The Absurd and Amazing Adventures of Cafe Girl: It's Like Learning How To Ride A Bike

May 19, 2008

It's Like Learning How To Ride A Bike

Perhaps it's because I am actually learning how to ride a bike for the first time at age thirty; maybe it's because I'm learning to date for the first time at age thirty, but floating around in my head is the phrase, “Learning to date is like learning how to ride a bike.”

Everyone is constantly surprised that I never learnt to ride a bike as a child. Learning to ride a bike is such a rite of passage. The bike gives you the freedom to go places you’d never be able to go to on foot. Places miles from home are now within your reach. With your new wheels you wander and you have adventures.

Everyone is equally surprised that I was thirty and dating for the first time. Dating, too, is a rite of passage. The first time you notice a member of the opposite sex, your first kiss, your first boyfriend or girlfriend, are all milestones in learning how to love. With each dating relationship, you hopefully move from loving as a child would – selfishly for your own needs, to loving as an adult would – loving the other sacrificially.

Funnily enough, the things that kept me from learning how to ride a bike were the very same things that kept me from dating. I was a shy, overweight and awkward child. My weight kept me insecure enough to never try anything new. I was always afraid of what other people would think of me. So I stuck to doing things in which I knew I would succeed. I wrote a lot and thought a lot, but there were no bikes in my house and no boys came calling.

It’s a lot harder to learn to ride a bike when you’re an adult. Past the stares of strangers on the street and in the park who are stunned that they even make adult training wheels, there’s always that fear of falling. I’m not as small, as light, or bounce back as quickly as my six-year-old self. When I fall off a bike, which I have inevitably done, I hit the ground hard.

Break your arm when you're six and it's scary and painful for an hour, and then you're that cool kid with the cool injury. Friends come round; they want to sign your cast. There's a big party when the cast comes off.

Break an arm when you're thirty and you worry that you have to take time off and collect disability. You struggle with taking showers and making meals. You wonder if at age sixty that bone is still going to ache every time it rains.

Having a dating relationship for the first time at thirty is equally perilous. Past the incredulous looks of those who are stunned that a grown woman has never kissed a man, much less had sex with one, there’s that delicate balance between enjoying the romance of your first-evers -- first date ever, the first time you held hands ever, the first time you were held ever -- and the real knowledge that this first-ever relationship will have one of two endings. You will either marry him, or you will break-up with him. The fifteen-year-old can believe that you will marry your first love. The thirty-year-old wants to believe this.

First time heartbreak at age thirty is far more sinister. The fifteen-year-old rules your emotions; the thirty-year-old rules your reason. While you know it would be satisfying to send a hundred cash-on-delivery pizzas to his house, spread the rumor that he is not merely emotionally small, blame the demise of the relationship completely on him, your thirty-year-old mind warns you against such pettiness.

At thirty you know that dating relationships, first-ever or not, tend to be grey. There are a few moments that either one of you can say, “You were completely and utterly wrong” but for the most part, each person in the relationship plays a role in its ending. You know that at the end of the day, pettiness is only one step from bitterness. And you know that bitterness is one dark, angry mold you do not want growing in your soul.

So, heart-broken at thirty, you stay in your corner. Cry a lot. Journal a lot. Resist the urge to think poorly of him, resist the urge to beat yourself up for not "seeing the signs." But most of all, you resist the urge to demand reasons for why things ended. You quietly let him go, because it's what he wants. At thirty you choose to be gracious even when you feel graciousness was not extended to you.

And you wonder if at age sixty your heart is still going to ache a little bit every time you hear “your song.”

The good news about learning to ride a bike is that with a helmet, patient friends and lots of practice, I have every confidence that I’ll soon be riding my shiny yellow beach cruiser down by the ocean. Sure, I crashed into a fence, arms splayed cartoon-style, the last time I got on my bike. But that just made for a better story.

As for dating, I have hope that the same rules apply. Have patient friends to support you and get lots of practice learning to love. (I probably will skip wearing the helmet as it will likely hinder the getting of said dates.) Sure, I crashed really hard my first time out and it wasn’t all that funny. But, like riding my bike, I will get up and dust myself off.

With time, I have every confidence that I will love and be loved.


DiDa said...

very nicely said. and so true...

especially the part about reason in a 30 year old and emotion in a 15 year old

Anneke said...

Thanks for writing this.