Updated: Sep 7
Guy: Where would you like to go for dinner? Me: Anywhere nearby really, as long as they have vegetarian food. Guy: Oh, you don’t eat meat? Me: Nope. Guy: I know a good fish place. Me: Ok. After a few texts with a stranger online, I found myself in a seafood restaurant in Johannesburg for dinner, with no vegetarian options. He was the first guy I’d revealed my vegetarianism to who was still willing to go out for dinner with me. As I lifted the menu it became clear that he didn’t actually understand what a vegetarian is. I desperately paged through the descriptions feeling a little awkward and anxious, trying to avoid eye contact with both the crayfish filled aquarium and the dude sitting opposite me. This was my first dinner date after ending a significant long-term relationship. I’d been single about three months and was trying to hide my fresh wounds and inexperience. I felt raw and vulnerable, like a battered car bent out of shape after a devastating crash. Our drinks arrived and I grabbed mine with a little too much enthusiasm, spilling some on the table. The server quickly grabbed a cloth and mopped it up. Then she walked away, leaving a weird weight of silence between us. Despite being a chatty extrovert I was struggling to make any sort of conversation with my date, who’d shared little more than the fact that he hated his job. I was seriously regretting not sticking to the ‘drinks only on date one’ rule. He took a swig of his beer and looked over his shoulder. “Have you seen that? Behind me?” he asked, in a fairly loud whisper. “No. What is it?” I asked, relieved that he’d broken the silence but hoping he wasn’t going to bring up the live fish awaiting slaughter. “There’s a couple behind me. They’re. Well. Both men. Sitting next to each other kissing.” I spilled a little more of my drink and put it down. “What’s wrong with that?” I asked casually. “Um. Nothing” he continued “They can do what they want – just not in public.” More silence followed as I scanned the room for escape routes. “It could be worse,” he continued. No it couldn’t, I thought (wrongly). “How?” I asked. “They could be of different races. This rainbow nation of South Africa is just ridiculous.” “Oh” I responded, “Uh, I think our views are a little different. I’ve got beautiful shades of non-white in my close family and have been in mixed race relationships myself.” His eyes widened and he shuffled back in his chair a little. This was definitely the point that the date ended (if in fact it had ever taken off). We sat for a further excruciating few minutes, sipping our drinks in silence. “What can I get you to eat?” asked the server, breaking the quiet between us again. “I think we need a few more minutes” I responded quickly preventing the guy from ordering anything else (just in case he was thinking about it). As she spun around and walked off, I began to panic. How could I get out of this situation without feeling tremendously awkward? Luckily, the guy soon announced that he needed to visit the bathroom. Relieved, I waited for him to trot off and then dug out enough cash to cover our drinks plus tip, popped it on the table and left. I got home feeling really despondent. I’d bravely had a handful of ‘drinks only’ dates over the weeks and they’d all been awful. Before heading out on this one, I’d lectured myself about giving this guy a chance – I was being too picky. The ones before had been too weird, too rugby-ish, too alpha, too not-for-me. I was dating for the first time in my thirties and there were now limited fish in the sea. I felt I’d have to compromise on many of the things I hoped to find in a partner, or I’d be single forever. While deep in thought about whether I could date someone with vastly different ideals to me, I had a moment. An epiphany, if you will. I played out what life with this man would look like – and it wasn’t pretty. I thought about my future had I stayed in my previous relationship and that was even worse. What if being single was ok? Life alone was surely better than being coupled with the wrong person. And I stumbled into acceptance. I decided in that moment that I could take a break from dating. I could give myself time to heal and time to think about what kind of relationship I wanted – if in fact I chose to be in a relationship again. I’m embarrassed when I think about it now – it’s so obvious. Acceptance is a funny thing, while in many ways it feels like giving in, it’s actually about empowering yourself and facing reality. Acceptance is also about realising that while your current situation may not be your ideal and you may be unable to change it, you still have power and some degree of choice. While in acceptance you can take small steps towards what you want, or wait things out a bit till you’re in a different position. In the unforgettable TedTalk, A love letter to realism at a time of grief, Mark Pollack and his partner Simone George explore how acceptance is necessary some of the time, realism is crucial all of the time and that there’s always a reason to hope. Their story will make you believe in love – and in science. It ties together a lot of the things we’ve explored over the past months. Acceptance helped me through the most tumultuous time of my life. It gave me the space to be patient and reassess my situation after time. It gave me two years of brutal, painful healing in my early thirties followed by five years of joy, adventure and self-discovery (with a few moments of vulnerability in-between). It allowed me to turn my focus inward. And when I was ready, I let it fall away as I ventured out to find someone who I wouldn’t have to compromise my values, beliefs or heart for.