As this is the second time I’ve done this — replied to a letter from a reader with a blog post — it might just be the beginning of an occassional series. Sometimes I have more to say than a quick email reply can hold. Turns out I have a LOT to say about this particular topic…
I am alone for 8 years now, and last Christmas I decided to start looking for a partner. It did not last: after two nights out I realised I was not attracting men, other women were so much more beautiful than me, and most important, I didn’t like the superficial atmosphere and people discussing shallow subjects. In my years alone I had started to appreciate myself, love myself, and after those two nights I started being nervous again, and strangely, I started feeling like something was missing in my life (prior to that I had succeeded in seeing myself complete and enough). So I stopped going out and stopped dating and now I feel better, but this way, how can I meet someone?
I feel your pain, honey. I believe to be contentedly and consciously alone — single in a world that prioritises coupledom — we have to shut our hearts down juuuust a little. Not a lot, mind. We still love our family, our friends, our selves, our pets, our passions and our purpose, but in order to not lose our minds when yet another wedding invitation arrives or another acquaintance announces her pregnancy, we have to power down the “relationship” portion of our heart. It’s protection — and a sanity-preserver.
So when we feel ready to get back out there and find our mate, we must open our heart to possibility again, and that hurts. It only takes a little knock to want to shut down and declare “it’s not for me”. But it’s like going back to the gym after a few months away. Your muscles ache for days because you’re out of practice, but after a few sessions you ache a bit less and muscle memory kicks in. It gets easier. The aching is less severe (but still there if you’re doing it right).
It’s the same with our hearts.
We crack them open again and they ache. We put ourselves out there and they ache. We get shot down and we ACHE. After a few knockbacks we have a decision to make: Do we trust our heart’s resilience or do we shut back down and stay safe? I did that 18 months ago after a big disappointment and decided to take a break from dating. I consciously powered down the relationship portion of my heart and sank back into my relationship with me. Wisest thing I could have done.
So here I am on my third attempt at opening my heart to love. The received wisdom seems to be that he’ll show up when I least expect it — but as I say to friends, I’ve been least expecting it for the last 10 years! Working from home makes it harder to bump into eligible men so once again I’ve turned to online dating as a way to get some practice.
And yes, for those of us who are used to spending quality time alone, stepping out into social situations filled with small talk and superficiality can be a challenge. Why are we even bothering, we wonder to ourselves, as yet another evening is “wasted” in the company of yet another mismatch. We could have been at home reading ;-)
And yet. Maybe it’s all the meditation I’ve been doing, but this time around I’m approaching dating with a much calmer and philosophical head. I’m staying open to meeting different sorts of people and managing my expectations better than ever. For example: last week I managed to write myself down off the ledge in just under an hour. Dating triggers all my vulnerable stuff, as it does for most of us, but as I’m feeling more centred I’m able to notice when the old stories flare up. Rather than believe they are the Truth I’m able to shine light on what’s really going on — FEAR. It always comes back to fear.
After journaling out the stories and my reactions I kept writing, and it was this next sentence that I’ve now underlined ready to be employed the next time this happens:
“Remember who I AM, not who I am not.”
It’s so easy to wish we were someone else. That we looked different or “better”. That we were more out-going, or quieter, or whatever it is we mistakenly think we “should” be to be more desirable or successful or accepted or [insert desire here]. I have done so much work around this, and yet it only took a few weeks of online dating to be swept up in the should stories… until I realised what I was doing and stopped myself.
The right person for me will fit me as I am, not me as I wish I was. He won’t be perfect, he’ll have his own stories and issues, but somehow we’ll help each other feel more like ourselves.
Last night I helped my step brother set up his dating profile. As we filled out the details and did a few cursory searches, the conversation turned to what he’s looking for in a partner. My bro is a sweet caring guy who works hard, keeps fit and loves his family. He definitely wants to have kids and feels ready to be in a relationship again. Reading through one girl’s profile we noticed she was into the theatre.
“Do girls expect you to do all that?” he asked, “because it’s not something I’ve ever been into.”
“And that’s okay!” I said. “She’s just not the girl for you.”
We found other profiles that were a better match, including one girl I INSISTED he write to, she sounded so great. Hearing D share his concerns was such a gift, because it reassured me that men worry they won’t measure up just as much as we do. “You’re looking for the girl that fits YOU,” I told him. “And I’m looking for the guy that fits me. We only need one.”
And that, I feel, is the key. We’re not looking for a string of Mr/Ms Rights. We’re looking for that one person who feels like home — and who doesn’t make us feel crazy. Even better: their crazy complements our own.
So the challenge remains to dial our expectations down while staying wide open to possibility. We have no control over how and when we will meet our match but we can make sure we’re in a good place in ourselves when they arrive. Every date is an invitation to meet another human being where they are in their journey. I continue to learn more about what I want in a partner — and what I don’t want, too — with every date I have. Every time I want to close back down I think to myself: “Open heart! Open heart!” and picture a rose opening in my chest. I may have to do this several times a day when I feel impatient with the process.
I accept that there will be some discomfort and I know that it will ultimately be worth it. I know I can survive rejection, heartbreak, disappointment and pain. I know that I am deeply happy on my own. I also know that by opening myself to a new relationship I will find my world expanded in ways I’ve forgotten are possible. I welcome that with my whole heart.
So that, dear Michelle, is how I’m surviving the dating game. I’ve been on some lovely dates with some great guys who might not ultimately be a match but it was still fun to get out the house… and I wish that for you, too. Play the long game, knowing that you’re going to have to kiss a few frogs and endure some stilted conversation along the way. There will be disappointments and dramas, missteps and mistakes, but remember that we are here to experience life as fully as we can, and this new-fangled path to love is a key part of it.
Trust that your guy is looking for you too, and that the only way you can meet is by bravely taking your open heart out into the world. Trust that it will be worth it.
Yours from the dating trenches,