One of the things I love about dating is how much it teaches you about yourself. By having to explain and reveal yourself to someone new, you are often forced to see or discover aspects of yourself of which you’d been unaware.
I had an interesting conversation this weekend with a man whom I’ll call “Seamus.” Seamus opined that people in a new relationship show all their best parts to each other in those early days, in an understandable and normal attempt to impress. I agreed in concept, but then thought about that for a second and realized that, to a certain extent, he is wrong. At least about me.
Because, the thing is, I don’t show the best of myself right away. Of course, in some ways I do the same as everyone else does: I use my best manners, pull out my cutest clothes, flirt madly. But, in truth, I hold the best stuff back.
I’m not talking about my dirtiest secrets or my new tattoo or my secret fantasies. I’m talking about the sweetest, most loving, most intimate parts of my heart. The things I do and say and give to the men who have taken part of my heart with them when we parted. With them, I am different. With them, I am wide open and completely vulnerable. With them, I don’t hide anything or hold back. They get the whole me.
They get, as Seamus described it, “the key to the kingdom.”
Holding back the “key to the kingdom” is not about being scared, or being closed off. It’s a conscious choice to save only the best parts of myself for the men who deserve them, by virtue of the fact that they have somehow become so special to me that they have earned the best I have to give. These men are very few and far between.
I think, at this point in my life, I hold the key to the kingdom even more tightly than I used to. Not only because I’ve been so hurt (although that is certainly part of it), but also because, at this age, it’s harder than ever to be special to each other. There aren’t many “firsts” left — we’re not virgins, we’ve been in love before, we’ve been brokenhearted, we’ve been married, we’ve created children, we’ve established households — life’s milestones have been mostly shared with other people. When I meet someone special, I can’t offer him some emotional or physical trophy. But what I can offer him is a part of me that most other guys don’t get near.
Several of the men whom I’ve dated that haven’t received the “key to the kingdom” have known, of course, that I was holding something back, and have responded with varying degrees of frustration or irritation. One man even asked me once, in exasperation, “Why won’t you let me really know you?”
The shame of it, of course, is that the men who do receive the key to the kingdom have no way of really knowing that their experience of me is special and not shared by every other man I’ve dated. After all, none of us can really know what our lover was like with someone else. Was he as sweet and caring? Did he call every girl this much? Did he spend as much time with the others? So, sometimes, my boyfriends will take for granted the things I do, not realizing that those things are gigantic billboards evidencing my affection for them. But that’s okay, I guess. Because when I give my heart, mind, body, and soul to someone I love, I do it because I don’t have a choice. I do it because I am compelled to try and show him how much he means to me. I do it because, when I’m in love, it makes me happy to feel really seen and completely heard and intimately known and none of those things can happen without me being open.
I used to assume that everyone was the same in this fashion, but I’ve realized that people are not all the same in any fashion. Some people really are pretty identical with just about everyone they date. They tell all the same stories, they reveal all the same things, they do all the same sweet gestures for everyone they are with. Not necessarily to manipulate, but just because that’s just how they move through the world. But dating has helped me realize that I’m not that way. For better or for worse, I’m just not. Maybe if I were, I would more have more numerous, successful relationships. Then again, maybe not.
I’d like to think that someday I’ll meet a guy who will understand and appreciate that the way I am with him is different and special and an ode to how awesome I think he is. And when I offer him the “key to the kingdom,” he’ll cherish it and protect it and fight to hold on to it.