Saturday, April 11, 2015

What not to say

I get a lot of well-meaning advice on my dating life. I accepted a while back that I kind of invite it, even if not directly, simply by sharing my stories. I know it comes from a place of love and concern, so I try not to let it bother me. Still - sometimes, it does.

There are a few things that friends can do to avoid further hurting a heart broken friend, and show support at the same time.

Don't say.... platitudes and clichés. "It'll happen when you least expect it," or, "It just wasn't meant to be," sound helpful and positive. The thing is, your friend likely already knows all this nonsense. It's all true, of course, but is also little comfort to a person still trying to find her footing. When she's ready, she'll find it on Pinterest anyway, so just hold-off on the Paul Coehlo quotes.

Don't offer... advice on how to be happy. Your friend has not forgotten everything she's ever learned. She hasn't quit her job, stopped eating, or started avoiding people. She knows how to take care of herself, and she'll be happy when she's done being sad. Offering that advice really sounds like you're discounting her feelings and trying to rush her back to happy. Stop.*

Don't ask... how she's doing - unless you mean it. You know the answer - she's sad. If you're sick of hearing it, that's fair. But don't pretend you want to know, while secretly hoping she tells you about work or family. If you don't honestly want to listen to the answer, just don't ask the question.

What can you do? If she wants to talk, listen. It will mean so much that you care. Instead of advising her to "go out and live" or "find stuff to look forward to" - create those things. Make plans. Invite her out. You're right - distractions and plans will help.

Mostly, just don't forget how this feels. Chances are, you've been where she is. She'll be fine soon - just be her friend when she's ready.

*Of course, if your friend has stopped eating, working, or seems to be hiding from life more than usual - say something. She could be in a bad place. A little sad is normal - depressed is something else.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ups and downs

It's been four weeks since Turtle ended things (it sounds strange to refer to it as a "breakup" since we weren't actually dating...but we also weren't just friends...anyway, you know what I mean). In general, my rule following any sort of heartbreak is at least 30 days to get myself together.

I broke my rule slightly by going speed-dating last week. While it was more successful than in the past, it doesn't appear it will amount to anything, so let's just pretend that didn't happen, k?

But what I'm finding is, while I was good going out last week and feeling all friendly and positive - this week, all I want to do is sit in my living room and cry. I feel lonely and scared, and also foolish and (to be perfectly honest) a little pathetic. I don't really want to bother my friends with it because, honestly, I don't even know what to say. I'm still as rejected and hurt as I was a couple weeks ago - but I'm no worse. Know what I mean? There's really no reason for me to be sad. I just am.

But I think that happens with grief. It's not an easy trip on a straight, flat road. It's more a journey with twists and turns, with big ups and really, really big downs.

I suppose the trick is to remind yourself that, if things looked really positive last week (or month, or whatever) then they could pivot and look better any second. Nothing's permanent.

Not even the lowest low.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Not quite yet

I know, better than many, how bad an idea it is to rush into meeting new people after a heartbreak. So I know that right now is not a good time for me to return to online dating. If I had any active profiles, now would be the time to hide them all.
Besides, I meant it when I said that deleting those profiles was my way of breaking a bad cycle. The last thing I need right now is to revisit bad habits.
I found myself wondering why it's such a temptation. Am I lonely? Do I just feel like I need to do something to take back control? Am I just bored? Do I just want an ego boost?
I think it's a little bit of everything. A few minutes on a dating site could cure any of those problems. I'm single, I want to have a little fun, so what's the harm?
Meeting people is great - and obviously necessary when you want someone new in your life. When motivated by an honest desire to just find new people, it's the best thing possible - fun, innocent, healthy. All good stuff.
The problem is, when motivated by boredom or loneliness or low self-esteem, all that healthy fun goes out the window. You (or at least I) meet the wrong people. My guard is down, and I'm looking for just anyone, not good, quality people who have something to add to my life. That pattern is how I've met some of the worst guys ever (and I've met some pretty bad guys).
I am open to meeting new people right now - in other ways. That keeps me open to possibilities, without returning to bad habits. Meeting people online is familiar and easy and it can work - and I may return eventually. Just not quite yet.
(So if any of you know a nice single guy who likes short, curvy, sarcastic brunettes - send 'em my way. Just make sure they're not psycho.)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Not enough

Turtle told me the other night that, while he still isn't ready to date anyone, he has realized that when he is, it will not be me. He said he doesn't know why; he likes everything about me, likes spending time with me, and all that. But he's hesitant for some reason, and apparently doesn't think that's going to change.

He wants us to remain friends. In fact, I think if he had his way, we'd still talk everyday and see each other regularly.

The thing is - I just can't. I can't just flip a switch, and turn off my feelings. Seeing him would be a heartbreaking reminder that he doesn't want to be with me. I know me; I would also remain hopeful, and that would cloud the friendship. I would feel hurt every time we were together, and eventually I would resent him.

It's also confusing to me. As soon as I told him I couldn't see him, he tried to extend our evening. He said he would miss me, he held me for what felt like forever when he hugged me goodbye. Heck, when I came back from the ladies room, he had a smile from ear to ear.

I suppose I could be wrong (I mean, obviously I am) but isn't that what we're all trying to find? Someone we enjoy, who makes us smile and laugh, who we can talk with about everything, or nothing, someone who we actually miss when she's not around? I read once that you should date someone who makes you feel the way you do when you see the waiter bringing your food to the table.

So I don't understand why Turtle feels all those things (or at least says he does and behaves the same) and yet, does not want to date me. He admitted it's confusing to him, too. I think if I spent time with him, my desire to understand would get in the way of our friendship.

My friends all insist this has nothing to do with me. While I suppose they could be right, the truth is their opinions are bias.

Of course I realize that Turtle is a complicated guy. I knew that going in. I always knew this ending was a possibility, but I felt he was worth sticking it out, to see what could happen. I realize some of this has to do with him; by his own admission, he likes everything about me, and even he doesn't understand his hesitancy.

Still, it's tough not to take it personally. It's a huge blow to my self-esteem, in addition to being truly heartbreaking. I knew that he needed to get past a lot of stuff if we were ever going to have a chance. It would be easy to pin this on him; say he's afraid to commit, he runs when things get serious, he's attracted to crazy - whatever.

That could all be true. But it's also true that he knows he will want someone in his life. He knows what qualities he'd like her to have. At the end of the day, something inside him knows that person is not me.

He may find me beautiful, smart, funny, fun to be around, comfortable....all those things. But he does not find me to be enough.

Right now, that's all that really matters.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

That tenth time

Way back when, when I was a young, old married lady, I pretty much thought nothing was my fault.
Well, actually, that's not true. I secretly thought everything was my fault, but I pretended to think otherwise.
Having learned the hard way that strategy can only work temporarily (if at all), when I started dating again, I over-corrected. I took all the blame. If I didn't like something, I figured it was me being over-sensitive, or jumping to conclusions. I never wanted to challenge anything my date did or said, because I didn't trust myself to know for sure if it was his issue or mine.
I'd also learned, from bad relationships, that sticking up for myself or speaking my mind was equal to complaining or starting a fight. I didn't want to be "that girl" anymore, so I stopped saying anything.
Over the last few years, I have come to learn that there are ways to tell a person how I feel without making it into an argument. I have also come to realize that a big part of effective communication has to do with the other person. Some people honestly just want a fight. Some want to blame others for everything. Some just take every little observation as criticism, and react defensively, which often leads to an argument.
So, I'm learning. In the last 6+ months, since meeting Turtle, I have also learned that timing is important. I have learned that sometimes it's better to wait, even if I'm certain that what I have to say is of the utmost importance. Waiting not only gives me a chance to mull it over a bit, it also gives me an opportunity to have to conversation in an effective way (eg., in person versus over text message).
But I still find that I don't always know when I should say something. Granted, my situation is a little different. Turtle is not my boyfriend, so the expectations are slightly different. But even without an "official" title, we still have a relationship. If something is bothering me, I should be able to talk about it, the same way I would if I had an issue with a friend.
I find myself wondering if something bothers me because it really bothers me, or if it's maybe me being upset because things are not as I would like them. Nine out of ten times, if I take a little time and remind myself that things have not changed, think about the good stuff between us, and try and remember that hope and patience are my focus - it works itself out.
It's that tenth time that occasionally haunts me. But I suppose this is one of those things about myself that I am working on.

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.