I got to the moment in the conversation with somebody where they asked me if I was ready for another relationship right now. Frankly, I wasn't even ready for that question but here the fuck we are thinking about it.
Until recently, I had filed away a very cute man that reminds me of my ex-husband under "Affectionate Friends That Cuddle and Kiss". Recently, I got heart eyes for him and, though I could go on and on about how perfectly I've idealized this person I hardly know, I got really really scared.
This fear woke up and identified itself when my meta and I leaned our heads on a couch back at a karaoke bar and she delved deep into me in a soft way. Her asking me how I felt about this stuff reminded me that I had a lot of feelings about this stuff.
Fear is not an unfamiliar feeling in my body. It is perhaps the most common feeling I have, actually, and it is a good sign that there is something underneath that could use some attention. Yeah, I'm afraid of men because I got abused, like, four months ago. Duh. But I don’t have any physical fear of abuse from this person.
I imagine that plenty of people feel anxiety when entertaining the idea of a new partner. I imagine ideas like, "I don't want to be abandoned if they don't like me," or "They will leave me when I least expect it," are common. I tried on the fear of “being left”, but it didn't fit right.
I realized (and, oh shit, it hurt to realize this) I have been the leaver my whole life. Why's that?
I remember early on in my adolescence responding to men in the way that I had been taught by direct instruction and by watching others. A way of having them believe I was the one that wanted to use them. A way of overpowering and hijacking their desires. A way of not asking myself what I wanted before anticipating what they wanted. Giving myself away and callously leaving the scene of the crime as if it hadn't happened.
These patterns gave me safety from them using me physically and gave me attention from men on my terms when I needed or wanted it without much vulnerability. I do not regret those behaviors because they protected and fed me.
So, what did I have to be afraid of?
I can distill it down to two common messages I got as a child:
1) Men want sex from you and will probably take it from you.
2) Men will take care of you if you treat them right.
We could probably spend a few blog posts (and you better believe I will) unpacking what it meant to me over the course of my life to "treat them right". But right here and right now in this fear of starting a new relationship with a person, there's a glowing red line that connects my behaviors when starting a new relationship to my fears around number one.
This especially loud in my life because I do not want to have sex right now. Like, not even a little. That makes me feel valueless as a person. It makes me feel embarrassed because I “don’t put out”. It makes me feel like my sexuality belongs to others and I have to follow their instructions about what it looks like. It feels bad, okay?!
I very vividly remember fearful thoughts as a young girl around being the one that got raped but I was still attracted to them and wanted their approval (see #2). Instead, I'd convince myself to want it. There was this mixture of "this is how I get them to like me" and "this is how I keep from getting physically harmed by them". Countless times with countless adults that must not have known any better, I deployed this survival mechanism that is as old as I am.
The rawness in revealing and revisiting that brings up fear in the form of my hands shaking. There's a voice in my head that says “shame”. An even louder voice wishes that somebody would have represented the way that fear can manifest itself in relationships and, for this season in my life, that is the voice I choose to listen to.
What I found on this deep dive into my childhood was freedom from this anxiety. I mean, I can still feel it but it does not overpower my desire for deep love and connection.
I can't say that those will be the same thing everybody finds, but I can say that if there is an inconsistency in the way you want to act and the way you are actually acting when entering a relationship, looking at what you have been told to expect or give is a great way to find out why.
Once I was looking at my long-ago learned "truths", I was able to put into practice the way I wanted to handle relationships. I alleviated anxiety by asking my potential partners what I wanted to know.
"Do you want to talk to me again after tonight?"
"Are you looking for or open to a long-term partner?"
"Will you let me know what amount of communication you're comfortable with?"
I will be the first to admit that these are hilarious, alien ways of communicating with a person but the reason they look so silly after a first date or a spontaneous hookup is that we have all been taught how to fall in love wrong.
Getting high on uncertainty and getting foggy in the midst of a power exchange is all well and good for some incredible sex or dinner conversation but it is not the way we dig deep into each other and find a meaningful connection. It can turn into that, sure, but is not sustainable as-is.
I can truthfully admit that I was addicted to the idea of being an addiction and I no longer want to be ruled by this false perception that men can only treat me safely if I appease them with sex. It is not a fair way to define men and not a fair way to define myself.
So, yeah, I think I am ready for a new relationship.