Boy, do I have a lot to say about this topic!
After spending nine months doing shidduch dating, online dating, friends-setting-me-up-with-someone-random dating and the like, I had enough. I was exhausted, from putting myself into each date and each person, from getting nix'd over and over again. Feeling more judged and rejected than any other time in my life. I crammed a lot into those nine months.
Also, school completely swallowed me up. I had no more time -not a single night in the week -to go out. And then this happened. So when I found myself around someone who was simply a joy to talk to, to laugh with, to delve into the depths of conversation in so many topics, who was simply there while I was going through so much and had so much stress, I was overjoyed.
More than that, though, meeting and getting to know someone casually, without pressure for marriage -which I realized only afterwards is a giant boulder weighing on my every word, thought and consideration in formal dating -allowed me to appreciate her for who she is, to get beyond little details and arbitrary criteria. For once, there was no need to analyze or worry about what her words mean for marriage, how my own actions and words are coming across. Without the pressure, I felt a lot more free to just be myself, to have fun.
Aside from the freedom, lighthearted joy and support, there was more that drew me to a relationship. Being in one -even without looking forward to marriage -is something I wanted to experience. Sure, I have been in relationships before. There was something distinctly different about being in a relationship with someone so self-aware and growth focused. Someone with whom I could explore my own faults and fears, with whom I can share my innermost core, someone who would do the same with me. There is never enough time, always so much more to explore of who we are, and who we are together too.
I wanted to have that, I wanted to know what an argument looks like when two people can be sensitive to each others' feelings and needs. I wanted to know what it's like to hold someone's anger, to feel open in expressing my own, to know that I will be heard and understood first, and to deal with the issues afterwards. I wanted to experience these aspects of a relationship (even in a limited capacity) and I wanted to see it in practice. I saw so much of what I think I'm looking for, and I wanted to experience it so that I will know when the right person comes along.
Which brings me to the next point: the conflict. Clearly I knew early on that she isn't for me (and I'll leave out the specific reason[s] why, because they're not important for this post), and I made sure very early on that we are on the same page. We discussed the issue at length, we weighed the benefits and consequences of being in a relationship that almost assuredly won't lead to marriage. We engaged in that concern, we talked about the value(s) and whether they are worth it. We discussed the limited nature of the relationship, recognizing that by necessity it will be short term. We talked about these issues over and over again, we opened up our feelings and frustrations, and we listened and empathized with each other over and over again. So much care and patience, such a wonder to experience.
In all these conversations I found myself wanting more. I wanted to be in a relationship with such fantastic dynamics, to hold onto someone who can have that kind of sensitivity, to learn about being in a relationship from each other. We made that choice together, and I'm glad we did. That experience is something I will hold forever, and is invaluable to me.
Sure, it was tough. There was a lot of conflict, and the issues came up over and over again. In some ways, it was more like playing house than a real relationship, because there's no permanence without long-term commitment. Short term commitment may not be an adequate substitute. But it sure beats the pants off of my experience in dating, which as thus far been much more "no commitment" and very selfish in terms of criteria and choice-making.
Where this leaves me in dating now, I'm not sure. I have a lot more to think about in terms of shidduch dating versus meeting and building a relationship. I certainly don't want to have a string of short-term relationships that don't go anywhere, even though I hold this experience as one of the most valuable in my life.
In the meantime, I'll continue plodding along, living, exploring, and learning to handle the conflicts in life.