By Jennifer Garstang
A few days after my previous boyfriend and I broke it off, I created a new OKCupid.com profile (cursing myself the whole while for deleting my old profile because “I’d never need it again.”) I wanted to bounce back and start dating… or so I told myself.
Three months later, I actually checked my OKCupid inbox.
Buried among the “u r sxy, wan 2 chat?” emails, and polite but uninspiring contacts, I found a sweet message that made me laugh and sparked my interest. It had been sitting in my inbox for two and a half months, but he was not yet exclusive with anyone else (baruch Hashem!). Now, nearly a year later, I am still in the best relationship of my life.
In my last column, I talked about how all of us come up with reasons to either dismiss the people we date or to abandon dating all together. Looking back, my mind is still boggled at how many reasons I came up with to avoid reaching out during the three months between creating my profile and actually responding to messages; I was too tired, had no free time, needed to lose a couple pounds first. And all that time, there was a message waiting in my inbox from the best guy I’d ever meet. I just couldn’t see it with all the “reasons” in my way.
As I also mentioned last time, though, the “reasons” are there for a reason… We use them to protect ourselves. Those reasons allow us to feel like we’re putting ourselves out there, when in reality, we’re putting up a wall. “I’m too busy to date,” for instance, sounds a lot nicer than, “I’m too scared to seek out a relationship.” “This person I’m dating just doesn’t get that “I’m fiercely independent,” sounds better than, “I’m pushing him or her away because I’m afraid to let this go further.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. You may be genuinely too busy to date right now, or that person you’re with may be unsupportive and farshtinkener to the core. However, if you find yourself repeatedly struggling in one failed relationship after the next, or are unable to find someone at all, it would be worth your time to take a step back and do a little soul-searching. Try on the idea that maybe you’re not being fully honest with yourself about your own motivations. Maybe there’s a part of you that’s getting in your own way.
In my case, during those three months, I was working through some tough times. A sudden death of a friend, a health scare and some hard knocks on both my career and relationship fronts had left me reeling and uncertain of my own worth. I felt broken and beaten and couldn’t bear to face the terrifying world of dating.
The thing is, dating and relationships are scary. They involve opening up and making ourselves vulnerable to another person, and there’s a lot of risk that goes along with that. The main risk, of course, is that things won’t work out (for any number of reasons). The potential destruction of a relationship — be it your crush laughing in your face when you finally ask him or her out, or your spouse betraying you with an affair after 20 years — is a really frightening thought. It’s like the monster that used to live under the bed. We can’t see it, and we know that in reality, there’s probably nothing to be afraid of, but there’s always the “what if.” What if, when we take our flashlight and look, there’s something down there waiting to grab us and rip us to bloody, broken bits?
Beneath our rejection-driven reticence lies our real fear: the fear of being broken and of losing a part of ourselves that we can never get back. Just think about the vocabulary surrounding the end of a relationship: “breaking up,” “broken hearted,” “break down.” On some level, we worry that, by putting ourselves in another person’s hands, we are giving that person the opportunity to destroy us.
Thus, in order to move past our fear, we have to start by coming to a deep understanding: each of us, on a fundamental level, is unbroken and unbreakable.
That’s not an easy thing to wrap your brain around, so give yourself time. It took me three months and an intensive weekend self-help seminar to even begin to internalize the idea and get to a point that I was happy just being me. Once I started to realize that if my next relationship failed, I would be hurt but not broken, the prospect of putting myself out there became a whole lot less scary. It was still scary, mind you, but the risk of pain no longer outweighed the reward of reaching out and connecting with another person.
And once the reward outweighed the risk, I was able to take off my blinders and answer my farsholtn e-mail!