In part one of Love Me Don’t Leave Me, I write about how close to the bone several of the toxic childhood schemas were for me and the general effect of issues thereof for many years. I mention my current strong, healthy relationships – thank God - and how I got married as one person and got divorced as another when I’d salvaged enough of my true self from my primary pain. What I didn’t delve into was how, until recently, I feel “my story” was a third wheel on most of my dates. #Goodfuckingtimes.
To begin, it’s incredible to me how I’ve changed since I went back on POF the second time as a born again virgin. Certainly, I’d advanced greatly since the first time when I was on for six weeks which felt like six MONTHS and I was so scarred from the experience I vowed: “Never again!” Well, never came sooner than expected as it often does.
Was I actually ready to date online? Don’t be ridiculous. That’s like asking: Were you ready to be a mother? Of course you say “yes!” Then you spend the rest of eternity dating/ mothering and asking yourself: “Was I on CRACK COCAINE??” But I’d been so lonely I was at least ready to try. And try. And try again. I’ve been on a hella lot of first dates, kids. Just saying.
When I began treading water once more in the POF pool, I was my usual take everything personally/ serious as a heart attack self. Therefore, every message that went nowhere, every interaction that disappointed was an opportunity for me to ask: “what’s WRONG with me??” always seeing the inbox as half full. I had no idea how to be easy going or take things lightly – LIGHTLY?? Get a grip, man! Life is hard and then you die. Probably on a horrible first date. Get with the program.
Also, I’ve never been a natural with the opposite sex, to be honest. I’ve always felt awkward, with low self esteem and little confidence in my attractiveness or personality. Growing up, I was never told I was pretty or smart or a good person; I never felt valued for any reason. I only got attention when I got in trouble, which wasn’t very often because I was always trying to be sooo good…to get some fucking attention!
This is why my “emotional deprivation” score in Love Me Don’t Leave Me, though only “fairly low” was my highest of all the questionnaires in the book. “If you grew up in an environment where you didn’t receive emotional support, attention, affection, guidance and understanding, then emotional deprivation is probably one of your core beliefs.” I highlighted “your feelings or experiences weren’t valued or validated.” No shit, Sherlock. Add a big scoop of “defectiveness” and a healthy pinch of “failure” and there’s my flavor profile growing up.
My parents were negative people and early on, I internalized all of that negativity as guilt and blame, taking responsibility for things I had no control over yet I still managed to feel Iike I had a big L on my forehead. When you combine a sensitive kid with highly insensitive, emotionally unavailable parents, you get a version of me – I’ve always been able to give love easily but I was given very little practice receiving it, therefore I never felt I deserved it. Fast forward, put all of that in a cute dress and out in the big bad world online to find a new mate at 50 years old…hahaha...YEAH, right?
It’s been over two years now on this journey learning about myself and finally I can look back and see a pattern and feel how intensely my core beliefs were manifesting as knee jerk reactions to commonplace events. Hello, amygdala hijack! As a big example, whenever it took longer than I thought it should ie immediately to hear back from someone via email or text, I’d immediately assume something was wrong and blame myself. I said something wrong. I did something wrong. OMG. I knew I shouldn’t have said/ done that! WHY did I say/ do that?? Even if it was the most innocuous of communications, I felt like I was on a tightrope of human etiquette. Blindfolded. The highs were very high when an interaction went well but the lows were sooo low because everything felt so random. I was so random. And as much as I tried to be open to love, in hindsight I see that I still felt unlovable to myself – always not good enough. Jesus. The “unavoidable and uncontrollable primary pain”. Brutal.
But. As Michelle says and I finally began figuring out, I am NOT my story. My parents did what they could and I stopped blaming them years ago; however, I’m trying my damnedest to stop blaming MYSELF now and holy shit – is THAT a lot nicer place to live from let alone date!
How did I get here from there, you ask? Really, it’s been hard core hands on trial and error. It took a good while before it became self-evident that while the guys would come and the guys would go, it was still me in the mirror every day and I just wanted to be happy. Comprehending that my life was about me was gradual and then it was like a thunderbolt. MY LIFE IS ABOUT ME. Did I want to spend it treating myself like shit while I treated everyone else I loved like gold? Really?
I understood how much I’d changed when I went on a potential fwb meet a few months ago which was the oddest non-date date I’d ever been on. Seriously. We were like seatmates on a plane for three hours. About thirty minutes into this weirdness I thought: “Wow. This reaallly isn't going well, is it?” But I thought it with complete detachment and I made no heroic leap to try and save it or take responsibility for it. At. All. In fact, I sat back and waited for him to make an effort and when it was not forthcoming I went: Huh. And then just let it all happen.
That moment was revelatory to me. COMPLETELY. I was no longer trying to please my date as my date had no interest in pleasing me. The date was DIVE BOMBING…and I didn’t take ANY OF IT personally. At all. It was fan. fucking. tastic! Take THAT, you fucking failure core belief, you!
In fact, doing a stint on a fwb site after spending six months with Mr. Sooo Sexy and Sooo Damaged was just what the doctor ordered and no, I don't mean the 21 year old with the 10 minute turn around though that WAS fun. It was just me finally taking things as easily as an afterthought. Messages came and went. Guys came and went. Sometimes I was a little bit sad or disappointed that someone didn’t work out but then I just let it go and moved on. If I didn’t hear back from someone, I no longer castigated myself. The sheer luxury of not rearranging everything negatively then putting it all on my shoulders was unparalleled. I actually FORGOT some guys because…well…they weren’t very memorable, obviously. That was unheard of before! I usually have the memory of an elephant…and usually only for the bad shit.
Maybe it’s Alzheimer’s? But hopefully, it’s just me being happy no matter how the dating goes or doesn’t. Hopefully, it’s just me being the sky and not the weather. Hopefully, it’s just me becoming ME. Story not required.
Did I have Love Me Don’t Leave Me at the beginning of my dating journey? Nope. Would it have helped? Yup. Often, just trying to identify and articulate the root of your pain is overwhelming and will stop you in your exhausted tracks. I found this book to be clear and accessible, both in language and in practical tools, and at times actually conducive to personal epiphanies. Ftw.
Make no mistake – you will still have to do all the work and it’s no fucking picnic in the park but again, it’s your life. Not what your parents made it. Not what a random date can more than momentarily affect. YOURS. If you’re not all: “My life fucking ROCKS!! I fucking rock!!” then maybe it would benefit you to bone up on maladaptive schemas, amygdala hijacking and the difference between primary and secondary pain and by maybe I mean yes, completely.
Then none of us will have to yell: LOVE ME DON’T LEAVE ME! at anyone. That would be a good thing, amiright?