The Anxiety of Intimacy

My best friend and I have had many conversations about dating. She has walls up from past hurts, which is completely understandable. She does not want to let her guard down, does not want to be taken advantage of, does not want to seem vulnerable.

She gets frustrated with me, because I am so open to meeting people. I easily connect, enjoy hearing people’s stories, even like the cat and mouse chase. The writer in me enjoys the fodder it gives me for good laughs with my girls.

She worries that I risk getting my heart broken too much, but she is wrong. I never let anyone near my heart. There is so much scar tissue built up that it is going to take a skilled surgeon or hunter gatherer with a sharp knife to get anywhere near the actual organ.

I learned at a very young age that a man does not show up when he says he is going to, that he will pick and choose what is important in your life and you are completely at his whim. I remember sitting for hours staring out of my grandma’s window waiting for him to show up for whatever grand adventure had been promised, only to be disappointed while others made excuses for him. I stared out in crowds at pageants, awards ceremonies, graduation, hoping for some sign of support and approval. But all the crowns and trophies and scholarships and accolades could not make him appear. So I started making excuses for him, and I started blaming myself. I am not enough. I am never enough.

When he did show up, he made me feel like a million dollars, so I would try harder. And, hence, the roller coaster ride of emotions I have been on since I was born. I have got to be better. I have got to work harder. I have got to obtain some level of perfectionism, because maybe then he will say I am enough.

This very basic lesson in my formative years set the pattern for my adult partners, as I strove for fulfillment and acceptance in dysfunctional relationships, slowly chipping away at myself and building scar tissue around my heart until I married. As my dear friend Iris pointed out this week, that decision to marry was the only real mistake I have made as an adult, because it was the one in which I gave up and settled; but it made me a mommy and something about that woke me up to the vitality of life and the need for healthy, intimate relationships.

Only now, I am like a wounded animal. Friendships and casual dating I can do and I can do them well. I can give my all to my children. I can love my students whole-heartedly. Hell, I can love strangers and have a soul full of empathy and compassion.

But a truly intimate relationship with a man? It is completely foreign to me, because as soon as someone tries to pierce my scar tissue, I shrink away in anxious fear. I literally torture myself with the negative messages I learned as a shy five year old suppressing tears of rejection and disappointment. I beg my friends for reassurance, and then I close off and push away.  I try to stay so busy that I forget that I ever needed that affection in the first place. I shuffle quickly like my rescue puppy does when anyone tries to pet him, because he, too, has learned that love hurts.

I wish that I could wrap this post up with a pretty ending, but I cannot. All I can do is admit that I at least recognize my patterns and want to fix them. Iris insists it is as easy as replacing the bad thoughts with positive ones, like breaking my Coca-Cola habit last year. So, I am committed to praying and filling my thoughts with scripture, of acknowledging how much my children and students adore me and why, and counting the blessings that are my friends, every single time my inner dialogue says that I am less than. After all, the whole goal of this “Year of Yes” is a better, more full life, one filled with intimacy and passion and love. Finally, I realize that I am worth the effort of healing. I want more and maybe, just maybe, I have met someone worth the trying.

If you want crappy things to stop happening to you, then stop accepting crap and demand something more. —CRISTINA YANG, GREY’S ANATOMY
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person   

I should say that this post is absolutely meant with no disrespect. I still adore him and crave his attention and approval. But I have learned to set boundaries now, another step in the healing process, and I hope one day to understand the why behind his behavior. If that does not happen, then I will have peace knowing that I at least tried. I have always tried. I just will not make or accept excuses anymore.

The Not So Long Drive Home

There is no where else on this planet that I would rather be than at home, near my extended family and friends, near the Okefenokee Swamp, the muddy St. Marys River, and Fernandina Beach. I do not live that far away–2.5 hours easily. Yet, as much as I want to be there, I often make excuses not to get in the car and drive where I know I am loved, where I know my dogs are welcome, where I know I can just relax and be myself, and where I absolutely am certain that I will know half the people in Winn-Dixie.

I deny myself this occasional refuge, because four years ago, my mom fell asleep at the wheel of her car driving from where I live home to have Christmas with family and friends. She hit a tree head-on off Interstate 10, less than a mile from a sign for the Lake City “Rest Stop.” Oh the irony of that extremely large sign, which actually gives me a brief sense peace when I pass it. She is at rest.

The trauma of stopping at that location to lay a wreath four years ago, of claiming her demolished car with my son’s Match Box toys scattered everywhere, of arriving at the funeral home with the clothes I had purchased for her that morning… As much as I miss home, the trip over is almost unbearable, because of the anxiety I experience.

But that cannot happen anymore. I have an upcoming trip planned that is out of my norm and am very excited to head to Jacksonville. In this Year of Yes, I will choose to focus on the destination, rather than the road. I will fill my car with the joyful sounds of the praise music Mama loved, and I will pray, knowing full well that my Mama’s spirit is in a far better place, and that I am free to live fully in the meantime.

It’s time to move on.

“Saying yes . . . saying yes is courage. Saying yes is the sun. Saying yes is life.”
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

On a much lighter note, one of my favorite songs out right now is by Ed Sheeran. “Castle on a Hill” reminds me so much of my tribe– all the close friends of mine with whom I have grown up and old with. This will be playing on repeat as I pull into town.

Castle on a Hill.jpg

Sweet Home Alabama {The Year of Yes}

My students say that I am Reese Witherspoon’s character in Sweet Home Alabama, because of my stories about my small town Southern upbringing. There are worse characters to be compared to, I suppose, so I am okay with that.

Recently, my friend asked me to meet halfway for a night on the town. Since it’s the Year of Yes, I could not say no. Besides, it was Valentine’s weekend, and I was excited to have fun and be adventurous. We decided on Troy as our destination, and I messaged a former student who attends college there for recommendations.

Troy 2.jpg

The drive was easy, and I realized that I have sadly spent very little time in the Great State of Alabama. Troy is quaint and has a charming downtown square that I adored. I immediately made my way to the local boutiques and bought Valentine’s Day gifts for the kids. The selections were fantastic, and I loved how friendly the shopkeepers were. I even found adorable trinkets for my son’s sweetheart.

troy

For dinner, we ate at a local seafood shack and enjoyed a laid back atmosphere and people watching. Afterwards, we ended the night at an adorable wine bar called Sips, where we laughed and exchanged life stories before heading out and listening appropriately to Hank Williams and Hank Jr., while touring the town some more.

But it was one of my favorites, “Night Train,” by Jason Aldean that ended up on repeat, as we sang karaoke in the car. Something about that song just fit with the unseasonably warm, Southern Alabama evening, thick and haunting.

 

My Dating Checklist

After my divorce, my college friend Steve insisted that I sit down and write out what I am looking for in a mate before taking on the dating world again. He told me to keep the list somewhere sacred and to revisit it constantly, amending it if I need to, but to never lower my standards.

I was so lost that I found this exercise extremely difficult to do then, and it is still painful, because I realize now how prone I am to compromising my own values for the sake of love or, worse, approval. The fact that it is difficult makes it essential to my growth and worth constant review.

dating-after-divorce

Inspired by a sermon, I recorded my thoughts on the back of the church bulletin one Sunday during our service. I prayed over it, and I will continue to do so, because I realize now that this season in my life is so very important and planned. I only want to end my singleness according to God’s will and, frankly, I will miss it. I am starting to savor my freedom!

 

 

 

 

A Prayer

It is funny how God puts people in your life. Mrs. M, a sweet lady that works at my kids’ school has become one of my prayer warriors. She keeps a close eye on my little ones for me, and has also started texting to check in on me occasionally. Over the holidays, she composed this prayer for me, and I have begun incorporating it into my time with Jesus.

marriage-prayer

So About Being Single {Part Two}

In my quest for freedom, ironically, I thought it was a good idea to start dating again. The honest answer is that, when in pain, the last thing anyone wants to do is be alone. I was no exception. I also did not want to deal with the hard emotional issues that I quite frankly have needed to face.

me

But, more than that, I was eager to meet people, to have new experiences, and to feel young again in the little time I have away from my children. Gracious, have I been educated! Here are some of my general thoughts based on the past six months of single life.

  • I am Southern Baptist. Finding a middle-aged single man in a Southern Baptist church just is not happening short of a God-sized miracle. The church does not generally condone divorce, and divorcees are not eager to be in the hot seat on Sunday mornings.
  • Everyone meets online in some form or fashion. Swipe left, swipe right, you get what you pay for… Dating is electronically at your fingertips.
  • Do not trust the geographic parameters. Two of the nicest gentlemen I have met live in other states. We have no idea how we connected, because we were out of range, but I am glad, as they both have become friends.
  • I have no concept of age. Or of my age, more specifically. I have always been attracted to and dated older men. The oldest of these was 12 years my senior. That means that my age range would be anywhere from about 40-53. However, the vision in my mind of a man that is attractive is almost always quite certainly a young 35 year old, who happens to look like Prince Harry or Tim Tebow. I am kidding, of course, but you get the idea. It is like seeing pictures of your grade school friends and not recognizing them, because age has transformed them and you realize for the first time that it has transformed you, too.
  • Gentlemen my age and older typically have much older children than mine or, if they are similar to my two, almost always, we are on different parenting schedules. Different parenting schedules mean that they may as well live in Alaska or Hawaii, because it just is not going to work.
  • All women are competing in the dating market place with 20-somethings. I cannot compare on many levels, but I can carry a mean, witty, philosophical conversation.

My main goal has been to meet new friends. I have always been a girl who favors the company of men, and I have missed that in my life. I have been blessed to have connected with some great ones, including another, S, who sat me down and gave me dating pointers.

  • Always meet in public for safety reasons. Let your friends know where you are going and with whom you are meeting.
  • Always start with a quick coffee or tea meet-up to ensure that you like the person. Longer encounters, like dinner, come later.
  • Never assume that he is going to pay. Be prepared, just in case.
  • Never involve kids with your significant other for at least six months.
  • Everything is done through texting and messaging. This allows for more aggressive behavior because it is less personal and it is fast-paced. Strict boundaries must be set and followed.

The latter has been most disconcerting and disappointing to me. S was right. Everything is done through texting, which allows people to create their own persona and speed up the dating process exponentially. The problem is that it is often more aggressive and, frankly, impersonal, because people can hide behind their keyboards and carry on numerous texting “relationships” at once. But these so-called relationships are a façade. Real interaction is somehow skewed by this flawed communication and then the relationship can be manipulated or ended abruptly, because there is no personal accountability. Leaving the person “on read” or not texting at all is easy to do, because there is no real investment.

My friends have literally threatened to take my phone and lock it away, because I get bombarded with texts at all hours of the day and night. My surrogate Mother did just that over Thanksgiving weekend when she was here for a visit. On the other hand, I have had my ego crushed on several occasions when these passionate texters drop off the face of the planet for days at a time. I have seen girlfriends sob for the same reason. If this bizarre concept is foreign to you, I challenge you to google “why has he stopped texting” to see the angst that women of all ages face in the modern dating world.

I think what has made me most sad and concerned, because I teach social psychology, is the lack of interpersonal interactions that actually occur. Courtship as I knew it before my marriage seems like a dying art. No one picks up the phone and calls anymore or takes their time slowly getting to know you. I have never been a phone person, but I miss looking forward to and receiving calls from suitors. There is just something about hearing someone’s voice on the end of the line that is so soothing, and some of my favorite memories are of talking for hours to old boyfriends until one or both of us were on the verge of falling asleep while connected.

And, finally, there is the double-edged sword of social media. I get that it is safe to meet in public; however, I also miss the idea of being picked up for dates from my house. My best friend and I have had serious debates about this, because she is pragmatic and I’m a romantic. She is right, of course, as S taught me above. But I also have pointed out to her that one quick search and your personal information is readily available for all to see. It’s terrifying!

On the other hand, most of my friends do intensive online “stalking” before dates even take place. While also good for safety purposes, it kills the romance, in my opinion, because it allows for a preconceived notion of who the person is. Reality can be skewed, assumptions made, and opinions formed, and that is not only unfair but sad because, again, something is lost in the courtship.

My answer to all of this is to take a break and disconnect. I am going to be married to God for now, stop looking for that special person, and have faith that, when the time is right, he will be provided. Hopefully, when that happens, he will actually pick up the phone and date me the way I was raised.