A few years ago, when I first poked my head into the world of online dating, I was perplexed by the seemingly global "no drama!" admonition I was seeing on most men's profiles. As someone with a rather animated personality, I was certain that the no-drama-dating-deal-breaker and its no-emotional-baggage cousin were signs of most men's self-centered, commitment-phobic nature. In fact, I was certain of it.
"Why do virtually all men's online dating profiles emphatically disavow drama?" I asked my date one evening. He responded that not all drama was good, and that there were some women out there who were carrying around excess emotional baggage, and what was worse, they were often indiscriminate in their projection of said baggage. "Well, maybe the cumulative effect of years of men's emotional unavailability coupled with their unceremonious departures results in said emotional baggage, which then causes some women to become drama queens. Did you ever think of that?" I responded to this man on our first (and last) date.
Most of the women I know have spent the bulk of their lives in search of some magical relationship formula that promises a lifetime of lasting love. The formula that most women seem to have settled on, and that's supported by about 500 of our favorite romantic comedies, involves the rather traditional notion that men are by nature, hunters, and the nicer a woman is, and the more available, the more bored a man gets in a he's-just-not-that-into-you sort of way.
It was based upon this premise that I formed assumptions about the various men in my life, and the reasons for my failed relationships. Perhaps I was too nice, too accommodating, too available, I told myself after each break-up. I didn't even have to ask my partner whether I was correct, because I already knew -- I was a victim of the universal male fear of the emotionally available women.
A few years ago I made a decision to start living my life more authentically, with increased transparency. I began this journey by making the commitment to, at the very least, be more honest with myself about my true feelings, my true fears, and my true agendas. I pursued this path because I was feeling an exorbitant amount of fragmentation and stress, and I determined that it was because I was wearing too many masks in my life. I had no place, and no space to just be me.
And then one day I had a really scary thought. Maybe I was wearing masks in my romantic relationships too. And maybe my excessive kindness was one of these masks. Hmm. I did not like where this was going, did not like it at all. Could I have played some active role in the demise of my past relationships, other than the benign act of being too giving? Were my victim-situated, self-indignant tantrums ever truly justified as I had repeatedly argued? Was I (gulp) an emotional baggage-toting drama queen?
With a lot of soul-searching, I realized that the answer to these questions was probably yes. The truth was, that often I gave gifts of excessive kindness and was overly accommodating not because I was the better partner, but because I had holes in my heart, and I looked to my partners to fill them. I hid these expectations though under layers of shame-induced false bravado. Over-focusing on my partner's needs masked my own emotional unavailability.
Admitting this was difficult, but it was also a little like taking my Spanx off after a very long date. I felt like I could finally breath.
So it is with these acknowledgements in mind that I must apologize to most of the men I've dated (and married) over the years:
- I am sorry that I was a bit of a drama queen who came into your life with a satchel (trunk) full of hidden emotional baggage, and then little by little dumped it onto your head.
- I am sorry that I hid my real needs and vulnerabilities from you. Sometimes I was a bit of a train wreck and it would have been nice to have your support.
- I am sorry that I sometimes manipulated you into showing you cared, like that time when I made you think I was calling you from a bar, drinking Champagne while surrounded by lots of men just to make you jealous, when in reality I was lying on my couch in sweats drinking hot cocoa with Sex and the City on really, really loud in the background.
- I am sorry for all the times I accused you of judging me, when in reality it was really me judging me. And I'm sorry that I projected my self-judgment onto you, and got angry at you for judging me, when in reality, I was really mad at myself for judging me, and then projected that onto you (and if this confuses you, try living in my head for one day).
- Mostly though, I am sorry that I left you because it seemed easier to leave than to keep the charade going (or come clean).
So here are seven relationship revelations I learned on my journey into the world of increased authenticity and transparency:
- Sometimes chronic kindness and accommodation are masks we use to hide our deepest fears and vulnerabilities.
- Showing authentic vulnerability draws people to us, while excessive neediness pushes them away. Vulnerability says "these are my areas of brokenness"; neediness adds "now fix me."
- If we have holes in our hearts, it's up to us to fill them.
- If we have the tendency to see ourselves as victims in every break-up, chances are we're hiding some deeply buried, shame-filled "self-held truths" that only a healthy dose of transparency and self-acceptance can remedy.
- Maybe sometimes we over-focus on our partner's needs, because it's easier than taking responsibility for our own needs, our own happiness, and yes, even our own financial messes.
- Over-giving is not a gift if it wasn't asked for in the first place, or if we give with an agenda.
- We all want the same things -- to be heard, to be seen, to be loved, and to not be mowed over by someone else's hole-in-the-heart-prompted-passive-aggressive-drama-queen-(or king)-inspired-projections.