he wouldn't talk politics to me when I know nothing, and that he hoped I find someone with no opinion like myself. I laughed.And after I laughed off the last guy, I realised how much I'd changed. I'd become myself again.All those experiences, those awkward dates, those adventurous evenings, and those spontaneous plans had made me myself again. I'd opened myself up to people, wearing my heart on my sleeve and then I became a closed book, keeping my feelings to myself, had messed with me a little. I cried when things didn't work out, I questioned where I'd gone wrong and I spent a lot of time asking for advice and reassurance from friends on how to approach/respond/deal with guys. I lived off little sleep, and I said yes to seeing people when it suited them. I made myself look nice all the time, and I didn't embarrass myself for fear of being looked down on. I deleted Tinder, and re-installed it more times than I eat cheese - because it left me feeling sad, and empty sometimes. But then it also made me feel attractive, like I was fun and that I had potential to be wanted.A dating app made me feel all these things.It had taken over my life a little, it had become the norm. But it had shaped me.It taught me that I didn't need to try hard, or be something I wasn't.It taught me not to be ashamed of myself, and what I say or do.It taught me to wear what I feel comfortable in.It taught me that I'm actually a fairly nice person, and fun to be around.It taught me that asking for reassurance everyday from friends, will never make for a successful relationship with a guy.It taught me to be confident with myself.It taught me that I didn't need to feel so up and down from anyone. Ever.And it taught me mostly, that, what will be, will be.Things happen to us when you least expect them.Maybe on Tinder too.Am I ashamed that I joined Tinder? Well, I was until I left it for good at the start of the year..(I'll leave you to work that one out...)

Oh Wonder

Adventures in Bruges