So I’m 27-years-old, and dating for the first time in a long time. My theoretical past dating life was complicated by some major depression, some closet alcoholism, and a general dislike of being vulnerable and letting people get to know me. All great reasons not to date, kids! Now though, I am more willing and more able to talk myself outside of my fears, and I am attempting to give this dating thing a try. I am also healthier, sober and more vulnerable. All factors working in my favor.
Here’s the thing though: I am pretty great at being single. I live with a bunch of wonderful people, I am involved in my community, I have a stable job that I like, and I am rarely bored. I like being independent. I appreciate that I have more flexibility with my time and how I spend it, more flexibility with my finances, with myself.
And I shave my legs when I feel like it.
While there are obviously a lot of benefits to having a partner, I neither need nor pine for one. I am self-sufficient and capable. I am overall grateful for the benefits of singleness.
That said, clearly something about a romantic partnership appeals to me. Beyond physical intimacy even -though some days that may be the prominent reason. The bigger reason is a desire for the emotional intimacy. Which brings me to a whole long list of reasons why dating is something that scares the shit out of me.
There are certain things that, by virtue of both nature and nurture, I am truly terrible at. These are all basic human things that a lot of us are bad at, but which are necessary for strong, intimate relationships. Things like: trust, vulnerability, dependence, and honesty, asking for what I need, or even knowing what my needs are in the first place, etc.
Any relationship is a challenge to those weaknesses of mine. All relationships require some level of trust and intimacy, reliance and support. Over recent years, I have grown in my ability for emotional intimacy in my friendships. A romantic relationship though is a challenge on different levels. It pushes new limits of intimacy. It asks to know the ins and outs of someone: body and soul. It wants to intertwine, plan the future together, make joint decisions. A committed partnership undermines the independence I like to hide in, the power I find in being self-sufficient and “not needy.” Those places of safety I like are truly a hindrance when it comes to a good long-term relationship.
Over the past six years, I have been blessed to be a part of a Christian community that is grounded in dependence and vulnerability. As a part of our life together, many of us share common housing. That in itself brings about an entirely different level of being known by people, of being seen and loved by those I live with. It has been in this community that I have learned how to be honest. It is here that I have been able to be broken, to fall apart and make messes, to be hurtful and mean, and yet to be loved nonetheless.
In his book Becoming Human, Jean Vanier writes:“When we are in communion with another, we become open and vulnerable to them. Sharing weaknesses and needs calls us together into ‘oneness.’ We welcome those who love us into our heart. In this communion, we discover the deepest part of our being: the need to be loved and to have someone who trusts and appreciates us, and who cares least of all about our capacity to work or be clever or interesting. When we discover we are loved in this way, new life flows. We find a new wholeness.”
It has been in community -both my church and my AA community- in which I have been able to experience some of the communion that Jean Vanier references. I have most definitely found a new wholeness as a part of this community, loved by God and His people. Which brings me back to the beginning of this post: why not just stay single then? If I can be known and loved, if I have intimate relationships with people I can be both whole and broken with, what more do I need? Nothing really. I truly believe that I have enough. Only, right now I believe I would be settling for “enough” just because something more scares me too much, and that’s a terrible reason to stay single. Because it’s familiar and easy. Instead, I am taking a risk and trying something new: I am asking for something more for myself. More than just enough.
I can say that I have experienced being truly loved -in the entirety of myself which I have been able to understand and to communicate to people at the time. Which is a lot. So much more than I have let myself be loved in the past. But which also leaves out a lot. There are still huge pieces of myself I don’t understand, which I pretty much find are better left out of sight. Or there are parts of me that I haven’t been able to communicate with words, and I am very reliant on words over other forms of expression. Like, God forbid, emotions. I am very much still trapped within myself, as much as I may have learned to let go. I hold much of myself hostage, most of my feelings, many of my thoughts. I don’t know how to allow myself to cry or to be angry in front of people; I barely allow it when I am alone. I heavily filter my thoughts, words and actions; seamlessly and almost unconsciously so. I live as a shadow of who I really am much of the time.
Though I have beautiful and intimate friendships, I can maintain a certain level of reserve and independence within them. These friendships, even those to which I am tied by shared housing and a committed schedule, still allow for a freedom of space and time. I have the choice to engage them on whatever level I am needing at any given time; and often the choice to not engage them as well. I am blessed to have close friends I can cuddle with -even crawl into bed with in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep because of nightmares. But I don’t have to share that space if I don’t want to, I have a whole, comfy bed to myself when I want it.
What I am saying is that friendships can only push my limits to a point; and I am stuck at a place where I don’t know how to let my walls down any further. So, what if the dynamic of a different kind of relationship could be a useful challenge to my “walls”? It could be a good area to practice paying better attention to what I am needing and wanting. To be intentional about going beyond my limits in being more open. Because it will also, hopefully once I get beyond the scary, be exciting and motivating.
Perhaps dating, with the intent of entering a serious relationship, could challenge the way I approach my relationships in general, as I aim to let my guard down better. This could be an exercise in pointedly challenging my relationship paradigm as a whole. Of course, dating is not a cure-all for my intimacy issues. Far from it. But it kind of demands a willingness to try at least.
So I am giving it a try. Now I am all of two minutes into dating, and already the self-protective force that throughout my life has tried to save me from any feelings at all, is chiming in. This is the force that says things like “don’t get too attached, all babies die,” and “it’s better to never hope for anything than to be disappointed.” Yeah, it’s a real downer; it’s a terrible coping mechanism I adopted around age six and can’t seem to kick. However, I am choosing not to jump ship already, instead I am trying to be in this fun new place, where I have to believe the stupid things my therapist says, like “you’re emotions won’t kill you.” Even though I am pretty sure they are trying. This place where I need to trust that just because something is scary and messy, it doesn’t mean it is wrong. Here, where I remind myself that no matter what happens, it won’t be the end of the world.
But I was so very comfortable being single! I still say this to myself every five seconds. Only my idea of “comfortable” has never been very fun. And though I’m not sure God really cares if I am married or single, I do think He wants to be able to use ALL of me, not just the tiny fragments I sometimes surrender. If stepping into a new kind of relationship prompts me to grow in being open and vulnerable, in reflecting more of who God is in me, then I imagine He would encourage this practical lesson. Even if it was maybe largely initiated because I am tired of sleeping alone, and because one of my best friends recently entered a serious relationship (I was experiencing friend withdrawals, what can I say). Even if the only reason is because I want a different kind of intimacy. Even if it doesn’t work out and I end up single after all, I need to stop talking myself out of things before they start.
Now, let’s take a minute to pity the poor guy I am currently dating 🙂 He’s an optimist, which is probably the only way this could work. He’s enthusiastic (which super freaks me out). And I am doing my darndest to not listen to my fears, which are terribly, deeply ingrained. These fears I am familiar with, I nurture and hide them -in turn, they keep my secret scary places hidden, even from myself. These are the fears with which I have struck a terrible deal, bargaining my freedom for a false sense of control.
I am afraid that, no matter what I do, I will remain stuck inside myself. I am afraid that I simply am just not capable of walking through the pain that built these fears. I am a little bit afraid of myself. I am afraid of who I will be if I finally let go.
I am afraid too, for the man who falls for me. I am afraid I will never give him my whole self. That I will hold him forever in an in-between place. I don’t worry for my own heart, because I don’t know that I will ever risk it enough to hurt it. Which is a different kind of heartbroken place to keep myself, I know. I know so well. But I worry for anyone who might love me, who might want all of me, and how terribly I could break their heart.
In an effort to combat this, I am being bluntly honest with my baggage (every guy’s dream, right?). Though my secret hope might be that I scare everyone away so that I can go back to being blissfully single . . . Yes, my secret hopes tend to be largely counterproductive for myself, I admit. At any rate, I’m actually giving this awful dating thing a shot right now 😉