When I would date, there was a consistent cycle that I grew accustomed to. We would hang out a few times, maybe see each other for a few months, until one or both of us showed disinterest, and then it would end. Many times, soon after these casual relationships ended, they would be seriously dating someone else, perhaps even engaged. I didn’t mind this too much. It was a part of the cycle. I could get to know this person, have a fun experience for a couple of months, and then safely retreat into my usual routine, with no wounds or scars.
This worked for me for a long time, from college until my mid-twenties. I became a pro at knowing how to maintain just enough distance that I could engage in a short-term relationship and avoid getting my heart broken. If I rejected them, it was okay because we were never too close. If they rejected me, it was also okay because I was waiting for them to do so. These individuals appeared in my life, and then disappeared. It always worked. Until it didn’t.
Dating & My Comfort Zone
I was remaining in the safe zone, comfortable. I never let anyone crack this carefully laid foundation. I would present myself as aloof and unbothered with my dates. When I received a text, I took my time replying. If they asked to hang out, I considered every other option before saying yes. I presented only the most shallow parts of myself. They could know my favorite color, but not my dreams. They could know the food I liked best, but not what made me cry. We could laugh together, but not too deeply. I could like them, but loving them wasn’t an option.
I wasn’t consciously making these decisions to distance myself. I just knew I felt safe so I kept it up. Somewhere deep in the back of my mind, I had considered a committed relationship where we could truly connect on a deeper level. The barriers to that place just seemed so extreme. I saw the value for others, but for myself it seemed too much trouble.
Looking back, I can see how I would orchestrate the demise of a relationship and blame it on fate. I would find minuscule things to dislike in my partners, blowing them up to extreme proportions and bringing them into the spotlight of our relationship. I would become distant, not being present even if I was physically there. When it would end, I would feign disappointment. Secretly, I’d be wiping my forehead in relief. I dodged a bullet, and the bullet was Vulnerability.
Vulnerability & Dating: Pushes for Change
There was a big problem though. I was bored. I was bored and very lonely. I was also tired of holding onto my feelings for other people like it would cost me everything to reveal them. I was tired of keeping everyone around me at arm’s length. My fear made me complacent, but my loneliness kept creeping up, urging me to move differently.
There was one night I spent with some friends, where we chatted about people we were dating, past and current. One of my friends spoke of her partner, a man she was dating whom she cherished. She told us their story, how they met, and her face was absolutely lit up. She lamented him not being there with us because she missed him already. While listening to her, my other friends were nodding their heads, seeming to know the exact feelings she was describing. I was utterly confused. She wanted him there with us? Now? Wouldn’t that be a bit overbearing? She missed him already? Didn’t she just see him a couple of hours ago? I didn’t understand the notion of not wanting an extreme amount of space from a romantic partner. I was amazed by her courage. She seemed completely fine with pouring out her love like there was an unlimited supply.
To me, romantic love was either fantastical or unsafe. However, this friend of mine was grounded, not fanciful. She was realistic and rational. She didn’t take dumb risks. Yet in this regard, she was willing to risk it all and commit fully to this other person, baring herself for the possibility of destruction.
Possibility and Being
This notion of being all in, jumping fully into the water so to speak, was intriguing. Could I do it? What were the pros and cons? Was it worth it? Was it even possible? Now that I had glanced behind my aloof facade, I saw the insecurities hidden there. Could I even find someone? Would they be “all in” with me? Perhaps it wasn’t me pushing others away, they were just repelled all along.
I decided to try. I accepted that this could be brutally painful. I accepted that I may fail. I decided to try anyway.
Fast forward a few months, and I began a new relationship. No, this isn’t one of those stories where my mind was changed because I met this perfect person who broke down all of my walls. If I didn’t choose to lower my guard, I may not have even realized how great he is.
I remember telling him my favorite color, giving him the usual safe details of my personality and life. He said, “That’s nice,” then asked for more. I found myself telling him details of my childhood, my family, my beliefs. He was building an entire map of who I was, when previously I had only given pinpoints. I found myself curious about him as well, letting myself really know him and see his strengths and flaws. I saw his blindspots, and he saw mine.
There were plenty of setbacks, moments of fear where I would disconnect. There were times where I seemed to come down from the clouds and have the cold realization that this person knew me and could hurt me. I would imagine him ending the relationship, and I could feel the wave of pain and heartbreak that would surely come with it.
My fears and insecurities were distressing, and the only thing I knew with certainty was that the ending of this relationship would be a nightmare. Even so, I continued being authentic and forthcoming. There was a freedom in being able to be myself, and knowing the other person was right there with me. I accepted that even if this ended, it was worth it to feel so connected and engaged with another human being.
This willingness to be vulnerable bled into other areas of my life. I found myself having deeper conversations with my family, learning new things about them and revealing aspects of myself they never knew. I spoke to strangers differently. Simple encounters while walking my dog seemed to be more meaningful. I even soaked in media in new ways, allowing myself to cry at the sad moments in a movie, and really, heartily laugh at the funny ones. I was living in the same world, it was just a bit brighter.
I’m glad I made the choice to try, and open myself up to pain and heartbreak so that I could feel some real joy. Am I completely certain about the future of this relationship and where it’s going? Of course not. And yet, here I am, open, vulnerable, and present.
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