I choose life. I choose me – Why anxiety isn’t love and some other stuff I’ve figured out along the way.
I choose Life. I choose me.
Why anxiety isn’t love and some other stuff I’ve figured out along the way.
Female. Single. 33. Childless.
Sometimes it feels like one of the most feared and pitied creatures amongst the status quo is a single, childless, woman in her 30’s. God forbid I be in my 40s, 50s, 60s… people just don’t know what to do with me.
Married friends don’t want to invite me to their gatherings because I might flirt with their husbands. Men I attempt to befriend treat me with trepidation because I must, in actual fact, be moments away from declaring my desperate love for them and demanding their hand in marriage. Friends tell me that I’m in a precarious time where the reality of whether or not I’m going to have children is playing out. All they hear is the clock… tick, tock, tick, tock… I have to be careful. I can’t be complacent in my dating efforts. I can’t be too picky but I can’t waste too much time with the wrong guy either because tick, tock, tick, tock… Everyone seems to be afraid of me or feel sorry for me because it’s just such a shame that I haven’t met someone when I’m such a great person and have so much to offer…
And yet, I don’t feel afraid and I don’t feel sorry for myself.
I’m not going to sing about how single, child-free life is always fabulous. I’m not going to protest that I feel wonderful all the time because, of course, being on your own can be tough and lonely.
If I could wave a magic wand and have life play out in accord with my desires, I would have met my Mr Right by now. He would have dark hair and broad shoulders. We would have that ‘something special’ spark between us. He would share adventures, conversation and laughter with me. We would have hot and steamy idea sex – lots of it. He’d be the first person I wanted to tell a new thought or opinion and I would be excited to hear all of his. He would value kindness and fun and love the outdoors. We would go hiking together and spend our summers by the ocean. We would be supportive of one another but not co-dependent. We would know all about each other’s individual insecurities and neuroses and still be able to live with them. We might get a dog, have a couple of kids and watch each other grow and change throughout the ebb and flow of life…
See, I’ve thought about this.
But it’s not so easy to find that special someone. And it isn’t because there are no decent, single men out there – there are. They are just hard to run into because like me, they are busy doing the things they love in life. And it’s not because all the good guys are taken. Yeah sure, some of the great guys might have married off in their early 20s but guess what? So did a whole lot of the duds. Just as there are people out there who are single because they are too dysfunctional for a relationship there are an equal amount of people out there who are too dysfunctional to be out of a relationship. They married off early because they couldn’t survive on their own. And if you’re someone like me who has been adventuring and growing and learning and moving through the world all by your little self for quite some time now, then you don’t want to settle down with someone who only ever expects to be half a person – complacent to let the gaps and shortcomings be filled by someone else. It’s a good thing that these people are tucked away in their family homes and safely off the shelf.
Just in case you’re wondering, it’s not because my expectations are too high either. I know that Mr Right is a Disneyland fantasy and I am not a Princess.
So why haven’t I met someone then? Well, it’s because it is not life’s job to bring me what I want.
We all seem to be under the delusion these days that ‘anything is possible’. That fame, success, happiness, wealth, love – you name it – are all only a breath away. We’re fed ‘inspirational’ stories all the time about entrepreneurs who wake up one morning to find their business booming and lonely hearts finding their true love with a couple of flicks of an online dating app. For most of us though, the reality of life isn’t quite so easy and unless we want to be miserable, we have to learn to adjust our expectations.
I’m not saying that I don’t expect to meet someone. It’s a reasonable assumption for everyone to make that at some point in their life, they will meet someone that they think is special. But that’s just it. It should be special. It’s not an everyday occurrence. It’s unique. It’s a one-off. It doesn’t come so easily. That’s what makes it so wonderful. It might happen tomorrow. It might happen a decade from now or maybe two, or more. And when it does, well, I will see it for what it is – something special.
More importantly, I know that getting what I want isn’t necessarily going to make me happy, especially when it comes to romantic love. And this is why: our biology doesn’t want us to be happy. It just wants us to get our needs met. We are set to seek love and approval because we need it to survive. If our parents don’t love us when we are children then they wont look after us. So children quickly learn whatever behaviour will earn their parents love and attention. And this is where the love template is set. This is where we learn what love is and what we need to do to receive it.
So if you’re like me, and like the majority of other people on the planet, your understanding about what love feels and looks like is probably a little skewed because no one has perfect parents. Our well-meaning but imperfect parents pass on their imperfect perceptions of what love is and how it should be expressed, through a myriad of sometimes overt, sometimes subtle, conscious and unconscious communications. We soak up these messages as children and then look to repeat them as adults.
Let me give you an example. I dated a guy recently, let’s call him Mr C. I met Mr C on an online dating site. He stood out from the crowd with his witty profile and clever back and forth chit-chat. Nothing forced. Nothing pretentious.
I liked it.
We met for coffee on a Sunday. He made me laugh. We talked about politics, travel and about what it is to live life with a sense of meaning. We talked about how change is hard but often not as hard as you first think it might be.
I liked him.
Next came the going out for drinks, dinner, breakfast and movie dates and then soon enough, we were on to the next big thing: our Internet dating profiles were ‘deactivated’ and Mr C had become ‘the guy I’m now seeing’. I took it slow at first because, you know, I’m mature now. I’ve learnt not to rush in and give my heart away too soon. I want to get to know you. I want to know what your values are, what brings you alive, what brings you down, what you want out of life and what you have to give in return. These things take time. He was patient and kind and wanted to get to know me too.
I started to like him a whole lot more.
Then we got to that 3-month mark and the little cracks I was overlooking had started to meet each other to form big empty spaces between us – spaces that were becoming too wide for me to jump across and meet him on the other side. I started to notice this: the more anxious I felt, the more I thought I liked him.
I started to over-analyse all of my interactions with him. Should I have said this? Next time I’ll say it like that. Am I doing this, right? Maybe if I change that, things will be better…
It’s not that Mr C was a bad guy. It’s just that he was sometimes one way and sometimes another way and the extremes between the two were growing wider. I never quite knew what I was going to get and I started to feel more and more anxious before I saw him. I also started to feel more and more confused and exhausted after I’d seen him.
This is where the love template comes into play – I was mistaking anxiety for love. Because the more I care about a person’s response to me, the more I must care about them, right?
I have been programmed to see love as a quest for approval which will require either a) someone who needs me to take care of them, or b) someone who’s approval is next to impossible to receive. Best-case scenario will be a good measure of both.
But what I realised this time around is that I don’t want the drama or anxiety anymore. That it isn’t what love means to me anymore. I see that feeling for exactly what it is now and I won’t mistake it for something else. Mistaking anxiety for love is how smart people get into emotionally abusive relationships.
And I won’t put myself in a situation that is unhealthy for me because guess what? I choose me. I choose a full, healthy and expansive life; not a grasping, anxious and fearful existence. I am changing the template.
If we don’t change the template, if we don’t understand our emotions, and ourselves, then we might be able to get what we want but it probably won’t make us happy. The trick is to take the focus off the goal, the desire, whatever the external ‘thing’ is that you are wanting – and shine the light back on yourself.
Maybe life will bring me a partner, maybe it won’t. Either way, I choose to be complete within myself, I choose to take good care of myself. When I am hurt and sad and disappointed at the end of a relationship, I pick myself up like you would a small child, and I am especially kind and gentle. I let myself grieve. With the end of every relationship is the loss of possibility and hope and the dreams that you start having of the future; that’s a sad thing… but the loss is also temporary.
The great task in life is to stay true to who you are in spite of the challenges it presents, and this requires a certain softness. It’s too easy to grow weary, to withdraw, to be pessimistic, to toughen up what’s on the outside and repress what’s on the inside. When I am gentle with myself, I allow myself to bend and in doing so, I become much harder to break.
So I make this decision: to stay open to the possibility of love but at the same time, not expect life to give me the things I want. I will be the person I want to be, regardless. I will be generous with who I am because I want to give that to the world. I want to give the best of me. I won’t be afraid to be vulnerable because I think if you’re not prepared to take a risk then you’re probably not ready for what there is to gain either.
And I will always go where the life is. My choice will always be me.
Dana Meads is a Melbourne-based writer, with a particular interest in health, psychology, politics and culture.
Contact Dana here.