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…


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?

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

18 responses
  1. Kerstin

    Yes to all of this! I did online dating for four years before meeting my husband. The turning point came when I realised that I wanted to love someone for who he is, and not for how he makes me feel (e.g. needed, worthy, loveable). For me it was all about truly knowing my own values and living accordingly, rather than loosing myself in my partner’s story and life, trying to ’save’ them. Having said this, my tendency to get lost is still a part of who I am and what I love about my husband is that he sees me even during times when I don’t. That’s how I know he’s a keeper :) Apart from all of this, I would say perseverance is the other key and enjoying the ride along the way. You are an amazing woman and nothing will ever change that!

  2. Julie

    beautiful, Love. i am joining you in the dating joy….(she writes with a big gulp.)

  3. T

    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.

    Simply beautiful; I’m taking it to heart.

  4. Rae

    Beautiful post, and so, so true! I closed off the relationship part of my heart for so long and was bereft when the person I opened it up for didn’t give it the respect it deserved. But I truly believe that only by unlocking it up for them was I open to starting a relationship with the amazing soul I’m with now. Opening up allowed me to admit to myself that I wanted love.

  5. Kelly

    I too struggle with opening my heart to love. I took a risk a few months ago, and opened myself up to a man. However, it hasn’t worked out and I am again back in “hibernation mode”. I totally shut myself off emotionally from needing and wanting love from a man. Yet, I always seem to make so much progress after a break-up. I try to use my frustration and direct it into a positive place. This time, I have started a new blog, donated about 4 bags of clothes to charity, have decided (and actually started) to write morning pages every morning for a year (day 17 today!) and I am devouring a book a week at the moment. I feel good, but I know I need to put myself out there – yet again. Scary!!!

  6. Carolyn

    What a beautiful, thoughtful response to what is a common response to the world of online dating. Actually any kind of dating. Maybe one of these days I’ll be ready to wade into it again, but for now I’m content in sorting everything out and dealing with old stuff, like some others here. Thank you Susannah for holding a light way down there at the end of the tunnel to say, hey, it’s not as far or as scary as it seems!

  7. Anneli

    Beautiful post Susannah.

    Michelle & Susannah, I read a great tip once that I have since applied to dating which was “suggest something you need or want to do as a date”. So rather than go for drinks or dinner maybe suggest a Saturday afternoon stroll at a market where you can look for a birthday present for your sister or go to that park that you’ve always walked passed and meant to take a look at. That way if your date is “not for you” then at least your time wasn’t “wasted” as such because you achieved something else that you wanted to achieve anyway.
    The other advantage of this is, if a guy/girl is the right one for you then whatever you do on your first date will be fun even if it’s just wandering around.

  8. Mary in VA

    Susannah – what you said here applies to more than dating. My marriage hit a rocky patch a short while ago due to a sudden influx of outside issues. A side-effect of everything that was going on was over-whelming drama. I ended up putting the relationship side of me on hold in order to deal with all the things that needed to be dealt with. Now its time to reconnect the relationship part of me and I’m going through the aching and wanting to retreat and all the things you described about re-entering the dating scene.

  9. Conny

    This SO speaks to me, thank you Susannah!

  10. Dawn

    A year after I got divorced I started dating. I dated alot, I had fun. I wasn’t looking for my soul mate (I really didn’t believe they existed), I just wanted a cup of tea and conversation (and sometimes got some funny stories to tell my girlfriends.) I once spoke to a guy who really had nothing of a profile. I really didn’t think we had much in common. He asked me out for a cup of coffee. That was almost 3 years ago, and on July 11 I will be marrying my soul mate! So take it easy and be gentle with yourself and the guys. Just go for the tea/coffee and conversation, no judgement, no expectations. Just be you and let them be them, the right one will shine for you. :) Best of luck all!!

  11. carla

    Oh, Susannah. I cried. And then I wrote. And then I cried some more. And then I realised that at some stage, when I decide I want tp add a partner to this glorious life of mine, then I’m going to have to lift the shutters on something I’ve had buried deep (for sanity and to avoid pain and rejection) for close to eight years. I love my solo life but you have said eloquently what I don’t think I’d admitted even to myself…! It’s also good, through reading the post and the comments, to know I’m not alone in choosing to be alone (for now or for always) and for sometimes succumbing to thinking it’s because I’m not enough. Thank you, with all my heart xxx

  12. Lori

    Susannah, thank you for your words of encouragement. And Michelle, thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I tried online dating last Fall and lasted, I kid you not, 3 days before canceling my membership to the site. I wasn’t ready. I, was too vulnerable. My vulnerability was colored with weakness and not understanding and compassion for my self. I was focused on the question of “What could I possibly give to another?” And “What am I really looking for in someone?” It was a good thing If stepped away, or rather…aside and wait until I could stand in my truth and answer the above. Or at least, have a better idea what my truth is.

    And that is what seems interesting about taking this dating thing on which I hope to start again…soon :). When stepping out of our personal “comfort zone,” not only do we get to “check in” and discover/rediscover what our truth might be, but what it may have been and what it is now. Seeing how we have evolved. What may have been true for us in the past, may or may not be true now. And, if we can hold it with a sense of self-discovery, it can be exciting. Well, “exciting” after we go through our dance of retreating, re-emerging, retreating and re-emerging, etc.
    The important thing is to honor and respect everything we feel and learn about ourselves on the way and NOT run the same old tapes which question our self worth.

    With each step we take in challenging ourselves, we learn. Then, hopefully, we can have more wisdom and compassion for others – other people going through the same challenge and the other one sitting on the opposite side of the table ordering drinks.

    Good luck to all of us…Living ain’t for sissies!!

  13. Daisy

    Oh, thank you thank you for sharing this, it speaks to my heart. I, too, have delved into online dating, and I am having to be more open about expectations and such. At the moment I am questioning why I am attracted to certain men. Thus far in my life I tend to be drawn to the ones who are not so good for me. So I’m trying to keep an open mind, and an open heart…..and like some others who have commented I sometimes retreat when I need to :)

    It is a great comfort to hear the words of so many women in the same boat, and men! The story about your brother was quite comforting as well!

    So thank you for writing this post, Susannah. :)

  14. Barbara Sinclair

    O.M.G., Susannah! Did you know you were writing this to me? Wow. The Universe never ceases to amaze. I have been in this space (my partner died four years ago) of contented singleness. Artists don’t seem to have much trouble being alone. I love being alone. But there’s been this nagging “knowing” that I’m meant to meet someone. It terrifies me. It seems so much easier to be alone. But where’s the growth in that, unless you’re someone who doesn’t know how to be alone! :) Anyway, thank you for your insight, as always. This is a gigantic SHARE, for sure! xo Barbara

  15. Bakary

    “Open heart!”

    So true.

    And listen to your intuition.

    I went on two disastrous dates with a man and could have easily given up but here we are about to celebrate our 21st anniversary.

    Good luck and have fun!

  16. Fanny

    You’re absolutely wright. I just broke up with my boyfriend and I realize I ketp this relationship for bad reasons. He showed his real personality under his kindness and I realized he wasn’t for me.
    Now I wan’t to be alone for a moment, to work on myself but I’ll think about what you said when I’ll come back on tracks.

  17. Roxanne

    I did the online dating thing, in my 40s, after 20 years of marriage/attachment. I hated it. It felt like I landed on another planet and didn’t know the language and couldn’t breathe the air. Despite being so broken, I had no idea that I knew what I wanted and didn’t want. I consider myself blessed – the third time was indeed the charm.

    How did I get here. Solitude. Patience – with myself and the universe. Trust. That was the hardest thing – trusting the process, resisting the urge to control or manhandle the relationship into a direction it wasn’t ready to take. Letting go. Of the past and the things that anchored me to it, like concrete boots.

    A relationship is like skin. Broken, wounded skin takes time to heal. And sometimes healing means debridement – a hardened scab that must slough off to make room for new growth. When the matrix of new skin forms it feels itchy.

    So … All of this. In order for a beginning we need an ending.


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