Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What I need

What seems like centuries ago, Turtle asked if we could continue hanging out, but remain casual. He wanted us to continue "enjoying each other's company" and get to know each other. At the time, it sounded to me a lot like "let's see where it goes" which, in my experience, never goes anywhere good.

I remember thinking it would never work. I'd never have the confidence to "date" without knowing where it was going. I didn't think I could handle knowing he was doing stuff with friends, without feeling left out and worried. I have never been good at the "day to day" thing.

I had all but decided to just forget the whole thing and move on. I owed him nothing, and the truth was, the relationship he was suggesting was not going to meet my needs. A part of me wanted to say, I know what I want, and if you can't offer it, I'm done.

After all, that's what we say when we stop seeing someone, right? This doesn't work for me, so I'm done. At that point I had known Turtle for less than three months. We had no commitment, and were only just starting to form a friendship. I owed him nothing and could have moved on with barely a conversation.

I was pretty proud of myself. I thought it took a tremendous amount of courage and confidence to just walk away from someone because he didn't live up to my standards.

Then I realized...that's not courage. Not in this case. I was actually being a little cowardly. I was ready to walk away because I couldn't have what I wanted - constant reassurance.

My problem wasn't that the relationship didn't meet my needs. My problem was that no relationship could. I had established needs that are unreasonable, and unhealthy, not to mention not realistic at all.

I have always looked for that sort of ego boost. We could probably blame abandonment issues, or being picked on as a kid. The truth is, this issue has been a problem all my life. It was a problem in my marriage, and I think it has probably been an obstacle, one way or another, in most relationships.

I decided that, while I want to feel confident in my relationship, I do not want my confidence to come from my relationship. I want to feel good about myself, and happy in my life, regardless of what Turtle (or any man in that place) thinks of, or wants with, me. I want to be able to not hear from him for a day (or two), know he's out with friends (including women), and still feel confident in where I stand. I want it to not matter where we're going, and instead focus on how I like things in the moment. I realized that all relationships, to an extent, are day by day, and if I ever want to be happy in a relationship, I needed to get with the program.

I decided it was time to get past my abandonment hangups, and my need to always be included, and wanting to control how the relationship works. I decided it was time I learned how to feel secure without constant reassurance. I decided it was time to learn how to move forward without necessarily knowing where I'll end up. It was time to realize that, no matter what I may have convinced myself of in the past, I've never known where a relationship was going, so it's time to stop all the worrying.

It occurs to me that in many ways (some big, some small), I have stood in my own way when it came to developing a good relationship. While it is important to know what I want, and what works, it is also important to know why I want what I want, and to be sure my reasons are solid. 

It is definitely still a work in progress, but I have absolutely improved. I no longer feel a pang of anxiety every time he goes out with friends, or if we go a day or two without chatting (OK - sometimes I have anxiety, but I have gotten much better at getting it in check). I've learned to look at good conversations and fun times as "positive" instead of "hopeful" (one looks to the future, while the other keeps me in the present). I've learned to relax about where we might be going, and how quickly (or slowly) we might get there.

I've also learned how to focus on what I know, rather than what I think might happen. I know he likes me; I also know there's always a possibility that could change. I have no control over his feelings or the future, so I may as well enjoy the now. Worrying about the future won't solve anything.

Something else I've learned? My relationship with Turtle happens between the two of us. Friends' advice, outside opinions, what someone says on Facebook, or even how people behave when we're in a group should not color how I see things between us.

I'm sure to some it sounds like I'm settling, or rationalizing. But the truth is, I need these lessons before I can have a happy, healthy relationship. Particularly because I tend to be attracted to men like Turtle, who are independent and off on their own so much. I can't go looking for reassurance, or expect someone to adjust his personality to accommodate my insecurities.

I always thought what I needed was a guy who gives me no reason to worry. The truth is, what I needed was to meet someone who would "force" (or help) me face my fears and insecurities, and get rid of them once and for all.

Turns out this relationship with Turtle, such as it is, meets my needs after all.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Thanks to bad dates

Some of my friends were super-thrilled to hear I gave up online dating. They never thought it was for me. Maybe they thought I met too many of the wrong guys, or maybe they thought dating like it was my job made it more stressful than it should be. I suppose both are true, though to be fair, both of those things have more to do with me than with online dating itself.

Still, the whole online dating thing was not a waste. I met some nice men, and made some forever friends.

Even better, I learned a lot.

All those bad dates, failed relationships, and hurt feelings have taught me what doesn't work. They taught me what I don't want, what I can't handle, and what isn't important.

I think that's how it works in relationships. It can be tough to learn what you do want, because it is forever changing. But if you figure out what won't ever work, you can - by default - learn what really matters.

Most of all, by learning how a bad relationship feels, you'll get better at identifying how it feels to be in a good relationship.

I needed all those bad dates to teach me what I was doing wrong. How rushing and controlling and worrying were hurting me way more than they were ever helping. There is a difference between knowing what you want, and assuming everyone else is wrong for not wanting the same. There is also a difference between settling and compromise.

I also needed to learn how I feel when I am in a good relationship. It seems the best way for me to get the lesson was to experience some relationship failure. One thing is certain - I know how I don't want to feel.

Finding a strong, healthy, happy relationship has been a struggle for me. Maybe more than most. But I was coming from a place where I really had no idea what one looks like, or how one feels.

I may not be quite there yet, but I know I am close. I've come a long way - all thanks to a whole lot of bad dates.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Outside my comfort zone

It's been a month since I've gone on a dating site. A month since meeting anyone new.

I have felt anxious a couple of times. Wondering if deleting all my profiles is extreme. Is it really a lesson, or just me giving up? Is it really all about Turtle, even though I told myself otherwise?

The truth is, it's not about him. Yes, I still have feelings for Turtle, and yes, he and I still hang out. This month we had five dates (two were on the same day, but separate get-togethers). One was a group date where I met some of his friends.

I would love for us to be more. But we're not there right now. I know that, and I could meet other people. I'm open to it, in fact. Yet I still think deleting the profiles was the right choice.

I kept telling myself I was OK not being more with Turtle - and then trying to find someone who wanted to be more. It was like I was saying I was OK with things, but not behaving like I believed my own words.

It's my pattern. I get caught up in what I don't have. I latch on to how I want things to be. I'm not with him at that event, he didn't text me tonight, it's another holiday alone.

The dating sites helped fulfill that pattern. They gave me a chance to search for the solution. Rather than just appreciate where I am, the dating sites (for me) were an excuse to focus on where I want to be.

Don't get me wrong - it's good to have goals. It's good to know what you want, and how you plan to get there. But not at the expense of where you are. It's never a good idea to miss out on the now.

Instead of lamenting my quiet phone or free schedule, I should embrace this time. Use it to enjoy stuff I couldn't if I were in a couple. Or, taking the positive thinking a step further - enjoy it while I can, because soon, I won't have it to enjoy.

Giving up control is totally outside my comfort zone. I have come to realize that sometimes the only way to get where you need to be is to find the end of that zone, and step outside.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Love done right

We are all inclined to believe ours is the right way to love. The way we show our feelings, the things we say, everything we do is how it should be done. Naturally, we expect others to behave the way we would. If they don't, we assume that means they don't share our feelings.

I've learned that, while that might be true sometimes, it makes sense to tread carefully. There's a big difference between knowing what works for you personally, and mandating how a person expresses himself.

It goes without saying that mutual respect and attraction and affection should be expected. Communication and trust should also be a part of any solid relationship. But there is no rule about how people communicate, or how they show their affection.

Maybe you meet someone you really like, but he doesn't text as quickly, or see you as much as you'd like. That doesn't mean his feelings aren't real or sincere. If he doesn't say just the right thing, it doesn't mean he feels any less affection.

It might mean you are not a good fit - and that's OK. To know for sure, you need to stop blaming him for his "shortcomings" and take a look at yourself. Is this someone you can get to know? Can you learn his behavior and his "language?" Can you get used to the way he expresses his feelings? Or do you really need someone who does things a certain way?

If his way doesn't work for you, there's a good chance that's mutual. You're not a good match - but that doesn't mean either of you is wrong. It doesn't mean his feelings are any less sincere than yours, and it doesn't make his way of expressing them any less valid. It doesn't mean you're asking too much, and it doesn't make you the crazy girl.

It just means you're different.

I'm not suggesting anyone settle, or give up on something that really matters. I just think we should all take a moment to really learn what actually matters to each of us. What works in our life; what makes our relationship good. Not just for us - but for the person we want in our life.

I'm also suggesting we stop blaming others for what we want. Figure out what you want, and own it. If someone can't offer it to you, and you're not able to compromise, understand that's not on him - and move on.

Finding a love that really works would probably be much easier if we all gave up the idea that love works the same for everyone.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Small world

Thanks to Facebook data mining my synched contacts, I have dozens of new suggestions for people I may know. It may or may not (probably not) surprise you that about 80% of those suggestions are guys I have met online.

Since I have no more online dating profiles, my newest hobby is viewing the Facebook profiles of these "suggestions." I'm fascinated by the stuff people post online - and even more fascinated by how connected people really are. It truly is a small, small world.

Tonight I learned that one of the men I met on Adult Friend Finder over the summer (we only met, we didn't "meet") is friends with a guy I dated for a couple months last year, a guy I used to chat with on Plenty of Fish, and a guy with whom I had a coffee date on New Years Day.

I think it's safe to say that I decided to kick my online dating habit just in time.

It also might be safe to say that moving to a new area code might not be the worst decision I could make.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Leap of faith

"If nothing changes - nothing changes."
Turtle says that all the time. Baking Suit pointed out that even though he has a tendency to be a "big dummy head" sometimes, Turtle is definitely spot on about change. You can not expect things to change in your life if you're not willing to change some things in your life.
(For the record, I don't think Baking Suit really thinks Turtle is a dummy - I think she just questions how smart he can really be if he doesn't quite realize how lucky he is to have me. She's awesome that way.)
It occurs to me that while I let go of control and expectations, I might also need to let go of some bad habits. I've met a lot of men. Some have been nice, some have been not so nice, and some have been downright awful. The one thing they all have in common is I met them online.
I have embraced online dating determined to find excitement and romance and ultimately, love. I have used online dating sites to search for the love of my life, but have succeeded only in finding new friends, casual sex partners, blog material, the occasional distraction, ego boosts, and sometimes a cure for boredom and/or loneliness. It's so easy to sign in and find new men when I am lonely or sad or vulnerable. 
Obviously, I have met some great guys - Trooper, Engineer, Big, Sparrow - even Turtle. I truly believe in my heart that he could be the one for me. However, since things have not gone my way, I have found that I continue to use my profiles as a distraction - meeting more wrong people at the wrong time. Even with hidden profiles, I still go searching out guys, and sometimes contacting them. I even had a couple coffee dates - all while I wasn't really interested.
Online dating has become a game for me, more about how many people I could meet, and less about finding the right person. It's also become a bad habit - one that needs to be broken.
So, it's time to make a change. It's time to let go.
As of this morning, I have permanently deleted all of my online dating profiles (for the record, I still had them on Match, OK Cupid, and Plenty of Fish).
Does this mean I'm giving up? Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite. I have been talking for months about wanting to walk in faith; about handing my heart over to God and letting Him bring the right man into my life at the right time.
I finally realized the other day that sometimes true faith requires a bold step. Nothing was ever going to change until I finally found the courage to walk away from the thing that was cluttering my life with all the wrong guys, and make room for God to work.
Is Turtle the right man? Only time will tell. But I believe if he isn't, God will bring the right man at the right time - and this time, I will be ready.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lessons in letting go

The last twelve months have been exhausting. I had so much going on (new job, new home), dating really wasn't a priority. Then a guy I already knew showed himself back into my life. I let him really get the best of me, and I reacted by making some horrible, terrible, just plain awful choices.

(I never shared much detail on those choices; some things are better left locked in a vault - know what I mean?)

That went on for about a month, culminating in a, "What the &%@# am I doing?!" moment, after which I immediately gave up on all that nonsense.

Then I met Turtle. Things started off slow...then picked up a bit....then got weird. Turtle is not ready for a relationship, but he is still in my life. We do not hang out as often as we once did, but we still talk just about everyday and we do see each other pretty regularly.

I am still trying not to set expectations. I am trying to just put a pin in my feelings, enjoy the time I spend with him, and let things evolve into whatever it is we are meant to be. I have, for the first time ever, tried to approach dating with patience and understanding and compromise; without an agenda, or pushing.

I suck at it.

(To be fair, though - I am improving.)

If nothing else, I have learned a lot about myself.

I learned that I have spent the last few years (since Trooper) with my heart closed off and a big wall built up to keep people from getting all the way in. I thought I was being laid back when it came to dating - but really, I was just not allowing those emotions to show. The trouble with walls is that while they are a great way to keep out the pain and the tears - they also block your blessings.

The truth is, while I am laid back about a lot of things in life, when I really care about someone, I can get anxious and worried and frustrated pretty easily. I can say that I'm OK with taking things slow, but the truth is, I do have a pace in mind. When things don't go at that pace, I can get insecure and freak out a little.

Why do I react that way? What has me so scared? All of the major relationships in my life (right back to my mom when I was a baby) have resulted in me being left behind. It's the one thing that completely knocks me off my game. To cope, I try to put things in a certain order - what I want, when I want - to calm my fears and convince my mind that he (whoever "he" is at the time) won't leave.

That was pretty easy to figure out. What wasn't easy was trying to figure out how to go about changing a reaction and a behavior that is forty years in the making. I mean - I know better. In a million years I never expected that X would leave - but he did. That taught me it doesn't matter what order things are in, or how much control you think you have. But knowing better and behaving better are two completely different things.

(Ironically, it was a long conversation with X that really helped me start to realize what I needed to do.)

I needed to learn that it wasn't about having better control of things - it was about learning to let go of the illusion that I have any control at all. Things happen. Life happens. It can't be predicted. We don't know where we're headed from one moment to the next. Every day, every hour, every minute we're faced with choices. There's no way to predict where those choices will lead - and that's OK. That's the way life is meant to be. If we all knew the future, there'd be no surprises, no lessons. No hope.

Life isn't meant to be controlled or predicted - it is meant to be lived. Enjoy time with people when you can; maybe they won't be here tomorrow. Learn lessons. Allow yourself to be sad. Sit in the quiet now and then and listen to your heart. If you're so inclined, listen to God and what He wants for your life. Focus on what you know you want, and keep making choices that will get you there. Keep moving until you run out of options.

I have thought many times that Turtle may have come into my life as a way to teach me how to know when it's time to let go. This thing with him is not perfect, or easy. I'm not always happy....there's a million reasons to leave, and I owe him nothing. I know I don't have to stay.

I have sat in quiet, in tears, and prayed to God on what is best for me. I have handed Him my problems and fears, and asked that He fix them, because I surely can't. I have accepted that God works at His pace, not mine, and I might be waiting a while.

I do think I am meant to let go - but not of a relationship. The God to Whom I pray loves me and wants nothing but the best for me. He would not look to punish me or make me sad. He wouldn't drag someone into my life to teach me a lesson I learned long ago. I am an expert at walking away before I give things a chance. I know all too well what it means to take charge and try to control the outcome.

My God would look to prepare me - and I do realize that while Turtle is here to bring the lessons, they may not be about him. Only time will tell for sure.

I am learning how to let go of the illusion that I control when, or how, things happen. I am learning to let go of the idea that life, or love, needs to look a certain way in order for it to be true. I am learning patience and understanding and how to accept someone, faults and all, and learn to build him up rather than look for reasons to walk away. I am learning that it isn't all about me, and that sometimes, I can't have exactly what I want, when I want - and that's OK.

It turns out I don't always know best, anyway.