I have never been married.
I started dating when I was 17, and I’m in my early 40s—so I’ve literally been on 1000-plus first dates in my life.
I want to write about something I’ve never seen acknowledged or identified: dating trauma. I don’t write this to victimize myself or anyone else who has gone on endless first dates and feels pain, sadness, grief, anger, or loss. I write this to say: I see you, I hear you, I feel you.
Our culture seems to allow for loss and sadness and grief if a woman can’t conceive. We seem to allow for fear and shock and anger if we are unemployed. But nobody seems to give allowance for similar feelings if we are struggling to find a partner.
This deep human longing and a need to be with someone who chooses us, sees us, loves us is normal.
And so are feelings of frustration, anger, shame, grief, fear, loss, or sadness when we are single.
I recently recognized that from many years of this and many years of denying my feelings, coupled with the years of hope and rejection, optimism and heartbreak, I have dating trauma. I have inbound assumptions and attachment patterns from many years of this that now impact my behavior in a relationship.
Acknowledging the difficulties, pain, and feelings can help. From there, we can stand up and grow, we can stand up and take new and different actions, and we can learn new skills and patterns.
But I want to rewind and speak directly to anyone else who is single, going on endless dates, staying positive and hopeful, constantly trying again and feeling challenging feelings: I understand.
I’m working through my dating trauma, peeling layers of protection away that were necessary in order to meet endless strangers and share encounters that lasted one hour or one day or one week or one month.
The trauma in holding eternal optimism and also holding deep cravings for meaningful connection. The trauma in expending endless effort to learning and growing, self-reflecting, and trying and trying and trying again—and yet still not generating the outcome I so deeply longed for. In constantly fighting fears and constantly loving myself (by myself) and constantly giving and never seeming to meet anyone with the capacity to love on the other side of the door.
Those things (and I could go on) create an armour of self-protection that simply must be acknowledged, no matter how much we pretend we should not feel. No matter how much culture tells us that the way to date is to not be attached and to move on like nothing happened, no matter how many times it happens.
Dating trauma leaves me in a place I was not before this process. There are scars from years of holding a shield to protect my heart and head and soul.
I’m allowing myself the grace and space that it takes to trust, to be open, and to be seen in a way that is fundamentally impossible with endless texts and dates with brand-new humans.
If you are in the trenches holding that same armour, I recognize you as one of my people.
You are not alone.