I’m kidding. I don’t have any dating tips. In fact, how do I begin to talk about what it’s been like attempting to date again?
It’s been hard.
It’s ironic to think that I became the type of person who could share personal, intimate details in such a public fashion on social media and through my blogs & podcasts when I suck at dating.
I usually tell people – jump on Facebook, Google my name, stalk me on Instagram – you will have NO problem putting the pieces together of who I am and what I stand for. Because it’s true. Broadcasting and widely scattering your life all over in the world-wide web is in fact more anonymous than talking to someone one-on-one.
Getting on stage. Totally comfortable with that.
Sitting at a table, face-to-face with someone who could be a romantic interest for me – scared shitless.
Meeting new people to talk about psychology, business, sustainable building, parenting, weddings – anything that is a passion for me – super easy. And thrilling actually. So much so that I can’t stop talking once I get started.
But sitting down at a dinner and being asked “Tell me about yourself” leaves me speechless.
I sit in an awkward silence not knowing what to say now. I think too much and say very little. And, fuck, touch a nerve and holding back tears is a downright Olympic feat for me.
And, so I think to myself “Who are you kidding? You’re not ready yet for this.” And I try put myself back into my hole and wait for spring next year.
Now, I didn’t always suck at dating. In fact, in the “old days” I could read the other person, adapt to what they were looking for and deliver an appropriately designed message. I could woo them into an excited and feverish pursuit and ultimately into my bed. That was the Dark Woman and she was very, VERY good at this.
Me today - meh. Not so much.
Old me had been taught through traumas that love was something you had to work for and you had to do something for someone else in order to get it. You had to be useful to them. So, my pursuit of love was to show someone else that I could be their “dream girl.” I learned to adapt to them and how to turn off the pieces of me that they felt were “unattractive.” I am not a marketing professional by mistake, mind you.
But my story is that I became “love addicted” as a young girl and this commonly happens in emotionally-neglectful homes or where there has been a trauma of abandonment. When combined with the fact that I got positive attention by doing something for someone (being the Hero), and not just for being me, it developed the neuropathways in the adolescent brain that defines “love” and “relationships.”
Therefore, I learned early that not everyone is going to like ALL of me and so finding “love” means learning how shut off pieces of yourself to make the other person happier and to like you. But more importantly, the people who “love” you only do so because you have shown them what you can do for them. That’s how love is “earned.”
Now, the other crippling message I received in adolescence as my love addiction grew is that boys didn’t like Tomboys (especially if you were better or faster than them) and they didn’t like smart girls. They liked pretty girls.
Unfortunately, I was also reminded while growing up I was a plain-looking girl. That I had too many bruises on my legs to be pretty. And if I did get dressed up, put make-up on and was feeling good about myself, I was told that I was being vain and that I wasn’t as “hot shit as I thought” and to tone it down. Or that I looked slutty and only the “wrong boys” would like me.
Yeah. So, I didn’t know what the fuck I was supposed to be doing to get someone to love me.
I couldn’t be too smart.
I couldn’t be too athletic.
I couldn't be too talkative.
I couldn't be too quiet.
I couldn’t be too pretty and I couldn’t be plain.
But regardless, love-addicted-me has been focused on physical beauty ever since as well as learning to how to become a chameleon. And so, if you ask a chameleon what color they are at dinner, they would tell you “Whatever I need to be.”
Now maybe you see the problem here – if you haven’t noticed, I am, in fact, NOT a chameleon but a woman.
A woman wired to be constantly in pursuit of the “Yes!” with a capital “Y” and an exclamation point at the end. That’s because with love addiction, intensity is confused with intimacy.
That’s why I sat down on the couch a couple of months ago, and told my therapist that after a year of celibacy, I felt I was ready to wade out into the dating world. And she warned me that my backpack of traumas that we have been pulling from the shadows and filling includes that big one – not being chosen. And that I would have to be accept the fact that “No” was going to be something I’d hear more often than “Yes!”
She said that with my own laser-focused self-awareness and steadfast determination to be myself once and for all, that most guys would not know how to handle or be around that and they would meet me but figure out for themselves I wouldn’t be right for them. Her guess – that this would be 90-95% of the time.
Ugh. Seriously? (I sank into the couch.)
Then, she said, I needed to be prepared for the next 4-5% who would say “Yes!” because they saw how I could bring value to them and their lives but I wouldn’t be getting anything in return. And that I’d say “No” to them because I can see that coming now in ways I never did before.
This, then leaves me with the abysmal 1-2% of possible, mature and fulfilling relationship opportunities out there. And it’s likely it wasn’t going to be “YES!” but rather a less intense “Sure, okay.”
Those odds suck. And I hate dating. This blows.
And she’s right. I have found that “No” does happen more often than I’m comfortable with.
“No” as in me telling someone after a couple of dates “No, I don’t think this is going to work” which is empowering. But it really has meant the converse – not being chosen by someone else in return. And this is the hardest “No” of all because it triggers inside of me the primitive urges I have been taught to figure out how to get them to say “Yes!”
And so, I have to stop myself and remind myself that this time it’s going to be different. That I am not going to change myself at all just to get someone to like me. If we can’t connect conversationally, intellectually, or emotionally, I have to stop thinking that something is wrong with me and I need to try harder.
So now dating today for me isn’t just about what I’m going to wear but is instead the constant struggle choosing between two forms of loneliness. One, the kind you have when you are living your authentic, true life but don’t have a loving partner to share it with.
And the other, more familiar kind of living in a dark, velvet box where you are only able to let certain pieces of you out into the light of day when called upon. The loneliness that comes when you are living for what someone else needs you to be for them and they don’t care about who you are on your own.
I have known what it’s like to be with someone but still feel alone. And I’m sick of it. So, the choice is clear to me, even if I don’t like it. Because at least option 1 has an ending – a person is out there, even if it takes patience and discipline to remain steady. While option 2 never works, as my track record has shown.
Now, this backpack of trauma, as my therapist put it, is slung over my shoulder and coming along with me everywhere I go now, even on my dates like some crappy third-wheel. How the hell do I deal with this? It certainly doesn’t match my cocktail dress. And it can look intimidating for sure when I stroll into the room with it.
Well, I suppose I can hide it and pretend it’s not there. Maybe keep pivoting my body so he doesn’t see it on my shoulder but that doesn’t feel right. And that’s probably why my dates are awkward…
Or I carry it in, set in the chair next to me, explain what it is and ask my companion if he’s okay with it.
I can promise that my goal is to keep it zipped up and not spill the contents all over the table, so as to not ruin our dinner and we can just go from there. But if the threat of the backpack leaking is too much for him, he’ll let me know or I will and just move on.
But, maybe someday someone will sit across from me, pull theirs out from under the table and set it right next to mine with an understanding smile and the date will continue.
Or, they will pat my backpack and just say “I get it. Don’t worry. It will be safe with me” and I won’t have to live in a dark box anymore.
That sounds pretty good to me. And definitely worth the wait.