3 Steps To Dump The Baggage And Move On With Your Love Life

03/28/2015 08:28 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2015

Originally posted on Ambiance Matchmaking Website

Dating in our teens and 20s was challenging. Dating in our middle adult years, with significant exes, children, pets, mortgages, careers and a boatload of emotional, physical and perhaps even financial baggage, may seem impossible. I've single parented my son since he was very young, and didn't have much time to date amidst parenting, working, continuing my education, doing dishes, mowing the lawn and attending various kid-related activities. So when my son left for college, I decided that there was no better time to start dating again.

But as often happens when we poke our heads into an activity after a few decades-long hiatus, I realized that everything had changed - and I mean e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Rather than meeting someone at a dance, a bar, or if we go back far enough, a frat party, I soon learned that the majority of dating was occurring online. And rather than having to worry about my first impression when meeting someone, I had to worry about my first online impression.

We now have to worry about leading not with ourselves, but with an image of ourselves. We have to contend with parallel dating, encouraged by the online dating algorithms that push multiple potential partners at us at one time. We have to worry about competition that appears to be younger, thinner, wealthier and happier. Most of us are battle-weary, still struggling with past hurt and anger, with fears of getting hurt again, and now we find ourselves in completely unchartered territory, with very few 'rules of the road' to guide us.

These realizations got me thinking about the masks we wear in life, and why we wear them, and what purpose they serve. We all wear masks - some more than others, and some to more of an extent than others. We learned the importance of wearing masks as children when our parents taught us how to have good manners, and to apologize when we didn't really feel like it. We may wear a mask when we interview for that job we desperately want, when we go to church, when we meet the parents of our friends. Basically, we are most likely to wear a mask when we're trying to impress others, even ourselves. But we also wear masks when we're trying to hide from things that may hurt us.

Deep inside all of us have a universal desire to be seen, heard, accepted and loved, by someone who remains steadfastly and passionately loyal to us, despite our flaws and even our worst mistakes. And this desire sits right alongside a fear of being seen and heard, and then summarily rejected. If we get hurt a few times along the way, particularly by those who made a commitment to love us and stand by our side no matter what, it is often very difficult to put ourselves out there again, particularly in such a vulnerable way. So we wear masks.

I had this in mind when I completed my own online dating profile, after my son left for college, and I decided that I wanted to give love another try. When I looked at all of the self-descriptive prompts on the online profile, as well as others' profiles, I realized how easy it is to wear masks with online dating, where people are too often assessed based on superficial criteria, and then easily cast aside.

We live in a culture that worships youthfulness, optimism, extroversion, "athletic and toned" body types and a non-stop array of outdoor activities. Now, there's nothing wrong with any of these traits, but let's face it - none of us are really glass-half-full-hiking-biking-bikini-clad-kayaking-social-butterflies around the clock. And yet a review of many online profiles of presumably full-time employed middle-aged adults with children would have us believing so.

In fact, many of us seem to treat dating like a job interview where we post our best photos, wear our most flattering clothes and put our best collective feet out there. We do this for many reasons, but one biggie is that we don't want to be rejected (again). The problem with treating dating like a job interview though, is that if we're lucky we might actually get the "job," but it may not be the one we really want, or the one that's right for us.

Wearing a mask (or masks) may seem like the best method for preventing re-injury, but the problem is that when we wear masks to protect our hearts, we are hiding our authentic selves, which makes it very difficult to find someone who is truly compatible with us. Not wearing a mask requires a willingness to be vulnerable. Unresolved hurt acts as a barrier to vulnerability, and often manifests in anger as we imagine all of the ways that we might be hurt again.

Anger in a new relationship that is rooted in the past often manifests as accusations, and while sometimes we may be right - someone may have the intention of hurting us, often we are wrong. In fact most often, what may seem like someone on the verge of hurting us, is really them wearing a mask to protect their own heart. Letting others see our vulnerable sides (when the time is right) draws people to us, while anger and defensiveness pushes them away.

So how do we achieve this difficult feat - letting go of past hurt and anger so that we can find love again? We must forgive those who have hurt us. But this can be very difficult since, often, forgiving feels a little too much like condoning the bad behavior that broke our hearts. But if we want to find love again, we need to take a risk, become vulnerable and face our demons.

Here are three steps we can take in our journey of letting go of the past, so that we can be free to find love again:

  1. Admit We Are Hurt and Angry: the first step in letting go of past hurt and anger is to admit we have these feelings. Once we own our past hurt and anger we can then find their true home - in the past.
  2. Know That We Are Enough: the next step involves telling ourselves every day that we are enough, brokenness and all. We can own our past, take responsibility for our pain (and those holes in our hearts), and make a commitment to wake up every morning making a choice to accept ourselves - even if our emotions are shameful, scary, pessimistic, and even at times make us feel undesirable.
  3. Be Honest with Ourselves: Ultimately it is self-honesty that allows us to stop playing a relentless game of tug-o-war with our emotions and let go of the rope that binds us, freeing us to love again, with our whole heart.

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