A friend asked me lately, “How do you take it slow when you’ve met someone amazing and everything gels? How the heck do you not rush?”
First, I wouldn’t start by asking me for advice, because lord knows I’m no authority on taking things slowly.
But, in the spirit of friendship, I offered up what I wish I had known years ago, and what I hope to do when I’m ready to date again: Remember that YOU DON’T KNOW THEM. They seem wonderful and amazing and perfect for you in every way, and maybe they really are. But you don’t know that now. You can’t know that.
You can’t hire a new employee and know right away how they’ll perform during tax season or on Black Friday. And you can’t know your partner until you encounter some bumps of varying sizes. Will he be there when your car breaks down and you need a ride to work at 6 a.m.? Will she understand if your child is sick and you have to cancel your fancy dinner date? Will they pay attention to what makes you feel loved, and appreciate it when you do those things in return? When you disagree, will they be kind and respectful and try to understand your point of view?
You may assume you know how this person will react during those scenarios; they may even tell you how they would react. But don’t believe it till you see it.
So, remind yourself that you don’t know this person, and act accordingly:
- Don’t drop your friends for them.
- Don’t give up all your free time for them.
- Don’t plan your life around them.
- Don’t make plans far into the future with them.
- Do enjoy their company.
- Do be transparent and honest.
- Do spend lots of time talking about things that are important to both of you.
- Do trust their actions more than their words.
- Do trust that no matter how amazing this person is, they are not the only one in the world who is potentially great for you.
It’s been about two weeks, and I’m astonished at how good I feel most of the time. I’ve really been enjoying — not just tolerating, but enjoying — the time to focus on myself and my kids. Not 100 percent of the time, but I feel like I don’t have that restless urge to go out and distract myself with someone else, to use their attention as a Band-Aid.
I still have some lingering frustrations over the lack of communication regarding, well, everything as our relationship fell apart. And I miss the security and the love that I felt with him — or thought I felt. But in the end, I know it’s better to be alone and happy than be in a relationship with a man who won’t or can’t communicate his feelings in a healthy, productive way, and who, in hindsight, was willing to let me shoulder all the blame.
In my last session with Sara, she suggested we talk through what he might say if I did talk to him. I reached the conclusion that it probably wouldn’t be anything different from what I’d heard before. I’m not sure he’s capable of seeing his own rigidity in the situation. She also gently suggested that I had very willingly picked up every speck of blame for the events that led our previous breakup, and that there had been many ways he could have reacted in that situation that would have been kinder or more comforting.
The thing I really got out of my talk with her, though, was when I brought up the struggles I wrote about in my last post — the feeling that most men only really care about my appearance, and that it’s incredibly hurtful to feel like they’re fine with what’s on the outside but don’t stick around once they see the inside. Ouch.
I compared it to feeling like a book that someone thinks has a fascinating-looking cover, then puts down once they page through it and realize it’s of no interest to them. In once case, a guy actually told me that he found my personality off-putting but that if we were to “lie next to each other all day and get to know each other,” he might like me better. I declined his kind offer.
Sara reminded me that I was an a outspoken, independent and intelligent woman (I don’t know that I’d always agree with the “independent,” but I’ll bow to her professional opinion!) and that that’s not what everyone is looking for. It isn’t a personal judgment; it’s just not what they want and/or are comfortable with.
Just the day before, I had read the following in Thich Nhat Hanh’s “No Mud, No Lotus”:
Cold air can be painful if you aren’t wearing enough warm clothes. But when you’re feeling overheated or you’re walking outside with proper clothing, the bracing sensation of cold air can be a source of feeling joy and aliveness. … The rainy day that ruins your plans for a picnic is a boon for the farmer.
I felt as if someone had just smacked a 10-foot gong directly next to my head. How did it take SO long for that to hit home?
Just because I pick up a book and put it down, because I realize it’s an espionage novel and I prefer historical fiction, doesn’t mean it’s a bad novel. Someone might think it’s the best book they’ve ever read. It might be EXACTLY the book they’re looking for. It’s just not the book for ME.
Right now, I’m tired of paging through books, and I’m tired of being picked up, thumbed through (oh, that sounds gross, actually) and put back down. I like being on my shelf, and I’m content to stay here until I feel I’ve rewritten things a bit.
My friend Moira once sent me a text so insightful and useful that I screenshotted it so I could re-read it often. It read, in part, “You think that time — not the availability of men — is limited. On some level, you think your looks are the only way to get a man, and you worry that the hot chick clock is running out.”
I was worried about that as a newly divorced 37-year-old, then as a 39-year-old with a broken engagement, and I confess I worry about it still as a 41-year-old.
It has been a blessing to have a pretty face and a nice figure, in many ways. (And this is something that’s difficult to talk about with many people, because not only does it sound awfully egotistical, but complaining about it sounds worse yet. “Oh my gosh, it’s SO hard being conventionally attractive!”)
At the same time, it frequently attracts the wrong type of guy. And when you spend enough time being valued primarily for your appearance, the message eventually sinks in that that is where your true worth lies. (As if society doesn’t push that idea on women enough!) It doesn’t matter if you’re funny, or kind, or intelligent — that isn’t the reason this man is with you.
He doesn’t care about your kids, or your day at work, or your thoughts on politics. He may put on a good show … but only for so long, before it becomes clear that what you like and what you need aren’t terribly important to him. Or maybe he does care about your views, your family, your job, to a certain degree, but they’re just the icing on the cake. Your looks, of course, being the cake — the real reason he’s here. And what happens when those fade, or you put on a few pounds from stress or babies? Or he sees a slightly tastier-looking cake? Real love can’t be built just on physical attraction, because that’s building on a foundation of sand.
When I was engaged to M., a friend asked me once, “What would he do if you were in a disfiguring accident?” And I had to admit (to myself, if not to her) that I didn’t want to think too hard about the answer to that one. It was a sickening feeling, and one that I never want to experience again.
(I should add here that this post is not about C. in particular — I never believed he was with my primarily for my looks — but it does reflect my experiences with many of the other men I’ve dated.)
I want a man who sees ME as the cake — my heart, my mind, my soul, my personality — and the rest as the frosting. But I’ve realized that as long as I was putting my value in my appearance and made that the thing that I most felt would get me a guy, I was going to end up with a man who valued me for precisely no more and no less.
Your heart is the gift. Don’t give it to a guy who only wants the wrapping paper.
I’ve run across some great websites lately that have been helpful for me, and I thought I’d try to get in the habit of sharing them here occasionally. Some good ones:
- Here’s Why I Keep Coming Back from Baggage Reclaim. This is written from the point of view of an ex who keeps popping back up in your life: “You keep thinking that we’re getting back together because you assume my intention is to get back together with you. You assume that in giving me the power to provide what you want, yet again, that I will come through. We get back together because I want the power and control back. That’s it. That’s the truth.”
- The Monkey Trap from Teach the Soul. In some countries, allegedly, a trap can be made for monkeys by drilling a small hole in a gourd and placing a nut or piece of fruit inside it. The monkey grabs it, but the item is too large to pass through the hole. Rather than let go of its prize, the monkey will hold on for dear life, even until it’s captured. I don’t know if that is true, but I heartily with this: “If you’re going to find happiness in life, you need to examine what you hold. Take a close look at the attachments in your life. Do you place more importance on things outside of yourself than on things inside you? The more important something is in your life, the more you become attached to it. If what you treasure is outside yourself — that is, other things or other people — then you risk being trapped by those bonds.”
- One Year Wiser is a website and also a series of books; I recently found this one at my local bookstore and enjoy the illustrations and the inspirational text, which is primarily about Mindfulness.