Life is process. It can take nothing more than a single word or interaction to change where you think you are in your process.
I walk to the grocery store on a Sunday night, hair in that embarrassing pineapple girls put it in when they’re tired of their hair being down but don’t really intend for it to stay that way—or at least that’s when I pineapple my hair—Saturday shorts on, possibly wearing furry Ugg houseshoes but maybe they were cute Vans. Definitely no makeup. “I’m ready to date,” I’m thinking to myself after a cathartic weekend of not hanging out with a soul (introvert).
I’m looking for guac, for dinner. Like, as dinner. This is a benefit of being single. Dinner is whatever the eff you want, and it doesn’t have to be anything that traditionally falls under the outdated category of dinner. There isn’t any guac. I’m suddenly at a loss. What will I eat?
I settle on hummus, justify buying the expensive rice chips that I like to ease the pain of the missing guac. I study every flavor of kombucha because hey that’s better than wine alone on a Sunday night before settling on one, and cruise up a few more aisles, aimlessly.
Turning the corner onto the cereal? chip? Asian food? aisle I make accidental eye contact with a gorgeous 6’5” man. Tan. Sweet face. Is he on the AVP tour? Foreign? He can’t possibly have lived in my neighborhood and me never have seen him. Neither of our expressions change. We look away. This happens again on the next turn of the aisle.
He gets in line. I have all I need, I get in line behind him. He looks, but again, no reaction.
The checkout lady loves him. He doesn’t have a Pavillions card. In my head, I’m cheering myself on, “you can use my number … for this, and any time” or should it be “and to call me?” or maybe “you can use my number, and save it” … delivered somehow sweetly and sexily, all in the checkout line of the grocery store in front of a clerk who knows exactly what a catch this fella is. Before I can make my move—okay, like a full two minutes into me thinking about my move, which is plenty of time to have actually made it—checkout lady gives him a card. In a motherly way. Because who wouldn’t want to take care of that guy?
He departs. She rings up my groceries, friendly. I grab my bag and turn, and he’s looking at me. My heart drops. He’s come back for me! This is a fairytale. He wants my number, and not for the Pavillions discount either. He’s facing me, the wrong way, in the grocery store!
While he makes eye contact, he doesn’t smile.
He turns to the ATM machine he’s been waiting in line for.
I walk out of the grocery store.
No, I walk through the parking lot, no, I’m not ready to date yet.
Not because I was chicken in the grocery store. Not because I don’t want to. Just because I’m not ready. I went to the verge, and wasn’t ready.
I often ponder what it even means “to date”. People treat it like a hobby rather than happenstance; it’s something to do but it requires doing something, which is a shockingly hard stage to get to in today’s society. Then there are my own hangups, including but not limited to my confidence in athletic pursuits compensating for my insecurity about my worth in a dress and heels. Am I even enough without the crutch of sports?
Social media. Social media is what made me realize exactly what was wrong. In the five years that we’d been broken up, since I’d moved first into the cave underneath our lofted one bedroom, then into a bed and breakfast, before finally settling into my own apartment in our old complex, since I’d moved to an entirely new state, since I’d dated one, two, was it four? other guys, I’d never posted a picture on social media of me and any other guy.
I often think about the photo I posted of a chair we were giving away, that we’d put in the hallway of our apartment with a big FREE sign on it. He arranged himself across the armchair, and I captioned the photo “Please take me: boyfriend or chair?”
He’s the only person I’ve ever referred to on social media as my boyfriend.
My last boyfriend met my entire family. Did the hometown tour, saw where I went to junior high and high school and met friends-of-the-family and friends of the ex. He traveled with me, attended weddings with me. I shared my whole world with him. But didn’t post any pictures on social media with him.
I excused it: social media is my job, and I have an image to portray. He hadn’t posted pictures of me either. I didn’t need to show the world who I loved.
But really: I didn’t want him to see. Five years after we’d broken up, I didn’t want to put a face to a person he knew was out there. The face of the person he knew was taking care of, loving, and building a life with the woman with whom he once did the same.
Perhaps this is narcissistic, to assume he’s watching my every move. That my every move hurts him. But he is. And it does. He’s told me so. Instead of dismissing that as his own process, I took it on, took ownership of the way I made him feel. Because it was, for so long, mine to take on. Ours. The way we made each other feel. I never unlearned how to share his burdens. I never unlearned how to be half of our couple, despite years and miles and men.
Freedom is a light, beautiful, soaring word. It’s also heavy, when you’re searching for it so hard.
He came to visit me, newly single, again, in my new house, filled with furniture the latest ex helped me move, mirrors he helped me hang, nights he shared with me, before I broke up with him over casserole because he just wasn’t him. No one was, and I was tired of trying to make them.
He came to visit me, and we spent wonderful, weird, terse, fun, tear-filled days together. They were easy and gut-wrenchingly hard, easy to enjoy but gut-wrenchingly hard to endure knowing they were a snapshot in time. So maybe that’s what led to the F-word.
Ultimately, as I have before, I asked him to choose. Choose me. Love me. Above all else.
And ultimately, as I have before, I was left in tears when he didn’t.
I cried and cried and cried.
Ugly cried. Heaving sobbed. Snot-out-of-the-nose cried.
But I felt free.
I felt freedom.
This time, when I had asked him to choose, I had laid my heart bare. Without expectation that it be reciprocated. Without caveat. Without any expectation that he share my burden, that he take ownership of my feelings. Because I needed to bare my soul to heal, consequence be damned.
So I was light, and I was free.
And the consequence was, as it was, damned.
Who wants to be rejected? Who wants to lay their heart on the line and not get what they wanted, get the guy, live happily ever after?
Because ultimately he wasn’t what I wanted. What I wanted was to be set free of the expectation that he was. To own my feelings as mine alone. And he gave that to me.
I might still not be ready to date.
I went on my first app date.
He had a lot of questions: what are your dating red flags? What’s something I should know about you on a date? How long was your last relationship? Why did it end? Is x, y, and z about me a dealbreaker for you? Do you have a car, a job, and your own place?
Those last three seem like givens to me.
Dating in this way, this app way, forces you to define yourself. Define what you like and dislike, what breaks the deal and you can deal with, what you want and just don’t. It’s good, in that way. Instead of taking what comes your way, you’re choosing.
But it’s also sharing. It’s letting someone in, even on a first date, who wants to share with you. Share interest, share feelings, share burdens—the small ones, like annoying coworkers or traffic. Down the line, the big ones, like hurt and anger and disappointment.
I cancelled the second date. Deleted the apps.
I’m savoring my freedom. I’m light, and I’m soaring. I’m taking ownership of my own feelings, accepting my own burdens of expectation, history, choices.
I’m not ready to date. Soon.