Writer’s note (31 March 2019): This piece was written when I was targeting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) women who were having dating troubles. Now I help all women who feel anxious and insecure in their relationships find peace. Learn more.
When you’re a dating coach and blogging about it, you might quickly realize that anything you do (such as surfing) can have a dating lesson attached to it.
So, let me tell you smart, successful, and fiercely independent millennial STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) women what I learned about dating from a couple of surfing nightmares.
I had taken a surfing lesson in Pismo Beach, CA in February 2018 and in O’ahu, Hawaii in July, both of which quickly showed me that it was totally possible for someone like me—someone with inner ear problems and bad balance—to be a wave rider.
I felt confident after those lessons, as if that Beach Boys song “Surfer Girl” was written about someone like me.
I could stand on a fucking nine-foot “foamie” while the ocean carried me to shore. I was on top of the world.
Until September came along.
Huntington Beach, CA
My boyfriend Phillip’s family and I went to Huntington Beach to celebrate the imminent end of the summer, and all I could think about was hitting the waves.
I was a surfer girl now, after all.
I went in the water with Phillip and his dad and had the. hardest. time. paddling. out.
Every wave hit me in the face so hard that I was either knocked off the board or obsessively clearing my eyes of ocean so I could see again, only to get hit by another slappy wave.
These waves were larger and less merciful than those summer Hawaiian waves.
At some point, I caught a wave for about half a second, and then the ocean body-slammed me underwater for what seemed like eternity.
I didn’t know which way was up or down.
The board hit my head at my first attempt to resurface.
Then another wave steamrolled me.
I waited for the moment I could breathe again.
I did survive that encounter, but I had also swallowed some of that water and found myself on the toilet with diarrhea the next day…
…I swear there’s a dating lesson in here. Bear with me!
Zuma Beach, CA
I endured quite a bit during that day in Huntington, but I didn’t want to give up.
My friend and I went to Malibu for another go. She had taken a surfing lesson a year ago, so she had some idea of how to handle Mother Nature’s boisterous blue water.
…except when we arrived (after having trouble finding parking due to a marathon and having to walk a distance to the beach while carrying surfboards on our heads), the waves looked like the ocean was PMSing.
They roared, building up like a colossal claw and scraping the shoreline once they broke, sucking in unlucky victims like a vacuum if they tried to get out.
Not even the lifeguard wanted to surf that madness.
But we did!
We trekked to the other end of the beach for slightly smaller waves (based on lifeguard recommendation), hopped on our boards to paddle out like a couple of ambitious idiots, and were immediately—and I mean, immediately—destroyed.
That water was. no. joke.
We crawled out of the water like a couple of shipwreck survivors, looking at each other and laughing at what we had just tried to do.
After taking a few minutes to collect ourselves, my friend decided to have another go.
Being a wee thing and knowing not to mess with Mother Nature, I decided to hang back.
Instead, I spent about half an hour clearing out my sinuses, sitting on my towel bent over the sand looking as if I was sniffing cocaine off that golden graininess.
Minutes later, my friend popped out of the water with a beached surfboard that was completely enveloped in seaweed.
She looked at her hands as if she had injured them.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it out alive!” she exclaimed.
It’s easy and understandable for anyone getting into surfing (or any extreme sport) to feel shaken after experiencing a seemingly life-threatening episode or two.
When these things happen, one might regret ever trying an activity in the first place.
While I was motivated and a little nervous getting into those waves, I felt even more defeated afterward.
It was as if the feels were waiting to strike at an opportune moment, plunging into my veins in one fell swoop.
Like a PMSing ocean.
I felt like I was trying so hard to get good at something, while an external force (literally and figuratively) kept slamming me down.
I tried and tried and tried.
After sitting in those feelings for a while (instead of forcing them away), I realized once again that grit and determination mattered more to me than anything else in this situation.
The same goes for dating.
Finally, What This Has to Do with Dating
So, what do dating, diarrhea, and dangerous waves have in common?
Let me rephrase that to sound less gross: What can you learn about dating from my scary surfing experiences?
#1 Put yourself out there, even if it seems scary
I’m not saying you should overcome your fears by putting yourself in a clearly sketchy situation, like sticking your bare arm into a beehive to overcome your fear of bees, or attempting to walk a tightrope several feet over concrete with no safety net to overcome your fear of heights.
I’m saying there could be moments in your dating life that might seem insurmountable.
Maybe you’re meeting someone from Coffee Meets Bagel for the first time and can’t seem to relax.
Maybe you want to break up with someone who kind of freaks you out, and the thought of doing so makes you want to hurl or pass out because you’re worried he might retaliate.
Maybe you’re having trouble just saying “no” to something that makes you sweat from discomfort.
Maybe you’re dating for the first time in years and feel out of practice (and I know a dating coach who could help with that).
Whatever the case may be, our minds can have a way of messing with us, prompting us to make up whackadoo stories and blow things out of proportion.
Our unique experiences can conjure all sorts of mental roadblocks—gremlins, assumptions, interpretations, and limiting beliefs (GAILs)—that can keep us from living that optimal life we want.
It happens to me, it happens to you, it happens to all of us, and that’s okay!
You’re right, dating can feel scary. But it doesn’t have to be.
Just remember something I learned from another dating coach: You’re the CEO of your love life and dates are like interns interviewing at your company.
Just be sure to create a company that they’ll want to commit to full-time ;-).
Remember to ask yourself where this fear might be coming from.
Remember that fear is just your friend trying to keep you safe.
Remember to thank your friend Fear for protecting you, and then tell her you got this.
#2 But also know your boundaries
After getting an oceanic beating in more ways than one, I knew I had to sit out.
I was real with myself, because I knew that my mind and body couldn’t go beyond constant wave slaps in the face, body slams that left me holding my breath for an undetermined amount of time, and overall conditions that a newb like me couldn’t handle (yet).
I accepted that I still needed training wheels, whether that meant another surf lesson or easier currents.
The same goes for dating: Is the person you’re seeing trying to sleep with you before you’re ready? Tell him! Communicating your expectations about this can be a great way to weed out the bad apples.
Is he a narcissist who treats you horribly? Dump his ass! You’re better off.
Does she want you to try recreational drugs? Do you feel uncomfortable doing this? Just. say. fuck. no.
It doesn’t make you lame or square. In fact, it makes you appear confident. Because you are.
I, for one, have never tried weed because I can’t get past the smell.
If people judge you or me for having these boundaries, then fuck ‘em and let ‘em sort out their own issues (or help them understand themselves).
#3 Fall in love with failing, and don’t ever, ever, ever give up
This can feel like a tall order, falling in love with failing.
The last thing many of us smart, successful, and fiercely independent millennial STEM women want to do is fail in a world of bad dating advice and sexism.
Many of us are groomed for a risk-averse work environment, and sometimes that can carry over into dating.
Sometimes it feels easier just to wait for the perfect (wo)man to show up at your doorstep.
Sometimes it feels scary investing yourself in a new relationship, for fear of impending heartbreak.
Sometimes it feels safer to stay in a joyless relationship than to start over single.
Like I said, I felt defeated after trying to surf difficult waves when I had rocked them before.
It felt easier to quit and feel down on myself than to persevere.
It was easier to feel hopeless than hopeful.
But (and you’ve heard this before), when have you been able to achieve anything great without failure (and grit)?
How were you able to get this far in your STEM career (especially as a woman) without pushing, pushing, pushing, even in the face of failure?
In the end, one can view failure as one of the vitamins we need to thrive in our society.
So, when you feel down on your dating luck, try talking to your friend Failure like you do Fear.
Tell Failure, “Thank you, Failure, for allowing me to learn something new.”
In the end, failure is an opportunity in disguise.
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