Now that Ed (insider nickname for "eating disorder") and I are no longer together, I am dating real people. As dysfunctional as my relationship was with Ed, at least dating him felt familiar and reliable. Sometimes what is bad (i.e. Ed) can actually feel safe and comfortable, simply because it is familiar.
Ed was predictable. Sure, he threw the occasional curve ball, but for the most part, I knew what he wanted. He wanted control of my life and would do anything to get it. Real guys are not as predictable, and I find this quite challenging. I have been talking a lot lately with friends and family about navigating the unchartered waters of dating.
Dating is about gathering information, not necessarily spilling it. I have definitely struggled with giving out too much information -- my deepest thoughts, secrets, and fears -- too soon. I used to wear the same thing on all of my first dates. I wore a scarlet letter. Unlike in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, my scarlet letter was not an "A" for adultery, but a "T" for trauma. I wore my scarlet letter like a badge to represent any past trauma and life struggles.
We tend to air out our dirty laundry like this in an attempt to see if the other person will still like us. I am learning that time is a huge factor in getting to know someone and that the dirty laundry will come out naturally, over time. We don't have to put our dirty socks on the table before the food has even arrived on the first date!
When things do come out naturally, I am beginning to understand that I need to be responsible for my own past. I have heard it said about relationships, "It's okay to have baggage, just make sure you carry your own bags." In the past, I have not carried my own bags very well, and in fact, I have expected guys to pick them up for me. One guy I dated actually told me, "You are a big, big, big red flag!" No, he was not saying that I was fat. He was saying that he needed to steer clear of dating me. And, at the time, he was right.
I am also discovering that dating is about being real, not accommodating and nice. I am no longer co-dependent on first dates -- or seconds or thirds. I am true to myself. For so long, the men I dated didn't get to know the real Jenni because I hid behind who I thought each one of them wanted me to be. Metamorphosing like this was hard work -- I won't do it anymore. I like to laugh, so I laugh. I am a little quirky, so I am a little quirky.
I am learning to take my time and not rush into anything. These days, I try to get to know a man slowly and avoid immediately putting him on a pedestal, believing that he is Mr. Right and can do no wrong before I even know his last name.
As I take things more slowly, I am trying to enjoy the process and realize that I don't have to "do" anything. Yet another problem that I have had with dating is feeling like I always have to do something. If he does this, I have to do that. If he does that, I have to do this. The truth is that I don't have to do anything except be myself and trust the process. If it doesn't work out with someone, I will learn something for the next time around.
When I first broke up with Ed, I did not have many expectations from men. Compared to Ed, every man was a step up. Today, I do have expectations from men and from myself. I expect people to treat me with respect, and I expect to treat others the same way. I respect myself. Dating in this healthy way is actually helping me to get to know myself better. I am having more fun along the way.
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