The (Martial) Art Of Dating


When I really like something, I go all in –

I take notes in all of my books so that I can go back and find my favorite passages more easily. I listen to songs I love on loop for hours, and when I see a film that really moves me, it’s not unusual for me to rewatch it multiple times within a span of a few days.

It probably stems from the first time my parents took me to the movie theater to see Aladdin. I threw a tantrum, kicking and screaming all the way back to the car, crying for them to “rewind it”.

It’s only human nature, after all, to want more of a good thing when we find it.

And while I just led with the nerdy, artsy, quirky anecdotes that make me appear “cultured”, my obsessive tendencies are anything but highbrow.

I once watched enough Jennifer Lawrence interviews in the lobby café of my office building that a barista working there thought I was a Letterman fan. And when it comes to celebrities, I spent days watching the press junket for Ocean’s 8 because nothing beats delusional Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson insulting and climbing on top of each other without letting a teary-eyed Hoda Kotb get a word in. I can also Wikipedia with the best of them, and clicked my way through to some deep pages on astrophysics after Interstellar came out, and I swear to god I was not high at the time. That’s how bad it really is.

But most recently, after signing up for classes at my local dojo, I fell into a Google hole on karate and watched this entire YouTube documentary on Okinawan karate specifically. If you have the time, watch it. It’s brilliant. If not, here’s a quick summary:

It emphasizes, through various visuals and interviews, that the original, or “pure” intention of traditional Okinawan karate is to never use it. To spend your entire life training for something you will intentionally avoid seeking out – physical confrontation. That simply by preparing your body and mind to be able to defend yourself, you will acquire a confidence that will manifest itself in almost a kind of aura. One that will literally deter your opponents from wanting to fight you in the first place.

Mind-blowing, right?

And somehow I realized (after a date), that this same concept would probably be the ideal outlook on dating. At least, it would be for me.

After my last relationship, I wanted nothing to do with dating. I lived for my new single life. For throwing up in (well really, outside of) Ubers and still maintaining a 4.88-star rating. For waking up on Sunday mornings hungover out of my mind with Gatorade waiting for me in my fridge and the entire day ahead of me to watch SNL and indie movies in my bed in all my unshowered glory.

Picture Pinocchio on Treasure Island with a cigar in his mouth playing pool – at the pinnacle of pleasure before realizing he’s about to be sold into donkey slave labor. I wanted to be the Artful Dodger, the Latarian Milton of singledom before anyone got into trouble of course. But obviously, you can’t pause a story at the good part, and I barely lasted a few months before meeting someone and falling hard. For the last person I thought I could fall for, the last person I should have fallen for, and before I could kick and scream for my donkey ears and pool cue back, for the chance to continue reveling in my life as an ass, I found myself faced with the cruel reality that I, in fact, wanted to date them. Which was met by an even more powerful deterrent – the knowledge that they did not want to date me.

I found myself once again wanting to “rewind it”, my time with this person, sometimes involuntarily, and sometimes on purpose. Little things they said, stories they told, mannerisms, defense mechanisms I could see through so easily. The whole gamut.

And suddenly throwing up and maintaining an outstanding Uber score wasn’t as entertaining without them offering to come to my rescue, and my hangovers weren’t as enjoyable without them trying to bring me a breakfast sandwich to help me feel better, and nothing I watched could capture my attention as much as talking about it with them afterward did.

I didn’t go on a date for a very long time. Because when it was the last thing I wanted to do, I found myself getting close to the one person the strongest feelings I ever had were for. And when I did want to date, no one I met seemed worth the time or effort. It was frustrating to feel nothing at the time I wanted to feel something most, but, in a sense, I also wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to date anyone if I was trying to cover up my own feelings. I couldn’t be honest with myself, and mature is the last word I would use to describe the way I handled things.

So, I thought to myself, what if dating was like karate?

If you go looking for a fight without knowing how to, you’re sure to end up with at least a broken nose, and maybe looking for love was just another stupid way to get yourself hurt, or at the very least left feeling unsatisfied.

What would happen instead, if the purpose of dating was not to find someone, but to feel okay with not finding them? To feel perfectly fine on your own. What would dating be if our intentions were not to fall in love, but to prepare ourselves to handle it in the case such an unfortunate tragedy ever befell us?

Now I’m just being dramatic, of course, but really think about it. What if we treated love as something that could happen to us, instead of something that should, or needed to? What if dating was just a way to practice meeting new people, getting to know them, and opening ourselves up to let them get to know us in return?

What if swiping left and swiping right was the “wax on, wax off” of dating? An exercise that seems pointless and tedious at the time, but is really preparing us to be ready for something more complex when and if we face it. What if learning to connect with strangers built that same kind of muscle memory, except one that’s emotional instead of physical? What if learning to treat people well when we may not have a romantic connection with them was just a way to teach us how to be decent human beings until it becomes a reflex? So we don’t fuck it up when it actually matters?

What if not settling, not dating because we’re too insecure not to date, is the way we realize how happy we are just being ourselves? What if repeating personal facts and stories to someone across the table that we’ve just met is the way we determine what we like most about ourselves? The things we find most entertaining, most endearing, most lovable?

What if dating isn’t about falling in love with another person at all, but finding instead that all we need is ourselves?

Not in a solipsistic way, but a way in which our own self-love and the infinite possibilities we have to connect with other human beings, to be kind and compassionate and understanding in a meaningful way, is enough to be happy?

When I think of it this way, it actually seems worthwhile, and I’m personally compelled, as with things I really enjoy, to go all in.

The documentary also uncovered, that of course it’s hard, maybe nearly impossible, to develop such a skill and truly not desire the opportunity to demonstrate it. To put it to use and prove out the extent of your own abilities.

So what if dating was just like karate?

Then love would be an unavoidable fight where you’ve learned to defend yourself without hurting anyone else in retaliation.

Something we all want to be ready for in case it ever happens.