On opening to love (again)

On opening to love (again) | SusannahConway.com
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…

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Dear Susannah

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?
 
Michelle

Dear Michelle

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,

Susannah xo

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My house of belonging

My house of belonging | SusannahConway.com
All our inner life and intimacy of soul longs to find an outer mirror. It longs for a form in which it can be seen, felt and touched. The body is the mirror where the secret world of the soul comes to expression. The body is a sacred threshold and it deserves to be respected, minded and understood in its spiritual nature. — John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

As it turned out my fibroids were too big to be removed laproscopically so instead I had an open myomectomy last Monday. Fourteen fibroids were removed weighing one pound in total (!!) The largest ‘broid, as we now call them, was 8cm in diameter. My surgeon took a photo of them to show me afterwards and a) I love that he did that b) they aren’t pretty and c) I’m amazed I carried them in my body. My two-night stay in hospital was an HSP nightmare but I’m now safely at my mother’s house discovering what it’s like to recover from abdominal surgery.

The body deserves to be respected.

Yes. This. A thousand times, this.

I’ve been cycling through different beliefs about my body over the years: I am not my body. I am so much bigger than my body (still believe this). Yet I am utterly my body. My body is my soul made flesh and bone. In the past there was always a distancing between me and my body. “It” was defective leading me to believe I got shortchanged in the body department. Thankfully this has been changing, as I wrote about here.

My house of belonging | SusannahConway.com

There has been no distance between me and my body during these last 10 days post-surgery. Every twinge, every pull, the passage of every bit of food through my system, has been felt and experienced. The first time I sat on the loo and had some success I hugged my arms around myself in relief and kissed my own shoulders, silently telling my body I loved it. The first shower made me cry emo tears of gratitude. My body is magnificent. As I told Jo the next day, I will never talk shit about my body again. My body is my truest companion. We’re in it together.

Our bodies have their own animal wisdom, their own way of doing things that we have no control over. My body knows how to knit itself back together. When the hospital called to check in and see how I was doing, I told the lady who rang about the twinges and stabbing pains I’m getting: “It’s your nerve endings joining themselves back together” she told me. MY BODY IS DOING THIS ALL ON ITS OWN. The excision of 14 fibroids resulted in a helluva lot of internal stitches, so even as I watch my external wound heal (a 7 inch cut) I know there’s so much more work happening deep within me — in more ways than one.

I’ve been journalling about the connection between the fibroids and my seemingly perpetual singledom over the last decade since his death. The surgery feels like the most symbolic clearing out I could have had, old hurts swept out as my sacral chakra got retuned, ready for the next stage of the journey.

Today I turn 42 and I’m doing so much better than I was a week ago. In fact, so much better than I was five years ago. Or ten years. Better than I’ve ever been before in my life. Aging suits me. I like it.

The body is your only home in the universe. It is your house of belonging here in this world. — John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

On trusting my body

On trusting my body | SusannahConway.com
I’m going into hospital tomorrow to have my fibroids removed. The procedure is called a laproscopic myomectomy and hopefully it won’t be upgraded to anything else half way through — everyone is under strict instructions to LOOK AFTER MY WOMB! at all costs.

While I’ve been under general anaesthetic before (a story for another time, perhaps) I’ve never had an actual cutting-and-stitching internal operation, so I’m feeling pretty nervous, understandably. I’m nervous about the post-operative pain. I’m nervous about staying overnight in hospital. I’m anxious about having no control over events. I’m resistant to surrendering my independence and being looked after for a while.

But even with all that jangling around my head, I completely and utterly trust my body.

I started writing a couple more paragraphs here about what I’m realising and what I’m learning yadda yadda but you know what? For now I’m just going to inhabit my body and be fully present to whatever it needs — whatever I need — and we’ll see how we get on this week. Hopefully I’ll be pain-free going forward as I step into my future, ready to release old pains from the past as my womb heals and my luscious self returns.

See you on the other side x

The myth of perfection

The Myth of Perfection | SusannahConway.com
Lately I’ve been noticing more and more media spewings about the perfect body. About erasing dark circles and wrinkles. About controlling what you eat. About the 50 Hottest Women in the World! About actresses who “look good” for their age. About the Beautiful People and who they are procreating with. About fatness and thinness and shades of skin colour as if the body is all there is.

I buy magazines to cut up for #creativityreboot fun and suddenly notice how young the women in the pages are. How a feature about anti-wrinkle creams is illustrated with close-ups of teenage faces that have probably still been retouched. I read about actresses getting digitally slimmed and perfected in films and my heart just hurts.

It’s all so preoccupied with the external.

I know so much of it is animal instinct — it’s sex, basically. Women want to attract a mate so they want to look appealing to catch the attention of potential suitors. That basic instinct is woven through our DNA. We’re most fertile when we’re young, so youthfulness becomes most desirable. Then we wonder about our competition, so we become interested in who’s more appealing and where we land in the desire-ablity charts. Our genes want to be replicated — it’s all about survival. It’s about immortality and the fear of death.

I spent a large chunk of my young life wanting this perfection and feeling cheated that I didn’t have it. How I LOOKED was more important than anything else. The surface of my body was how I measured my worth and most of the time I found it to be lacking. I wasn’t photogenic, the holy grail I wished for for my first 30 years. I didn’t have the self-awareness needed to look deeper than my skin and begin healing my hurts, so I became obsessed with the pieces I could see with my eyes. All of this external preoccupation wasn’t caused by the media but it was certainly exacerbated by it. As women we were told we’re second class for so long it got absorbed into our collective psyche. And now that bras have been burnt and we edge towards a society filled with equals? We’re hit again in our tenderest of places — we’re judged on how we look by the harshest critics of all: ourselves. Has there ever been a more effective way of keeping people down? We’re so busy worrying about how we look there’s no time for anything else. We could probably take over the world if we weren’t stressing about fitting into our skinny jeans.

I’m making sweeping statements here, of course, and on the other side of this there is so much amazingness in the world. Possibility and freedom, knowledge and progress. Art and music, inspiration and joy. And love, there is plenty of love. I see it and I feel it and it fills my heart. And yet there are still too many mornings when I look in the mirror and make a split-second judgment on my attractiveness. It’s as automatic as taking my next breath. Since hitting my 40s the unspoken judgment is most often “I look tired” even if I feel rested, and though I no longer voice it, I can still feel the chilly backdraft of “not good enough”.

I feel as frustrated with all of this as I did the first time I read The Beauty Myth and started becoming conscious of how I was disempowering myself. The older I get the easier it is to see what’s really important but that doesn’t mean I’m now magically immune from wishing I was more classically beautiful. Writing that in public really shines a light on how meaningless that desire is and how so much of all this was written into my blueprint when I was younger. I don’t believe we can rewire our thinking to the point where such desires are erased, but I do think we can hold the light AND the dark of who we are. Awareness is where it’s at. I am aware of my desire AND I know what’s more true for me. I can be gentle and loving with the part of me that still believes I should look a certain way AND celebrate the fact that I have a fully functioning body that houses a beautiful soul.

I imagine it’ll take generations to filter out this messed up perfection-is-everything ethos. As sentient creatures we’re still so very early in our collective development. We still kill each other. We still wage wars over an unseen man in the sky. We’re still so unbelievably self-destructive, like toddlers who put their fingers in electricity sockets to see what happens. So maybe it makes some kind of weird sense that we still make lists of who’s the Richest or the Most Beautiful or the Most Clever as if those things have any bearing on how to live a worthwhile life. We are still learning. We’re only just graduating from evolutionary kindergarten.

This post isn’t what I intended to write when I opened my laptop this morning, but it’s been burning a hole in my head for a while and clearly needed to come out.

Despite all the screwed up crap in the world I still believe in the magic. My most fervent belief is that if we heal our own hurts so we don’t pass them on, the world could change overnight. If we dared to look beyond the external to find out what’s truly going on inside, our way of being in the world would transform. So I’m going to continue remembering who I really am, and sharing what I find, and making stuff that helps others do it too.

This pin sums it up for me. xo