“You just need to open yourself up more.”
“You’re too guarded.”
“You’ve gotta put yourself out there.”
Over the past few years, it’s fair to say I’ve heard it all when it comes to dating advice. The well-meaning words of friends and family members rattles around as I walk my dog, drive to the grocery store, and shave my legs.
After coming out of a 10+ year long marriage in 2014, I experimented with everything from “All the dates!” to “Imma go hide under a blanket, thank you very much!” I had married my first boyfriend, so the dating world was a shock to the system.
I started a cycle not unlike yo-yo dieting: Put self on dating app. Engage in series of ultimately disappointing experiences. Swear off dating. Repeat.
As an introvert with stage fright, dating -especially online dating- was torture. It felt like an endless series of performances that always left me anxious and drained, often making unhealthy decisions to cope with the stress. “There has GOT to be a better way,” I’d say to myself after each exhausting date, peeling off my too-tight jeans and scrubbing away my waterproof mascara.
“Oh, he’s cute, you need to give him a chance,” some friends would urge after I’d describe another lackluster date.
Have you met me? I’d always want to respond. Since when does a guy without a box spring or a hairbrush who waits two weeks to get in touch sound like someone I’d want to pursue? I’d then inevitably spiral. I’m a snob. Uptight. Prudish. Close-minded. And worst of all: Maybe I don’t deserve better.
I’d watch my pretty, extroverted, single friends meet guy after guy, rebounding quickly from any letdowns. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I need to change. What would it be like to have a one-night stand? As each thought would pop up, my stomach would tighten.
By 2019, I’d quit my corporate job and moved 3,000 miles away to a new town, sight unseen. At 37, I had finally plucked up the courage to live a life that was uniquely my own. It was terrifying. Uncertain. Magnificent.
I tried dating in this new setting, only to meet similar results. By then, it had already occurred to me that the better part of my life had been spent following footsteps down a path I didn’t want to be on in the first place. I was making the same choices as everyone around me, overlooking one critical detail: I didn’t want anyone else’s life.
That’s why, when I hear even the kindest and most well-intentioned, “You need to open up [to dating/men] more,” my extremely sensitive self hears (and sometimes cries in public from hearing):
“You need to change.”
“You’re missing out on the best life has to offer because of the way you inherently are.”
“All of your life experience, self-reflection, and years of therapy isn’t enough for you to know what’s best for you.”
“You will never be whole without a romantic partner.”
Interestingly, the advice almost always comes from fellow singles. Married friends are far more likely to applaud my independent streak and passion/career focus. “There’s always time for relationships. Being part of a couple isn’t the be all, end all,” many of my married friends say.
Perhaps because I started young in the marriage department, I’m excited to fill my time with other things. After a vacation this month, I couldn’t wait to get back to work on my new business. Especially as an introvert, my energy is a very finite thing, and I’ve learned to carefully protect it.
When we protect ourselves in this way, others sometimes interpret it as a kind of shutting down. We retreat to a place known only to us, and our loved ones may not understand this sacred practice. I also think it scares people when we unapologetically go against the grain. Like quitting a stable job. Going vegan. Declaring that you genuinely enjoy being alone.
Still, I often wonder if all of my conviction about singlehood is rooted in defensiveness and stubbornness. A fear of getting hurt (again). All fair points I’ve extensively mined, always returning to this notion that I should only take steps that lead to the results I uniquely desire.
The path I’m carving is full of face-to-face connection, pursuing passions, friendships, and shared laughter, and what may look like guardedness towards men or strangers is often just energy preservation. When it comes to dating, I’ve intentionally chosen a quieter path. I’ve chosen the long game. This is very different from saying, “I’m closed off to love.”
I prefer to think of my decision to put dating on a back burner as a kind of decluttering. Just like I can’t relax or think straight when my tables are piled high with junk, I can’t ground myself emotionally when I let too many other opinions or too many competing priorities stack up inside of me. When I feel myself wobble from the extra noise, I’m grateful for this blog as a way to stabilize my thoughts, standing both open and firm as I share my voice.
May you always find your path through the clutter,
How do you “declutter”? What has been the hardest advice to process?