Tender Kisses: Can It Be All So Simple Again?

Pre-marriage, I had BIG fun in the dating game. I was always in an exclusive relationship or I was juggling a rotating cast of a few good men. The differentiation usually worked like this: someone give some grand audition for the role of 'one and only', we'd have a long discussion about why we should give serious dating a go and then we’d get exclusively exclusive. Continuing this lighting speed love, we’d do well for a few months, get on each other’s nerves, call it quits, I’d redevelop my rotation (recycling isn't just for soda cans in my world and the circle of life would begin again. This pattern worked fine in my younger days, but once you’ve been a wife, being a mack just lacks appeal (for me, at least).

[MEET OUR "CARMEN JONES": YOUNG, DIVORCED AND STILL IN LOVE WITH LOVE]

When I moved to the East Coast, all the dating rules I’d previously known, understood, and accepted soon jumped out the window a la Ron Browz (and his career after that song, it seems.) The men here were cold, mean, and acted like there was a velvet rope around their free time. Everyone up here was so busy All.The.Time. Even the dudes that weren’t really doing anything with themselves seemed like they wanted you to bow down and kiss their, um, feet, for doing you the great favor of deeming you worthy of their attention. These men were to love what Reganomics was to Black folks bank accounts. FAIL. 

Per local customs, it seems I’m supposed to sow some oats since I just got divorced. But in reality, when what I really wanna do is test the waters of relationship-landia and doggie paddle with a cute boy I’ve had my eye on for a while.  I love being in a relationship, but I HATE dating. Suffice it to say, maybe it’s because I’m a little out of practice. Calling my game 'rusty' would be a compliment at this point. I don’t wanna put myself out there with a guy and end up in a sticky situation (pun intended) when I just thought we were just going to watch The Game. The (actual) game has changed. I want the rules to be clear to me. At best, dating post-matrimony feels like being a teenager all over again. I get those butterflies in my stomach when I think about a guy. I call my friends to share deets of my dates and to ask silly questions about my beau du jour.

Looking back on adolescence as a grown-up is fun, but feeling like I'm reliving some of those moments kinda sucks. Mainly because the youthful insecurities have returned without the actual innocence and fun that made teenybopper dating worth it.  When I was in high school, a young Christopher Williams-esque cutie introduced me the phrase “experimental buddies” (EB) to our circle of friends. Essentially, an EB was someone that you messed with and possibly dated, but you never went all the way with them. A friend with partial benefits as it were. Ahh, the innocence of high school…most of us weren't down to bed our every crush or boo, but that didn’t mean we weren’t willing to have some skin-to-skin contact or heavy kissing/petting.

For boys, it was the perfect way to keep someone you wanted to fool around with close enough to touch inappropriately in the last row of the movies without having to ask them to “go wit’” you. For girls, it was dope ‘cause it was explicit that you weren’t giving your EB the drawers, so you could still get all the cuddling, hugging, and kissing that adolescent girls really want but without having to go further than we were ready or willing to.

While I certainly don't want to date like 16-year-old Carmen, the idea of an "experimental buddy" holds a renewed appeal in these uncertain dating times…someone who knows nothing naked between us is popping off, but who will still be sweet and snuggle and make out with me while we listen to the quiet storm on the radio.  I don't want to be buoyed by someone's weighty expectations or Brooklyn-bred sense of self-importance. Why can’t grown ups just make out?

Carmen Jones is a 30-something sexy Southern single-turned East Coast dweller exploring life and love after divorce.