Dating wisdom from writer Thomas Wolfe

When Thomas Wolfe wrote, “you can’t go home again,” it’s almost certain he didn’t intend the words to show up more than 60 years later in a column about dating. Perhaps by the time I’m through interpreting that sentence, he’ll wish he had taken up tobacco farming instead of writing.

He’ll certainly wish he were alive so he could slap me around a little.

But I digress.

Anyone who actively participates in the time-honored tradition of dating knows that it is a sport with a lot of built-in setbacks, those setbacks being a natural part of the endless learning curve of dating.

Dating, of course, is based on personal interaction. Because people pride themselves on being different from everyone else, most are experts at being inexplicable and confusing.

But as dating progresses past the initial awkwardness into truly meaningful and personal territory, people shed their protective scales and begin to reveal what makes them special. That’s when we start to learn who they are. When we choose to say goodbye to someone we’ve come to know, we may close the door on her, but inevitably we leave open some windows of opportunities.

We do this because separation is taxing, and the mathematics of romance make quantum physics seem simple by comparison.

What if things had been a little bit different?

Maybe if you had been a little softer; maybe if she hadn’t been so moody. If the timing or the weather or the tides had shifted a little in either direction, then you wouldn’t have said goodbye.

Looking back on a landscape full of past relationships, it’s interesting to wonder which would be worth rethinking. Which might warrant a second chance or a third or a fourth?

Most people have experienced the rubber-ball relationship; the one that got off to a great bounce but slowly lost energy when each ensuing bounce met with more and more resistance. Eventually, it came to rest on the ground in a somewhat melancholy state, almost begging to be bounced again.

Like any fun thing that comes to an end, the initial response is to pick things up and start again. But when it comes to relationships, it’s hard to start over. Most people will give it another bounce. Some spend their lives trying to keep the ball in motion; others move on.

Maybe when a relationship has run its course, even when it was an enjoyable course, it’s best to not spend too much time wondering what might’ve been.

It’s hard to tell if giving things another crack would result in a whole new ballgame because, in most relationships, the boundaries and ground rules are difficult to redraw because they were there for a reason.

This isn’t to say that sometimes tenacity isn’t the best course of action. There’s a lot to be said for learning from past errors and moving on with a friend you feel close to. And it’s not entirely uncommon for people to call it quits with every intention of starting over once they’ve caught their breath.

After all, every relationship takes an effort.

But in most cases, Thomas Wolfe was probably right. You can’t go home again because you’re searching for something else. And although there may be adventures to be found in the past, you can be certain there are adventures in the undiscovered.