I mean, obviously, we didn't get married at six years old.
I did have a crush on him, though. I distinctly remember writing down a "List of Cute Boys" when I was in first grade. Joe's name was number two. Number one? Aaron Carter.
Unfortunately, at six, my only experience with 'crushes' came from television—specifically, Hey! Arnold. So I tortured the poor boy à la Helga Pataki. No, I did not also have a shrine.
Joe and I grew up in a small town. He was in a lot of my classes throughout elementary and middle school, but by the time high school had come along, we'd drifted apart. Then prom came along, and two of his friends were dating two of my friends...I asked him to go with me, and the rest is history.
I never imagined that we'd actually start dating. Or that "dating" would lead to us going to college together, to a proposal that made me half an hour late for class, or to our eventual wedding.
I also never imagined how different my life would be from my peers. While my friends were going through the trials and tribulations of dating, navigating "love" like a minefield, I was sitting at home watching Futurama. While our roommates were going out to bars and bringing home different people, trying to woo them with renditions of "Wagon Wheel," Joe and I were playing video games and going to bed early.
My friends would come to me with stories of breakups and aching hearts and questions of "do they like me, too?" I'd coach hetero male friends on how to respect their girlfriend's, or almost-girlfriend's, wishes. I'd encourage my hetero female friends to leave their boyfriends if they weren't happy. I'd talk people through fights and strange, 3 AM text messages, and all the while I'd wonder—is this what adult dating is like?
Recently, I had a friend come to me after she'd broken up with her boyfriend. She was worried that she was afraid of commitment—a problem that comes with a lot more stigma when you're a girl. She'd downloaded Tinder for the first time, she told me, and then she walked me through the highlights and horror shows.
Honestly, some of the messages she received blew my mind. It's not that they were overly-creepy—though, because she's a nursing student, there were a lot of bad pick-up lines—but the experience itself was utterly foreign to me. Don't get me wrong, I fully support free sexuality and "hook-up culture," but as an asexual woman in a long-term relationship, it was simply beyond my threshold for imagination.
Part of me is curious as to what's on Tinder and similar dating apps/sites, but it's a world that's completely closed to me. I can only experience it secondhand, through the stories of my friends. Am I missing out? Most days, I don't think so; at least, not when it comes to people. My husband is a great guy, he's sweet and sensitive, and the other day he came home with three different shirts and a pair of boots for no other reason than "I just got paid, and you said your shoes were wearing out."
But the experience of adult dating is one I will never have. I'm never going to sign up for those dating apps and sift through bad pick-up lines. I'm never going to have to figure out how to break-up with a guy because "he's too clingy," as a friend of mine had to about a year ago. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe I've been spared the sleepless nights and the anxiety—I remember what it was like dating in high school, and honestly, it is not an experience I want to repeat. Even with Joe, before he put that ring on my finger, there was that constant question: how far is this going to go? How real is this relationship?
But if our lives are made up of the experiences we have, then maybe missing out on this one is like missing out on a rite of passage. Like your first car, or losing your virginity. I will forever have my "adult dating v-card."
Every television show out there that's centered around a group of friends in a big city has adult dating life at the center. Friends, Seinfeld—at least How I Met Your Mother had the decency to make it the basic premise of the show. And even if it's not at the center of the episodes, adult dating features heavily into plot-lines on shows like The Office, Gilmore Girls, Criminal Minds, etc. The list goes on and on. And while I can enjoy these shows for the acting, the writing, the comedy or the drama, there's a large part of it that I just don't get.
It's fun to watch fictional characters fall in love; I'm not saying it isn't. I have shipped ships until I was screaming in the comments of YouTube videos. But the actual way they go about it, the meet-cutes, the balancing of her dreams with his dreams (or her/her, his/his, etc), the Big Talks about whether they want to Take The Next Step—all of that is a mystery to me. Joe and I joked about getting engaged for a year before it happened. Our dreams grew together, and we've never had to sit down and wonder whether we're ready to move in together. We just were. Some things out there, I just can't relate to, no matter how much I enjoy it.
And after a while, those things start to feel more like fiction than real life. So when someone in my actual life has a crisis about whether they should move in with their significant other, I'm genuinely flabbergasted. When my friends text me about how their partner broke up with them, but they're still "on the hook," as HIMYM would put it, I'm not sure how to help them. There's only so far that basic empathy and listening to them will go—after a while, I just don't know what to tell them, because I've never been there.
Hopefully, I never will be there. I'm not naive. My parents have both divorced and married multiple times, and I know that's a possibility. A probability when you marry as young as I have. But right now, the idea of adult dating is no more real to me than Robin and Ted's relationship. (Which never should have happened, by the way.)