When we last left our heroine, she was beginning to patiently walk a path...
First dates suck.
I used to love first dates. The anticipation, the preparation and then the stories that abounded afterward were like sport for me. I have gone on so many first dates that my sister said she needed a spreadsheet to keep up with them. I have met up for drinks, gone to dinner, had lunch, gone dancing, met for coffee and the ever special "why don't you come over to my house and we can just watch a movie?" I met guys at the movies, online, at bars, set-up by friends, concerts, parties, church and of course, Walgreens. I have gone on so many first dates that they are all a blur because they always end up being the same guy.
Some of those dates led to second, third and fourth dates - sometimes all in one week. A few of those first dates led to relationships and almost all of them led to disappointment or at least disinterest. All the while I was hoping that one of them would be "the one," although I had no idea what I wanted from him. I knew the basics of what I wanted and made endless lists of traits that my ideal partner would have, but after a while it felt like an exercise in futility - once I realized how un-realistic my list was, it seemed silly to keep creating it. In retrospect, what I really needed to work on was breaking patterns I kept repeating when it came to the men I chose. Thankfully, the Strike set me on course to at least assess my dating habits and choices in men, but until very recently, I never really did much with the assessment.
Don't get me wrong - I made some pretty important changes in my life and I got really good at weeding out the losers, but I still had some pretty deep issues that I hadn't worked on - nor was I even aware of them. When I met A., I was feeling really good about my life and for the first time, I felt comfortable being single. Dating him felt like a logical step and although I had a lot of doubts, I never paid much attention to all the "uh-oh" feelings I had inside. I brushed aside all of my doubts because I liked the way A. liked me - I was finally with someone who wanted to be with me, I ignored every warning sign that told me "he isn't the one for you." I was forcing myself to see him as "the one" when it was clear that he was not.
Liking the way A. made me feel was really liking the validation I received from him. He didn't give me the "you're amazing but..." speech - there was no hesitation on his part. He sent a text message or called me during the work day without fail and called every evening precisely at 5:05 p.m. He went to every gig I had with the band and poetry reading I was performing at. We did anything I wanted to do and went anywhere I wanted to go. While he was really nice to me, I didn't click with him. I couldn't really talk to him and he never really understood where I was coming from. I knew that it was going to become a problem once the newness wore off but I ignored my instincts because it was more important to me to be someone's girlfriend. I knew the relationship wasn't right - I was just so tired of things not working out that I was going to make this one work come hell or high water. I had no clue he would ever break up with me and when he did, the rejection just about killed me.
The hardest lesson of that break-up has been that the feelings of rejection, abandonment, being disposable and un-worthy have nothing to do with A... or Freddy or Randy or Astro Boy or any of the failed first dates I went on. They have everything to do with me.
It's hard admitting my issues have everything to do with me. I would rather blame them on everyone else. It's easier that way. If my issues are someone else's fault then I don't ever have to work on them. Truthfully, I thought I had worked on my issues. Isn't that what a nine month strike - as well as two years of therapy - were all about? Self discovery, facing past hurts and being truthful about my thoughts and feelings have all helped to open me up, but I mistook the openness for "completely healed." Turns out, all that openness and striking have only brought my issues to the surface, and now I'm forced to look at them, one by one, and deal with them. To be clear, I'm not saying that I'm the problem in relationships or that I somehow deserve to be treated badly. I am owning the fact that my issues are mine to work on, not anyone else's (and conversely, someone else's issues are his, not mine to fix).
I don't have any memories of ever feeling completely carefree and happy; I've always had a nagging sense that if I'm too happy, then something major was going to happen to take that happiness away. Rather than wait for the disaster, I would do something to undercut the happiness. As long as I could sabotage the happiness in small ways, then the big disaster wouldn't happen. Thankfully, I have learned that it's okay to be happy and it's okay to feel confident and even carefree and no, nothing bad is going to happen as a result. I am not going to be punished for being happy.
Unfortunately, this knowledge hasn't translated to my relationships. I tend to pick partners who are either a bad match or unavailable in some shape or form - that way, when he rejects me, it isn't my fault, it's his - I'm the helpless victim. This practice relates to me sabotaging my happiness - if I can sabotage myself from the beginning by picking someone who ultimately isn't going to be my person, then I won't be truly happy and a big disaster won't come in and take him away.
After the break-up with A., I decided not to go back on strike, but I didn't actively start dating. I didn't look to be set-up with anyone and I didn't open myself up to meeting anyone new. Instead, I let myself heal and I got over A. fairly quickly. Autumn came, and all of a sudden a possibility opened up before me - a possibility that I had let go of a long time ago.
To be continued...
Next time: Part Three