“Unavailable” knew how to kiss.
Stretching up toward his six-foot-seven-inch frame, I struggled to reach him, but did my best.
We met on a rainy Thursday night. Driving up to the restaurant, I spotted him on the sidewalk looking like the David with clothes and almost crashed my car trying to park. I stepped up onto the curb, and he swallowed me with rain-soaked octopus arms that circled around me twice. His tentacles grabbed onto the part of me that hopes.
He found me through reading one of my stories online and emailed saying he loved the honesty in my writing. He quoted some of my words, and my ego melted into the possibility that he might be a serious contender.
With a bubble floating firmly around us, we flirted over dinner while fireworks shot across the room, shattering vases and water glasses.
He frequently volunteered to hang out with sick kids. He owned his own airplane. His teeth looked like snow, and he smelled like aftershave poured over frozen sugar. Smelling him turned me into a sheet of paper on a windy day. At times, I’d sail right up into the sky until he’d pull me back down to swallow me with that mouth, those words, that arrogance.
I bought a new shirt for our first date. I also bought a $240 Lululemon tracksuit for our active second date. For weeks, I tripped over my feet, wondering about our compatibility.
My pattern was to pick men who vacillated between devouring and ignoring me. “Unavailable” fit the bill perfectly, but I chased him anyway. That pleasure/pain sandwich excited and broke me repeatedly. Unfortunately, I didn’t know any other way and associated healthy relationships with boredom.
A few dates in, I volunteered to shoot and edit a promotional video at a fun-run fundraiser “Unavailable” coordinated. When I arrived, I found him assembling a tent with some other blond wearing a tracksuit much tighter than mine. Watching him stand behind her like a golf instructor, their hips swayed in unison while the octopus helped her guide a tent pole into the ground. I wished I could turn into sprinkler water, seep into the grass, and disappear.
I made myself a volunteer because bringing just Michelle to the event didn’t feel like enough. Dating a guy who didn’t notice all of the extra I poured on to snag his attention felt as familiar as breathing. I consistently pursued the popular, loud, unattainable mate and quickly began my fruitless attempt to catch a fly with chopsticks.
Always a few steps behind him, I spent the fun-run day interviewing runners and people on the sidelines cheering them on. When I finally caught up to him, a camera and tripod in either hand, “Unavailable” didn’t introduce me to anyone he was already talking to. I spent a few minutes in his circle, smiling and nodding, until I finally backed out and away; my transparent, cellophane limbs cracking as I walked.
The confusing thing about unavailable men is that many of them come on strong and act like each shiny new conquest is the flawless companion they’ve been searching for. They say things like, “This feels so right and real,” and, “I feel like I’ve known you forever.” “Unavailable” texted me these exact words the night we met. His love bomb lit me up and started a fire in my belly.
Emotionally unavailable men rarely stay for long, though, because once “shiny new me” does anything to challenge them, or the mirage of perfection they see in her, they usually vaporize. A willing participant in this dynamic, most of my relationships started with a lust-filled bang and ended with an even louder explosion.
Although my dating habits at times have wrecked me, they’ve served me too. I’ve always liked the aspect of starting quickly because it yielded less awkward beginning “getting to know you” time. Starting slowly and staying in the present on dates felt like trying to sit naked through a staff meeting led by all three Hemsworths, so I avoided it and continued to sign up for disappointment.
Something about the fun-run, however, and the way I felt following him around like a desperate dachshund, made me realize I was ready to change my paradigm. I simply could not experience that excruciating chase to nothing one more time.
Our farewell lasted five minutes. I told “Unavailable” we weren’t compatible, and he didn’t disagree. He didn’t seem to care either way. Leaving, however, was the only way to get “Unavailable’s” undivided attention. So I wasn’t surprised when he grabbed my hand on my way out, pulled me close, and kissed me harder than he ever had. His body pressed tightly against mine, turned me back into that sheet of paper, feet off the ground, and limp in his arms.
When I finally opened my eyes again, I remembered the inconsistency standing in front of me and exhaled enough butterflies to fill the room. My feet met the ground again, and I reluctantly let go and walked out, acknowledging the addiction standing behind me.
“You’ll be back!” he yelled at my head. My heart fought my integrity not to turn back. Listening to my phone vibrate in my bag after I left, his texts had morphed into a question, “You’re seriously coming back, though, right?” I never did go back.
Over the next several years, I made the commitment to change. I researched everything I could about attachment styles, went to therapy, quit drinking, read everyone from Melody Beattie to Amir Levine, dealt with lingering childhood traumas, lost weight, gained weight, cut the bangs, grew the bangs back out, and dated like a maniac. I was determined to learn to sniff out the octopus and run when I met him.
Somewhere in the process, I finally grew up and stopped grasping for crumbs. Over time, I lost my attraction to “Unavailable” and gained compassion for myself.
I wish I could tell you the exact formula for getting to the comfortable dating place, but the only thing I can share is that it takes patience, reflection, and perseverance. I had to jump back in the ring after dates that made me want to lock myself in the closet and never come out.
I’ve been stood up more than once and have met men who looked 20 years older than their online dating profile pictures. On one date, the guy started panting and sweating, said he was having an anxiety attack, and ran away from me in the rain.
One date told me he was excited for me to meet his mother five minutes in, and another said he’d cheated on his ex-wife with 17 other women, but that he’d changed into a different man.
One time, I accidentally submerged my car on a flooded street on the way to the date, called to cancel, and he yelled at me for lying. I took a picture of me in front of the tow truck doing vulgar things with my middle fingers and sent it to him. He didn’t respond.
Another prospect got so lost in the baseball game playing on a sports bar TV above my head, he wouldn’t look at me. I finally left. That was the only date I actually walked out on.
The process beat me down and caused me at times to rewatch “Breaking Bad” and eat a whole pizza without even leaving one piece to show that I, in fact, did not eat the whole pizza.
Because I want to cultivate a reciprocal relationship with a loving man, I don’t give up. Quitting has never been an option, because for all of the bad dates, I’ve also experienced good ones with unique and interesting people: one date and I walked along the beach after a heavy rain cleared, and we found ourselves at the end of a rainbow. The rainbow stopped right in front of us, and we could stick our hands into it. I’d never been that close (no pot of gold), and it was a surreal thing to experience with someone.
Another guy, after a day of compassionate sharing of stories and life stuff, brushed my hair while we watched “The Walking Dead.” These sweet moments, as well as the misfires, have helped me to understand what I want in a forever relationship.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown reminds us that we are enough. She says our imperfections are what make us special, and even though fear gets the best of us sometimes, we are all worthy of love. Before I did the work to change, I couldn’t believe any of this. Another reason I picked “Unavailable” was because I didn’t believe I was good enough for a healthy and present man. Today, I wholeheartedly do.
There are times when I wish I had figured this all out sooner. But we are ready when we are ready, and I’m grateful I got the chance to find my worth in this process.
Our worth helps us to be selective, which isn’t the same as seeking perfection; it’s believing there is indeed an available and compatible person out there who will bring amazement to our lives, just as they are. They will also love us, and accept us, just as we are too.