Immersed in the dating sea again for nearly two years one would think I'd know how to navigate, but sometimes I really don't feel like I do. Embarrassingly, I peruse the dating section at my local bookstore, but beyond the titles like "How To Date After Divorce" nothing really seems to acknowledge any of my "what's to be expected" dating questions (and even that one is a stretch.) Asides from pop culture, which obviously caters to traditional monogamous relationships, I have no real gauge for relationship landmarks and, more often than not, feel like I wander aimlessly through a course of mountains and mole-hills without ever knowing whats-what.
Pop culture has taught me the traditional relationship road map goes something like this: first date, second date, first kiss, DTR (defining the relationship aka deciding to stop seeing other people), first vacation, first "I love you's," meeting the parents, holidays together, a proposal leading to the final destination of a "happily ever after" filled with white tulle and children. Movies and TV shows play with these common themes (search Netflix for any romantic comedy and you will see what I mean), sometimes pushing some of the more taboo subjects (a couple flirting with each other's friends or a possible threesome, gasp!), but mostly parodying the mainstream landmarks, large and small, for the sake of extracting a stronger emotion from their audience. Although I've been an avid pop-culture consumer all of my life, those stronger reactions are usually lost on me.
Knowing that it is not necessary to have landmarks at all, I still fall into the routine of trying to figure out what counts given the number of X factors anyways. I attribute value to what other's may see as silly things: like the first use of a pet name, a key exchange, the first time more than one partner is in the same social space, and the location of my toothbrush (my rule of thumb is it doesn't hit the toothbrush holder until its been invited. Thank you TV sitcoms.) Perhaps small and insignificant they are all duly noted and filed away with other, more mainstream, moments of significance that have tugged on my heart strings to await even more unknown territory.
My maps (yes, multiple to accommodate different relationships) look more like connect-the-dots rather than the traditional course and none have a clear trajectory. While some of the traditional landmarks are similar to what I experience with people I am dating, others are totally off the grid, and some, meeting the parents as an example, I don't even know if they would be possibilities even if I wanted them to be. Given that these relationships are not bound to the rigors of an end goal of marriage and children their existence, purpose, and expectations are now free to change to match the personalities, logistics, and sentiments of those involved explicitly.
Rather than give me assistance in navigating my relationships, my landmarks tend to show me what I already know - that the wonderful happenstances with the people in my life must be viewed subjectively and cannot be taken for granted, there are lots of things other's may be seeing as mountain ranges that I may not have even noted, and landmarks are not static, gaining and losing significance as the rest of the map and relationship changes shape.