Yesterday, I received a “love yourself” care package from my dear friend Lucy with books and goodies and journal supplies. The gift was prompted by our last phone conversation because we talked about how two men have re-entered my life that I had complicated relationships with once-upon-a-time (which is the reason they have been out of my life for the last few years). She gave me some practical advice that day about how to establish some healthy boundaries with them and mentioned three of her favorite books on the subject of self-love and dating: Daring Greatly, He’s Just Not That Into You & How to Get a Date Worth Keeping. She sent me all three with little post-it notes on them telling me the order in which to read them.
Lucy knows me so well that in her card she even wrote in parenthesis, “please, don’t brush [these books] off even if the titles seem abrasive/annoying/offensive—they’re so good, so totally worth reading.” Of course, she was referring to those last two because there’s nothing offensive about encouraging me to dare greatly. I can’t say that the title for the second book doesn’t sting a little or that the third book doesn’t make me bristle. At the same time, I’ve gleaned enough from our conversations about these books to know they are worth reading.
I started last night with the third book on the list (I’ve never been good at following instructions). I have heard so much from Lucy about Dr. Henry Clouds dating advice that I was impatient to see what more I could learn from actually reading How to Get a Date Worth Keeping. So much of what he has to say at the beginning are things that I have already learned. While I am going to keep reading and faithfully make my way through Lucy’s fall reading list for me, I feel like I’m in a different place than I led Lucy to believe during our phone conversation.
In college and grad school, I didn’t take much responsibility for my stagnant dating life. When my pattern of developing pseudo-relationships cropped up I felt like it was some sick fate that God was condemning me to. It was easy to blame my weight and the shallowness of men so I did that a lot publically. Deep down, I felt like there was something essentially wrong with me. A fundamental truth I believed was that I was too exhausting to love. Or, to steal a line from my favorite Shakespearean play, I felt like I was too expensive to wear every day. Thus, I was relegated to be “the other woman” (though my affairs with men were only emotional because I don’t mix emotional intimacy with physical intimacy).
I’ve come to believe what Dr. Cloud espouses in his book: it is our own mental road blocks that prevent us from dating and developing the relationship that we want. If we want a different outcome, we have to change our mindset (I’m paraphrasing, of course, and being somewhat reductive but that’s the gist). I know that I have been the one holding myself back.
The summer I turned 25 I proved Dr. Cloud’s thesis. I felt beautiful and desirable. I had my heart set on getting my first official relationship and I left myself open to dating. For months, it seemed like I couldn’t go anywhere without meeting a guy who would eventually ask for my phone number. It was great and led to that short-lived relationship with a younger guy.
It wasn’t discouragement or heartbreak that cut that season of dating so short. I’m the type of person who only needs to prove something to myself once. After I proved that I was dateable and loveable I was left with the question of whether or not I actually wanted to date or have a man in my life. At that time, I decided that the answer was No. I wanted to be single. My weight gain over the last year has been an external indicator of this internal truth. I wanted to clear my head. To learn how to be comfortable just being me without needing the validation of my male relationships. To focus wholeheartedly on getting back out on my own and out of my parents’ without distraction. It’s so exhausting trying to defend this stance (and, frankly, a very personal decision) that I’ve coped out and made excuses when undergoing scrutiny about my singleness. It’s so easy to blame my singleness on a lack of available/eligible single men. I’ve know that it’s a smoke screen. I could even list a number of opportunities that I’ve passed up during this time.
The re-entrance of these two men in my life has awakened a hunger in me that’s been dormant for almost two years–I forgot how nice it is to have a man in my life who will call me on demand and chat my ear off as I drive home from work so I stay alert. I forgot how easily my barbed wire can come down when I’m talking to a man I really click with. I know all of this is what is worrying my friends. It’s worrying me a little too. I don’t want to fall back in our old cycles. I don’t want to have my heart set on them. But I also know that it isn’t. I’m not as concerned as my friends are because that old pattern doesn’t tempt me anymore. Though I am still the same person and though I still care about these men, I have grown up. I’ve learned that I’m loveable and dateable. I know that I can live a full, rich life on my own. That knowledge makes it impossible to be willing to settle for someone who is just not that into me. Even though these men are reminding me of what I miss, even though they have awakened this hunger, I haven’t forgotten our history and I don’t expect them to satiate my hunger.
It feels so good to be regaining the desire to have a man in my life. Every time my exuberance is met with concern I get a little more annoyed because what I want my friends to pick up on is that I’m starting to shake off my complacency with singleness. I think that’s great news! I plan to put Dr. Cloud’s book and Lucy’s self-love kit to good use.
Feature image by William Stitt.