Back in October of 2020, I matched with a girl on a dating app. It was someone I’d known years before, not a stranger.
We made plans to meet for socially distant coffee. In the weeks that followed, my health symptoms escalated and I got diagnosed with Celiac. I asked if we could hold off on meeting until my life felt less hectic.
Part of it was the diagnosis; another part was emotional exhaustion. I felt like I just didn’t have the bandwidth for the potential derailing that could likely result from another dating disappointment, when I was already in such a vulnerable place health-wise.
The woman’s response was understanding and kind. She told me not to worry; that my health should take priority. She told me to let her know once I was feeling better.
A month or so later, I reached back out — asking how she was doing (but not initiating a meet-up just yet). When she read the message but didn’t respond, familiar feelings resurfaced.
I began personalizing. Doubting myself.
I observed what my body began to do; took note of the impulses it was suddenly sending up to my brain.
I noticed how in that moment, I suddenly felt like seeing her. Even though just a few days ago, I’d been clear with myself I hadn’t wanted that.
Rather than act on the impulse by sending a follow-up “initiating a plan in case lack of response was due to text message communication burnout” text, I stepped back — and in doing so, felt like I could pinpoint where the impulse had come from. It had come from the wounded part of me that still believed I had something to prove.
The woman lost interest, my mind said. Or she’s losing interest. Now we have to prove to her that you’re worth her interest. We have to show up, looking good, with full energy, as our best self, and win her over.
Even though three days ago you said this wasn’t what you wanted…
The light shone on this resurrected belief halted the feelings in their tracks. I kept it there until they melted away completely. And I was relieved not only that I hadn’t acted on the impulse, but that I could also see where it had come from.
When we carry our past rejections and unresolved hurts with us, our attachment to a person can have more to do with a need to prove ourselves than an actual genuine attraction. When they reject us, old stories activate. The need, untended to, stirs awake.
Following the situation I just described, I wondered how many of my other dating choices over the years had been guided less by actual, genuine interest or attraction than by the need to “win” what I perceived as a game — in the name of salvaging my ego, dignity, and sense of self-worth.
I wondered how often the “I need to prove myself” thoughts took the front seat — putting a sock in the mouth of that part of my mind that asks (reasonable) questions like “Do I actually want to be with this person?” and “Are we even compatible?”
Seiko Shirai writes that, “When we feel the urge to prove ourselves, we need to communicate with ourselves first, rather than trying to communicate with the other person. In this process of developing self-awareness and self-acceptance, we will be able to break the chain of reactivity of negative emotions and choose a new or different way to respond to the situation.”
She recommends we “be with our vulnerable parts of us which are hurting and afraid, and need to be nurtured.” https://seikoshirai.com/2017/12/24/the-urge-to-prove-yourself-to-others/
I think back to when I was a Lyft driver — how, as nice as longer rides could be with the right person, they could also feel suffocating. Particularly when transporting someone rude, jarring, or who was crossing boundaries.
I learned to deal with these situations by reminding myself: this too will pass. However uncomfortable they may have been in the moment, these were just a handful of the many experiences I’d had and the many yet to come.
In a few blocks the drunk customer would vacate the car, a different driver’s ears would soon be the unfortunate recipients to the nasally voice of the mansplainer, the smell of BO mixed with cigarettes would be carried out the door on my soon to be former passenger’s back.
New passenger gets in. Fresh start. Clean slate. Endless possibilities (kidding. It’s a Lyft ride, not a year abroad in Barcelona).
Remembering this made it easier to detach from the negative emotions.
I realized I could also do this with my emotions in dating. Treat the storms this way. Wait for them to pass.
If you struggle with this too, ask yourself when the impulse presents itself: What’s coming up for me? Rather than blindly obeying or numbing it, sit back and watch as the feelings crest and fall. Let them crash and recede like waves on a beach, without allowing them to carry you away. Observe as they tumble to the shore before the ocean of your mind beckons them back.
At the end you can send your condolences to the scrap of wood picked up along the way. You can also say to yourself: I’m relieved it wasn’t me. And now I’m all the stronger for it.
Somewhere down the line, it might even become apparent to you that your brain didn’t actually want the person; it wanted to heal past hurts. And it was unconsciously seeking to do this through whoever was in front of you.
Back when I was a teenager I got hung up on the girl who’d been my first kiss. Those feelings were unrequited. She wasn’t even the type I usually go for; in retrospect my feelings had more to do with the fact that what had floated through my head as an unfulfilled wish for so many years had finally tangibilized.
Three years later that girl and I ran into each other on the dance floor of Great America’s Gay Day. I was with a group of friends; she was on her own, beer in hand. She stumbled a bit when she saw me. Touched my arm. Moved her face close to mine.
“Oh, hey,” was all I said before walking on.
I remember feeling… nothing.
How do you notice the need to prove yourself showing up in your dating life? What actions do you take in response?
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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