What You Don't Know Can Hurt You
Dating, relationships and time travel
You know in those time travel movies when a character travels back in time and wants to observe something without being seen or without doing anything that might change the timeline and the course of events to follow? And how something almost always goes wrong and one small thing does get changed and then because of that one small thing everything else gets changed and then the character doesn’t end up meeting her soulmate because now the soulmate is buying a coffee on the other side of town instead of bumping into her in the street the way things would have happened if she hadn’t gone back in time? This is the kind of weird thinking I deal with on a regular basis. I have this conversation in my head about how I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self some things, or protect her from some events, or at least be there with her, but then this other part of my brain thinks, but yeah, if you did that then your younger self would know more and maybe make different decisions and then you wouldn’t end up with the exact two children (teenagers) you have or the exact same husband, and that would be more tragic than anything else you went through. Welcome to my brain.
Here’s an example: if I could go back in time and tell my twenty-five-year-old self some things about dating and relationships, I’d certainly save myself a lot of heartache, but I might also avoid learning some of the lessons I needed to learn in order to grow and heal and figure things out. The difference between dating and post-divorce dating might also just be the difference between what you know at twenty-five versus what you know at forty-five, but I’m going to dig into it.
Firstly, at twenty-five I believed the be-all, end-all goal was to get married and have babies, but a lot of that was due to my unmet longing for an intact, happy family. I figured the only way I would get to experience that was to create it as a grown-up. The thing was, at twenty-five I was still actively battling so many demons and riddled with so much self-doubt, there’s no way my search for happiness was going to go well. I had no clue what a healthy relationship looked like from the inside. What I had was an intense fear of abandonment, and a sneaking, very secret suspicion I was broken in some essential way that made me unlovable. I concentrated on making myself look right on the outside so that men would find me attractive. The turmoil happening inside my head was something I tried to keep to myself. I was like a detective, I knew that the best way not to be left was to make myself indispensable. And the best way to be indispensable was to find someone who needed help, because I knew how to help.
I knew how to listen, how to put the other person first, how to design my life around what the other person needed or wanted generally, and/or needed or wanted from me, specifically. Not shockingly, I ended up gravitating toward men who were very happy to have it be all about them. They were their own favorite subject, and if I wanted to join the fan club, all the better. If I was willing to stay up into the wee hours hearing about their fears, heartbreaks, dreams, disappointments, unhealthy tendencies, doubts, the way their crazy ex let them down and their mother drove them nuts, terrific. As long as I didn’t need too much, didn’t ask for much, and generally made their lives better and happier, it was on. I was the perfect girlfriend. I also tended to be younger and therefore easier. Younger women put up with all kinds of crap older women never tolerate.
Me and my bff back in the day. No wrinkles, no idea what would happen.
The thing is, I ended up exhausted and depleted and never feeling like I was being cherished or treasured or even seen as who I really was. I was valued for how I looked (which meant I better not gain any weight) and how effortless it was to be with me because I didn’t need anything. I spent all my time dancing like a monkey - look how giving I could be, how patient, compassionate, thoughtful and generous I could be! Depending on the relationship, I might also share my deeper, darker thoughts, the things that terrified me and kept me up at night, the source of my migraines, the impact of growing up with a mother I could never please, the implications of having a dad who was an Olympic-level womanizer, and all the deep-rooted trust issues that resulted … but usually I kept those monsters at bay and wrangled them myself in the early hours of the morning. I knew it was a sham, and if my partner actually saw me as the insecure, needy, fearful person I was instead of the confident, needs-nothing, independent gal I pretended to be, it would be over. Sometimes the mirror would shatter and some of my fears would spill out. That never seemed to go well, so I learned to handle my problems on my own. Their problems were mine, and my problems were mine.
I was 40 when I got divorced. My son was four, my daughter was 18-months-old and still nursing. It was the last thing I wanted, the one thing I’d tried to avoid. I’d spent the last year of my marriage doing anything and everything I could think of to make it work, somehow, even if it meant my soul would be crushed in the process. I would have had my soul crushed to spare my kids from the kind of divorce I’d lived through, the only kind of divorce I could conceive of, but one day I realized there are all kinds of ways to be in a family, and it doesn't have to mean everyone is under one roof - even if that was the one thing I’d always dreamt of, and the one thing I’d tried to create. By then, I’d done enough work around attachment and how it very often/almost always leads to suffering, to realize sometimes you just have to open your mind to a different path. You have to conceptualize something you’ve never seen, before you can start creating it. That doesn’t mean your heart doesn’t break in the process, it just means that hopefully, it’s broken in a way that opens you and softens you and loosens the white-knuckled grip you had on the steering wheel.
I didn’t even think about dating for a good year-and-a-half. My focus was on my babies, making sure they were okay, that they felt safe, secure, loved and treasured. I focused on work, I owned a brick-and-mortar yoga studio in Downtown Santa Monica and taught at night, after my kids went to sleep, and an online yoga studio where we streamed classes to people all over the world. I was in business with my ex-husband, so that was a yoga practice in itself. I started writing a blog (can we please find the person who created the word “blog" and ask them why?) and would often write until the wee hours of the night, after my kids were asleep, sometimes until 2 or 3am. Dating was the last thing on my mind.
After the dust had settled and I knew the kids were good and I’d managed to turn my daughter’s attention away from my boobs and toward nut milks, after I had a fairly steady routine going doing the single mom thing, teaching a full schedule, running a business and squeezing in time to write, I did start to long for a partner. The thing was, I’d always been a romantic. I grew up with my head in books, and I’d always wanted that big love, that soulmate, you’re-the-one-I’ve-been-waiting-for love, the kind of love that made life sparkle and made the hard times easier. The kind that made you feel truly, really, deeply seen and understood. I was starting to think it didn’t exist, that it was just movie-love and we’d all been duped. My mother suggested I try online dating, but I was really resistant. How’re you going to meet anyone? You go from being with the kids, to the studio, to the grocery store and home again. Do you think Mr. Wonderful is going to magically show up on your front porch? Do you think some incredible man is going to find you at Whole Foods?
The thing was, we had events at the studio sometimes, and I had met a man that way. We did a screening of his (very spiritual, life is all about genuine connection and honesty) film and he came and talked about it and asked me out and love-bombed me over dinner and then ghosted me. Because this is Los Angeles. So I wasn’t super anxious to put myself out there, and yet, I was lonely sometimes. I absolutely loved our household, the kids and I were so happy. I loved the way they’d laugh together and scramble around the house, the way my daughter would follow her brother around adoringly and be whatever he wanted to be that day - a Jedi, a karate master, Darth Vader. I was covered in hugs and love all the time, but there were nights when I just really wanted a grownup shoulder to rest on, or someone to put their arms around me and say I was doing great. Someone to talk to about my fears, or the pressure I felt or the exhaustion. Someone to celebrate the wins, and be there for the tough stuff. But my experience thus far had been that relationships with men were exhausting and depleting, and I didn’t have any extra energy to spare for games. I didn’t want a project, I wanted a partner. I decided to give online dating a try.
At first, it was everything I feared it would be. I was getting messages from all kinds of dudes and a lot of them would make your eyelashes curl back in horror. Some of these guys wanted to pick me up on their motorcycles and “head up the PCH for lunch” as if I’ve never seen Dateline and would willingly get on the back of a motorcycle with someone I don’t know to head up the PCH where it’s exceeding easy to turn up a road, into a canyon and never be heard from again. I heard from guys who wanted to text endlessly and made me wonder if they had wives. I heard from sixty-five-year-old men who wanted to “spoil me” and thirty-year-old guys who called me “milf” as if that would be enticing. There was a guy who looked great "on paper”- he’d been meditating for thirty years and was a therapist, but when we had dinner I got a very shady vibe, and a guy who instantly followed me all over social media, bought my books, reviewed my books faster than he could have read them (5 stars of course, lol), and was practically proposing marriage after two dates. I started having coffees instead of dinners so I didn’t have to spend time away from my kids for this circus, nor spend money on a sitter. Once I met a guy for a coffee and he talked for an hour straight, didn’t ask me a single question, and was completely crestfallen when I said I had to go. “Wait! Where are you from?” he asked as I stood up, “I really like you!” I actually sat down for five more minutes and told him how to have a coffee with a woman, free of charge.
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I realized my entire attitude about dating had changed. In my twenties and thirties I was willing to overlook burning red flags if it meant that maybe this person was the person. It didn’t occur to me then that the burning red flags were my sign that this wasn’t the person. Back then, I was willing to totally bury my own needs and wants for someone else. I loved a project, I thought I could save people back then. Post-divorce I knew that the only person you can ever save is yourself, and only if you’re willing to walk through some fire. I had enough projects! I wanted a genuine, grown-ass man who knew how to show up, who had something special, interesting or meaningful to share of his own. The last thing I needed was more work. I came to the conclusion that maybe this big, soul-mate love just wasn’t in the cards for me. I already knew I didn’t want to get married again, and now I started to make peace with the idea that I just might not find my person, that maybe the thing for me was my two kids, and work that I loved. I thought perhaps I’d have hot affairs once in a while, and live out the rest of my life without a partner. I decided that was okay, there was so much love in my life. I did have people to lean on when things got rough - my friends. I didn’t delete the dating app I was on, but I didn’t look at it too much, either. Once in a while if I had a moment to myself, I’d ignore my inbox and look to see if anyone seemed interesting.
And then one night I saw someone. I went to his profile and his pictures were very cute. His “About Me" had no grammatical errors or typos. It was creative and interesting. I laughed out loud a few times - that hadn’t happened before. He was clearly really smart, funny, surprising. I read long enough to look at some of his answers to the dating questions. After I’d been on his profile for ten minutes, I shot him a message. Your profile made me laugh. Check out mine and let me know if you think we should meet for chocolate and to discuss quantum entanglements. The rest is history. He wrote back immediately. We met that Friday night. I had a sixth sense enough to get a blowout at Drybar and put on a little black dress. We met at the bar of a place he chose, eight minutes away from me in Santa Monica, even though he lived in Beverly Hills. He was happy to work around my schedule with the kids. We talked for 6 hours. He surprised me in every way. He was funny, charming, interesting, thoughtful. He made me laugh continuously. There were sparks flying all over the place. We got married at that restaurant three years after we met there. The same bartender who was there the night we met was there for the wedding. It’s seven years since I met him and the rest of my life won’t be long enough, but that isn’t the point.
That’s Jason, the bartender. I think he might be Cupid.
The point is, I leaned back when we met. Instead of leaning forward and showing him how awesome I was, I leaned back and let him show me who he was. I knew that if I was going to be with anyone, they would have to be increasing the joy quotient in my life and my kids’ lives, as of course, I would want to increase the joy quotient in theirs. I knew this person would have to love my kids, to be sensitive to the complexities of divorce, to be kind and patient. I had a whole new list of criteria that never would have occurred to me in my twenties, and I’m not talking about physical attributes although my husband is a fox, I’m talking about the deep stuff. Loyalty, honesty, the ability to communicate openly, to stay when it’s easier to go because the partnership is the thing that makes life extra-incredible. To be with someone who pays attention because everyone changes all the time and if you realize that, you don’t get bored and you don’t take the other person for granted. Beyond all that, the truth is, I felt safe with my husband. Safe to be fully myself and know that I was loved. I don’t think you can feel safe unless one of your non-negotiables is to find someone with integrity and life experience. Someone who maybe has had their heart broken like you have, and who recognizes it when life says, Wait. Don’t give up. Here it is. I’m not one of those people who says you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else, but I do think you have to care about yourself. To know that you have something special and unique to offer. To trust that you have your own particular perspective, your own way of laughing or crying, your own way of tucking your hair behind your ear, or arranging your glasses in just that way. Your way of phrasing things, or noticing things, or doing the dishes - those quirks and crazy thoughts you have sometimes - that make you, you, and that those things have value, that you have value - someone else is going to see and cherish, just the way you’re going to see and cherish them and all their particular stuff. I think if I’d met my husband in my twenties I would have fallen for him, but I don’t know if I would have been in a place to really appreciate him in all the ways I do today. Life has a way of teaching you the important things. Sometimes you have to learn them the hard way, like I did. I certainly had a lot of mistakes to make and healing to do before I was ready. Maybe you need less of that and you can get to the great stuff sooner, whether the great stuff involves a partner, work that you love, a dog you rescue who rescues you back, the deep, abiding friendships in your life, or simply the joy of just being you. But whatever happens, I sure hope you don’t give too much of your time to people who are in no position to love you all the way.
If you’d like to meet me in real time for a conversation about healing, knowing yourself, and the way it impacts your relationships when you lean back a little, I’ll be here Friday 9/29/23 at 11:15am PST, or you can wait for the Come As You Are Podcast version. If you’d like to meet me out in the world, I would love that so much. My next retreat to Joshua Tree has three options left and registration closes Saturday! Please email me if you want to come, it’s going to be so special.