I sit at the bar waiting for him to arrive, this new person with whom I agreed to meet for a date. He arrives, orders a shot of Jameson and a draft beer. I sip my water and we exchange niceties. Him: “So, do you want to have a baby in the next year?” Me (choking a bit on the water I’m sipping): “No, that’s not really my plan”. I could go into what my plans involve but I have already shut down. My mind shifts to the humorous status I’m crafting for social media, maybe some advice on how not to approach a woman in whom one is interested. Those departing words of how attractive I am did not eclipse my initial impression. So, no, no more dates are on the horizon.
I think about this encounter on my drive home. Yes, getting the deal breakers out of the way early in a conversation is important. However, what arose from this and the subsequent conversation made me realize that this guy has not owned his story. He carries around some regret for a previous relationship in which he was involved as evidenced by his revelation that an ex-girlfriend told him that he wasted the fertile years of his life. They were together for six but, “What did she expect?” he added, “We met at a Rob Zombie concert” – as though how and where they met could lessen her expectations. Every encounter provides fodder for jokes and sarcasm.
Being on the dating scene makes me realize how truly jaded people are. Trust me, I see social media friends who make fun of their dates, the wrong phrases, the awkward silences, the sexual suggestions.
And, perhaps, therein lies the problem with dating. So quick to see the imperfections, our own deal breakers, we are skeptical of each other. We find difficulty trusting others’ basic goodness, we lead with that distrust and it arises in our interactions.
They say when you find fault in others, it’s just a mirror that we need to use to reflect at ourselves. I agree. I’m no stranger to this distrust when it comes to dating. I have met good people with whom I let fall to the wayside.
One poor fella I had just started dating last summer, amidst a cancer diagnosis and impending treatment, actually promised to stay by my side through it all. Wondering how someone was going to handle sickness, and possible baldness, if chemotherapy was on the horizon, I gave into my distrust, put my head down, chose to handle what lay ahead without a partner, and ran (literally and figuratively). I made a decision to not be vulnerable during that time as I looked at it as a sign of weakness.
Therein lies problem number two on this journey: how do we expect to have relationships when we choose to be invulnerable? How do we handle knowing that we are shut down?
Brene Brown, in both her books and talks, discusses this notion of vulnerability in ways that are graspable. She contends that we need to move beyond the idea of thinking of vulnerability as a weakness and see it as an opening to let others in.
At our ages, dating prospects bring with them the hurt and disappointment from past relationships. I share some advice I have gotten along the way of talking to folks about their experiences:
1. Respect that we trust differently: We’ve reached an age when most people me meet will have had their fair share of disappointments in relationships and themselves. We don’t possess the innocence about romance that we once did so we proceed with caution. Know that we trust differently but don’t think that we cannot trust. Perhaps we need to trust that others have been through their own stuff, they’ve worked on it and now they too understand that they won’t treat us the way they wouldn’t want to be treated and vice versa. We must proceed with gentle gloves to understand the hurt and the triggers that they bring with them. It takes time but it is worth it.
2. Proceed gently: With both ourselves and others, proceed gently. We’ll have hiccups along the way, hit triggers we didn’t know existed both in ourselves and others. Be patient and forgiving and communicate well.
3. Know our worth: What’s the price for being in a relationship with us? How low will we sell ourselves? Yes, sometimes we might confuse this with compromise, let’s just be careful of how much we give away. Once given over, challenges arise when trying to ask for more. So, start as high as you can.
4. Trust the process and the new chapter: We don’t know what life has to reveal to us about the roads down which we’ll travel but trust where they take us. While not a proponent of everything happens for a reason (because some things are just too awful to explain), sometimes, life allows us to look back and understand that it could not have unfolded in any other way. We must allow that time and trust that there is a process to endings and beginnings. Respect that.
5. Everyone needs a bowling night: And when we do get there, we must respect our own space. As I look back on past relationships that did not work, I realize I gave up parts of myself in order to be in those relationships. Most importantly, I placed less value on my own time, my personal time, than I did on relationship time. Make the time for ourselves, those moments that lit the fires in our souls. They’re the reasons why we were loved and it’s our duty to ourselves and our relationships to keep that going.