the beginning of me wanting myself

I had a date around this time last year. She was a teacher-turned-librar­i­an in her mid-40s with two kids, a pix­ie-cut, and thrift store style.

Before we for­mal­ly intro­duced our­selves, I rec­og­nized her from across the room and was imme­di­ate­ly struck by the way she car­ried her­self. There was a con­fi­dence when mov­ing about; clear­ing a table to sit at with­out a momen­t’s hes­i­ta­tion as to whether any­one would mind; inter­act­ing with the staff; bump­ing into an old acquain­tance. Something com­mon among par­ents and peo­ple in the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, lest they show weak­ness to a group of chil­dren (and the com­plete oppo­site of Heather, who’s shy and awk­ward and always tries to take up as lit­tle space as pos­si­ble).

We both under­stood how dif­fi­cult it can be to get to know some­one through a screen, and agreed it would be bet­ter to meet soon­er rather than lat­er. That meant I did­n’t know too much about her, aside from the details in her pro­file. I was com­fort­ed by the fact that she men­tioned All About Love by bell hooks under “A book every­one should read”, because Tiana hap­pened to rec­om­mend it to me ear­li­er that year and it became a big influ­ence on the way I approach my rela­tion­ships. Also by the fact that one of her needs was “under­stand­ing of sys­tems of oppres­sion”; as I drift fur­ther to the left on the polit­i­cal spec­trum, I’ve learned that I tend to get along bet­ter with peo­ple who have an aware­ness of social inequal­i­ty.

We got to know each oth­er over after­noon tea at a cafe that was­n’t far from either of our hous­es. Nothing too per­son­al was dis­cussed, even though I usu­al­ly want to know every­thing about some­one at first1. It was fas­ci­nat­ing to hear about “dic­tio­nary dates” dur­ing her time in Asia; being secure enough to inter­act with some­one in a roman­tic set­ting while need­ing a pock­et translator/dictionary to com­mu­ni­cate with them told me of a con­fi­dence I still find admirable.

The weath­er turned frigid as we sat on the patio and the sun left the sky. Eventually the dense blan­kets pro­vid­ed weren’t enough to keep the chill out. As I made my way home, I remem­ber being proud of myself for pur­su­ing my own thing at a time that I was try­ing to be more inde­pen­dent, and relieved to know that I no longer had the ner­vous­ness asso­ci­at­ed with being des­per­ate for accep­tance.

We tried to recon­nect a few times after that, but our sched­ules did­n’t match up. By the time the hol­i­days came around, I real­ized I was­n’t feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly excit­ed about the sit­u­a­tion. I enjoyed myself, but it cost me a lot of emo­tion­al resources to be out with­out Heather to rely on.

Fortunately, I was­n’t feel­ing a lot of pres­sure to make things work, although that was prob­a­bly a sign that I was­n’t par­tic­u­lar­ly drawn to this per­son2. It was the start of my lost week­end, and every time I tried to open up about how dif­fi­cult things had been, she did­n’t respond with the kind of empa­thy or com­mis­er­a­tion I was look­ing for. I told her frankly that I did­n’t think we were a good fit, and she unmatched me with­out anoth­er word.

Soon after, I delet­ed my OK Cupid account. The expe­ri­ence was­n’t entire­ly unpleas­ant, but inter­act­ing in that capac­i­ty was frus­trat­ing more often than not. Especially when some­thing as sim­ple as trad­ing music or mix­tapes — one of my favourite parts of dat­ing — has been ren­dered imprac­ti­cal with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of stream­ing ser­vices. I decid­ed that try­ing to form a con­nec­tion with some­one amongst a sea of pro­files was­n’t an effec­tive use of my lim­it­ed ener­gy.

The fact that I was slid­ing fur­ther into depres­sion (and start­ing to look like my dad around the mid­sec­tion) also com­pelled me to work on myself before I felt com­fort­able enough to be part of the dat­ing world again. Then my pan­ic attacks resumed; I was blessed with the gift of des­per­a­tion, forc­ing me to acknowl­edge the depth of my strug­gle and seek a solu­tion.

Clawing my way out of that hole meant learn­ing to be self-suf­fi­cient, prac­tic­ing self-sooth­ing exer­cis­es, and show­ing myself com­pas­sion; skills I nev­er devel­oped as a child or lost over the last few years. It’s kept me busy enough that I haven’t felt com­pelled to date out­side of my pri­ma­ry part­ner­ship. I’m dis­cov­er­ing how enjoy­able it can be to spend time with myself, to be the one to nour­ish my soul. That does­n’t mean I’m not open to the pos­si­bil­i­ty that I might devel­op a strong con­nec­tion with some­one some day, but it would have to be a remark­able per­son to make me want to ren­der myself vul­ner­a­ble.

  1. Consequently, I tend to spill my guts, but I was feel­ing trep­i­da­tious about reveal­ing too much after open­ing up and being ghost­ed a few times. []
  2. It’s hard to tell if I was keep­ing an emo­tion­al dis­tance or if I was­n’t espe­cial­ly attract­ed to her. At that point I was look­ing for friends more than any­thing, and try­ing to keep an open mind. []

One comment

  1. I think I would enjoy first dates with peo­ple, but not any­thing beyond that. I know I’m not polyamorous because it seems so exhaust­ing to me. We had some­one liv­ing with us for a few months, in a pla­ton­ic way, but even that was mess­ing me up, I enjoy my 1:1 dynam­ic a lot. But, meet­ing a new per­son, hav­ing that first date ener­gy and those ini­tial “get­ting to know you” con­ver­sa­tions are a lot of fun.

Leave a Reply