Coming Up For Air After Healing
“The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it…” — Nicholas Sparks
I was dancing alone on the crowded night club floor, just lost in the beat and the music. I’d paused as a small group of fellow club patrons passed close, struggling through the mass of swaying and writhing dancers. A lovely young woman among them stopped in front of me, looked up into my eyes and simply said with a beaming smile, “You are beautiful!” If was as if the wind had been knocked out of me at hearing her words. Men rarely receive unsolicited compliments and my looking into her kind eyes revealed that this one was completely sincere. She just as quickly moved on, as she’d stopped, having no apparent agenda in her speaking to me. It was a pristine moment of human connection, unsullied with goal or ambition. I never saw her again, but I will never forget her in that moment. With her words, I felt beautiful… and she was right.
Nearly two years ago, after almost a decade of my suddenly done second marriage, I had found myself single again and ready to mingle. Maybe not so ready, but being cast out into the newly single world was one hell of an adventure with exciting curves, turns and twists. Having lost enough weight from morbid obesity to a quite fit, if slightly dad-bodish, physique had changed the world I was used to. From the first meetings, through many short-term relationships, I waded through the experience of dating again.
I hit dry periods where the connections where few, and had other periods where my calendar was quite crowded. I’d never before experienced dating where I was seen as an objectively attractive person. When I encounter women who were actually tongue-tied on a first date, over me, I was very flattered and all to unfamiliar with it. I made lots of mistakes, some I regret and others I still really don’t, but I tried to be an honest, vulnerable and genuine person. I felt very good about myself, as my self-confidence was healthy, strong and well validated. I started writing my first articles to share about my journey — mostly the same articles that I’ve shared here again — just to provide the kinds of ideas and perspectives I wish I could have found written in my own initial explorations. I then met someone, who read my earlier articles, who after a couple dates felt like someone who could possibly be a true partner in ways I couldn’t have ever hoped for.
I couldn’t have been more wrong in my expectations. On what was have been our fourth date, I experienced a evening with her that nearly destroyed me, stripped my self-confidence to nothing and left me feeling emasculated, broken, violated and completely closed off. Everything I had worked so hard to build up in myself fell to ruin harder than the walls of Jericho. I will never be the same man as I was before that fateful night.
I was fortunate to be in therapy at the time, having an appointment the following evening. I was completely raw, unfiltered and open. I had lost all capacity to trust anyone, and I was possessing of no self-esteem. Within a week I had reconnected with someone I’d met once, with whom I had chemistry, but I barely felt human anymore. I needed someone in my life to care for me, not realizing that I was in no place to have a healthy relationship. Sadly, this new girlfriend had conflicting needs that in time caused insecurities and fears for both of us. It also didn’t help that I was oblivious to an emotional tug of war with a very close friend that wanted my attention all to herself. These two women were fighting a secret war with each other, and I was completely clueless. As a result, a number of badly timed unfortunate personal events affected all three of us, along with angst of approaching holidays stirring up more complication. Claustrophobia set in for me as all I saw was my girlfriend becoming more and more frightfully clingy and my friend confusing my interpretation of the situation. In a short matter of time I lost both women, the girlfriend to my breaking things off after I no longer felt safe with her, and later the friend after she started to openly lie and use me. I definitely made bad decisions, and many mistakes, but I still had such damaged self-esteem and was still completely broken. I was lost.
I began to barely date at all as I started focusing more on my own needs. People-ing is hard, especially when you are already different, in my case being demisexual, and are coming from a place of complete loss of trust and fear of women. Starting over, even building friendship was a complicated matter. Not to sound too cynical, but I often wonder if it’s only because of the years of invested time that keep some people from using and betraying their friends, because I saw proof of this theory nearly every time I tried to build a new friendship. I don’t believe people are inherently malicious, but for too many people the desire for their own wants and needs often causes choices and actions that hurt those around them. I take friendship very seriously, as for me it’s the only real way I can form an attraction to someone. There is nothing casual about sex for me, but with most of the women I encountered, the real connection for them required the bedroom first. I subsequently spent a lot of evenings alone, hurting and lonely.
That was when I started to find myself. I had often struggled to know what I wanted, as my propensity was to take care of others before myself. I had stated in my earliest online dating profiles that I wanted to find someone to dance with, go hiking with and go to art museums with. In well over a year of dating I went dancing twice with a woman I was seeing, hiked once with another and still have only gone to an art museum by myself. Everything was about their needs and wants, doing everything to make them happy while my own desires where effectively ignored. It wasn’t until I gave up on dating that I started to live. I went dancing by myself, despite still yearning to dance with a woman I love. How am I that one man that couldn’t find a dancing partner? I realized that it didn’t matter. I took dancing classes and started to learn partner dancing, and even though I learned with strangers I achieved what I wanted. I found joy in doing what I always wanted, by myself. I found who I was. I don’t need someone to be complete. I am complete.
I also realized that I can’t date, as it isn’t who I am. I friend. I don’t go out dancing wanting to take the women I dance with home, I just want to know who they are, on the inside. I care about their hopes and dreams. Friendship is my only goal. If in time I get to know a woman who is a friend, and we both emotionally form a connection, maybe I will pursue a romantic relationship… but they have to pursue me back as well. I know who I am, what my value is and I don’t need to prove it to anyone. When I was still broken, I didn’t feel worthy of being loved. When I would date I felt a strong need to justify and validate who I was to the woman I was seeing. It never worked out, because I wasn’t ready to be loved. I love myself now, and if a woman isn’t able to see my value, and isn’t willing to make some effort to give to at least a reasonable level as I have always given to them, then I am not for them.
I will admit that I sometimes do feel lonely, wanting basic human companionship. When you go for long periods of time without physical touch, your levels of oxytocin can drop and depression can set it. I make do with occasional hugs with friends, and even the limited physical contact in partner dancing can often be enough. Of course I would love to find a loving relationship that grows from a close emotional friendship, however I’m not compromising what I am worth just to not be alone. The loneliest times I’ve ever experienced have always been when I was in a relationship with someone that didn’t value me. I won’t do that again, as no one deserves that.
I am no longer broken, or even damaged. I am valuable, and worthy of being loved, cherished and cared about. I am content in my own self and I allow the beauty within me to be seen by anyone willing to look. I have seen and survived too much to not be a bit cautious, but at the end of the day I know what my gifts are, and they are only for those that are equally as generous. I often joke that now I just dad, dance and do my own thing. These are my priorities and I often dance three to four nights a week, almost always going alone.
I used to think I was a hopeless romantic. In truth I am a hopeful romantic, and I hope one day to meet someone that will love me as much as I will love them, and as much as I love myself. Neither of us deserve anything less.