I am not fucking fearless. I’m not even trying to be. Bravery has nothing to do with a lack of fear. I’m not keeping my heart open because I’m unafraid of being hurt. That shit’s scary. I am keeping my heart open because I’m more afraid of never loving and being loved in the way I feel might be possible.
If you asked me a year ago where I would be now, I wouldn’t have said single. I wouldn’t have even mentioned it. It probably wouldn’t have occurred to me.
If you get the sense that I’m not happy about it, you’d be right. For starters, my ex was the best man I’ve ever dated — and yes, there’s a ranking system. While many men set the bar low, he raised it high. But let’s get around that for a second and talk about the other side of the story, the side where being single is lovely, but dating is an absolute clusterfuck of epic proportions.
I can’t even get into all the reasons. Who has the time? On my short list, I would say that there is a marked absence of transparency in dating. Most people don’t tell you about their shortcomings because they don’t even see them, or if they do see them, they’ve written them off as either cute quirks or shit their exes have complained about that can’t possibly be true. The lack of transparency seems to extend to every single facet of their lives.
We don’t get to meet people as they are and see where it goes. We meet the best version of themselves. Believe me: I’ve sometimes fallen in love with that version only to find out it was an illusion. It’s not an experience I’d recommend to anyone.
But more than that, the deceptive nature means we waste our time on people who were never a good fit in the first place but wouldn’t admit it because they were so determined to make it work. In a very real way, it takes away some level of consent because we don’t know what we’re agreeing to because so much is hidden from us. We find out later, and then we have another trauma to add to the pile when honesty would have served to avoid it.
As an honest, straightforward person, I get very real about who I am and what I want. Usually, I encounter other people claiming to be honest and straightforward but being anything but that. At least, that has been my experience of dating. That shit is exhausting.
It’s no wonder I’d rather Bird Box my way through being single. Just don’t look. If you don’t look, you can’t get interested, and then you won’t get your hopes up and see them come crashing down around you.
That’s my honest take on dating, but if I dial it back (quite a bit), I remember that I’m actually good at relationships. Not perfect. I have plenty of flaws I can share, but where I fall short in some ways, I am very good at loving another human being. Plus, I enjoy love and romance. So, as much as I want to scuttle back into my bitch cave and lock the door behind me, I know that I’m going to need to be open.
Just don’t expect it to be fearless.
The expectation that we should be fearless isn’t realistic. Anyone who has any dating history probably also has dating trauma and baggage that we’re — hopefully — working through. We’re afraid because life has taught us that the bigger we love, the worse it hurts when it’s over. We’ve had trust betrayed in large ways and small, and feeling things can be an overwhelming experience.
It’s made so much worse by that lack of transparency (and self-awareness) that I mentioned. It becomes more complicated and more fraught with peril for those of us who are trying to move forward with good intentions. It’s entirely unreasonable to expect us to be fearless about it.
I’ll settle for being brave.
Every step away from the relationship I wanted is an act of bravery for me. It’s faith in myself — that I am worthy and deserving of love. It’s faith in love — that even though I felt it once in a big way, I may be lucky enough to one day experience it again. It takes courage to have a broken heart and still keep it open when we’d much rather close up shop and go home to lick our wounds in peace.
While I’m not searching and have no plans to do so, I am healing. There’s bravery in that, too. I have to look at all the hurting places and still make room for hope somewhere in there. I am loving myself through the process and letting myself imagine that the future could be a beautiful place — even if it doesn’t look the way I once wanted it to.
While I’m not unafraid, I’m not letting my fears control my life either. The thing I feared has already happened. I loved someone, and I lost him. One of the things I was afraid of came to pass, and it didn’t kill me. I’m still here. I’m a little more battered, a little more bruised, but still open to possibility nonetheless.
Fear is healthy. It keeps us from falling victim to that sketchy guy with the windowless van in the dark parking lot. It sends up flares when the person we’re on a date with suddenly starts pulling out all their red flags. Fear helps us learn from our mistakes and make better choices, and if sometimes it also self-sabotages us, that’s a mistake to learn from, too.
I really didn’t want to be single this year, but I am moving forward with an open heart. You can expect some sarcasm and probably an occasional splash of cynicism mixed in with the hope. But you can’t expect me to be fearless. That might be asking a little too much.