I sat up in bed one morning and I knew it was me.
It’s not you, it’s me.
It was me.
I wanted this. I was attracting this somehow. The pattern was too obvious. I deserved better, but I was so used to being hurt that, by now, I had found the best way to get hurt was on my own terms.
When I was a teenager, I was good at things. I was the best at things. Dating wouldn’t become one of those things. Around the time I was sitting up in bed, fairly hungover, having groggy aha moments, I had already filed my relationships with men with the biggest failures of my life. But maybe even my fiascos were set up perfectly. I had set them up to fail. I was attracted to men who were tall, dark, and unavailable.
Unavailable. That was a prized quality in my books.
I wish I had been someone’s first love. Every passing day of my twenties made that wish harder and harder to come true. My first crushes had other crushes. The first time I ever really wanted to be with someone, he fatally announced he was not ready to be in a relationship. It wasn’t the last time I’d hear that sentence over the next 10 years. The first time I fell in love, I was cautious. I let it blossom, I collected the signs, the moments, the words, the kisses, only to be informed months into it that it was not going to be what I wanted it to be because he just wasn’t ready.
That set the tone.
Men deciding for me I was the one that got away, then closing the door in my face.
I was deeply hurt. I didn’t think I was naïve, demanding, or unreasonable. I even believed I was a good judge of character, that I knew what I wanted and had a lot to offer. The cracks and breaks in my heart sealed up over time and cynicism started to help keep it airtight. Cynicism was self-preservation.
I turned the tables. They were going to be the ones that got away inevitably, and I was going to be totally fine with it.
I was predicting I would get hurt again and minimizing the hurt by getting into relationships I knew from the get go would undoubtedly end. I was accepting that rejection was a part of love for me.
The act of dating implies a selective amount of emotional availability. Especially if you’re dating more than one person. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind, romantically speaking. You can be dating more than one person with the intent of getting to know more people (keeping your options open) or with the intent of finding the right person (looking for the best option). It gets messy when these initial intentions intersect, which they usually do. The problem is twofold: People don’t dive into the dating pool with a clear intention in mind and they don’t communicate to their dates when their intentions change. I think today a score of fish in the sea do not know what they want. They are just swimming around aimlessly because it’s the thing to do. Both wading and waiting, not ready.
My type was emotionally unavailable. The type that only had a sliver of time and attention for me because most of it was scattered elsewhere. The type that was as hurt as I was and had not recovered yet. They had never been single, or not for long, and needed to get to know themselves or to learn to be alone with themselves. They were holding off for an ex to take them back. They were holding off telling me there was someone else all along. They had work to do before jumping into the pool again.
My type was unavailable online. They left me on read. They wouldn’t answer my messages when they were online. Their phone got more face time than I did and we texted more than we had actual conversations. They never deleted their dating apps. They never added me as a friend. They never followed me on Instagram. We could go back to being strangers when this met its end.
My type was geographically unavailable. The type that is on a business trip, that lives in another city or abroad, that holds a temporary visa, that is leaving town in three days. This is my favorite kind of unavailable because it’s so romantic. Their hours and days were numbered, but they chose to spend them with me. They wrote from exotic locations and were thinking of me in Tokyo or Paris. They showed up on my doorstep unannounced one day. My life was like a movie.
But the ending wasn’t happy.
“You don’t really want to be in a relationship,” read the text from my best friend as I was mid-meltdown, still in bed. She was right. I was quite content being the hook-up, the situationship, the friend with benefits as long as I was feeling special enough, important enough, and attractive enough to outweigh the pain of being left. I made a pact with myself that sacrificed commitment and closure for less pain and more confusion.
It was me.
I used to fall in love flat on my face, but I never thought, “What if someone caught me?” I made sure no one did, going all in on a familiar type of pain rather than taking the risk of a completely unknown ending. I always held back a little bit. I never made myself completely available by anticipating the outcome of any relationship I began.
There’s a lot of fish in the sea. Some are going around in circles in the shallow end, endlessly distracted by shiny scales. But some are in open waters. Available. Both dark and fair. And hopefully tall.
You shouldn’t be putting yourself out there if you’re not ready to swim.