Recently, I decided to take an indefinite moratorium from dating — because I noticed that I was increasingly getting caught in a romantic cycle of bad behaviors, and the only way to stop was to cut myself off. I could spend all the time I wanted blaming the people I was dating or blaming the accuracy of OKCupid’s compatibility algorithm, but I was the one enabling my own romantic destruction. At the time of writing this, I’m now two weeks sober from dating: 14 days, 336 hours, 20160 seconds. In that time, I have not gone on a single date or bad date, spent ludicrous amounts of time on OKCupid, backslid and romanced an ex, stalked my exes on Facebook, utilized my Cellular Rolodex for a late-night booty call I’ll regret later or made terrible decisions at bars. And the only time I cried while eating was during the Parks and Recreation finale. (Somehow, the fact that I had a half-eaten sandwich dangling in my mouth just kept making me cry harder.)
A friend of mine, Adam, started a column a while ago where he talks about being a Serial Dater, someone who goes from relationship to relationship just to be with someone. But although his column helped to point out the cyclical nature of my bad romantic decisions (for which I will forever be in debt), I don’t know if that’s my problem. More than a Serial Dater, I’m a Serial Self-Sabotager.
What is an SSS? An SSS preemptively strikes down most of the relationships in their life, even potential friend relationships, because they don’t think they are worthy of being liked or loved. For an SSS, even the idea of someone being so close to them and seeing their flaws projected in HD is utterly terrifying. They ask themselves, “What if they don’t understand me? Or see that I have the worst dandruff ever? Or notice that I hold my stomach in on dates — so much so that I’m out of breath by the end? Or figure out that I’m not funny, I’m not as clever as I think I am, I’m an awkward hugger, I’m terrible in bed, I have a huge nose, I have an irritating voice, I hate shaving, and I really like just wearing what I wore the previous day because it’s easier?”
I’ve let this straight-outta-Cyrano angst about whether I’m worthy of love build up for so long that I’ve learned how to be the Teflon Don of dating. Nothing sticks. I can screw up almost any date in 3.5 seconds — by talking about my exes, my issues with my parents or my weird gluten-allergy-person bowel movements. I know how one should behave on dates or in most social situations (I’ve read The Rules and all that pseudo-jazz), but I always do the exact opposite. Instead of asking What Would Jake Ryan Do?, I’ll fart when they hug me, talk about my exes at dinner or my issues with my parents, eat off their plate, bring up my masturbation habits, hi-five them goodbye, text them a bunch of times or friend their mom on Facebook. (For the record, the latter only happened once, and I instantly regretted it.)
Part of me takes pride in these eccentricities, because having no filter is in my genes and my mama gave ‘em to me. However, I think there’s a difference between “brazenly telling it like it is, being open and being yourself” and “fairly overt self-sabotage.” And the more I talk to people about their dating and their personal habits, the more I realize I’m not alone. We all say that we want to be happy, we want the perfect partner, we want the job, we want the life, we want to have it all, but how emotionally ready for it are we really? What usually happens is that we don’t get it or we keep ourselves from it — because we are nervous, scared, not ready, etc. — and we drive ourselves bonkers obsessing over it and stalk other peoples’ lives on Facebook instead. We ask, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I have what other people have?” We learn to believe we don’t deserve to be happy. We deserve the pain. We deserve to be a mess.
I think we train ourselves to care so much about being fulfilled and happy now that we psych ourselves out of it; we make it impossible for ourselves to get happy. We forget to enjoy the simple pleasures along the way, all that stuff that stock photographs and Joseph Campbell tell us to do. We forget to go out and have positive, non-self-destructive fun, even if that’s playing putt-putt with your little sister, staying in with Xena: Warrior Princess or getting some (empowerment) and having that Stride of Pride with a side of Beyonce. And, most importantly, we forget that priority number-one should be taking care of ourselves.
Because it’s not just about dating; it’s about the decisions we make, and the emotions we choose to let ourselves feel. There’s something to be said for occasionally being a “Hot Mess” and making mistakes, because what else is your freshman year of college for? However, we also need to learn and grow from our bad decisions for them to be meaningful, or we will just keep repeating our mistakes forever. If you get caught in an endless cycle of bad hookups, bad dates and bad relationships, you’ll never find time to reflect and take something away from those experiences. You’ll think that’s all there is, like someone who looks at a stereogram and just sees a bunch of dots. You forget to look for the magic inside.
You can find that. It’s there, waiting for you, waiting for you to be ready to see it. The only way to do that is to start making good decisions now, creating positive relationships in your life and holding yourself accountable for that. So much of our learned self-hatred is internalized and embedded deep within us — as we live in a culture that doesn’t always promote self-care, sex positivity, emotional wellness or being open about our struggles — but it’s up to us to shake that out and cultivate our own empowerment.
The late Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I think it’s a complex issue — because we aren’t emotional suits of armor and minimizing those struggles helps no one — but I agree that we all have a role in how we deal with our pain. Someone can hurt you, no one can make you get wasted and cry yourself to sleep without your consent. No one can make you stay in bed for days or eat your hair in the corner without your consent. No one can make you feel worthless without your consent. Instead, you can choose to get up and feel loved. You can choose to deserve happiness. You choose to start acting like it. It won’t take only 20160 seconds to get there, but you have to start somewhere.