When I was a little girl, my father worked in construction. Every day, the alarm would sound at 4:30am and he would groggily make his way downstairs to the kitchen. My mother would trail behind him. As he set his coffee to brew, he’d run into the shower while she made and packed his lunch for the day. They’d exchange some words, give each other a quick kiss, and he’d be on his way. By today’s standards, this image might hit many as sexist. For me, it imprinted upon me what I hoped to one day access – a loving partnership.
Don’t get me wrong, my parents’ marriage has never been perfect. In fact, they were on the brink of divorce many times. But, in those early mornings, there was love.
In my own life, never being able to experience the one thing I always had a vision for has certainly taken its toll on me. I spent my early twenties going on a series of first dates or “catching feelings” for men who only wanted to party. To their credit, they were usually honest and had the decency to reject or dump me early on. While I could never engage in something “casual”, I definitely spent many nights crying myself to sleep, wondering “what was wrong with me” and wishing that I could just “have fun.” The inauthenticity of that always posed a barrier though, so by the time I graduated from University, I had come to terms with the fact that my life would be spent alone. After sharing that with a senior colleague and friend, I remember her urging me not to feel hopeless. She said, “if there is any justice in this world, Kayla, you of all people will find someone. You’re too loving not to!”
I tried to re-open myself up a bit, thinking maybe I was too young to throw in the towel. Eventually, I became friends with someone who was patient and kind. We spent lots of time together and he started to make some advances towards me. Despite my shyness and inexperience with love, he seemed patient, and we continued enjoying our friendship for many months. When I finally came around and matched his interest though, he backtracked and told me that he had to “work on himself” and was “sorry if I was disappointed.” I told him that I understood – and then I went home.
About a year after that ended, I met someone in graduate school who was very kind. We appeared to share similar values and I was attracted to him. However, he seemed to be so into me so quickly (and I was still not quite feeling myself again after the situation that had wrapped a year earlier), so I took some time again to match his feelings. Luckily for me, once I finally realized after a year of friendship that I would like to date him, he told me that his feelings for me were still there. Over the summer months, we shovelled questionable sushi into our mouths and went to board game cafes. We walked all over the city together because we couldn’t afford to do much else. We went to charity theatre shows, and sporting games. Eventually, I met his family and we went to Niagara Falls where he expressed not merely wanting to date me, but wanting to be exclusive with me. Then, several days later, he phoned me up to say that he was having second thoughts and we should hold off; he told me he hoped I would wait for him to return one day, but understood if I couldn’t.
I spent the next three years waiting. I mean, I still tried to be open to dating other people. But, in truth, while I may be slow to “catch feelings”, it seems that I am equally slow to un-catch them. I felt as if I was being unfaithful every time I went to dinner with someone else and I would usually cry as I drove myself home. Every so often, I would check in with the person I was pining for to see how things were going. Life wasn’t treating him so well and my check-ins were usually welcomed with irritability or anger on his part. Friends were urging me to try casual sex, to forget about him, to block him. They also couldn’t understand why it was taking me so long to heal when I hadn’t even dated him that long. I didn’t either.
In 2019, he and I met up for dinner – our first time seeing each other since 2016. Over the meal, he proudly told me that he had just found a job, but the income was unsteady and slow coming. He apologized for having been so curt with me and told me he knew that I deserved better. I appreciated his honesty, but as I sat across from him, I felt like he had become a stranger. I started to realize things I hadn’t noticed before… like how the only image of me he knew and liked was frozen in time. He remembered me as someone who hid my own spirituality for fear of judgement because I wanted to fit in more with his religious family. He knew me as someone who was “proper” and wouldn’t laugh at an Amy Schumer joke, or befriend someone more sexually adventurous than I was. I realized he had only liked very select parts of me. As we closed the night, he told me he wanted to see me again. But then, he never called, and neither did I.
Since that time, I spent years alone enjoying some solitude and quality time with friends. I’ve also been rejected in love again (world records don’t set themselves, you know), and most recently, I created an online dating profile, which I am already on the verge of deleting. So, why am I sharing so much humiliation here? Because in a way, it isn’t all bad. I’ve learned a lot from these experiences and I don’t think I could share those tidbits without being honest about what’s prompted them. So, here it goes:
- On healing: Forget the title of this very piece. There is NO timeline or definite end point. It’s not linear… no matter how many articles say that it should be half the time you dated or some other formula… it won’t work. The author, Guy Winch, has a book and Tedtalk, in which he talks about how we need to give ourselves permission to mourn the things that society wants us to get over quickly. It’s a great message and affirms my own belief that healing isn’t an achievement in a game waiting to be unlocked. It’s something you’re always doing once you’ve been hurt, and accepting that truth may be helpful.
- On honesty: Although I don’t regret the experience with the person from graduate school, I learned the hard way that showing up authentically is crucial. I spent those three years grieving the loss over someone who knew a part of me, and therefore, could love none of me.
- On self-acceptance: As I mentioned, I recently joined a dating site. I definitely got an instant ego boost from it. Despite the fact that I have so often wondered if I’m not pretty enough, not worthy enough, not lovable enough, it seems there are an abundance of men out there who will flirt with me. Funny enough though, I only agreed to chat with a handful of people and the first person rushed to wanting to see me after just a day. He said that he was “looking for something serious” and wanted my phone number. When I didn’t answer his previous message quickly enough, he sent more the following day! I told him that while I definitely wanted something serious, too, I didn’t want to jump in too quickly with the wrong person, and that I also enjoyed having some space. After that, I couldn’t help but be hard on myself. Here was a person quite literally telling me he was looking for a commitment! Yet, I was passing on the very thing that I say I’ve always wanted. And it’s not the first time… last summer, two people both made advances towards me, yet I turned them away, too. Needless to say, I couldn’t help but wonder if something was just wrong with me… here’s what I’ve realized: I want a commitment built off of authenticity. My vision for the future still ideally includes a partner, but I don’t want a partner for the sake of just having one. I want it to be with a human who I feel a spiritual connection with on a deeper level. I’m not looking to fill the gap in someone’s life just because they’re lonely, and I’m not desperate to fill that gap of loneliness with just any willing body, either. I want something that feels genuine, which does take time to build. Maybe I’m less “fun” than someone who is interested in the casual scene, but good or bad, this is me. And aside from what I want, I recognize that my wholeness and purpose isn’t predicated on my relationship status.
- On decision-making: Whenever I do feel those deep connections, it admittedly takes me a while to get there, and the lack of reciprocity or indecisiveness I’ve been met with from the other party doesn’t feel the greatest. However, I definitely feel like I’m getting better at choosing people I’m more aligned with in life. In fact, one person from the dating site has given me amazing conversation and even though I plan to bounce, I know I’ll be able to explore some future chats with an interesting human, at the very least. In general, I just don’t feel as big of a need to pretend to be someone I’m not… So, while my radar may be slightly off, I still think I’m developing in this area for the positive. Also, maybe things aren’t completely in my head, anyway, which I often wonder whenever I get turned down. Kim Eng once talked about people only being able to love you based on the level of their own consciousness. Much like I’m on my own lifelong healing and spiritual journey, so is everyone else. Maybe someone’s own example of love has imprinted on them a danger sign. Maybe they worry about hurting others, as much as they fear being hurt. The point is that nobody owes me anything (and I owe them nothing either). So all I can do is just focus on my own growth and trust that I am making improvements.
- Intention Setting: With beautiful spring weather fast-approaching, I’ve been contemplating lots on how I can ensure the next few months are filled with peace and love. Since I often think in images, here’s what I’ve come up with: scenic hikes, dinners filled with laughter (and cheesecake), volunteering to help youth, walks with friends, and reading incredible novels. All in all, this life is beautiful and my intention right now is to enjoy all of it. No matter how much self-doubt or heartache will undoubtedly enter my psyche from time to time, I know there is too much to be thankful for in the here and now… There are too many trails to explore, too many truths to be shared, too many hugs to offer, too many babies to smile at, too many rainstorms to be in, too many Autumn leaves to marvel at, too many songs to listen to, too many benches to read on, too many poems to write. This truth reminds me of what I recall reading from Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. When he expressed his emotions to his wife before dating, she initially rejected him, but she was on the fence. While sad, he said to her, “Look, I’m going to find a way to be happy, and I’d really love to be happy with you, but if I can’t be happy with you, then I’ll find a way to be happy without you.” That’s a reminder for me that despite being heartbroken sometimes, I’m designed to mend and feel joy. It’s what I fundamentally believe is meant for me. So, as I prepare myself for the season of re-birth, I intend to fall in love all over again with whatever is written for me, and I intend to accept love from wherever I am meant to receive it. #totallyhealed #allbetter (just kidding)