Like many people, it’s easy for me to fall into feeling imposter syndrome. For those few of you who may not be familiar with it (lucky you), it’s a sense that you are an imposter at something and that any minute everyone will find out and expose you.
For me it’s a massive part of my life in my work; unlike literally every other person who works at my level (and a couple of levels below) in my company and the last few I’ve worked at, I have no qualifications of note. In fact, the highest level of qualifications I hold are GCSEs; the last five jobs I’ve had have apparently only been open to those with degrees. I feel I have no unique skills or experience, so surely sooner or later I’ll be found out.
For a long time I actually felt the same way about dating. As long-term readers will be aware, until I became single at the start of 2017 I simply didn’t know how to date. I’d not asked a girl out since 1998, which is when I got together with the woman who I would then be with for over 18 years and who would be the mother to my four kids. Yes, we went out on dates, but we’d grown up together over all that time so it was a very different experience from dating someone new.
At first, I totally felt like a dating imposter. I was literally making it up as I went along. My job entails meeting new people every day and building business-focussed relationships with them, but dating is something very different. Some of the same skills apply, but the stakes are so much higher and so much more personal. It’s one thing to get on with someone, but another thing entirely to work out not only if you want to see them with their clothes off but whether or not they might want to do the same with you.
It took me time to feel comfortable flirting, too. I was so blinkered and so content in my marriage right to the very end that I never even once thought about being with another woman. I honestly couldn’t tell you if a single woman flirted with me from the age of 18, through my 20s and into my mid-30s. I didn’t know nor look for the signs, and certainly didn’t know how to throw them out myself.
I’m a fast learner, though, so through a combination of trial and error along with fanatically watching First Dates to pick up on tips, sooner rather than later I got in a dating groove. I went on dates. A lot of dates. In the early days I focussed on quantity over quality, reasoning that quantity sometimes has a quality all of its own. Even if they went badly, each date was teaching me things and allowing me to learn more about myself and about women-who-weren’t-my-ex.
I’m not entirely sure when it happened – I suspect at some point around the autumn – but there came a point when I stopped. It might have been when I found myself having a one-nighter with a woman who had shaved her forearms and left them covered in stubble, but there came a point at which I realised I didn’t need to get things out of my system anymore. I didn’t need to go on dates simply because I could, or because I wanted to fill my free time when my kids weren’t with me; I felt ready for some sort of relationship, some sort of connection. And I realised that everyone – everyone – I dated was simply making it up as they went along too.
After that, dates were different. I was more relaxed, less concerned about going through the motions and more honest with myself about what I was looking for in a woman. And I actually felt like I could no longer claim to be new to the dating world. I had lost count of the number of dates I’d been on; not as an arrogant or cocky thing, genuinely as a result of having a terrible memory and having filled my time from spring to autumn.
I had experiences under my belt (as it were), stories to tell, embarrassments to laugh over and advice to share. As with all advice it was from my own perspective and not worth the digital paper it was written on, but it was from a place of knowing myself and my own experiences.
I was no longer a n00b.
I don’t think I’ll ever class myself as a dating guru. For me, the most honest, self-aware people I’ve met who are long-term daters feel like they are doing it wrong, otherwise they would’ve found someone by now. The more someone professes to be an expert in something, the less likely they are to actually be one.
I’m no dating expert, but I’m no newcomer either. I’m just someone who learns from his own mistakes and tries not to repeat them too often. I am someone who dates, and who is looking for one person to share many dates with rather than many people to share one date with. I’ve completed the training levels and am levelling up as I go along, collecting the skills and experiences needed to enable me to defeat the ultimate boss at the end of the game.
I’m off to practice my romantic StreetFighter 2 skills, just in case the final boss proves harder to beat than I thought.