We chase an awful lot that doesn’t matter. This year, I decided right from the get go that I was going to pursue money, sex, and status. Money was freedom. (To a small extent, I still believe that.) Independent women go after what they want, and I wanted sex. (I thought.)

So pursue I did. I got a new job with a startup based out of San Francisco working remotely, which was exactly what I wanted. After I had moved into Portland and started my next chapter of life, sex was readily available. Status? Well, that was only a matter of time given everything else, right?

And as soon as I got close enough to taste this new life… I realized how little either of those things mattered to me.

Confession time

My name is Dusti Arab. (No, really.) I’m twenty seven years old, I have two children, I’ve been through two divorces, and until spring of 2015, I had never been on a real date. (No, really.)

Everything started back in January when I chose my yearly theme: mischief. (How little did I know.)

Life hadn’t turned out quite like I planned. Somehow, I ended up becoming a mere player in someone else’s story, a shell of who I was, and I’d had enough. I was bored out of my mind and was craving something, anything out of the ordinary. I longed for adventure, for fun, for mischief. 

I was talking with a coworker, Daniel, about the state of my life and my marriage. I don’t even remember how we started talking. Well, it might have had something to do with where our desks were. Where he was sitting, I directly in his line of sight… and I could feel him watching me from time to time. Our jobs had almost nothing to do with one another, and the first words out of my mouth to him at lunch one day were (I kid you not), “I’ll cut you.”

I told him how miserable I was and about my way of skillfully avoiding dealing with my trainwreck marriage until I made enough money to leave. Then I came on to him super hard, immediately regretted it, was incredibly grateful he was a decent guy who saw I was going off the deep end… and realized exactly how insane I was acting.

That conversation was my tipping point.

Something had to give. I had some tough decisions in my near future to make, and for the first time, I was finally able to see somewhat clearly. I had to confront my fears long enough to plan an escape route.

I knew there was no salvaging the emotionally and physically abusive relationship I’d spent the last five years trying to make work. There was no fixing something like this.

So I made a list of things I wasn’t going to accept anymore, things I wouldn’t tolerate. Even if I wasn’t 100% clear on what I wanted, I knew what I didn’t want. It was a start.

So I set the ball in motion.

I needed a lot of change, and I needed it fast. An ending and a beginning. It was time to close doors.

First off, I had to tell my ex that it was over. That was going to go over well. I was choosing to split up our family, that for all of its faults and dysfunction, was still a family unit our kids relied on. And since this was my choice, the hardship it would cause my kids would be naturally be all my fault. But a few weeks later while I prepped to leave for a business trip at 3:00am, there was a crying, messy scene that ended with a final, “It’s over” before I walked out the door.

Second, I needed to move out of the suburbs. (Did I mention I’d been living in the backyard of a cult?) I lived in sleeper suburb populated by Nike and Intel employees on the outskirts of the Portland metro area, and it was… suffocating. I was reasonably involved in the community, and everyone knew everyone. And people talked. I couldn’t handle any of that right now. I needed a break from small towns and small-mindedness. It was time to head to the city – to Portland.

And finally, I needed a fail-safe. I needed some sort of insurance policy that I wouldn’t just rebound back into a shitty relationship. I wanted to focus on my relationship with myself, making new friends, and creative pursuits. What better fuel was there for a writer than angst, loneliness, and learning-to-be-aloneness?

So I took on a challenge.

Because I knew myself well enough to know how boy/girl crazy I can get, I came up with an idea: a challenge. 52 dates in 52 weeks. I was going to learn how to date. It’d keep me occupied. Besides, as a writer, the idea of blogging about my ongoing challenge absolutely appealed to me. I even told my writing group which meant I had to do it. (It’s sacred once you’ve told your writer friends because they know exactly how hard it is to share a pet project like that.)

I was on a mission to discover myself and my truth, this new, independent version of me outside of a relationship – but that didn’t mean I couldn’t concurrently figure out what I wanted in a relationship, in another person. (And I mean, let’s be real here. Girl’s gotta get laid.)

I cast lines out. The moment I said I was single publicly, I was shocked at how many male friends suddenly came out of the woodwork to support me (you know, in a myriad of ways). I had dates lined up, fuck buddies ready to go, big talk talked. OkCupid had been entirely too good for my ego. (I don’t know what people are talking about when they say they have trouble with online dating. A week on the site, and I had 1200 people to sift through.)

It wasn’t until I was in a position where the possibility of getting laid came up that I came to a very sudden conclusion.

Everything had been good up this point. I’d had a good time on this date with this person. I found this person attractive and intelligent. There was nothing stopping me or holding me back. And everything in my being just froze at the thought of taking it one step further. I just couldn’t do it.

Here’s an approximate version of how that internal dialogue went.

WHAT THE HELL, BODY? You hassle me about sex ALL. THE. TIME. And game time comes up, and you’re just not having it? HMM? Oh. Oh, it’s my brain? I’m sorry, what was that? Wait. What? Excuse me? I am WHAT?!

After I stopped arguing with myself, I realized I actually wasn’t interested in dating around. Or casual sex.

After all that, I didn’t want to be that girl.


Because I’d fallen in love.

This was not part of the plan.

NOT PART OF THE PLAN. My red flags were on full alert – was I rebounding? Just lonely and unsure of how to deal with it? In other circumstances, I might have wondered at my own motives, but that wasn’t it. I’d never felt like I was thinking so clearly. And I had been successfully “dating myself” for weeks. Extroverted or not, I liked being alone. It turns out I’m great company because I always know exactly what I want to do. I have become a self-care queen over the past few months.

But the realization left me reeling. How could this have possibly happened?

After my marriage was over, I was so convinced I was going to be that girl from Chicago. I was going to play the field, stay at my edges, and be that girl I’d seen I was capable of being. Relationships were a game, and no matter what kind of deeper connection I might want, that was just the reality of it.

Except I didn’t think that was actually true. That wasn’t me anymore, and despite what I thought before, that wasn’t what I wanted. So what did I want?

I wanted to be strong and independent. And I was. I called my own shots, pursued what I was interested in, and otherwise did what I wanted.

I wanted to embrace this new person who was revealing herself to me as I peeled off layers of other people’s baggage. And I was. I’d never felt so delightfully feminine or owned so many dresses or felt so ridiculously comfortable in my own skin.

But really, when it came right down to it?

What I wanted was Daniel.

Back in January, I had dumped out my whole mess of a life story and struggles to him – because I was pretty sure I was never going to see him again. But he kept talking to me. I talked to him from the time I left that company, during my trip to San Francisco, and through all of the transition while I dismantled my marriage.

Over the past couple of months, Daniel and I had some great conversations, but once I moved into Portland, I had no motives other than sex when it came to any of my male interests. I had invited him out to things I was going to – usually dancing. (Part of my self-prescribed therapy plan.) It was always no stress, no obligation. I would’ve have been completely fine going solo, but he had been taking dance lessons, so it worked out for him, too.

The thing was he never told me no (even though I found out later the amount of time he spent driving to and fro was erring on the side of ridiculous) – notably, except for when it came to sex. (For MONTHS.) My crazy didn’t seem to scare him away, which was amazing to me, because clearly, I had crazy going on in spades.

Well, at least I used to. It’s pretty amazing what getting out of a totally fucked up situation will do for your mental clarity. Between taking my B vitamins, exercising enough, and getting as far away from other people’s crazy as I could, it turned out I was actually pretty intelligent. Like, I made good decisions independent of other people and what they thought I should do! This came as a slight shock to me after years of making many a poor, rushed decision in fight or flight mode.

But now that I had a stable income, stable housing, and complete autonomy, things were going distinctly well.

God, Daniel even made me feel like I had depth.

This wasn’t anything like I’d ever experienced before. This had nothing to do with comfort or convenience. In fact, just the opposite was true. What was so different about this?

He wasn’t like anyone I’d ever met. I’d always steered towards kind of effeminate guys. If I’m being honest with myself, they were the kind of men I could eat alive. They were easy. Safe. My relationships were held together with paper obligations, strings of empty promises, and the packaging of something that was never built to last.

Daniel challenged me. Broad-shouldered and brilliant, he was definitively a man. He cared about the planet, his family, and how he showed up in the world. I’d never been with someone so secure in their masculinity, so sure of their body. I loved it. The way he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me in close to him was disorienting, overpowering.

It’s been a wild ride.

I can’t get over how good this has been. How my mind has been changed about so many things. How hard and fast I fell in love with someone I could never have anticipated.

I’ve been afraid to be open about the full weight of my happiness. But the simplicity and ease of days enjoyed and unrushed is too wonderful not to share. It seems my theme of mischief has run its course, and in its place, the best place to remain seems to be firmly rooted in that word enjoy. I’ve never been content to just be before, but now I can’t imagine anything I’d like to do more.

In Seattle, reflecting on the past few months, anticipating the rest of the summer, and loving every second of my present reality, it occurs to me that I’m not overcome by it all. This feels right. I thought I was going to be telling a story about finding yourself through connections with other people – and I am. But the people involved are far more dear to me than I would have guessed.

So this is the next chapter. This one’s about a love story.

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