Breaking my own rule*.

I dated a lot last summer.Date is not quite the right word, but that's what I'll call it. It was't Peter Pan–collar-and-poodle-skirt, two-straws-at-the-soda-shop dating. It was not-many-clothes-at-all, happy-hour-and-stumbling-into-the-night dating. There were quite a few men in and out of my life (five, at one point), and I called it dating because there was no boyfriend.

Dating was exhausting. Because when you're seeing five people at once, there are bound to be complications — scheduling conflicts, at least. And white lies told to avoid hurt feelings. And too much information floating around. As much as I like attention, especially from men — the more, the better, usually — I started to feel cheap, spreading myself so thin. Dating became emotionally debilitating. Which was as much thanks to the men in question as it was the overscheduled, oversexed madness and my psychological state at the time.

And so, after the chaos and folly of last year — culminating in the flaming destruction of not one but two disastrous relationships in the frame of about four months — this summer was to be a time where I simply did not date. I had grand designs of rediscovering my sanity and enjoying a bout of self-induced celibacy, beginning with my solo transatlantic journey. But then I met someone. A couple of weeks before Paris, I met someone. Who started as this faraway figure I admired for reasons I only sort of understood. Who became a friend. Who kissed me unexpectedly. And I'm now…dating him. Fluid and natural and unnervingly…simple.

Gradually, I am learning a new, better definition of the word "date." (Related: The word "men" is taking on a more positive connotation as well.)

Date ˈdāt noun 1 a: the time at which an event occurs < the date of his birth> b: a statement of the time of execution or making < the date on the letter> 2: duration 3: the period of time to which something belongs 4 a: an appointment to meet at a specified time; especially: a social engagement between two persons that often has a romantic character b: a person with whom one has a usually romantic date 5: see also: Friday, May 29, 2009

At 7:15, my doorbell rang. After having changed my outfit four times, I gave myself one last glance in the mirror, nodded firmly and trotted down the stairs to meet him. Through the dirty glass of my building's front door, he stood waiting for me, shirt tucked in, cellophane-wrapped flowers in hand. Flowers. No one brings flowers. He brought flowers. I put them in water while he waited, then we walked to the Brown Line and rode downtown with our Trader Joe's bag filled with picnic food. At Millennium Park, night was beginning to fall, and Pritzker Pavilion was filling with Polish Chicagoans celebrating the fall of communism in their home country with music and dance. (We had no idea the concert was even happening.) We spread out our blanket — OK, a beach towel that was really too small for both of us — and made barbecue-pork sandwiches with cole slaw and carrot sticks and sparkling water. And chocolate-covered cookies (to die for) called Joe-Joes. We endured the music as long as we could then walked east to the lakefront and through the harbors. In and out of orange pools of streetlight, we kissed and talked about our families. Yachts (mine) and house painting (his) and grandparental quirks (both of us). We found ourselves looking across the Chicago River at Navy Pier, and I stared at the flashing lights on the Ferris wheel while we had a Very Serious Conversation about love and trust, and the past and moving on from it. I hope. Strolling along the river, I watched workers scrub down the decks and chairs of the tour boats from a long, sunny day full of tourists. Up the stairs and back to Michigan Avenue, we waded through a crowd of pedestrians and made our way toward the El again — it had felt like we owned the city, walking alone by the water. Maybe we still did, even with other people around. I nodded off on his shoulder and he brushed the hair from my forehead to kiss me as the train rumbled homeward. Fluid and natural and simple.

This is dating. Worth the wait to redefine.

"I'm scared to call you my girlfriend," he said. "Then don't," I said. "Wait until it doesn't scare you anymore."

* of no loveblogging.