I had a date last night. It was a very interesting experience: exciting, sickeningly scary, and disconcerting. I was certainly off balance a bit, but I think I conducted myself fairly well and the other person didn’t leave abruptly.
This wasn’t my first date since the divorce, but it was still sort of significant for me because I was trying something that I was somewhat reluctant to do. I can hear Adrienne in my head now telling me I don’t have to date if I don’t want to, but…I sort of do. Because the reasons I haven’t been dating lately are based on stories I tell myself that — while they may be based on reality — aren’t truthful.
I tell myself that I am not good at choosing men, but that’s not true. If I really listen to my instincts, I’m very good at determining who to keep seeing and who to walk away from. (And I have someone backing me up on this, my therapist, who has gotten to know me pretty well in the past 12 years.) I just have to tune in to myself, hence the emphasis I’m placing lately on things like meditation.
I also have a tendency to fixate on men at times. I make up little fantasies in my head that account for why things may not be working out, all the while desperately ignoring any signals that may be leading to a conclusion that is not what I want. Since I’ve been teetering on what may or may not be a fixation on my part, I wanted to shake myself out of the pattern and do something productive.
In this case, dating is productive because it leads me away from sitting at home (figuratively) wringing my hands and (literally) crying about how lonely I feel. It challenges me to be true to my convictions and be honest with myself and those around me, and to not let the loneliness either paralyze me or lead me to ignore my instincts.
Then today during a little lunch time blog reading, I see the latest post from Penelope Trunk. And I’m completely undone. I start to cry, right here at my desk. And I start to think, too: what do I want?
The answer to this question worked it’s way out like this: to be more child-like >> to be less hard >>to be more vulnerable >> to be more *comfortable* being vulnerable.
Every time I find myself letting out vulnerable feelings, I feel really scared. My mom was a basket case when I was growing up and that affected me deeply. Mostly when I find myself being really vulnerable and needing reassurance and comfort, I stop myself because I know how overwhelming it was for me to experience this in my mother. I don’t want to be that overwhelming person, so I mostly ignore the feelings and stuff them down when they spill out.
But I was just a child back then, so of course I didn’t know how to deal with someone who was supposed to be taking care of me falling apart in front of me. I no longer have to think that anytime I feel vulnerable and needy I am doing something that others will run away from as fast as possible (as I saw my dad do in a figurative way), or that I will be an emotionally-stunting burden (as the situation was to me and my sister).
This is also why I so often think that I want to be back at Esalen, too. There it was OK to be soft and vulnerable because no one was going to walk away — in disgust, horror, or overwhelm. You were much more likely to get a hug or have your hand held if you expressed upset in any way. So I could walk around and just be…me. Me in all my nakedness and vulnerability and child-like humor and fascination/love with the nature surrounding me. It was like being drunk on reality and I miss it so, so much.
I’ve been trying to cultivate that ability to be honest, open, and vulnerable since I’ve been back and it’s been hard to keep it going in this very different atmosphere. But if I can’t be totally open and vulnerable, at least I can try to be honest in my communications and interactions with others. Even if it means they will think I’m odd or weird I can keep trying.
Even before I read the Penelope Trunk post I had written an email I want to send to my date from last night. Here’s an excerpt:
I’m finding that my thoughts about dating are different now than they were when I was younger/before I got married. I was used to the flirty and light conversational style of dating, and now I’m thinking that as much as I like having conversations that make me laugh, I’m more likely to find the ridiculousness of life the most funny subject matter to discuss. I guess I’d characterize this as more — dare I say it — Seinfield-esque than burlesque. Frankly, flirtiness is something that I can only keep up for a short time before I get exhausted.
If women could be said to “think with their dicks” like men are accused of, then I can say I’ve done enough of that. And when I have found myself in such situations, I’ve usually regretted it later. I don’t mean that I suffer guilt over sex, I mean that I usually end up realizing that I was focusing more on orgasms and physical pleasure than on spending that precious resource, time, with someone who engages my mind as much as my body. That’s why I was clear that I’m not out to just get laid.
This is me being honest, and living my life like I did at Esalen, which is more along the lines of what I ultimately want.
As Penelope sums it up “…part of coping with adult life is allowing yourself to want something even if you are not sure you’ll get it…The trick is to admit what we want, even if we are scared we won’t get it. We can only be who we are. And if we are disappointed, later on, well. I guess that’s just part of being a grown up and knowing what we want.”
What I really want is to be that honest, vulnerable person I could so comfortably be at Esalen, and to eventually have someone at my side who feels the same way.