I went on a date yesterday. Now that I’m stationary for a few weeks and have some breathing room, I’m back on dating apps (okay, just the ladies-only one because dudes are way too easy to stumble upon in the wild and who needs any EXTRA involvement in their weird power plays and convoluted attempts to impress you with asinine chivalry like insisting they walk on the traffic side of the sidewalk as if that very gesture didn’t make you pray for a rogue Town and Country to leap the curb and take you both out then and there). I love dating because OH LORDY THERE ARE SO MANY ATTRACTIVE PEOPLE I WANNA SMOOSH MY FACE AGAINST it’s fun to play by ever-changing rules and make yourself an appealing candidate for face-smooshing meaningful conversation, and it’s such a delight to learn a new person, to get a glimpse into their world, and to try on different possible futures you could have together.

Except that’s not what dating is for me anymore.

As a nomad, I’m no longer a prospect for any kind of future. I am, by the very nature of my circumstances, a transient player in your life—a drop-in character who imparts some new knowledge or shares some mini-adventure or plants some seed of an idea that you cultivate for years to come, unbeknownst to me. Or, who just makes you laugh for an hour and is forgotten by next week.

Whether significant or inconsequential, whatever effect I have on you will happen in my wake. I’ll be gone, onto the next town, the next fling, the next set of sparkling green eyes.

In many ways, this is how I’ve always operated. I prefer short-term contracts to long-term employment, and I make that clear to anyone who enters my orbit. I will leave you. (Giving people warnings is strange because they often fail to heed them, which I say as someone who failed to heed warnings like, “I’m a garbage person,” and, “You will get broken into,” as recently as this month, so NO JUDGMENT HERE.)

Still, as I admired a forest of freckles sprawling over the delicate shoulders sitting across from me yesterday, as I listened to her hopes for a future with children, her impressive resume of service-oriented work, and her efforts to untangle the complex relationship between her upbringing and who she wants to become, I felt remiss. We both knew I couldn’t factor into her life in any kind of real way, and even as affection swelled for this beautiful new (to me) soul, it was tempered by the knowledge that my whispered warning—I will leave you—has become a shout—I’m already gone.

Despite my constant claims to the contrary, I’m a junkie for love. I love being in love, and I do it as often as possible.

Currently, a few distant crushes and romantic entanglements use the best parts of infatuation (mixtapes, mostly) to masquerade as something like love, but there’s no future tense involved. We don’t—can’t—entertain any notion of Together and instead content ourselves with fantastical catharsis, with Wouldn’t It Be Great If and Maybe Someday We Could. I’ve countless “plans” to run away and start new lives with various people, but we all know it’s just play. They’ll continue along their paths, and I’ll continue along mine. Maybe we’ll intersect someday, and maybe we won’t. In the meantime, we have effusive texts and songs on repeat, which is the most “in love” I can hope for at this point.

I feel envious, in some ways, of people who share their lives with a partner. They have a witness. When they’re 87 and refuse to wear their hearing aid and think they’ve heard something related to a vague memory they almost have, they can turn to their mate and say, “Ed, where was that place we stayed with the water leak where ceiling that dropped in on the kids’ room?” and he’ll say, “Albuquerque,” before continuing with his story about sailing Lake Superior.

I won’t have anything like that.

Each life path comes with tradeoffs, and what I’m gaining in adventures and perspective and novelty, in freedom to be and become whoever I want on whatever timeline works for me, I’m giving up in a witness, in a rolodeck of memories shared with someone who was also there. Maybe I’ll regret it someday.

In the immediate term, I’m not as afraid of regret as I am mourning the loss of the romantic possibility that comes with Maybe We Could Be. Without the potential for a future, dating loses a significant portion of its allure. The big question—what could we become—is pre-answered and replaced by a much smaller one—do you want what I have to offer—which is perhaps more honest than I’ve ever been in romance. It creates a new challenge: to be compelling enough to get a HELL YES, to create an interesting enough experience that people are willing to forgo possibility just to participate in whatever moments we can share with one another, despite knowing our limits. I intend to rise to that challenge.

As with so many aspects of nomadism, dating has become another arena in which the mantra is now, “Earn your keep.” I didn’t anticipate this, how much harder I’d have to work to accomplish basic facets of personhood than I did in my cushy little cubicle life, where routine and stability created a glossy veneer that hid countless cracks in my foundation. I’m grateful, though, for the ways in which this lifestyle is pushing me to become better than I’ve ever been before.

If I decide someday to be a settled person, a partnered person, I’ll have this exercise in honesty to improve the quality of that future relationship. For now, I have adventures and mixtapes and fantasy, and while it may not be everything, it’s actually a lot.

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