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“I will never be able to do or be everything you want, nor vice versa, but I’d like to think we can be the sort of people who will dare to tell each other who we really are. The alternative is silence and lies, which are the real enemies of love.” ~ Alain de Botton
Whenever men who are getting to know me ask what I’m looking for in a partner, my first inclination is always to say, “I want someone who is kind.”
I’ve been single for the greater majority of my life, with long-term relationships that could be counted on a few fingers, and some flings every so often.
I don’t claim that being alone is better than being in a coupled relationship. Both are great in their own way. But what I am certain about is that the greatest loneliness we can ever experience is the one that comes from physically being with someone, yet feeling alienated, isolated, and alone while the bubble of our habitual stories claustrophobically suffocates us deeper and deeper into our cocoon—until we can barely remember how to breathe.
I know. I’ve experienced that feeling in my own family whilst growing up and later into my adulthood in so many emotionally unavailable relationships, where I’ve happily accepted breadcrumbs of what felt and looked like love when I didn’t know any better.
Recently, I’ve been exploring the potential of a relationship with someone new. To be honest, I never knew how to play games. I never learned how to be other than who I know myself to be. And I never got it when men (and women) used to tell me that I should be less available, more aggressive, hard to get, and sassy with a hint of seductive. To me, all these games seemed childish, outdated, foolish—even from a young age.
I think there’s a fine line between being playfully flirtatious and playing mind games that would have the other person guessing what our real intentions are.
I only know how to be my own authentic self, which has a different definition for each one of us. But what I discovered recently is that sometimes, being ourselves isn’t enough—not for us but for the other person. Sometimes, being who we are triggers the parts of people that they aren’t ready to face yet—whether we want to call it their “shadow self” or “trauma self” or “unhealed childhood wounds.”
I am a bit bookish, nerdy, and love using words to describe complex ideas. This is the stuff that I fall in love with. These are some of the things that have shaped me when I felt lost in life. And these are what I long for people to see when they meet me.
But I still get the occasional, “You’re so hot” compliment from men (and some women, too). Does it make me gleeful? Sure. I mean, who doesn’t feel great when they’re being admired for their appearance. But is it fulfilling, nurturing, or substantially sufficient to plant the seed for a potential relationship? I don’t think so.
If anything, beyond the five-seconds flirtatious-induced dopamine hit, I find myself easily losing interest because I recognize that pattern from my previous romantic encounters.
I know that beyond my appearance, sometimes people can be limited in understanding me, which makes me feel like a shallow person—and I certainly hope I’m not.
I realized that it isn’t my job to psychoanalyze people’s behavior or to attempt to read their minds. The best I could ever do while getting to know someone—and this applies to any situation in life—is to ask them questions and hope for an honest response. And the best I could do for people is to continue to show up with all of myself, authentically and mindfully.
I may be “hot” according to people’s definition. But I am also clumsy. I bump into furniture and wreck stuff. I mumble with words and feel my palms sweating as I am about to explain something that is important and meaningful to me. I care, deeply, about people. But it takes me a while to trust and to let my walls down—in the way every single person who’s been repeatedly let down by a parent is.
I am sensitive, and if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone tell me that I should toughen up, I’d be racing Jeff Bezos on his endeavor to space. I am both gentle and resilient. I don’t open up with all the traumas I’ve experienced because I believe that some silence can offer the best medicine to the soul.
I hear the occasional, “You are wise beyond your age,” or the “You’re an old soul.” Both are true about me. But I am also playful, and recently, I have learned to laugh at how mysterious and painful and ruthless life can be sometimes.
I am also mindful and grateful for each moment life has given me so far. Every breath, every single day, every fresh morning. And I continue to carve my way forward regardless of how many blows life throws at me. Yet these are the things that people occasionally miss out on or rather choose not to see.
So, am I being too much by asking to be recognized beyond my hot appearance? Beyond my athletic body, which only came as a result of rigorous training in a futile attempt to burn my anxiety that keeps me up at 2:00 a.m.? Maybe…but I’m willing to wait and stand my ground, even if it means that I’ll keep being disappointed by what I find, or even wait forever.
When it comes to the ever-challenging and demanding world of modern dating, I don’t have much experience or solid advice that would soothe people’s longing to find “the one.” My own encounter with love, just like everyone else’s, was learned and earned the hard way: by repeatedly having my heart stomped on then tossed away like garbage.
By being deprived of the love I so longed for as a child, I learned about attachment, codependence, insecurity, scarcity, martyrdom, self-sacrifice (even when it never felt right), self-abandonment, people-pleasing, settling for what I didn’t deserve, accepting whatever was given to me, and remaining silent in order to keep the peace.
These are also a part of who I am.
We all have our shadows, and part of being in a mutually healthy, stable, and fulfilling relationship is the ability to accept the imperfections we see in other people—as long as we’re not dependent on fixing them.
Growing into who we are is a mutual responsibility that we must hold each other accountable for. It is this dance of interdependence that keeps a relationship and love standing its ground when the strong winds of impermanence, mistakes, and imperfections blow in this broken world we exist in.
“Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually, it is best to find a person, the person who will be your mirror.”
But only someone who is kind, who is open, who is receptive, who is forgiving can be that mirror to show us where we’re stuck in a caring, nonjudgemental, noncoercive way.
This isn’t the same as someone who hides behind a fake veil of pretended niceness, courtesy, chivalry, or politeness. A person who is mean, who is unaware of their neurosis or biases, who lives in perpetual denial, or who isn’t working on their own shadows can never be that.
I have dated someone rich, someone poor, someone insecure, someone who is accomplished, a bookworm, a boring person, a macho man, a mama’s boy. In my opinion, it didn’t matter what they offered or whether they had 10 titles carved after their last name.
When a person (man or woman or otherwise) lacks the ability to be kind to themselves, it shows in the way they’ll treat their partner, regardless of how many masks they wear in the beginning to conceal their insecurities and neurosis.
In some of my relationships, it ended badly, and I wish them nothing but to find their way back to loving themselves—these are the same wishes that I harbor for myself, too. Maybe they will one day, maybe they won’t.
But the next time I choose, I hope I can choose someone who is truly, wholeheartedly kind. Someone who is mindful. Someone who is brave enough to make mistakes and to own them.
Someone who is willing to navigate the impermanent terrain of modern love, and to show up.