High heels or flip flops?
Silence or conversation?
Is both an option?
Good. 'Cause I want both.
By the time I reached my senior year of medical school I'd already been asked to stand up as a bridesmaid in four weddings. Though my collection of confection-colored formal dresses had become quite enviable, my own romantic life was anything but. The more love swirled around me, the worse I felt about my own unfortunate romantic reality.
Sure. I'd had a couple of romantic friendships over those four years at Meharry. One was even someone that I referred to as my "boyfriend" (although I'm not so sure the serious girlfriend he had but somehow neglected to mention would've been so keen on me calling him that.) For the most part, though I had a great time and did some really epic things as a med student, I simply wasn't lucky in love.
And so. Friends often took my woefully bad dating life as a personal challenge. They'd set out to introduce me to the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend with the good job and the no kids. Or with the great job and the one kid that he dutifully cares for. Some elaborate set up would be put together. Painstaking detail would go into arranging a meeting at a place that didn't feel too forced or too loose goosey. A library run in, perhaps? A handshake at the Pre-Alumni lawn party cookout? Or how about an accidental meeting at the bagel shop where we just so happened to be studying? You name it, they tried it. And you know what? None of it ever seemed to work.
What was it, you ask? Well. I can honestly say that it wasn't secondary to lack of interest on the part of the gentlemen. Right away, I could almost always see that tiny spark of, at minimum, intrigue from the moment our hands touched while meeting. Questions would be asked of me and then numbers inevitably exchanged. Once the dude du jour was out of sight, whichever friend had set up the meeting would berate me with question after question.
"What'd you think?"
"Think about what?"
"I mean. . . he was. . . okay, I guess."
Without fail, I'd get an eye roll and a groan. Hands thrown skyward in the girlfriend sign language equivalent of "I give up."
"I at least gave him my number."
"I hope you didn't have the look on your face that you have right now."
"What? I look happy, don't I?"
"Okay woman. So what was it this time?"
And that question would come because, with me, there was always something. Something that didn't quite do it for me or to which I had some kind of a micro-aversion that would grow into a hard stop. That thing was seemingly minor which, to my friends, probably made me seem petty and unrealistic.
"Clear nail polish."
"He was wearing clear nail polish. On his hands. And his feet. He had sandals on so it was like. . .he wanted me to notice his toes. Which were painted. In glossy clear polish. That was. . . I don't know. . . kind of weird to me." Another micro-aversion.
After a long, hard, incredulous stare, I'd hear something like this: "You're fucking killing me, you know that right?"
And I'd whisper back in a tiny voice, "I know."
Because I did know. I knew that my über-selectiveness was making these possible love connections no-gos from the start. And sure. Things like clear nail polish on the hands and feet of a potential suitor surely shouldn't negate things like law degrees and major life achievements. But for whatever reason, I just couldn't get past the wave of whatever came over me from the start.
After a while, they all stopped trying to set me up. In fact, most of my friends would chuckle and pseudo-discourage the gents who'd inquire about my dating situation. Finally, I made up my mind to try to do things differently. My plan was to fight against my gut and push myself to give more perspective mates a real, true chance.
And that? That was the start of perhaps the most unfortunate era of my entire pre-Harry dating career: That point where I'd pretend to be attracted to and romantically interested in someone with hopes that something inside of me would eventually change. Problem is, it never did.
It was actually pretty disastrous. I'd talk on the phone and go on dates. Thank goodness these gentlemen were fond enough of me to not add pressure on me to kiss or hug them (since that wasn't happening.) I'd become really connected to the person as a friend but ignore all of the sirens screaming in my ears telling me that this was a friend-friend and not a boy-friend.
I'll never forget the day that I had a friend-friend (who believed he was a boy-friend) come all the way to my city from his city to visit me. He was kind enough to arrange a couch surf with a friend for his sleeping arrangements--but had gone through a ton of trouble to see me. We'd been talking on the phone every day for over three or four months after a chance meeting through friends. And this guy was a good guy. Like me, he was in professional school. He was funny and kind and attentive and didn't even wear clear nail polish. But the problem was . . . I just didn't have romantic feelings for him. Like, at all.
And yeah. I'd heard these stories from women who met some guy and didn't like him AT ALL but then with time and hanging out, their feelings grew-grew-grew. Ultimately, those feelings exploded into something super-lifelong-wonderful. So me, I was holding out for that. Sure was.
So yeah. The friend-friend and I were in a really nice restaurant and the food was good. He reached across the table and touched my hand. And immediately, I wished he hadn't. But since I didn't want to be rude, I just sort of sat through it. Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore so excused myself to the ladies room where I used the pay phone in the bathroom corridor to call my best friend, Lisa.
"What's wrong with me?" I wept.
"Oh no. You don't like him?" She sounded empathic, yes. But surprised? No.
"Not at all. I don't feel anything romantic. Anything."
"I feel like such an asshole. I have to tell him."
"Yeah. You probably do."
And just like that, I'd find some awkward point in whatever that trip or date or whatever-it-was was to drop the already obvious bomb that this was a Novocaine relationship--that is, one I wasn't feeling.
And you know? I used to beat myself up about those sorts of things. Like, I'd hate myself for liking the guys that didn't seem to be checking for me but never being able to find romantic energy with the ones that were good people (at least on paper.) I looked at it all as me being broken and standing in my own way. Too trivial to appreciate fine qualities in human beings and to not throw up speed breakers when someone tried to treat me the way I deserved to be treated.
But as time passed, I learned something. I learned that being kind to myself on both of those fronts was one of the best ways to set myself up to attract the kind of mate that I was looking for. Even if I wasn't so sure what I was looking for in the first place.
Let me explain:
A few years back, I had a Jedi master moment with my younger sister about love. I was talking to her in the context of a guy she was dating who seemed to be a little too lukewarm when it came to her heart. By this point, I'd met and married Harry. I was over 30 and had been on both sides of the dating fence. We had two kids and had somewhat figured the marriage thing out between us. . . but I'd been in her shoes long enough to still know that yearning and still vowed to never be the "smug married" type. And so. My advice was simple: "It just shouldn't be that hard."
Like, I'd finally figured out that all this ambiguity in love just wasn't how it was supposed to be. Good people who really, really like you show you through their actions. And when their actions speak something else? Well. It's probably something else.
So all of this went from that point into this other point about the importance of believing you're worth someone making you the apple of their eye. And when I've mentioned all of this to others, it has resonated with them. But now I'm realizing that I'd neglected to regard the other piece of that swinging pendulum:
Whew. I'm going to crack my knuckles and do my best to unpack what I'm thinking about right now. Just bear with me, okay?
Okay, so check it: All of that advice to my baby sister was about someone she liked not demonstrating through their actions her importance to them. And I still stand by that idea, you know? But sometimes, the person IS being nice. They want to hold your hand and make all sorts of plans with you. They laugh at your jokes and buy you nice things. And, really, they do the things that you always hoped someone would for you.
Something is awry. The romantic feelings that need to be present aren't. Like, at all. And let me be clear that sometimes you feel intrigued and that's it. I do believe that intrigue can lead to deep romantic connections, I do. But I'm talking about something else. I'm talking about the person you feel 100% platonic about. And the one that you know deep down in your soul that you'll always feel that way about.
My epiphany was that you deserve to feel the feelings AND have the good mate. You deserve both. And that nice guy or nice girl that you are calling your best friend from the Houston's bathroom about because you don't have feelings for them? Well that person deserves both, too.
Does this even make sense? I don't know.
I'm just imagining as your lot in life being committed to someone who doesn't do it for you. Like, at all. And how time and egg-age starts convincing you that having someone nice that you don't feel romantic towards could work. Or rather should work. Because that's all you have.
Well. I'm saying that's no good either.
See, Teddy Pendergrass crooned it beautifully: "It's so good loving somebody when somebody loves you back--and that's a fact." What he should have also added was that it feels extra good when you aren't pretending.
So I guess someone is reading this thinking, "Yeah, yeah, that's easy for you to say. You're married and you dig your husband a lot. You're lucky." And I get that. But some part of me thinks it's more than that. I do.
A few weeks before I met Harry, I made up my mind to not spend a single day with anyone who wasn't demonstrating to me that they were "into me." But the other thing I decided was that I also wouldn't drag someone along that didn't evoke a remote flicker of romantic energy. I guess in my head, I believed that God put the laws of attraction out there for reason, you know?
Now. I did do a few other things. I did coach myself to relax on the things that I once made into deal breakers like that one crooked tooth or the teeny-tiny keloid scar from when an ear was once pierced. I watched body language more and paid attention to how they interacted with people like valet guys or janitors. If they remembered the things I said or always looked like they weren't listening to me. And after noting these things--over a rather brief period of time--I'd make up my mind.
And honor that decision. Yup. Because like the B.H.E. once said, "When you walk outside in the morning, it's either sunshine or it's not." It's either sunshine or it's not.
Lastly, I inventoried why I think I'm awesome. Ha. I know that sounds silly but I did that. I mean it. In the weeks right before meeting Harry. And no, I didn't get the idea from a self help book or any such thing. Instead, I'd just decided to be kinder to myself. I also told myself that if I was going to be a single woman indefinitely, I'd do so wisely. I worked at being my own best friend not branding myself a failure for not being married. This way I could be in a place where I was relaxed. I could operate not out of desperation or fear, you know? Especially since everyone knows that actions made when we feel that way almost never end well, do they?
Did I think Harry was about to come along? Oh hell no. In fact, I thought I'd likely marry well after my childbearing years. I mean, given my track record, I think my friends thought the same.
Oh Lord. I am so rambly, aren't I? I guess my point is this:
We all deserve someone who treats us well. But we also deserve to have our feelings align with that person, too. And it's okay to let that nice person that we don't have any romantic-type feelings toward get refiled back into the "friend" category. Because just like wasting time on the arm of the person treating you lukewarm can cause you to miss "the one" when they walk by, shadow boxing in a metaphorical corner of your heart for months or even years with hopes that suddenly something will unlock and break up your platonic inertia is just as bad.
Maybe even worse since that person deserves someone to love them back, too.
So, to me? Settling is a worse fate than being alone. On either end. Settling for the person that says they want one thing but shows you something else? No bueno. And settling for the person who is nice on paper and in real life but doesn't do it for you at all? Equally wack. Permit yourself to have both.
That's what I think, at least. And look. I'll wrap this up by saying what I've said on this blog seven hundred million times when speaking on such topics: I was NOT lucky in love before meeting Harry. And if this happened for me. . . and my sister. . . and some other person who felt like this before. . .I know for certain that it can happen for anyone. I mean that. Like, this isn't just meant to make you feel good or to chuck you under your chin. It's just one woman's testimony that I know is shared by other people.
I guess it all comes down to doing the work to like yourself, right? Or better yet, know yourself. Because when you know who you are, you stand up for yourself. Which is the very first step in drawing the kind of people toward you who will do the same.
So me? I want both. Both. And you know what? I want that for you, too.
That's all I've got.
Happy Hump Day.