“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?
17 thoughts on “Your Clutter is in My Way”
There’s nothing wrong with putting dating on the back burner. The pressure to be half of a pair can be intense in our society, but you can’t force relationships. My advice is not to worry, be open to experiences, enjoy the wonderful new life you’ve made and who knows…. maybe that special someone will find you when you least expect it.
I love that advice! I do think anything I can do to reach a calmer, more self-accepting state can only lead to good things – and I’ve found that dating (specifically online dating) has the exact OPPOSITE effect!
this post really speaks to me and I understand and live every word of it. here’s to you!
Oh thank you so much, Beth! Being able to connect through this blog is one of the great joys of my life!
it is what makes it so wonderful
I love that you’re spending more resources on yourself! I found that when I really focused on my life and put the whole dating thing on pause, when I frankly wasn’t looking, that’s when I met my husband. That said, I wish our society was more relaxed about this whole coupling up thing. It puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on people, who then end up jumping into marriage because it’s what’s expected. And as I’m sure you well know, another person doesn’t really make you whole – you do. I love to declutter from time to time – it’s so freeing. And then I have more room to breathe. One of the effects of all the intense healing I’ve been doing the past several years is letting go of attachment to stuff. I gleefully tossed out a pile of papers yesterday that had been sitting on my dining room table for the past few years. If only I had the energy to declutter the rest of my house.
ha ha “Gleefully” is the perfect word – and congrats on the purge! I LOVE decluttering! One of the harder lessons I’m working on now is decluttering when it comes to people, i.e., faded friendships and boundary setting. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to hold on and when to let go!
I hear you! Like my mentor taught me, if you’re wobbling between a yes or no, sit quietly and move your focus down into your heart. Then ask yes or no. With the brain out of the picture it’s usually a much easier decision.
Well said, Jules. You’ve articulated many thoughts/conclusions I’ve arrived at over my 60+ years. Keep on your own path and enjoy your journey.
Having married later in life I can say while there are many blessings in a marriage, a spouse also distracts from my own focus and journey.
Of course, I’m responsible for changing that, which I’m now doing re food and drinking to get healthy in body and mind. About time I figure.
Best of luck,
Your family is the best!! And congratulations on the steps towards achieving your ideal healthy body and mind – it sounds so simple and yet…! I’m trying to remember that often times “progress” looks like “stumbling and getting back up.”
Thank you so much for expressing your honest truth- I am married but your words resonate with me when I was single from the age of 20 to 30. I went through so many phases of swearing off dating and then meeting the same type of men who couldn’t commit and then swearing off dating again- it was exhausting and in some ways, humiliating as most of my friends were able to partner off and start their lives together (house, pet, marriage, family- the whole gamut).
I think in the end, it’s a fear of loneliness that drives us to do things we normally wouldn’t do if not for that fear. But if we are individually able to face that fear, “declutter” that fear, then ultimately I think we carve our paths to happiness!
I’ve been following your blog for some years now and the changes you’ve made in your life speaks of your true strength and courage. You’ve been an amazing inspiration to me and many of your readers, that I am confident of! 🙂
This comment really made my day – thank you!! I agonized over whether to write this post, and the best way to express the sentiment, “This is what I KNOW works for me, and it’s okay and expected that it doesn’t work for everyone.” I think you really hit on something huge re: fear, and the trickiest part for me seems to be that the only way to lessen any fear is to do the thing we think we’re so scared of, LOL (I accidentally typed “lesson” the fear; that’s fitting, huh?!)
I think it’s really cool and brave if you to put this out there. I’m 26 and was raised in a really strict environment where dating was totally shut down. Now I kinda don’t know how 😅 dating is very weird and intense and also deeply embarrassing ??? Anyway it’s a process I guess lol
Ha! Yes! No one tells you that the Dating Brochure fine print reads: “WARNING: This could get very weird and intense and also deeply embarrassing.”
This sounds perfect. You decluttered away an aspect of your life (dating) that brought on negative emotions. Just continue to be true to yourself and be happy.
Thank you so much, Suzanne! Ironically, I went on a couple of dates after posting this and… I think it’s time to declutter again, LOL