Ah, yes. This post. Here's a little warning: it's long(er).
As we drove North on I-405, I sat in the front seat as my pregnant sister-in-law squeezed in between my niece and nephew in the back of their Ford Escape. My older brother sipped his latte and they talked with the kids about the nature of our drive north. Trying to explain to a four and two year old that grandpa is now in heaven with Jesus is like trying to explain how babies are made. Both awkward, confusing and a delicate dance of deciding how much to share. And then your four year old nephew asks, "when am I going to heaven with Jesus?" And your heart crumbles just a little.
It was May 18th and I had been back in Seattle for only a few days. I was settling in to my new life, setting up my home living with my older brother and sister-in-law, niece and nephew. I was also back in the same town I grew up in and my life all of the sudden felt like a made for TV movie.
It was the day of my grandpa's memorial service who passed away almost a month earlier, the same week I decided to leave my husband. My cat, the only thing that made me feel someone normal in this new world I was navigating, had been missing for 15 hours, and it would have been my third wedding anniversary. I sighed, releasing the heavy breath I had been holding on to as I gazed out the window watching the forest green pines pass by at rapid speed. I focused on the afterglow, that stream of light you see when moving at fast speeds.
I thought about the day ahead, the inevitable questions, the comments, the sympathetic looks, and I knew that all it would take was just one and I would crumble. I prayed that I could hold it all together.
We stepped into the church and were all a little overwhelmed by the outpouring of people who came to pay their respects to my grandfather. He was a man who dedicated himself to serving his community and it showed. I plastered on a fake smile and reminded myself that this was about celebrating the wonderful and hilarious person that was my grandpa. However, at any time, I could always use my niece or nephew as an excuse to step away. I eyed the vacant nursery room full of toys and books and planned my potential escape, hiding away in a room full of giggles, toy trains and Bernstein Bears Books.
The service was a beautiful tribute to my grandpa and for the first time, I felt relief from my own pain by celebrating his memory. After the service, we gathered in the room adjacent to potluck. As I walked down the dimly lit hallway I coached myself for all the possible outcomes, "This is it Amanda. Just get through this and you can head home and lie on the couch with Henry and Kate and watch Thomas the Train. Everything will be fine."
I did my best to avoid, turning conversations around to focus on the other person but somewhere inside I knew it was inevitable. And I know people meant well. It's an awkward situation to be in really. They are saying and doing what they think will help, offering up any words that will potentially make all of this easier. What I really wanted was for them to say nothing or to just say, "I know this sucks. I'm sorry." Instead, I was met with the expected:
"There are so many amazing men out there Amanda."
"Honey, there are plenty of fish in the sea,"
"He doesn't know what he's losing. What a jerk!"
"You'lI meet the right person when its time."
I politely excused myself, walking as fast as I could to the double doors at the back of the church cafeteria, picking up my pace until I was jogging to the playground where Henry was playing with my bonus dad. I knew I could find some reprieve with them. I knew it would be all talks of Thomas and dinosaurs. No divorce. No dating. No men. No eventually.
I sat on the swing watching Henry squeal with excitement as he repetitively slide down the slide and for a few moments I was able to escape the thoughts that at some point, I would have to navigate that deep sea with all those colorful fish once again.
But for now, I pumped my feet back and forth as the swing took me higher and higher and Henry's giggles temporarily filled the cracks in my heart.
Two Years Later
A lot has changed in the world of dating since I was last on the market. It seems to me, that dating had become an interesting and complex game of "online" cat and mouse. There was a time, back in my early twenties, that I tried online dating. Back then it was only Match.com and eHarmony. The latter felt a little too intense for me at the time, and I gave Match a go. I met a few really great guys and ended up dated one with a lot of potential. However, that was right before all my surgeries and I tried to be in the relationship as I was going through everything but in the end, realized I had nothing to give at the time and ended it to his disappointment.
This was eleven years ago and a time when online dating wasn't really something you discussed openly. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me, like I was awkward and lacked normal social skills that were necessary to meet men. Which was partially true, I'm notoriously awkward when it come to flirting and showing someone I'm actually interested in, that I am, in fact, interested in them.
However, in just six short years since I was last on the market, online dating has become rather mainstream and culturally accepted. It almost feels expected of you when you are single. Check almost any single persons phone and it's covered with apps like Tinder, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, Match, eHarmony, OK Cupid, Chemistry.com, Christian Mingle, JDate, Farmersonly.com...and trust me, the list goes on and on. As a single person, you start to feel that if you are not connected to several of them at once, you are possibly missing someone. Even worse, you are possibly missing THE ONE. I mean, I did love living on a farm. Just saying. (I'm kidding. I am not on Farmersonly.com)
When I initially moved to San Diego, I was ten months post split and felt the self-inflicted pressure to start dating again. That and the fact that I found out my ex was in a full-blown relationship, I begrudgingly joined Tinder and Bumble. However, since I was new here, and can be somewhat awkward and shy, I tried to look at it as good way to meet new people. Even if they were all men. Within the first few weeks I meet two really great guys and dating both of them briefly. However, both ended after just a few weeks as I came to the realization that I was absolutely not ready to date.
I had spent the better part of my first year divorced running from one thing to the next, and found myself, for the first time ever, with this new feeling of wanting to be alone. This was rather confusion for someone who spent the better part of her twenties looking for that one. And when I say better part of I mean ALL of my twenties.
But since I was fully committed to learning and growing from my split, I listened to the need for solitude and took a vow of celibacy and dedicated myself to the time it would take to explore my feelings. I knew dating and those apps would only cause a distraction from working this process.
So I took the apps off my phone, put some other things I was pursuing on hold and allowed myself to just feel the wave of those, at times, obnoxious, yet necessary emotions. And it sucked. I'm serious. I now fully understand why so many people run from their pain. It's quite literally the worst, most confusing and uncontrollable feeling ever. At least with physical pain, like when you cut yourself or break a bone, you know there is an ending in site. You know that pain is brief and temporary. Emotional pain is being thrown into the unknown. There is no timeline, no guidelines, no bandaid or stitches to speed up the healing process. Just waiting, and waiting, and waiting, hoping, that eventually, you'll make it out on the other side and feel like yourself again.
I realized though, that it is a necessary part of healthy adulting. Dealing with pain that is. I knew that if I truly wanted to show up in the world, and eventually, the dating world again healthy, I had to come to understand my habits and patterns which meant I was going to have to get down and dirty with the shits of my past. I had to come to an understanding. I had to figure out why I felt so unworthy of a healthy, loving, kind, compassionate, trustworthy, loyal, funny, and wonderful man. The man I had always dreamed of.
This doesn't mean that I didn't get distracted by a guy or two (or three). Old habits die hard, right? As much as I wasn't looking to date, I felt like I kept getting tested to see how I was progressing. There were a couple of guys I met in "real" life during this time that I thought I wanted to get to know and see if there was any chemistry. They showed interest, one even asked me out, the old fashion way, by calling me on the phone which blew my mind. However, he ended up meeting someone else while on a vacation prior to our actual date and felt like he wanted to pursue that. This has actually happened to me way more then I care to admit. I also happen to be the girl who a guy dates right before he ends up meeting the one he marries. This may have contributed to my awkwardness over time.
That experience, though, brought up more of those shitty feelings. Feelings of unworthiness, of acceptance, of never being 'enough' and I again realized I needed to continue to put dating and men on hold because what I've come to discover is that when you are in an emotionally unhealthy place you exude a smell that repels the healthy ones and you end up attracting the very thing you don't want...the unhealthy male version of yourself.
So I dove into some creative outlets and just went back to giving myself more time and allowed more of those shitty feelings to come up. This is right about the time that Adele's hit single, Hello came out. Good Lord that woman knows how to puncture my heart in the best, and worst, kind of way. The first time I heard this song I found myself sobbing uncontrollably on my living room floor. I mean, "I'm in California dreaming of who we use to be..." I'm pretty sure she wrote that song with me in mind.
Those tears were only the beginning though. It was like an emotional detox. It was going to feel worse before it felt better. I was dealing with the pain, the pain of betrayal, of expectations never met, of loss, the death of my 'old fashion, happily ever after.' And it hurt. It hurt bad.
So I began to explore this hurt and while talking with a friend, she made an interesting observation about something I was saying. "I really don't think it has anything to do with him anymore Amanda" she said matter of fact. "It seems, to me, that it has everything to do with a lifetime of feeling unworthy and you just keep attracting men that are going to help you perpetuate this story."
"Yeah, I know" I said with a sign.
I already knew this. In the deepest part of my gut, I knew that I was actually the one that needed to change. That I had spent a lifetime trying to FIND someone that would make me feel complete, make me feel whole and worthy but the reality is, Jerry Maquire had it all wrong, YOU don't complete me...only I CAN complete me. And for the first time I saw the beauty in that. Only I can heal these wounds. Only I can fill those holes with love and kindness and accepting my messy, unruly imperfections.
So this lead me to explore more of that. I got really curious with feelings that came up. I'd ask myself WHY a lot and I would just keep digging until I got some kind of answer, even it if was painful.
And this is when I came to realize why so many avoid the pain. We live in a world that says feeling that pain is wrong. That we have to be strong and brave and courageous and that means we have to be void of any feelings other then ones that feel good. But without the pain, I'm not sure we will ever really know ourselves fully.
I did this for a while, exploring the pain. And then one day I finally saw a light. Well, I didn't actually SEE a light but I felt lighter. I felt like I understood why I tend seek out a man who will save me and I realized that IS NOT what I want. I don't need or want to be saved. I want a partner. Someone who has his life and who respects that I have mine, and together, we share adventures, laughter, vulnerability, passion and love, but know that we are perfectly capable and happy exploring this alone too.
I had a good grasp on where I was going emotionally and had worked through a lot of pain. I had finally started shedding the dead skin of my past and was ready. Ready to get curious about dating again.
So in January, after a long discussion with my roommate about how online dating is totally and 100% acceptable now, I connected back into Tinder and Bumble. Right away I met a guy and we spent a little time getting to know each other, went on a date and he was nice but for the first time, I listened to my gut when it screamed nope, this isn't it. There wasn't Chemistry. It was good on paper but not something I wanted to pursue any further. Chemistry, the kind where you just want to spend hours talking with someone getting to know them through laughing and flirting and stories and when its time to say good-bye, you find it hard to peel yourself away because there is just so much more to know. That is what I want.
And then I found that chemistry a few weeks later with a roamer, a gypsy of sorts, a vagabond, a free spirit and he told me right away he wasn't looking for anything. And I fell back into old behaviors of convincing myself I was fine with that. See, old habits die hard. I should have turned away then but I was pulled in by intrigue and chemistry and the old fashion belief that anything is possible. We spent two days together and then he drove off, taking the possibility with him.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pretty disappointed, however, one of the best pieces of advice my mom ever gave me, something she actually learned from Oprah, was that people will show you who they are and where they are right away. It's your responsibility to believe them and not try to convince and manipulate otherwise.
The realization I took away from that experience was actually pretty wonderful. It reminded me that the partner I hope to one day meet loves and values adventure and wanderlust just as much as I do. He knows how to treat a women. He knows the difference between "hanging out" and taking me on a date. And believes that I deserve dates. He has manners and perseverance and intrigue in pursuing me. He seeks the same kind of unconventional freedom that I do yet neither one of us will want to drive away from the potential. We will both be curious enough to lean in, even just a little.
And more then anything, what I've taken away from all of this, this entire experience, every single part, from the pain of exploring my feelings after divorce to embarking on this new socially acceptable way of meeting a potential mate, is this new and intriguing peace with being happy alone.
What once felt like a personal defect, for once feels like a blessing. I know that no one will complete me. No somebody is going to come along on his white horse and save me and give me my happily ever after. Only I can really create that for myself.
For the first time ever, whether I'm single or in a relationship, bares no weight on my sense of worthiness. It no longer dictates whether or not I live my adventure fully, or wait for someone to do it with. For the first time, I feel truly excited about my own future, my own dreams, my own adventure. I'm excited to continuing building a life that feels truthful to me.
I am hopeful that, at some point, I'll meet a man that compliments my dreams, my desire for adventure and laughter and comfortable mutual ease. And we will add to each others lives but all the while, continue creating our own.
That, to me, is happly ever after.