I once went on a date with Ryan Gosling. He looked deeply into my eyes a lot and opened doors for me and told me I had nice legs, not once, but twice. And while that 7 hours that sparkled of Nicholas Sparks romance did render me helpless to hoping for more in the days that followed, I suspect that I was simply the recipient of a well practiced performance. A butterfly fluttering, heartbeat racing, future wedding plan making level of performance yes, but artifice nonetheless. A studio lot colosseum with nothing behind it. The jaw drop awe of standing before something magnificent only to enter and realize it’s just the front for an empty nothing. I am not saying that Mr. Gosling is not possessing of depth or quality, I am simply saying that what he gave me that night was his desire to impress, not the presence of who he truly was underneath what I imagine was an overwhelming need to meet the expectations of his then rapidly growing audience of wide-eyed women.
I will admit I was guilty of being such a woman, I will admit that I lost myself to the idea of a man that could pick me up over his shoulders to kiss me in the pouring rain. I will admit to the cliché of ordering a salad and barely being able to eat it because my stomach was too busy containing the collision of fantasy and reality. I suspect that Ryan knew what was expected of him that night as he calmly ate a bloody steak. And at the end of what had been a "perfect" date full of sexy heroism and countless camera worthy moments, I was left feeling like something very important had been missing. I felt overwhelmed with the desire to go to Ryan's childhood basement donning sweatpants and floppy socks and dancing to Stevie Wonder with underwear on our heads. I was left wanting for the truth of who we were, not the well executed exchange of boy meets girl, boy pretends to be brave, gift pretends to be small. We are all brave and all small in equal measure, expressed in different ways at different moments depending on how safe we feel in different spaces. I think we would all be amazed at what the world would look like if more people felt safe.
But I imagine that Ryan didn't feel safe being hopelessly human that night, too many eyes watching, too many projected hopes playing dreams across his perfectly sculpted chest. You have to be careful with those who are so afraid of failing expectations that they learn how to pretend to be everything you want them to be and forget who they actually are. That cannot and will not last. No one is everything and the truth never tires of finding its way to the light—even against our better efforts. So eventually the pretender will start to resent you once they realize they are tired of pretending. And you will realize you were in love with an idea, and that person that once felt so intimately known will now be a stranger.
Forgive yourself for believing in something that was never really there. We were taught to hope for impossible things.
Here is something I am starting to accept, that being let down by another is just one of the potential outcomes of stepping outside of ourselves. Perhaps this doesn’t have to be such a tragic or terrifying thing. Perhaps it could be seen as heartening, empowering even. I would rather be let down by another than love someone who continually lets themselves down. Loyalty is an empty offering when the giver is unloyal to themselves. This is something I have been learning in time. I must first honor what I need, not because I am selfish or self-centered to a fault, but because I understand that action beyond that truth becomes a lie. The trust that comes from loving someone who trusts themselves.
So what does this mean for partnership? This is a question I have been rolling around in my noggin a lot lately. That jagged rock is getting smoother over time. We have been fed this impossible narrative, that a solid relationship is built on unfailing love and unwavering dedication to the other, when in fact most people I know have been unfaithful in one way or another to their partner at some point. Good people, people I love and respect. I don’t think this is because we are all inherently shitty people, I think it’s because relationships tend to become so convoluted and consuming that we forget how to be faithful to ourselves.
We are not stones, we are fluid moving feeling beings changing and evolving, shifting, unfixed, and yet we expect each other to deny our very nature in the name of "love". No, love is loving the truth of who we are and bravely sharing that truth with each other as we constantly reimagine what we are endlessly becoming. Love is spacious and undulating. Love is an improvised dance, a long walk in a pathless field. Love is where freedom and belonging meet. Our polarized culture, our polarized brains really struggle with this. This is where the wisdom of the heart must enter and overrule our programming to divide and conquer. This is where we are invited to stretch our capacity to hold space for all the things we were taught must rule the other out. Night does not render the day untrue, it allows us to feel the morning, to understand what it means to be loved by the sun. And even in the daylight, we understand that the moon still loves us too.
Love doesn’t mean escaping unscathed. Love means having the capacity to leave room for the truth, and finding the desire to forgive, ourselves as much as others. I have spent 20 years of my life living for the fairytales I was told as a little girl. And now as a woman, I am learning from the deficit of that miseducation. I don’t want a perfect partner (which doesn't exist), a want an honest partner (which I hope exists). I want a partner that is so grounded in the knowing of who they are that living that truth stops being optional. Even if that means one day they look me in the eyes and say, “I no longer want this life with you.” Would I be stoked? No. Would I puke and cry for some time? Probably. But I swear that I would rather that than share a bed next to someone living an entirely different truth in their head from the one they feel able to communicate with me.
Do I ask too much? Perhaps. But I am left wanting from all the years of asking too little.
Sometimes I threaten a life of non-religious nunnery. Donning a habit to escape the agonizing habit of hoping for a man to surprise me. I’m not talking about the surprise of realizing they are not at all who they claimed to be. I’m not talking about the surprise that they will not stand by your side when you are the most in need. Surprise! You’re going to have to go through this pregnancy loss alone…
I am talking about the surprise of sharing my ideas, the unapologetic truth of who I am, and a man smiling and saying, “Yes, tell me more.” Dudes, please stop hiding. Please stop being afraid of a woman unafraid. Please stop avoiding, denying, pretending, and lying. I know it’s hard. I know you are simply doing as you were taught, just as I am learning how to wake myself from the curse, to free myself from the coma of being taught to silently wait for a man to kiss me back to life. I will not be silent, I will not live this life in waiting. I will stop shrinking and serving and start sanely asking, "What are you bringing to the table? What do you have to add to this feast I have prepared?"
This is not man hating, this is woman loving. This is not about dating, this is about humanity. Where has our humanity gone?
To be clear, I LOVE men. I really do. I think men are wonderful, but I ache for us to find a way to heal the long-neglected wounds that have been passed on for generations of men being told not to feel, not to cry, not to acknowledge the hurt, the pain and trauma of watching those they love die, of killing, of normalizing violence and abandoning the heart. Men, it is not your fault, you have been doing what was expected and demanded of you, but you are the ones who must start claiming your healing. Let a woman teach you how, let us heal each other...
Who wants to start a new app with me? It would be called “Tender” to replace the inhumanity of Tinder. A dating app where we say what we mean and reveal who we are. Where we have the courage and compassion to acknowledge how deeply vulnerable a thing it is to long for connection.
Tell me how life has wounded you and I will show you my scars. I am tired of pretending.
I am not writing this in hopes of finding "my man". I no longer believe there is someone I am meant to claim. I am writing this to surrender that notion altogether. Not because I no longer believe in or hope for partnership, but because I am tired of disconnecting from myself and my truth in my better attempts at union. I am learning how to stay with myself as I invite the company of another. I was not taught how to do this. I must teach myself. That is what I have been doing all these years. All the endings have not been failings, they have been graduations. I am not ashamed of my misguided attempts, I am proud of my will to keep trying, to keep sharing, to keep loving, despite what has often lead me to a broken brain and a desecrated heart.
I am weary, yes, but not defeated. A friend recently told me that as he’s watched me over the years—in all my efforts to love, in all my heartbreak and joy and excitement and frustration—he is left with the impression that I am unsinkable. I cried when he said this. I felt the ocean stretched out before me, met by my determination to keep going, to keep plunging the depths in search of what electric life lives below. To stay courageous and curious as I dive into the big blue wonder of learning how to love myself and others. And to remember always to come up for air, face pointed up towards the warmth and the light of the sun. The gift of another day, another chance to move closer to the center of who we are in love with ourselves and each other.