Sunday, March 20, 2016

Dating revisited

I went crazy this week.

Not on the outside, at least. It was completely internal.

I had a situation that led me to the heart of my pain, insecurity, and grief. I cried a lot. I lost weight. I barely ate or slept. I talked to a lot of friends. I took long baths. I went out for fun. I lost myself for a whole week.

And then I got back online and looked at the coursework I have ahead of me and reminded myself I am a psychology major…and a single mom…and a student of relationships and life…out in the dating world and insatiable when it comes to picking apart what we already know about human nature. I can figure this out.

This is what happened: I had a warm fire. I approached it after months of chill and cold....dsomething missing...and the light of this fire lit up my heart with hope.  I brought my kindling to keep the fire going, and while bathed in the seductive glow and alluring warmth I did not see what was in front of me. I didn't even look. Instead, I closed my eyes and let the warmth guide me, because I needed it so badly. Just when I dropped my kindling in front of the fire, I opened my eyes. There was an ugly, black, man-made contraption with its back-lit orange and yellow light: a fake fire, an electric facsimile of a fire. There, then, the shadow of a running figure; he who I thought had been tending the fire with me. The cord, unplugged, dropped to the ground, then gave a violent tug that pulled through my whole body, back through months, back through worn-out memories, through my entire childhood, and into the following week.
I got hit with emotional whiplash and withdrawal symptoms all at once.
It was total relational coitus interruptus.

And so I set about to read…how could I let this happen? What if I had just built a nice fire and invited him to bring his own kindling? Did I kill it with my need? This is habitual...trying to soothe my heart and make sense of my pain through research. In some strange way, it helps to get out of my heart and into my head. Why is there this common thread that runs through the men I have been choosing? Why is it that even though I have worked hard on my shame and wounds to open my voice and make me strong, to become more secure, that I dissolved into this heartbroken, disappointed, little-girl-like being again?

I found the "head" answers in attachment theory and wish I'd learned about it sooner. This is not all about current relationships. This is about ancient pain and serves a survival purpose. When I have an available partner, I'm not anxious. Some people get anxious when their partner is available.  A lot of what people say about their exes, or the advice that is commonly given, is wrong in the context of attachment theory. For example, many people will tell those of the newly-divorced set to “take a break” from dating. Some are even criticized for getting back out there too soon. But taking a break is a good thing for some and not for others. Those with more of an avoidant attachment style simply do not need closeness with other people as much as most, so for them, being alone is a good thing. Perhaps they are told "you need to get back out there". Anytime I start a sentence with "you need to..." I know I am having good will but not exercising kindness or empathy. For someone with a more anxious style, dating again can be helpful for rebuilding self-esteem and orienting back into hope.
One piece of advice I understand but think is subtly crippling is, "you deserve.." Often, the implication is, "you are entitled to an idealized version of love that is ultimately not sustainable because of all you give and all you do" That sounds like manipulation to me and not spontaneous, open-hearted, unconditional giving. No one "deserves" in the sense of being entitled. We can only enter into situations with people who are willing to show us themselves, receive us as we are, be present through troubles, and manage down our considerable fears in order to meet each other with grace.
At any rate, there is much written about attachment styles online and in books. I think it behooves anyone who is in the dating world to read up on your own attachment style and those of others. The desirable style is the “secure” style. There is no extreme of clinginess or ambivalence in this style. But even a secure is tested and swayed to an insecure style by someone who is overly avoidant or anxious. In reading, I have been able to categorize what is going on for me, especially in the context of my therapy. Ironically, the extreme styles attract each other, in some strange loop of confirming their core beliefs and never growing past those. Which is why therapy is so important! (A resource list follows.)

The important thing is to have compassion. No one develops an insecure attachment style without some kind of wounding in their past, and in fact, attachment theory holds that attachment styles as adults have their roots in infancy. Many people seem to have a low tolerance for the quirks of either style, calling women "needy" and men "assholes". I have compassion for the deep-seated fear and pain that would make someone clingily manipulate, or make someone abandon a good thing, or make someone have so much fear they choose to be alone. And truly, we seek others out to help us heal, for those that lead us to our pain are our teachers as equally as those who lead us to our worth. And we can’t make someone love us. We can't make someone want to explore with us. We have nothing to prove that would change that. And we can’t make someone else see their own worth. Sometimes they just can’t.
For in the dating world today, there are many, many wounded souls.

Instead of setting myself to repeat painful cycles, I will explore receiving and giving presence. It’s a nice thing to strive toward…being completely open and present to what is in front of me and allowing things to unfold with consciousness and availability. It’s a nice goal to set for myself…to develop empathy through open-hearted experience of others, and enjoy availability. 

The "heart" answers aren't there yet, but they are coming. Look for them in subsequent posts.

Jeb Kinnison has a lot of articles on attachment. Some of it is not clear and can be contradictory but nevertheless it's good:

And then of course, what is all that without a song list:
Steady On: Shawn Colvin (every word of this..yes!)
Many a New Day: Rodgers and Hammerstein (from Oklahoma)