The notion of love I now aspire to is grown-up. I want it to be deep-rooted in a friendship bound by laughter and light, yet with the absence of toxic positivity. I welcome the ebb and flow, and toe-curling vulnerability that comes from allowing myself to be seen in all facets and reciprocating that with my partner. I’m leaving coping mechanisms like people-pleasing and codependency at the door, all of which I’d be oblivious to without introspection.
I have, however, come to realise I’m motivated by love — the way it feels when I’m acquiring it, the sweet taste of potential, and pouring love into others. Although I consider myself a romantic, my idea of it has metamorphosed through the years, as I’ve been through something of an evolution. Some of that has included romancing myself with self-care. Though some of my life experiences have been excruciating, I owe my capacity for love to trauma.
I’ve been through a 10-year recovery from depression, disordered eating, and debilitating anxiety. Amongst this, I’ve been grief-stricken, so hypervigilance follows me into the dating pool.
When I re-entered the dating process after a decade, I was taken aback by my consciousness of it all and the challenges that posed. Red flags burned crimson and I was terrified I’d end up in an unhealthy relationship. My preference isn’t something that can be depicted in a succinct word count or a snapshot of someone in their Sunday best. My gauge for attraction is a safe-looking man with ‘kind eyes’ and certainly not one who wants a woman that “doesn’t take herself too seriously”.
I’ve been met with audacious comments that are far too rude to write, with behaviour I now recognise as love bombing, with “I’m not him” as an introduction. Then there was the shocking prompt response “Do not go out with me if you have at least an ounce of self-respect”. You know what they say, when someone shows you who they are, believe them. But although dating apps come with their challenges, I appreciate the option for people like me who are introverted.
It never fails to astound me how dating is akin to an interview process, and like taxes, no one schools you on it. You are expected to flow from one person to the next, deducing whether you’re compatible candidates and if you meet the appropriate criteria. In the event it doesn’t work out, you revert to the conveyor belt of suitors, but, what if you’re socially anxious, or better still, anxiously attached?
My need for communication in a relationship is because without it I’ll assume my partner has died. There was also a year (pre-pandemic) when I barely left the house, but those aren't the topics you can divulge so easily.
Nowadays, nonchalance in dating is something I find humorous, as with my age and what I’ve been through my needs are clear. I missed the frivolousness I can only imagine is associated with dating in your twenties. I envisage it as the sweet spot of spontaneity. This decade comes with an added factor by way of the biological clock, as I have a desire to become a mother.
My priority is my commitment to my mental health. I find myself evaluating everyone who comes into my life, to safeguard it, and therefore find a partner who doesn’t hurt my slow but steady progress. However, there’s an internal conflict between that and the level of compassion I’ve fostered through my healing, which allows me to see people in their pain, even when they’re hurting me.
What fairy tales fail to mention is that there are many ways to get your heart broken before you’ve reached the loving stage. Some of those come from quiet realisations, when you’re lying in someone’s arms and wondering whether they’ll be able to show up for you in the ways that you deserve. And knowing deep down that it’s a non-negotiable, whilst holding on to the comfort of a warm, safe, body. There’s a pain in having to walk away and being discerning about my romantic choices, even when I know it’s for the best.
Although I find ‘couple goals’ a harmful rhetoric, now and then I’ll see people displaying healthy relationship dynamics and wonder which site they owe this success to. I know all too well that love can’t be bought, but sometimes the pursuit of it does cost $85 a month and a bout of therapy to boot.
Over the past decade, I’ve had an inadvertent lesson on love, whilst learning to love myself. I’ve learnt that sometimes people appear in our lives to teach us something or hold a mirror to the wounded parts of ourselves. At times, despite the toxicity of it, I mourn the blissful ignorance that was once there, before I knew a spark is my nervous system going off-kilter, or knowing that I was attracted to the same type of man with a different face. Now, I’m looking for a congruence that’s worlds apart from what I once sought and it takes work. I now know that the pursuit of love can be simultaneous to healing and I’m thankful to my traumas for the clarity it's given me.
Despite the hardship, I remain optimistic about a soft kind of love that supports my healing. A love where I can sit comfortably in my ‘too muchness’ and sensitivity, where it’s welcomed. One day, I’ll walk down the promenade into love cradling my trauma. Until then, I’ll patiently wait in the wings and inch out of my comfort zone now and again to swipe left or right.