It's a simple six-letter word. It might be used to discuss history or archaeology, even eating. But usually we're grappling with love, sex and relationships when we say "dating." The amount of energy put into analyzing the concept is staggering. More than 1,500 books actively in print attempt to explain dating. Over 15,000 movies have portrayed the good date, the bad date and every other imaginable date.
My own dating career, even though I'm in my mid-20s, started later than most. I see the world differently-from the height of four feet seven inches to be exact-because I have a form of dwarfism. Still my young life was normal, and largely without limitations. While I was aware of obvious restrictions, I also worked around them and adapted readily to challenges. That is until I arrived at the pinnacle high school social experience: Dating.
I quickly realized, aside from some nagging academic requirements, high school was all about hooking up. That meant fitting into the social scene and learning to prosper. Because of my physical differences, I was put into a category parallel to "those who can't do, teach." In my case it was "those who can't date, listen and learn."
From my accidentally sneaky vantage point, one discovery stuck out more than any other. People didn't know how to communicate; they never talked about problems with one another, but would vent to anyone else who would listen. I became, for a number of attractive friends, that someone else who would listen. But I inevitably mistook their willingness to share troubles as a deeper affection for me. I developed a huge crush on one girl and boldly presented her with a flourish of flowers after a drama production she was in. The result: "Oh, thanks, Gabe…um, that's nice of you." Awkward responses like that were par for the course. My faith in the power of listening and communicating was shaken.
But I saw hope to overcome the era of uncomfortable crushes and wishful moments at a yearly national conference held every summer by an organization called the Little People of America. The conference provided a weeklong meet-and-greet with others reconciling their lives with being short-statured. There are many issues of law, of health, of identity, etc., to be discussed at such an event but, for a little person between the ages of 13 and 21, the week was pure hormonal explosion. It was like being a cast member in a 1,500 person soap opera. People were laughing with each other one minute, crying and screaming at one another the next: a "this guy cheated on his girlfriend with so-and-so, don't you know, and then cheated on that girl with someone else, and all at the same time" kind of thing. Best friends were going after the same girl and everybody was letting out pent-up emotions in a very big way. It was the LP version of The OC, but with real-life intensity. Long-term relationships were laughable during the seven-day social melee. The theme was casual dating, and it was lucky to see a relationship last more than two days. My theory on good communication as a foundation for a lasting relationship took a pounding.
But now, looking back on 13 years of conferences and regional meetings, I can see that first encounter as a natural reaction to suddenly being unleashed among so many peers. Though I didn't find immediate and lasting love, I was able to build my own dating rap sheet, complete with some color. One regional meeting in North Carolina brought Maxie, the definitive "playa"-the number of times I was yo-yo'd around by her was unthinkable. You know "walking the dog?" A year later in LA, I met Katie. We had a strained relationship for about three months before it fell apart because of long distance. Then at a Dallas regional, I met Michelle, a mysterious older woman, if you know what I mean. Then there was Ryanne and, though we gave it a shot, we never really clicked. None of these panned out in the end, but each time through the wringer, I've managed to avoid more of the drama and regain my focus on communication.
My current girlfriend, Alicia, and I met at a national two years ago, but started dating outside the clutches of the convention scene. I realized no sane person would attempt a functioning relationship in the throws of the LPA social circus. We've been together now for eight months and our lives are a long way from annual, love-crazed intensity. We may even be ready to give all you people of merely "average" stature a bit of advice.