One of my favorite bloggers, MyJourneyMyRules, published a post today that was, in part, about her struggle to stay focused on a guy she’s just started seeing who may have some potential, when she is being seriously tempted by a “bad habit” crush of hers. As she points out, nearly all of us have experienced that push-pull of what we know is good for us and what tempts us to be naughty. While oftentimes our surrender to the naughty side is harmless and fun, it also — at least as far as dating goes — can beget some pretty ugly emotional hangovers.
I remember when my youngest was a toddler — I could watch the push-pull play out across her face as she struggled with what she was supposed to do versus what she wanted to do. Her forehead would crinkle in concentration and her eyes grow serious, and then — even before she’d made a move in either direction! — the chosen path would be announced by her expression: disappointment and resignation if she decided to be a good girl; a stubborn set to her chin if she’d embraced her inner bad girl. Because, even at the age of two, we all know what we’re supposed to do. It’s doing it that’s harder.
My blogging friend knows that she needs to give this new guy a chance. She knows that she needs to eliminate the distractions of men who are not good for her and what-if scenarios that undermine her attention to her new relationship. But she admits that she’s not sure which path she’ll chose, and while I have no idea what she will do, I know that in my experience, hesitation has always meant that I knew full well that I was going to be bad girl, but I hadn’t decided to acknowledge it just yet.
My friend Katrina once got an invitation to fly up the coast and meet up with a hot, former professional athlete that we’ve known since high school. For a couple of weeks, she insisted that she hadn’t made up her mind whether she was going, even though we both knew full and well that her mind was made up as soon as she received the invitation. I mean, it was just too tempting, and with no strong counterbalance weighing against going, it was a done deal.
I think the challenging thing about doing the right thing when dating is that often “the right thing” means doing nothing. Sitting alone, sleeping alone, moving through your day wondering if or when someone great might saunter into your life. Doing the right thing rarely means going out with that superhot guy you know damn well is NOT going to call you next week. And that’s the frustrating part, isn’t it? Doing nothing does not feel empowering, it feels passive. Doing nothing does not feel strong, it feels lonely. But the truth is that sometimes doing nothing is making an affirmative choice. And a hard one at that.
As with any general rule, there are some exceptions — the time I spent dating without commitment immediately following my divorce was necessary and useful to my personal growth. I definitely went out with guys I wouldn’t give the time of day to now, but at the time it was fun, and fun was the only pre-requisite. And I knew that I really didn’t have much to offer besides being fun myself at that point, so it felt appropriate for the time. But, for the most part, most of the time, dating players and other versions of the commitment-phobic is not a good idea.
The blogosphere is rife with posts railing against the admonition that “It will happen when it’s right,” and I have certainly contributed my share to this body of work. The thing I hate about this platitude is that it seems to imply that love (or whatever good fortune you’re seeking) will come along when you have all your metaphorical ducks perfectly in a row. I resisted this because I can quite sincerely tell you that I have never, not for one minute of my life, had all my ducks neatly in a row; inevitably, there is always some corner of my life that is a hot mess. So, the idea that payoff for being a good girl making good choices was only going to come once all my ducks were in that row was more than a little discouraging and frustrating.
But I’ve lately been contemplating the possibility that the adage actually means something more like “It will happen when there’s space.” In other words, when you make emotional space in your life for a change or transition or addition, then it will be more likely to appear. I think this is why we intuitively know that as long as we’re playing with Mr. Wrong, Mr. Right isn’t going to show up. But in the absence of a direct choice between Mr. Wrong and Mr. Right, most of us think, “What the heck — I might as well have fun with Mr. Wrong while I wait for Mr. Right to finally get here!”
I think that the reason that Mr. Right doesn’t show up as long as we’re playing with Mr. Wrong (or even multiple Mr. Wrongs, as the case may be), is because there isn’t any real room. The space is taken. Our emotional energy and attention are split or even entirely focused on that relationship with Mr. Wrong, however unfulfilling or meaningless it may be. It’s only when we fully clear the decks and truly open ourselves affirmatively in the direction of our hopes that something good shows up. It’s almost like the presence of a go-nowhere relationship in which we’re still invested serves as a repellant to a relationship that might actually make us happy.
I have written about how the noise in our lives can be so distracting that it’s hard to find our emotional focus and center. I’m a firm believer that some time alone — and by this I don’t just mean boyfriend-less, but truly alone with ourselves and our thoughts — is the only way to find the peace in the silence, to fully realize who we are and what we ultimately want. It’s not easy to say no to a date that might offer the immediate gratification of attention and laughter in order to hold our space for something deeper and more sustainable, but I suspect that that is precisely what we have to do in order to create the right space for that something.
I am not saying that when we are ready for love we should cloister ourselves away from the world and not date or go out or proactively seek our happiness — I am simply suggesting that we probably shouldn’t spend our precious time and energy traversing roads we already know to be dead ends. I think if we want The Real Deal, we have to make room for it and be open to it. Fully and completely. We have to decide, once and for all, that our long-term happiness is more important than short-term fun and respect our needs and desires enough to reject anything that doesn’t move us toward that goal.
Easier said than done? Sure. And life can be a cruel temptress. All too often she shows up and says, “Are you sure you don’t want a little bit of this?” As if to prove my point, as I was about 1/2 way through writing this post, Coach texted me to ask me out for this weekend. I declined and told him I was dating someone now. I declined, but not because I had to; because I honestly, finally wanted to. Just as I did the last he contacted me, in June. And just as I will the next time he asks me out. He is fun, to be sure, but I want fun and a whole lot more right now.
Knowing what you want and making the space for it in your life are two different things. It’s so much harder than people who are happily ensconced in relationships will acknowledge, because loneliness and fear are strong motivators to settle for less than we deserve. I’m obviously no expert at resisting temptation, but in the past couple of years, I’ve learned the hard lessons that come with surrendering to what I know isn’t good for me. So, I’ve been working on creating space for the stuff that’s good for me. And you know what? I’ve discovered that sometimes in that good space you even get to be bad.