A little while ago I wrote about how I decided to try online dating.
A little while after that, I wrote about how hard dating really is and intended to reveal the silver lining of one experience in particular.
So here we are: what did I learn from that experience? What is the silver lining?
As I began to mention, things not working out with that guy ended up being a surprising path that brought me closer to myself. Closer to a version of me that I had lost years ago. Back in college, I lost her. I fell madly in love with a boy, a musician, who was, quite simply, the best person I had ever met in my life. He was cute, creative, compassionate, comical, and caring. I had never been loved like that before, and I know I’ll never be loved in quite that same way ever again. (Pause: I’m not saying no one will ever love me. This isn’t a pity party. It’s a moment of silence, more so, to recognize that the way he loved me was special and specific to him and to me in that particular moment of our lives, so yeah, that will never happen again.) It was a beautiful and tragic experience, I guess the way most first-loves are. I won’t go into much detail except to say that I never imagined that things wouldn’t work out with him. So when they didn’t, I broke.
I broke in a way I had never broken before. This was a time of a lot of different Firsts in my life, and this was definitely a first. I was deeply, irreparably disappointed by the break-up itself, though more so for the reasoning behind it. It’s incredibly vulnerable to admit that reasoning and to talk about it, even now, years later. It’s not as vulnerable as it used to be, but it’s vulnerable nonetheless. Even with my friends it’s a sensitive subject, so it’s all the more vulnerable to do so so openly and publicly…but, in essence, I ended up caring a lot more about my heritage than I ever thought I would. If anything, I NEVER thought I would. Growing up, I had lots of friends who cared so much about our common heritage that they not only wanted to marry someone within the culture, but they went so far as befriending only those people! Which was just illogical and obnoxious to me. So as far as I knew of myself, I wasn’t one of those people, and never did I imagine I would be.
But apparently, I was. And that realization broke me. Think about, for a moment, how much you actually knew about yourself at the age of 19, 20, 21. Now think of how, in spite of how limited that knowledge probably is, how uncharacteristically confident you felt in the face of it. Now think: that shred of identity, completely shattering.
When that happened, I felt like I lost everything. I lost every sense of myself as a person, I lost my childhood, my innocence, and worst of all, I lost trust in myself. I lost my self-love. I felt so out of love with myself that I actually hated myself for apparently caring about something that–and I didn’t realize this until years later–was so inborn to me. The amount, depth, and level of shame I felt consumed me wholly. I wasn’t just disappointed. I was depressed. I lost all sense of myself and my life. The hair on my own head didn’t feel like it was mine. I’ll never forget that moment: my mom was in town visiting me for the holidays, we were supposed to go to our cousin’s house for Christmas eve, and all I could do was sit on the gradually deflating air mattress in my room, holding my hair, feeling it, and not feeling it, and staring into the wall in front of me, crying, that this hair wasn’t mine. Needless to say, my mom flipped out. She called our cousins and told them we weren’t going to make it that evening because I suddenly got sick. I think it was one of the scariest moments of her life. She had no idea what the hell I was talking about, and thought I had legitimately gone insane. So yeah, it was horrible. I was broken, really, really broken.
The months that followed were tough. I had just started a graduate program and had to go on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication to keep my panic attacks at a minimum, just so I could go to class and get through a page of reading. More months after that, I started therapy with an unfortunately average, boring, spineless woman, who I’m sure needed her own therapy after listening to me talk for 50 minutes. That didn’t last very long, but it helped a little. I kept waking up every morning, crying, and with time, some mornings I didn’t cry. I went through the motions. I slowly started hanging out with my friends again. Before I knew it, graduation was on the horizon. I remember wondering how I managed that.
Later that fall, I got a job, by some miracle of the universe. I didn’t know at the time, but there I would meet two of the most amazing human beings in my life who would soon become my best friends, my soul sisters. But before that happened, an old college friend of mine visited me in the city. And after a week of observing me, on the last day of her trip, she said to me, as we were lying on the grass in Madison Square Park: “You aren’t who you used to be. Who you used to be would never do this. Why aren’t you that person anymore?” Needless to say, I was simultaneously stunned and angry. I almost shut down, right there in front of her. Why am I not the same person I used to be???????, I wanted to scream at her, Because look at what happened to my life!!!!!!!! How could I possibly be the same person I used to be??? It hurt me so much to hear her say those things. You don’t think I know that??? I wanted to tell her. I’m over here DYING for things to go back to the way things used to be. But I will never be the girl I used to be. It was a loss, for sure. On so many levels, too. That friendship dissolved shortly thereafter. I was too hurt to keep in touch, until recently. But it’s still not the same between us. It’s new, it’s it’s own thing. But it’s not the same.
I was grieving so much at that time in my life: I was grieving the illusion of my life being put-together a certain way. I was grieving how I changed. I was grieving the person I used to be: the girl who had no woes or worries, who just loved in the name of loving, without thinking too much about it. More than anything in the world, I wanted to go back in time and un-know what I learned about myself, about who I really was and what I really wanted, apparently. I had never felt more betrayed by anyone or anything in my entire life, and for it to be my own self-knowledge was the heaviest, most shaming thing I had ever born. I couldn’t look at myself, you know? I couldn’t bear to look, to see, to admit, let alone accept, or forgive. I really thought I had done something so wrong. I had never felt farther away from myself than I did in that moment.
And I never thought that I would have the resources and support in my life, let alone the strength within me, to put my broken self back together again. Nor did I believe, for one second, that even if I did manage, somehow, to do that, that I could put myself back together in a way that would actually be a person that I could love again. I knew I could love again, sure. But loving myself? Not so sure. And I never believed that I could let myself be so vulnerable as to fall for someone so hard as to break again. Because I never believed I could survive another breaking, another having to put myself back together, yet again, in a whole new way.
Until I met that guy online.
I knew, from the moment we met, that there was a connection. He was totally the Ben Wyatt to my Leslie Knope. It was crazy. It scared me. But I moved on to see him a second time. And the chemistry was explosive. It scared me more. But I continued on to see him a third time. And on that third date, I just knew, in my heart of hearts, that I was reaching a point of no return. A point where, something real could actually come of it. And I freaked out, to be honest. But I still kept seeing him because I liked him. I talked to my friends about my feelings. I processed them.
But he didn’t. And I knew he was feeling it, too. The connection, the chemistry, the love, really. When two people feel the same thing, it’s subconsciously so obvious that you can’t not know it’s there, right? But he didn’t, for whatever reason, properly process things, and he started to ignore me. Which was just…brutally rude and, to me, totally unacceptable. So I set out to talk to him and get some clarity. Maybe I was wrong, maybe it was just me.
What I intended to be a calm but clarifying conversation turned into a pissy phone call. He accused me of having too high expectations of him that he wasn’t ready to meet, although he had never bothered to ask me what I wanted out of this situation. He claimed to be too busy, and that he had warned me about this. And every excuse he gave in an effort to justify his behavior just brought me closer and closer to true self. “Things were going too fast for me,” he explained, “so I had to ask myself: What do I need right now? And what I needed was to take a step back.”
“You know,” I started, “it wasn’t until you just said that, that I realized: when I ask myself that same question of what do I need right now?, I am no longer the only person that I’m thinking of. And I’m just realizing now that that’s clearly not mutual here.”
“No, you’re right,” he said. “It’s not.”
And that was really it for me. I realized right then and there that I was willing to let myself fall for this guy–like really, really fall in a way I haven’t fallen in years–and that he wasn’t willing to let himself fall for me. And that was it. That was all I needed to know. We ended it, and I cried immediately after. I called one of my best friends and told her the whole story. And as disappointing as it was, I finally felt like I had come home to myself. A home that I thought had died, and could never be found again. I realized that this was what my friend was asking me about that afternoon in Madison Square Park. This was the piece of me I felt had been missing, that I never dared to hope or dream I’d ever get back. But here it was. Some three-to-five arduous, emotional, tumultuous years later…I finally felt like I found something that I had lost, and it was so special to me.
Since then, I’ve been able to explore dating in a new way. It’s still hard, but I’ve discovered that it can also be fun. There are still moments that are maddeningly difficult, futile, slow, and unpredictable. Other moments I feel like JLO owning at life. It’s been an interesting ride so far, and I’m excited to see how things continue to unfold.