Dating As a Demiromantic part 4: Emotional Labor and Dating Fears

I made the mistake of trying to date again.

Now that work is calming down, and the summer markets are over, I have weekends free for dates. I thought it might be a good idea to branch out, and start playing the field. I opened up my dating app again, and started sorting through my options. It’s been less than a week, and I already regret it.

It all started with the date that didn’t happen.

I’ve been stood up for dates before. It’s not an infrequent occurrence for me, or most of the “singles” I know. If I had to give an estimate, I’d say 1 in out of 4 first dates end in a “no-show”- so the fact that I got stood up again on Saturday was not a big deal. In fact, over the last few years I’ve come up with a system; I arrange for the date to be at a cafe I like and bring a book. If my date shows up, great! We’ll chat over lattes. If they don’t show up, fine! I’ll still get my latte and read my book. Either way, I get caffeinated. Being stood up is annoying, and insulting, but ultimately not a big deal.

But this weekend didn’t end with a no show.

Not only did my date not show up on Saturday, but he took it a step further. He texted me later that night (7 hours after he didn’t show), to apologize. That would have been fine, but he wasn’t done. He said the reason he didn’t show was because he was depressed. This is understandable, as I also have depression. But, he didn’t leave stop there. He was drunk. He then proceeded to spend the entire evening (until 2:30 in the morning) drunk texting me about his depression.

A man I had never met, dumped all his emotional baggage on me.

To say that this was a “big red flag” is an understatement. I was immediately reminded of my ex, who treated me as his personal therapist and conscience for 8 years. As someone who rarely feels romantic attraction to someone, the times I do feel romantic love overwhelm me. When I do fall in love, it is because I already have an emotional bond with that person. This combination is dangerous, as it becomes all too easy to lose myself in someone else. I put their needs before my own, and burn myself out to keep them warm. After my last relationship ended three years ago- I promised myself I wouldn’t do it again.

Emotional Labor isn’t free.

Emotional labor requires patience, attention, empathy, and understanding. It can cost a person their time, mental and emotional health, and their energy. A good relationship will enable those involved to give and receive emotional labor. A healthy relationship will do so with consent and boundaries. Healthy boundaries surrounding emotional labor is something I’ve always struggled to set. My whole life, I learned to show my love my carrying their emotional burdens. Whether it was family, friends, or a lover- I always gave support, but rarely asked to receive any in return. I have gotten better with setting boundaries with my family and friends, but have had little practice with romantic partners. I’ve been single for nearly 4 years; It’s easy to set a boundary when there’s no one to negotiate terms with.

It makes me fear dating.

It’s true that the likelihood of me becoming romantically interested in someone is slim. It takes me months to develop feelings, if I end up developing any at all! But if I do develop them, and we enter a relationship, I fear falling back into the emotional caretaker role. This weekend’s experience reminded me of the likelihood of that scenario happening with brutal vividness. I dodged a bullet this time, but will the red flags always wave so proudly?

Am I overreacting? Probably.

There are so many “ifs” involved for all this to be a valid concern so early on. I also realize that I shouldn’t use this weekend’s experience as an excuse to push away potential partners. I’m not giving up after one bad weekend. I am just remembering that a romantic partner is not a therapist, and that an emotional connection doesn’t mean being an emotional dumping ground. I have had healthy relationships in the past, so I know I am capable of them. If I do find romantic love again, we will set healthy boundaries together. And, just like this weekend, I won’t ignore the early red flags.

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