When my ex and I split, I threw myself onto every possible online dating site: Match, Plenty of Fish, E-harmony, Tinder.
I even joined a cupid-infested alumnae group called “The Right Stuff” (as if higher education were an assured recipe for romance). Committed to moving on, within seven months I had met over 20 guys and corresponded with well over 100.
My married friends shook their heads enviously.
“You’re just so free,” my girlfriend sighed, as her two-year old pelted us with carrot puree, “You can do whatever you want. You have so many choices. God, that’s nice.”
And she was right.
I left countless Romeos behind at my local Starbucks, efficiently and promptly discarding anyone who didn’t fit my checklist. You don’t have a job I like? No second date. I don’t like your oddly shaped ears? Nope, no thanks. Oh, you want to talk about your feelings? Oh, my dear god no, buh-bye.
But while going on daily coffee dates looked exciting from the outside, I started feeling hollow and over-caffeinated. What was missing? Surely my dating rigor indicated that I was proactively seeking intimacy; after all, it was just a matter of finding the right guy. Then I would feel safe, secure, and connected. Then everything would fall into place.
Real intimacy doesn’t happen when it’s easy to walk away. Intimacy is earned through cultivating our capacity to stay put.
I started to realize that the connection I sought wasn’t out there in one magical person; it was already lying beneath the surface of things, waiting for me to do the work of digging in and digging down.
By leaving my coffee dates at the first sign of trouble, I was reacting to my own discomfort. Though it looked wild and proactive from the outside, my rampant dating had become another way of appearing like I was seeking intimacy while actually avoiding it at all costs. I wasn’t free at all; I was trapped in a Ping-Pong carnival of avoidance.
Because real freedom lies in our capacity to mindfully choose our best path, not mindlessly react to our own discomfort.
Does “staying” mean going out with someone that I don’t really like? Or worse, becoming a masochist and staying in a terrible relationship? God no.
But until I learned to trust that I had the bravery to stay in the fire, how could I know if I was leaving because it was easy—or because it was the best thing to do?
So I’ve changed my dating ways. I’ve started to treat the men I meet as people—rather than solutions. I’m cultivating self-trust and fortitude when immersed in the fires of conflict, in the awkward silences, in uncomfortable honestly, and in all my vulnerable feelings.
By cultivating our capacity to stay put, we earn the freedom to make better choices. This is the bravery that lets us apologize to our friends, stay in the room during a conflict, be patient with our screaming kid, and have that payrate discussion with our boss. Or god forbid, go on a second date.
Stay in the fire. Cultivate fortitude. Cultivate self-trust. And be truly free.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own