What to do when you’re not dating

For me, dating wasn’t just a pursuit of a romantic relationship — it was almost a hobby. I dislike being alone, and many of my friends are also busy moms with full-time jobs who may not be free precisely when I am.

So, I came up with a list of things to do besides distracting myself with dates or strong-arming my friends into keeping me company:

  • Do something outdoorsy. Go for a hike. Go kayaking. Go camping. Just go for a walk, if that’s what’s available.
  • Read a really involving book. Right after my divorce, I read “Gone With the Wind,” then the entire Jane Austen oeuvre (don’t bother with “Mansfield Park,” although it’s a shame “Lady Susan” doesn’t get more attention!), then “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Other suggestions include the Harry Potter books and Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series, if you haven’t read them already; the “Song of Ice and Fire” books that “Game of Thrones” is based on; and Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, if you like paranormal fiction. Goodreads also has a huge list of “gripping books” if none of those suit your fancy.

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  • Plan a solo adventure. This summer, I went to a sea-kayaking symposium that was not only incredibly fun but increased my self-confidence tremendously. I had initially really wanted to go, but after signing up, I was terrified — what if I didn’t fit in? What if my skills were way below everyone else’s? What if I didn’t have fun? What if it was cold and miserable? It was AMAZING. I learned a ton, I met some great people, and I left feeling strong and confident and excited to learn more.
  • Work out. Look better + be healthier + feel better = triple win. I’ll have another post coming up soon on how much good this has done me.
  • Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby. I learned to knit and have come to love it. Not only is it massively soothing, but it provides a wonderful sense of accomplishment, and I’ve met some wonderful people through my knitting group. I know that every Thursday, no matter what else is going on in my life, I have a place I can go where I can sit, relax, talk and vent if need be. Other suggestions: Cooking, baking, painting, martial arts, photography, playing an instrument.
  • Nurture your female friendships, or male ones if you have a lot of guy friends. (Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, not to fill in a “male attention” void.) If you’ve let your girlfriends slip down the list when you’ve been in relationships, make up for that now. Make new friends, too. One of my dearest new friends is a recently widowed neighbor about my mom’s age. She has been not only a shoulder to cry on when I’ve needed it, but a voice of wisdom and a new friend to my children.
  • Take a class. Is there a community college class that would help you at your job? A continuing ed class in something you’ve always wanted to learn?
  • Volunteer someplace that strikes a chord with you. Teach English as a second language. Tutor kids. Join Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Help out at the animal shelter. Support a candidate you like.

My action plan

Because I’m the kind of person who feels she needs to be doing something, I told Sara I wanted a game plan. I wanted to KNOW that I was doing something to work toward healing, not sitting around waiting for the clock to run down on my dating moratorium.

luggage-2708846_1920Besides the six-month hiatus, she asked me to write a letter to C., not to send, but just to express my feelings and thoughts about the night we broke up. I found that so cathartic that I’ve written several since — every time I badly wish I could talk to him, I sit down instead and write out what I wish I could say. I also came across this suggested in the first episode of the excellent “Baggage Reclaim” podcast. (I’m proud that I’ve only contacted him once since my email, when I was in his area and dealing with a broken crossbar and two kayaks I couldn’t load back up. He wasn’t able to help me, as he was a couple hours away, but he was very kind and concerned. I’ve been tempted many, many more times, but remind myself that the most loving thing I can do for him is give him space.)

Sara also suggested I read “Healing the Child Within.” (I also bought the companion workbook.)  I’ve been working through a chapter or week a two (mostly because of the workbook and accompanying journaling — the book itself is a pretty fast read.)

I added a couple other steps of my own:

  • First, meditating every morning. I’m not much of a new agey-type, but meditation was suggested to me years ago as a way to help me deal with anxiety. I find that taking some time very morning has helped me become more aware when I start to feel that knot in my stomach as I get more tense and anxious. When I recognize it, I can take some deep breaths and re-compose myself. I use the Headspace app.
  • Second, I try to write down every night five things I am grateful for. Sometimes it’s a dear friend, a wonderful night with my kids, or a fantastic meal. Sometimes I can’t come up with more more than “we have enough to eat and clean water to drink.” And that’s OK.

 

The dating detox

For four years, every time my tender, needy heart felt empty, I would look for the next person to try to fill it up.

My friends had implored me, repeatedly, to “take a break for a while.” And I would always say, “I know I should, but I just met this new guy … maybe if it doesn’t work out with him …” With the end result that I had not spend more than two months alone since the day my then-husband walked out the door.

I told all of this to my wonderful therapist, Sara, who suggested it. Strongly. I let her pick the duration. She chose six months to start with. I told her, “But what if I meet THE GUY while I’m doing this and I miss out?” She asked, gently, “If you do meet him, would you be in a position to make things work with him right now?”

Point taken.

22308552_10155170390509482_4031427280940457709_nA few days later, I came across a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert online, and it resonated deeply within me. “When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.”

Oh, yes, that had been me. Caring for the men I dated, yes, and sometimes loving them, but also trying to fill this bottomless pit of need and hurt and loneliness yawning before me. Hoping desperately that someone could love me in my brokenness and yet refusing to believe it when they did.

My new motto, from “Game of Thrones,” became, “I’m not going to stop the wheel — I’m going to break the wheel.” But I didn’t know how. And I was terrified of the prospect of six lonely, sexless months.

My longtime friend Scott told me, “You’ve kayaked on Lake Superior! You can do this!” I replied, “Screw Lake Superior — I would rather go through childbirth again than do this.” He suggested that perhaps that was exactly the reason I HAD to do it.

Where I start

If you’ve read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love,” you already know where I am at the beginning of my own story. Divorced four years ago (although in my case not by my choice), with a string of heartbreaking relationships piling up afterward, I had become “a murky hole of bottomless grief,” seeking someone who could love me enough that it would fix everything wrong with me and with my life.

As you probably can guess, it didn’t go so great.

A few weeks ago, a meltdown ended my relationship with C., a man who I cared for — and still do — very deeply. I had spent all summer pushing him away, as he tried again and again to persuade me to let him in. (In fact, it was only after I ended things with him on a prior occasion that I realized, a few short days later, that I had made a massive mistake and missed him desperately. To my shock and joy, he took me back.) But this night, he told me sorrowfully, as he could barely raise his eyes to look at my face, that I didn’t trust him and he didn’t believe that I ever would. I begged — I nearly groveled — for another chance. He told me, “I’m sorry.”

Later that week, I got a beautiful email from him. He told me he cared for me deeply, that he missed me tremendously, but that he simply could not do this anymore. That I was clearly still healing from my divorce and subsequent relationships, as anyone would be in my shoes, and that he believed I needed to take a year or two off dating and learn to love and care for myself. He followed with a request not to hear from me for a while, as he was also grieving and needed time to heal and couldn’t do that if we were in constant contact.

Of course, I emailed him back right away and asked if we could talk one more time, for closure, which was the first sign I had some shit I needed to work on.

There was a lot of grieving. I spent a lot of tearful days on my neighbor’s couch or texting my girlfriends. The day I found a bottlecap from his favorite beer and the thermometer from that time he thought I felt feverish, I cried till I had no tears left. I barely ate. I went to the gym every time the kids were gone, because I couldn’t bare to be in my house alone.

But the thing I didn’t do was bounce into the next relationship. And that’s why this story is different.