When safety becomes sabotage

I’ve written a few different pieces about love, lust and romance in the humanitarian field and recently, I had an experience that made me think a lot about myself and how I think about these things. I met up with somebody for an, erm, ‘extended date’ – let’s call it that.

Now I’m one of those people for whom this kind of thing is – like Ron Burgundy – kinda a big deal. Partly because I have been single for around seven years, and have learnt to so masterfully avoid any situations where romance may potentially on the cards, any convent would skip me straight past novice stage; and partly because I. Do. Not. Do. Dates. Or at least do not do them well. Ask any of my exes, and I’m pretty sure only one of them will recall a date. That’s because I only ever went on one date. With one of them. The rest just seemed to merge from snogging in a nightclub to relationship by some kind of osmosis process that I don’t quite understand. So please imagine my terror at the prospect of facing a four day date.

In actuality, I had a lovely time; my date was wonderful, but me? I’m pretty sure I was terrible because I was so terrified about each second going well, I never relaxed, never let my guard down and never just let myself be me. Well, no, that’s a lie; when I was really pissed I was possibly too much of myself all at once which is probably just as terrifying.

On the last night, I did something that is a bit of a trademark for me. I drank too much and the pressure of hiding myself got too much, and my true feelings came forth in a burst of tears and crazy. I guess in a strange way it was a good thing to let all of those worries come out, but I wish it had been in a more controlled way, a bit like how characters in American sitcoms can so effortlessly verbalise their internal maelstroms in a neat two-minute scene before the credits. I’d like to think that it didn’t ruin the rest of our time together, but it wasn’t really something that I’d had on my ‘plan for a successful romantic weekend’.

Back at home I thought through the ‘date’ a bit more and started to come to the realisation that from minute one, I’d purposefully sabotaged the opportunity for myself – and continue to try to sabotage it – for a number of reasons. Firstly, I assumed that someone else couldn’t be interested in me for me, because I’m not good enough for that. Now, I’m not saying that because I want you to all like my Instagram account and send me life-affirming messages on twitter… that is just my default. I know it is, I’m working on it, I’ve got a therapist, let’s not do the ‘oh but you’re this and you’re that!’ dance. When it comes to relationships, low self-esteem is a pretty destructive mindset, and it led me to making some pretty insulting assumptions, like the only reason someone would want to see me after a year apart was for a quick lay. I’m forever grateful to my date for telling me that they were pretty insulted by that assumption which carelessly tumbled out during my emotional landslide. I’m sure there are a lot of people who are like that, but this person was very clearly not, and I chose to ignore all the signs that showed me that, because it was easier to paint them as the ‘bad hombre’. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with my own issues, and it could all be someone else’s fault that it didn’t work out, rather than my own for sabotaging something good. And let’s face it, blaming someone else makes it easier to sleep at night, right?

Secondly, I assumed that life is like fucking Disney. It’s not. People are complicated things (see above) and they take time to figure out. And maybe when you’ve figured them out, you realise that maybe they’re not one of the few stood at the top of the hill with you;


Not everyone gets to be at the top of the mountain. That’s just logistics. (Credit: Waitbutwhy.com)

maybe they’re floating in the middle, maybe they’re so far into the fucking foothills they might as well be at sea level, the point is you don’t know until you take the time to get to know them. With some people that might be 5 minutes, for others that might be 5 years, but chances are if there’s something that keeps you circling each other for that long, there might be something; maybe there is a part of you that they understand. For example, I spoke on the phone with one guy for 18 months before we finally met up and admitted we liked each other as more than friends and wanted to be more. I didn’t see that as strange – it felt like a natural progression – it just took both of us that long to open up properly. With my date, I’d assumed that I would meet this person and fireworks would go off, and we would be planning our next trip together by day two. In reality, there were lots of mini-Disney moments –sweet words, well-timed kisses – that I missed because I was looking for the musical scene with singing teapots. The point is, relationships are going to look different each time, so don’t expect what we are all sold by the television and films – sometimes that happens, but most of the time it’s a lot of awkward silences and red wine until you figure each other out.

Thirdly, I did the one thing I had vowed never to do, and that was to try to be someone else because I thought the ‘pretend-person’ was better than my actual self. I did this in my last relationship, I think in reaction to his over-confidence, my lowering self-esteem and his growing disinterest in me. Rather than admit something had changed and the relationship wasn’t fulfilling my needs anymore, I assumed I was what had changed – I’d become boring and dull – and so I tried to compensate. The problem was the more I compensated the more I totally forgot who I actually was and the less I became the person he was attracted to at the very beginning. I assumed if I pretended to be what he and others wanted me to be, everything would be ok, that I would be happy, and I managed to hide myself so well under layers of ‘everything to everyone’ generic blandness that I went missing for several years, and I needed a therapist to hand me a map back to my reality. Since this recent trip was the first time I’d felt like a dating situation was a ‘big deal’, I think I defaulted to what I did the last time I felt like something was a ‘big deal’. I assumed I should be some perfect incarnation of myself (whoever that is), that things should be perfect from moment one and it bought back my old coping mechanism of hiding myself. Recently, a friend of mine made me into a terribly geeky, but rather fitting, WASH metaphor; he said that I was like base rock over an aquifer… (I told you, bear with me). At first, I’m tough and impenetrable; you know there’s good stuff inside, but you don’t know how to get at it without applying some serious effort. But once you have and pushed through all the resisting bits, all the good stuff comes rushing out all at once like an artisanal well, and keeps coming. He also suggested that for this reason I was unsuitable for manual drilling… take that as you will, but it’s scarily accurate. A positive step for me though is that I admitted I was hiding parts of myself in order to be what I thought my date wanted, and that I know I was doing that now. Moving forward I should expose more of the parts of myself that I worry about others seeing, because that’s actually where all the good stuff is. It’s ok to be a human with faults and imperfections, because when you are wanted in spite of those – or because of those! – that’s when you know you have found someone special.

So what happens now? I don’t know, and that would usually terrify me… no wait, it still does terrify me, but I’m seeing that as a positive thing. I want to challenge myself to open up to someone, and for me – whatever happens with this person – I think I’ve found someone that I can try that with, and for that I will be forever grateful.

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