I recently cancelled a date.
He was beautiful. He surfed. His passport was filled with more stamps than mine.
I was excited by this date, but I cancelled it. Why? It’s because I am a love addict who is committed to my own recovery.
Okay, some of you are probably wondering what I mean by “love addict,” so let me clarify: I’m not dressing myself up in pink hearts and stringing flowers in my hair. I’m not shouting sonnets on sidewalks. I am not randomly hugging strangers to get my fix. I don’t sweat, shake or have physical withdrawal when I am absent of a warm body pressed up against mine.
But, I am an addict.
For me, love addiction manifests as a persistent affliction in which I subconsciously select men who are commitment phobic, distant, already committed to someone else, looking for a casual hookup, abusive, or generally unable to fall in love with me.
I pick these men. I idealize these men. I romanticize these men, usually within days or weeks of meeting them. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I put them high on a pedestal.
I become intent on making them fall in love with me. In doing this, I negate my own value and worth, time and again.
Therapy has taught me that love addiction is a manifestation of unresolved issues from early childhood. All of us grow up with core beliefs that we internalize deeply. These beliefs, often times unknowingly, determine the choices we are going to make.
My core beliefs are that I am still the awkward, overweight, shy, unpopular girl I was at 13. My core beliefs fly in the face of my toned body, and beautiful smile. They override my academic and personal success. They keep me locked in a battle of wanting to love myself, and not knowing how.
Often times love addiction grows in families where there is alcohol abuse, or when there is a parent who detaches emotionally. It can easily happen to young girls who grow up with mothers who are overly critical of their child. Any early trauma can create the sort of primal wound that makes a person fear abandonment. I have certainly been afraid, more times than not, to let go.
The first man I dated after my divorce spit on me because I would not give him oral sex in a parking lot. I went to his house the day after this incident to apologize to him.
I wanted to apologize to him!
I stayed in that tumultuous, on and off again faux-relationship, for almost three years. I was sacrificing my job, my friends, my family, and my self-respect.
When that relationship finally did end, I blamed myself for the demise for a long time. If only I had been prettier, smarter, more funny, maybe he would have treated me better. These are the lies I told myself to continue supporting my core beliefs.
It was after I fell for another dangerous man, one who had a history of domestic abuse, that I began to see a pattern. I was terrified of letting go of my illusions about myself and men. I was terrified of facing long standing truths about the things I felt growing up.
I started therapy, and was lucky to meet a group of women who, for reasons of their own, were trapped in relationships with unhealthy partners. I sat and listened to them tell their stories. Some of them were 10 years older than me. It was like having a crystal ball and seeing my own future. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted for myself or my children.
So, I dug in. I read books. I went to yoga. I surfed until my body was sore and beautiful. I prayed to God and the universe. I texted friends. I went dancing. I ate well. I forgave the people in my past who had hurt me. I did a ritual under the blood moon.
I made a vision board. I went to church. I studied Buddhism.
I hugged my children.
I rode my skateboard. I travelled. I laughed until it hurt. I kept laughing.
In between, I got quiet. I stayed still. I cried—a lot.
I wanted to be whole. I thought I was.
Recently, I got involved with a man who was already seeing another woman. I listened to him tell me countless lies, and I watched the red flags waving frantically before me. I leapt forward, anyway, to disastrous results. After, I was able to quickly detach, but I was disappointed in myself. What about all the work I had done?
If nothing else, the work I have done taught me to be gentle with myself. I made a mistake. I am fallible. In fact, I am perfectly, imperfect, right here. Right now. I write it all down. I hope to learn from it.
There is no person, reading this or otherwise, who has it all figured out. We are just these swirling masses of emotions and upbringing, logical and lust, bones and blood. Hurtling like runaway stars. It’s okay if we combust sometimes. In fact, it’s necessary.
All I can do is keep trying. Recently, I meet a man online. We set a date. I got excited. I started to idealize him without knowing anything about him. I started to judge my own worth against his pretty pictures. Maybe, my hair is too short or my skin not perfect enough. Oh, he would never find me beautiful. I lamented.
But, therapy and good healthy work on ourselves takes root even when we doubt. A small voice that I have been cultivating said, Shhhh…Enough. Maybe, just maybe. He isn’t perfect. Pay attention to your gut.
And, so I did. What I found was that I was wholly uncomfortable with moving forward. Despite the fact that he was beautiful, despite the fact that he surfed, despite the fact that his passport had more stamps than mine, despite the fact that I truly hoped to meet and fall in love with someone, I did not want to go on a date with him. I listened to my instincts. They told me that I was at risk for repeating a pattern with this man. So, I politely declined.
I am going to be alone this Friday night. I’ll go to the beach and look for waves. I’ll text my friends about our plans for the weekend. I will kiss my children before they leave to go camping with their dad. I’ll slide into yoga pants, dive under the covers with a book.
I may or may not be lonely, but, that’s okay. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is sit inside of loneliness for awhile. Being lonely simply means time spent with myself, and I’m working hard to realize that is the most beautiful date of all.
Author: Kelly Russell
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: helga at Flickr