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From Idealized Encounters to Relaxed Connection: Embracing Authenticity in Dating

“Would you care to join me for a libation? I am eager to engage in conversation with you.”

Following an autumnal day in Shanghai, I received a WeChat missive from Abu. He had extended invitations on two prior occasions, both of which I declined. It’s not that I disfavor such propositions; rather, the prospect of a rendezvous weighs heavily upon contemplation.

The considerations of attire for a particular restaurant, the allure of dating, and the subsequent ramifications thereof all contributed to my reluctance. However, in the face of Abu’s third entreaty, I found myself too abashed to conjure yet another pretext for refusal.

I approached the appointment with a receptive disposition, only to find it to be a “casual” encounter.

It transpired that a mere 25 minutes elapsed from the receipt of Abu’s missive to my arrival at his threshold, constituting the briefest preparation period for any of my assignations.

To mitigate the absence of cosmetics, I donned black spectacles and a subtle lip tint. Nonetheless, upon standing before his abode, I was beset with apprehension. I fretted over the casualness of my attire—gray shirt and jeans—and dreaded the possibility of his being more sartorially resplendent.

Yet, upon Abu’s opening of the door, I realized such concerns were unfounded. His loose-fitting t-shirt and loungewear imparted an air of grandeur, albeit unexpected. Abu gestured for me to enter and effortlessly relieved me of the wine I proffered.

Adorning the coffee table was our preferred Thai cuisine takeaway, accompanied by an episode of “Friends,” a shared affection. Though ostensibly our inaugural tryst, a sense of marital familiarity pervaded.

Into the wee hours, we imbibed and conversed. Nestled on the sofa, Abu inadvertently confessed his aversion to the piquant flavors of Thai cuisine. Observing the array before us, I queried his acquiescence.

He quaffed his wine and remarked, “Not solely out of deference. I surmised that partaking in its consumption with you might cultivate a preference.” His candor stirred a medley of emotions within me. He continued, “Alas, its gustatory appeal eludes me still.”

Abu’s unreserved and forthright demeanor was a departure from my prior experiences. His attire, comportment, etiquette, and discourse collectively fostered a sense of ease. Gradually, I forgot my lack of adornment that evening, realizing that dating need not be fraught with anxiety.

The reminiscences of this rendezvous harkened back to my former self.

Amidst meticulously selected environs, we engaged in articulate discourse. Clad in a form-fitting skirt, accentuating my figure post-indulgence, and accessorized with a new handbag, I endeavored to showcase my “ideal” self. In anticipation of a liaison, I sought to exhibit all my virtues.

Yet, the more I strove for flawlessness, the more contrived it became.

The slightest imperfections—be they unruly locks or asymmetrical brows—loomed large in my mind. While imperceptible to my companion, I persisted in concealing them, thereby engendering a tension that permeated the entire encounter.

The outcomes of these trysts were predictably homogeneous. Either my interlocutor perceived me as disengaged, feeling excluded, or I myself felt disingenuous.

In these encounters, I assumed a subordinate stance, seeking validation from the other party. The pursuit of their approval engendered a propensity for acquiescence and adaptation, thus becoming the backdrop of my dating endeavors.

So pervasive was this inclination that such ruminations recurred with each rendezvous:

“I concur wholeheartedly.”
(Though inwardly, I harbor reservations.)

“I too admire this author!”
(Though their name eludes me entirely.)

“What sort of woman do you prefer?”
(I may not conform to your ideal, but perhaps I can mold myself to fit?)

Driven by an ardent desire for connection, I lost sight of my authentic self. Ironically, even in the presence of positive affirmation, I harbored doubts: do you appreciate me, or merely the persona I project?

Following each rendezvous, I find myself pondering: why do I struggle to unveil my true essence and embrace vulnerability? The answer lies in my fear of rejection, of a rendezvous culminating in naught.

I’ve long regarded dating as a prerequisite to romance, endeavoring to present an embellished façade. While not inherently erroneous, it necessitates a subsequent metamorphosis toward authenticity.

These encounters resembled less a tryst and more an austere interrogation, where the slightest misstep precipitated disqualification. Yet, my evening spent with Abu underscored that dating is, in essence, just that—dating.

Whether bereft of embellishment or attired casually, extraneous variables do not impede our rapport. By reconceptualizing dating as an intimate exploration of others, the erstwhile sense of unease dissipates.

I seldom vacillate between my “ideal self” and a more unpolished iteration, instead prioritizing authenticity.

At the crux of “relaxed” dating lies the acceptance of happenstance. It entails relinquishing the shackles of convention while possessing the fortitude to embrace the outcome—be it a continuation or conclusion.

As depicted in the film “Before Sunrise”: “If there is any magic in this world, it must be found in understanding others and sharing their joys and sorrows.”

I concede, such an ideal is elusive, yet the pursuit thereof is paramount.

With the break of dawn, I departed Abu’s abode. Whether our bond burgeons into romance remains uncertain. Yet, that evening, I concurred with him: the merit of our rendezvous lies not in its denouement, but in the enjoyment derived therein.

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