I was talking to my therapist a few weeks ago about this newfound excitement I have towards dating. After being single for over a year and dipping my toes into the dating world only to swim back to shore quickly afterwards, I finally feel ready this time. Having moved across the country, this new environment was exactly the change I needed to explore again rather than staying in this constant state of reflection. Though reflection is necessary, living in the past isn’t, which is the space I found myself in time and time again.
After my last relationship ended (terribly), I spent the next year in introspection. I noticed reoccurring patterns in the types of men I was drawn to, what our dynamic would look like, and how it would always end. I looked at all the things that I feared in love and watched as I dived head-first towards partners that would turn those fears into my reality. But why?
I wanted and still want to change this pattern but I was out of luck as to how I needed to go about it. The awareness of recurring cycles is what I find to be the most challenging part. It’s the moment something clicks and you assume you now have the power to change it immediately. There’s this sense of urgency that floods us in that ‘aha moment‘, when it’s really just the beginning.
What comes next are the why’s and how’s. Now that I know this about myself, what do I do to change it? Will I always fall prey to these types of partners? Am I doomed to repeat history?
I let these questions spiral in and out of me for months, talking them through in therapy and journaling to find answers. It felt like a code I had to reset in my own body. I know there’s so much more I have to learn about myself in general, as well as in the context of dating, but maybe what I’ve learned about myself so far will do something for you.
I began with my greatest fear in relationships which is the fear of abandoning myself. Funnily enough, that is exactly what I do each time. Each time a partner doesn’t like something about me, I try my best to mold into something they will. It always begins with something so small and escalates to a moment where I can barely recognize myself.
Look pretty and get done up, but be natural. Be social and likable but not too social that I feel left out. Be available to me when I want to see you, but respect when I’m busy. Have a life for yourself, but drop everything for me when I’m bored. Have your own opinions, but change them when I disagree. I love your activism, but don’t talk about politics in front of other people. Act cool, but be yourself. You’re so emotional, can you deal with that somewhere else?
I felt like I was on a neverending treadmill – changing, adjusting, and molding myself over and over again until I looked in the mirror one morning and realized I had morphed into something else altogether. Every relationship took bits of me with it, and I allowed for that to happen. I didn’t recognize how quick I was to abandon myself and so I would do it again, and again….and again. My gut throbbed each time I crossed boundaries I even didn’t know I had for myself.
When I look at the past and the lack of trust I had in my own instincts, along with the strong desire to please everyone around me, I feel betrayed. Being someone who is quick to forgive others, the hardest thing I’ve done this past year is forgiven myself for not listening to what I need. For not loving who I am. For not letting myself be who I am in fear that it will never be enough for another person. The truth of the matter is that this fear has a lot of basis behind it. Not everyone will like you. Not everyone will accept every part of your being. But does that mean I shouldn’t either?
Moving forward into the dating world is exciting, but strange after all this time alone. What I’m wondering now is what exactly I want that to look like. I’m beginning to notice how my own mental health affects how I date and starting to question whether that’s the case for others. I don’t want a relationship right now, but I also struggle with the disconnect and inconsistency of casual dating. Can someone with high anxiety casually date or will that always feel triggering? Can someone with depression feel okay being somewhat detached?
I don’t exactly have the answers to those yet but what I do know is that I need consistency. I need consistency in friendships through communication and having someone follow through with what they say or let me know otherwise. I need it in my own writing practice, my morning routine, and my interactions with others. The one thing that seemingly soothes my own mental state is this grounded feeling that comes from consistency, so I’m working towards figuring out how to bring that about in my dating life. Whatever it looks like moving forward, I know the foundation that needs to be laid out first.