"So what are you looking for?"

When it comes to dating, I never have a good answer to this question. Or do I just never have the courage to say it?


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"Are you looking for a relationship?"


I've been asked this question so many times on dating apps. And I dread it.


My first thought is usually, "Wow, is he asking because he is looking for a relationship?" The men I date are mostly in their early twenties, an age bracket not necessarily known to be eager for a committed relationship, at least not in my experience. So I quickly decide no, he's actually asking because he wants to eliminate me if I want a relationship.


My second thought is then, "No way, I don't want a relationship - I'm living my best life as a free cougar!"


But very quickly, as the dust settles on my she-doth-protest-too-much answer, a third thought emerges: "Wait, am I looking for a relationship?"


I struggle to answer this question honestly, not just because a 20-year age gap is enough to cast some serious doubt on the logistics of ever making a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship work; but also because living with depression and anxiety creates challenges in making any relationship work.


"So what are you looking for?"


The truth is hard to accept, let alone say - but it is this: Some romantic/sexual scenario in which my brain and body can both be happy. It sounds simple. It isn't. If there is a young man on the internet who happens to have such a scenario in his back pocket, I'd love to match with him and hear all about it. (Only if he's under 30, of course - cougar rules!)


FWB+


"I think it's all a way for me to attempt to have non-monogamous relationships with men much younger than me, without using the word 'relationship.'"

Me:

"I'm not looking for a relationship."

"Well, I probably am looking for a relationship, but nothing too serious."

"I mean, I want a relationship, but not right away."

"Okay, I do want a relationship of some kind, but not a monogamous one."

"I guess what I'm looking for is more than FWB but less than a monogamous relationship."


This is the cascading answer I launch into if a guy chats with me long enough. Because I am looking for a relationship. But I'm also not.


I want a relationship. But what I want and what I can handle are not necessarily the same thing. And this applies to almost every area of my life, living with mental illness as I do and have for decades.


But in terms of dating, the best way I've been able to distill my rambling answer to the questions "So what are you looking for?" and "Are you looking for a relationship?" is written in the last line of the list above: "I guess what I'm looking for is more than FWB but less than a monogamous relationship." Which I sometimes abbreviate as "FWB+" (a.k.a., Friends With Benefits plus...).


If you're wondering exactly what that means, I'm right there with you. I don't know.


But I suspect FWB+ is code for "I'm too shy to say I'm mostly looking for sex, because maybe I am, because maybe that's all I can handle emotionally right now and I'm too scared to have a committed relationship. So let's try mashing together 'just sex' with a watered-down relationship and see what happens."


I think it's all a way for me to attempt to have non-monogamous relationships with men much younger than me, without using the word "relationship." There seems to be so much baggage associated with that word. Of course, it's baggage I'm bringing in with me. But the point is, language matters. If a guy is asking, "Are you looking for a relationship?", I need to clarify what that means to him and what that means to me. Of course, clarity eludes me when it comes to my intentions dating on the internet.


All I know is I'm lonely and getting older and the only men I'm interested in are cougar-worthy age. So I'm using the language available to me to spin a web that captures what I want closely enough to have a chance of getting it.


So...why am I not getting it?


What are they looking for?


If a guy is asking, 'Are you looking for a relationship?', I need to clarify what that means to him and what that means to me.”

I made the caveat above that, in my experience, men in their early twenties are not looking for committed monogamous relationships. Sometimes I get thrown for a loop when a young man says, "I am looking for a relationship" after I've already given my semi-true non-threatening song and dance about, "Hahaha, not looking for a relationship here! Just a cougar on the prowl! Etc., etc., etc...."


In those moments, I realize two things: 1) young men who want a relationship are actually out there, and 2) I want one of those.


What I'm looking for


Not "just sex" with a watered-down relationship.

Not FWB+.


If you ask me what I think I can handle, that's different.


But if you ask me what I want, it's what I admitted earlier: "some romantic/sexual scenario in which my brain and body can both be happy."


Otherwise known as a relationship.


- M.B.