I used to accuse my mother and the entire generation of women in her age range of the thinking that seemed to prevail: that they couldn't survive without a man. I'd witnessed it my friend's moms who'd divorced, and my own mother who'd lost her husband when she was only forty. Women were lonely without a man in their lives. They'd put up with a whole lot, because they didn't like to be alone. They'd sometimes make choices that weren't great solely because this was the guy...
I thought I was of the generation of women who were free thinkers, do it on our own people who placed our worth on things other than whether or not we were loved by a man. And we are. Almost.
For six months I've been dating, and have met all sorts of men; short, tall, thin, not so thin, muscled, blonde, grey, rich, poor… I've been busy. I admit that I have.
As I've written about before, I love men! It's a physical response. So being in the presence of so many of the opposite sex, I remembered all the reasons that they’re great.
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At the beginning I was having fun. Date nights at fun restaurants, getting dressed up again, dancing until 3 a.m.
Toward the end, not so much, which led to all kinds of thoughts that pointed back to one person. Me.
Why can't I seem to connect? What is it that's keeping me from allowing the right ones in? And is there a reason that I've been spinning my wheels searching, judging, worrying, ultimately thinking that maybe I'm just one of these people who "vants to be alone?"
The adventure of dating after a broken marriage, being over forty, and managing life and kids is a seriously, scary process. And as I look at my own behaviors, and those of my friends who are floating in the same boat, it seems that lots of questions and some good answers, too, that are different for every girl, boil down to what it means to be alone versus what it means for the dream to come true. And you’ve got to have a dream. Right?
Just last week, one of my most beautiful friends (on the inside as much as on the outside) texted me that she was "pushing away her great boyfriend," but wasn't sure why she was having so much trouble accepting his love.
Another friend with whom I spoke yesterday admitted that she often wishes a man would come along and make all of her decisions for her. Being a single mom on her own has been more frightening than she'd ever imagined. Add in dating, being reminded of the things she loves about men, which makes her long for one in her life clouded the truth that she was more afraid of being alone than ready to be happy with any man. The fragility in that is both beautiful and sad.
I had my epiphany a couple of weeks ago when so weathered by my own dating storm became determined to stop for a while despite my longing for love. In a bit of a humdrum headspace I completely shot down a man I actually liked, because he was saying too many nice things to me. I couldn't believe him. Didn't think he was sincere, for no other reason than my own black and white existence. Love or lies. Happiness or pain. Good or bad. Sabotage.
The fact that one of the biggest compliments was that he found me interesting, which to me is more lovely than any of the horrendous lines that men sometimes sputter when they can't help themselves, didn't soften my reserve.
As he looked at me, I felt myself building my tall wall of protection. I fended him off with rolling eyes and leave me alone body language. I was a Class A Witch.
"I know what you're doing," he said.
"You're pretty and you know it, but you've been hurt, and you only know how to use men. You won't let anyone in."
"You have no idea what you're talking about. You don't even know me!" I lamented before heading to the bathroom to reapply my lipstick, throw the hair in a pony bun (security blanket!), and cry in a stall.
When I returned, more angry with myself than with him, still couldn’t get the sabotage train back on her tracks. This man scared me because he was right. I ran away to make it end.
If this hadn't been a pattern in my life I wouldn't have cried in the bathroom. If I hadn't seen myself building tall walls when men showed interest in me, because of some subconscious fear that I don't deserve a happy relationship, or that I really am special, or that he could really like me, I would have walked away thinking he was nuts.
Settling so you don't have to be alone is one way of denying myself love. Not giving myself any credit is the other.
All of these weeks later I'm still thinking about him and that night. I never even got his name. He’ll never know that he helped me figure out so much.
At this point, for me, it all boils down to worth. I knew it that night, though I’d forgotten it a long time ago.
Being worthy means that a person knows exactly what they have to offer and respects their own limits that have been created consciously. Setting our own limits helps us learn about ourselves, and the people who come into our lives.
It would be nice to think that the thing that's wrong with this guy or that has everything to do with him. It turns out, it doesn’t. It has everything to do with us. Where is our worth if we can't see how wonderful we are? How can we ever be happy if we aren't taking care of ourselves first? By thinking we are less than in the eyes of a man we see as a possible suitor, or finding yourself in the arms of a man before either of you get to know each other? Any way you cut it, the result is not good if we're only looking at our relationships with men as the litmus test for worth. It takes two tango. If you're not there, how can you expect the outcome to be what you'd hoped?
My sister and I have been talking about our worth for months. It's clear that many of us make choices about partners (and other things, too) based on what we think we're worth. It's not a cerebral thing. It's all emotional.
Coming to terms with all of this I asked my good friend Adam for his advice.
"Do you think this is some crazy thing that we're doing to ourselves?"
His answer was that we might be creating more chaos for ourselves, and on some level he's right.
But it's not that simple. For women, the primal longing for the affection of a man, the feeling of a partnership, respect, and love from the opposite sex is as important to living as anything else. For women who've got mountains of love to give, but are unsure of their worth, chaos ensues. We can't let love in if we don't have compassion and love for ourselves. Big enthusiasm for whatever life holds. Big fat “I'm such a catch, because I'm happy within myself" worthiness.
For me, I am no longer, "not dating," but have spent the past three free nights without my girls, all by myself. I am still speaking to men I find interesting, and paying attention to how I think about myself first, before making assumptions about whom I choose to see.
One of the men I did choose to see just when I was beginning to believe that my lack worth was the real issue with my very-sad dating stats, was a fifty-seven year old, Harvard educated, San Francisco entrepreneur who trains and teaches about business. We'd met online (don't get me started...), and when he came to town we met for coffee, walked down to the town square, and sat in the sun while talking about our lives.
I gave him the spiel about how I was hanging up my dating hat, and he told me I was looking at it all wrong.
If you look up to the sky and see your success, in love or life, what would be the percentage of intention versus effort be to get there?"
"Intention," I said. "You've got to 100% intend to do what you need to do to get to your success."
I was correct (as I sit here to write about all of this I feel like I shouldn’t share that I was the only person in all of his years of educating who’d ever gotten it right).
But maybe that’s just boasting… or is it so super cool!
When you break down intention and effort evenly, such as 99 intention and 1% effort, you're lessening your intention, which means you'll get there when you’ve put in all of your effort, and you’re still not where you want to be.
He also said something that stuck with me in relation to all of this black and white business of dating versus not.
"Every day I try to do one new thing to help enrich my own life." He explained.
Our meeting was an example of that. Two strangers from Tinder, living thousands of miles apart, with some interesting connections (San Francisco, Sacred Heart, and some fashion friends). The experience was enriching for me. I'm still thinking of him all of these weeks later, too.
So what does success in love and life look like for me?
It's taken six months of dating to begin to see myself as a person who can do this alone, because my success looks like this...
I will be able to support my kids without any help from anyone. I will be able to live in the moment. And I will one day meet someone who will be my partner in life and love.
But first I have to come to grips with the fact that I’m worthy, because intellectually I know that I am. It just takes time, thoughtfulness, care, and gratefulness to all the people who love me for exactly who I am.