Warning: this post has a lot of swearing in it. It’s probably the most sweary one I’ve ever written.
Earlier this year, I very nearly got involved with someone. He was an older man – recently separated from his wife – who I met through a MeetUp* group. He wasn’t really my type, as he was older than men I usually date (he was in his late 50s), but he had a charming English accent, was a warm and engaging conversationalist, and looked not unlike Richard Gere. He just seemed so damned nice. He kind of snuck up on me, and before I could say “Danger, Will Robinson”, I realised I was attracted to him.
I saw this man for only a few weeks before I called it off. From early on though, and at every turn, my instincts were screaming that something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly, but I knew something was off. Late to breakfast one morning, missing in action on weekends, avoiding certain topics of conversation… that kind of thing. At lunch in the third week I managed to manipulate the conversation into discussing integrity. It was then, over fried pork dumplings, that I told him – in no uncertain terms – to fuck off. He had admitted he was yanking my chain and was seeing a number of other women apart from me. Not cool, dude.
It’s funny how many people told me I should have stuck with him. That it was too early, I didn’t really know him, and I should have given him the benefit of doubt, that “half decent men” are in short supply. I responded that he wasn’t my type: I don’t date assholes. I don’t have assholes as friends, so I certainly wouldn’t become romantically involved with one. Pass. I just don’t do that shit.
And this has happened a number of times in the seven years since I broke up with The Italian. Men who appear to be decent, normal and genuinely interested in me have morphed into assholes that either have no integrity or require a massive recalibration of their moral compass. On the one hand, I’m happy that my instincts are on the money and I pick it up quickly, but on the other, it saddens and disappoints me that men I’m initially prepared to make room for turn out to be such duds. I’m pretty much over the emotional energy expended in getting things going, only to discover a few weeks in that there’s trouble in paradise. Of course, I know it’s better to discover this sooner rather than later. And I’m always glad that I do.
What really bothers me, though, is that to consider entering into a romantic relationship with someone, I have to allow myself to be vulnerable. That’s scary, because it means I am opening myself up to the possibility of being rejected, which then feeds into a spin cycle of feeling a deep sense of shame that a budding relationship has failed – again – and that I’m. Just. Not. Good. Enough. Cue incessant internal chattering and questioning of self-worth. These feelings swirl around inside me like a whirlpool, despite the fact that I have empowered myself by nipping something toxic in the bud, or not buying into something that would probably not have been ended well for me emotionally.
I admit that I struggle with all this. On the one hand there’s the potential joy and satisfaction of making a deep, authentic connection with someone. I’ve had that and it’s awesome. On the other hand, there’s the possibility of pain if it goes pear-shaped. I’ve had that, and it’s not so awesome. How do I reconcile these opposing forces and forge ahead anyway?
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. ~ Brené Brown
It all comes down to how well you protect yourself, I think. And by that I don’t mean building walls to fortify your feelings. It’s about ensuring that you trust the right person with your vulnerability. Test, trust, check. Test, trust, check. Test, trust, check. You can’t short-cut the process here.
And I rely heavily on my instincts. It’s a finely tuned internal radar that triggers an alarm when something’s not right: a gesture here, a glance there, what’s been said, or conversely, not said. Whether actions and words match up. It’s like a force field, allowing the right people in, and keeping creeps, assholes, pricks and fuckwits at bay. It allows me to “try on” people with relative safety, to sort the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the serious contenders from the players. My alarm system means that I can say with absolute certainty that “It’s not me, it’s you” and know that it’s true, correct and on the level.
* MeetUp is an awesome concept that organises people around common interests online, to meet offline. I’m a member of a number of groups including photography, wine, movies etc. It’s a wonderful way to have an active social life and meet really interesting people. There are a few bad eggs, but you get that with anything.