I woke this morning to the haunting moan of a fog horn. More than the chill in the morning air or the maples dropping their russet leaves, the sound of a fog horn signals the change of seasons for me. Every October, the fog rolls in overnight and hangs low over the sea and in the fields until the autumn sun burns it away. I love waking to the fog horns, love listening to their deep call as I lie warm in my bed. But they remind me, too, that summer is behind us, that it’s time to dig out the sweaters and boots, and prepare for a colder, rainier season.
Loathe as I am to bid goodbye to summer, fall is a time of renewal for me. Having spent years as a classroom teacher, I’ve come to associate autumn with new beginnings. And this fall is no different. I had a lovely summer spent on the water and on the beach, sailing and camping and kayaking. I was truly in my element. Some weekends, I enjoyed time on the sail boat with Dan, time which was free of pressure or expectation. And some time, I spent, very happily, on my own. It was a summer spent far from internet dating sites, far removed from the pressures of finding a new relationship.
And now, as the seasons change, as Dan and I return, as we knew we would, to our regular lives, I’m starting to think about dating again. I feel rejuvenated by the break. And I feel as though my heart, bruised after Griff, has healed. Dan and I set out to have a break from dating and to have some fun this summer. I can’t speak for him, but I learned a whole lot that I want to carry with me in the next stage of my journey. These are lessons for dating, but they’re also lessons for living.
1. Live for the moment
I can spend ridiculous amounts of time worrying about the future. When Dan and I agreed to have fun together this summer, we both knew that it was a short-term proposition, that once September arrived, the complications of our “real lives” would set in. With the prospect of “long-term” off the table, we were free to enjoy ourselves without any pressure. I didn’t spend hours analyzing where the relationship was going; I didn’t concern myself with when I would see Dan again; I saw every invitation to spend time with him on the boat as a wonderful treat. There was no expectation that we would see each other regularly, that we had to phone or text each other every day, that we had to plan weeks or months into the future. As a result, every day we spent together was a small gift.
2. Create space
So often in my life, I am guilty of filling my calendar so that there isn’t time for spontaneity and there isn’t the space for interesting last-minute adventures. This was the first summer that I had nothing more than a couple of camping trips booked. There were big empty swaths of time where I wasn’t working and where I didn’t have my kids. That’s the kind of empty that makes me feel panicky. But this summer I stayed with the discomfort and left the space open. My plan was to spend the time getting comfortable with being alone – and I did some of that. But having that space in my life meant that I was able to say yes to the last-minute kayaking trip in the Broken Islands, and yes to the weekends exploring the Gulf Islands. When I chose to create openings in my life, interesting people and adventures materialized.
One of the loveliest things about my time spent with Dan was how easily we were able to be ourselves. We weren’t thinking about the other as a potential long-term prospect and so we didn’t feel the need to promote our strong suits or hide our flaws. I didn’t worry about whether some aspect of Dan’s character was going to drive me crazy; I didn’t have to. I could just accept him as he was and enjoy his company. And I felt equally accepted by him. There was no judgement at all and it felt really good. It was such a good way to get to know somebody. Dan is a man for whom I’ve developed great affection and respect.
4. Communicate honestly
Dan and I talked about what was happening between us all summer long. We started out with a clear understanding of what we were doing and where we were going: “Let’s have fun. We know that our real lives are complicated. We know that it’s unlikely that we’re going to end up together. Let’s just see what happens”. Starting with that clear agreement allowed us both to relax and enjoy our weekends together. At the same time, we knew we might end up in an emotionally deeper place than we’d planned for, and so we stayed open as the summer went on. I always knew where I stood with Dan, and he with me. It was a safe and respectful space to inhabit.
5. Do what you love
I set out this summer to invite into my life those things that made me feel full and whole. I wanted to write regularly, I wanted to spend time in nature, and I wanted adventure. In saying yes to kayaking and to sailing, I was choosing what I most wanted to do with my summer. As it happened, I sailed and kayaked with men, but I was doing those things because they appealed to me. I wasn’t drifting along, fitting my desires in around the edges of a man’s life. I was living my own version of perfect.
This is a summer I won’t soon forget. I want to carry it with me, all the good memories, all the perfect moments. And I want to take all that I’ve learned along with me on the next leg of my journey.