I don’t talk about romantic relationships very often on my blog. To be fair, I don’t talk about them much in therapy either. It’s on the list of topics that feel shameful and difficult to address.
In my whole life, I’ve only been in one relationship. It was during college, and I dated a woman who was my best friend for almost a year. For awhile I thought I was bisexual, but I ended things with her when I realized that there was little physical attraction. That relationship was confusing as hell because I spent half the time hiding it from my friends and the other half feeling judged for it.
I’ve never been in a long-term relationship with a guy.
For a long time, I assumed that if someone (the “right” someone) showed interest in me, then I would be all gun ho about moving forward with them. I thought it was simple; if they liked me, I’d like them back. Things would feel natural and easy.
Until I really started aiming for a relationship, I didn’t realize how much effort this process would require. And how much it would really feel like work.
Because grad school really consumed the bulk of my time, I have used the summer months for the last three years to try to meet someone. I’d use the common dating apps to connect with guys and dive in. The first year, there were one or two people I talked to and pursued. The second, a handful with whom I dated between 1-4 times. All of those fizzled out, whether I stopped pursuing it or they did.
This year, there have been four that I’ve actually made it to a date with. One I nixed immediately. Another fizzled out after a few weeks. A third I went on six dates with. Another, perhaps the most promising, I just came back from my fourth date with.
I always start out excited. Motivated. Ready to go. I tell myself this time around things could really happen. I would say I’m actually pretty good at the first dates now, where the pressure is low. We’re still learning about each other, maybe we’ve exchanged some texts, but there’s no expectation for things to get intimate yet, emotionally or physically. So that’s all fine and dandy.
Starting with the second date, nerves kick in. I’ll start to wonder: are they going to kiss me (if they haven’t already)? Will there be pressure to do more? Do I want any of that yet or am I just going to let myself be pressured? So many questions.
If we make it beyond date number two, and there’s any sort of notion I have in my head that maybe I could like them or even enter a relationship with them, you better know that I’m itching to run far and fast from that relationship.
Which is about where we are at with the one I’m seeing now. Fighting every impulse I have to flee from a kind guy who has treated me well so far and seems to actually take an interest in the things I say. It was where I was at with the one before him too, with whom I finally terminated things after we went on six dates and I still had little interest in him romantically.
I can never tell if I’m putting a stop to things because I really don’t like them, if we really aren’t compatible or if I’m just scared.
I can come up with reasons why we don’t work: I want someone who is more outgoing, we don’t have enough in common, he talks about himself too much. However, I question whether or not those reasons are good enough. Am I actually trying to even develop a connection or am I looking for the first excuse to cut and run?
Like I said, I always expected dating to feel invigorating and be something I looked forward to. This fear, this dread of the situation, came as a shock. I hate the associated anxiety I feel.
Relationships are work for anyone, but for me they are a whole other kind of work.It takes me longer to feel comfortable making physical contact. I’ll push myself to do it, but to me it feels awkward. Today, as I went on a walk with that guy I’m seeing, I felt myself naturally move away every time he moved close. I don’t know why. Later, I did let him put his arm around with me, but I couldn’t seem to let him hold my hand.
Sharing more personal aspects of myself is on another thing I struggle to do, to be honest and open and risk rejection. Or worse, risk sharing all of that and still not feeling an emotional connection to them.
The spark, that real feeling of attraction, isn’t created over two or four dates. I need time.
A couple years ago, I even let myself get sucked into a situation with a guy that I probably wasn’t ready for after only two dates, because I felt such an internal pressure to prove to myself I could be physical with another person. Then I propelled myself into something even more physical the following year, again just to get it “over with” instead of due to any real emotional attraction.
So those memories get all tied up in any relationship I try to pursue now.
I was not the kind of high school or even college kid who had boyfriends. I assumed that I wasn’t likable, and while I was no “popular” kid, that’s not true. There were one or two who expressed interest, where things could have blossomed. But I always panicked and made sure to keep a fair distance. Friends. I was running, even then, but I assumed the situations were beyond my control.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to be a part of a true romantic relationship where I feel comfortable and at ease. Obviously, it is easy for me to catastrophize and see a negative future, but the fact that I’ve never had a long-term relationship with a guy before makes me wary. I was never that boy-obsessed teenager. I had a few crushes, but school and friends were always prioritized. So now, I feel somewhat out of my element trying to make up for lost time. I’m never sure of what to do.
I wonder if I should be continuing to trudge head-on into the dating world, trying to commit to opposite action and engage instead of withdraw. Or should I be holding off until I’ve learned a little more about myself and made more progress?
Relationships are hard.