By Dana Gornall
“Desiring another person is perhaps the most risky endeavor of all. As soon as you want somebody—really want him—it is as though you have taken a surgical needle and sutured your happiness to the skin of that person, so that any separation will now cause a lacerating injury.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed
When I was about four or five—maybe six—we took a family vacation to Florida.
The specifics are still a little fuzzy, but I remember clearly seeing some type of a luau, or Hawaiian show. Seated about six rows back from the stage, I watched, mesmerized by the bronze-skinned women swaying their hips to and fro in grass skirts on the platform, their long dark hair skimming past their waistlines. One of the women carefully trailed the steps and began walking up the aisle in the audience, and settled right in front of my family. Extending her hand toward my dad, she invited him to come dance with them.
My heart leaped—I wanted to be chosen to go on stage! I wanted the tall, pretty woman with the bronze skin and long dark hair to invite me too. Tapping my mother on the shoulder I pointed, “Can I go? Can I go?” She nodded and moved out of the way, and I quickly climbed past adult legs. One of the adults mistook my clambering to think that I wanted a better position to see. “Oh, you want to sit up here?” No, no I want to go on stage… I want to go on stage with my dad… but it was too late. My dad was already there, swaying his hips and laughing with the woman with the bronze skin and long dark hair and my heart fell. Feeling the hot tears slide down my cheeks I felt as though I missed out. Why didn’t I get that chance?
I often wonder if dating and romance is a little bit like that. There is something significant about belonging with someone, and being chosen in return. And there certainly is that feeling of missing something when we are not chosen.
As my marriage was falling apart, I found myself placing more and more space between the two of us until I was on my own. The more space and detachment from the pain I felt when I realized that happily ever after wasn’t the solid rock I had imagined it to be, the better I felt. Space was exactly what I needed to buffer all of the things that were zinging around my heart and mind and that space felt perfect. It was deliciously welcome, and after years of searching into every nook and cranny for just a small parcel of empty space, I now had glorious yards of it and it was wonderful.
I was also jaded; I saw attachment in the guise of relationships as confining, perhaps stifling. I thought about the years of trying to fit one mold or the other and now I craved the opportunity to cut my own.
You see, I had a track record of letting myself get attached to people. Whether it was a guy I dated or a friend I had become close to, I allowed the edges of what defined me to be blurred by what defined them. I really was unsure of who I was or what I stood for, and that period of aloneness—of space—helped me understand those edges a little better.
Other parts had me had changed over the years too. I was a little wiser, a little more seasoned and now I had some background on Buddhism. I knew one couldn’t place happiness in another person or thing. Happiness wasn’t the nicely framed picture we had all shaped in our heads, but rather I learned it was the ability to ride the constant waves life throws at us, and not to be shaken (or at least not for long). This knowledge combined with my newfound independence, and a slightly traumatized heart, meant I was in no rush to really be paired with anyone. I navigated dating with a superficial interest. Many of my friends were looking for Mr. or Ms. Right, but I wasn’t sure that role existed for me or maybe not for anyone. I was no longer looking for someone to fill a need.
I doubted love. I doubted happily ever after. But the nagging itch for some socialization and companionship brought me continually back to that dating app.
And then I met someone for coffee. I didn’t have a clue as to what he looked like because I had the free version of the app (the one without pictures) and after too many weird occurrences asking people to send me pics ahead of time, I gambled and just didn’t ask. Of course I ran a Google search of his name and only pulled up a Facebook profile pic of his dog. So as I got ready for this meetup I texted “I’m wearing a purple shirt with an elephant and white capris” hoping he would respond with what he would be wearing. “How big of an elephant?” he texted back. “It takes up the entire shirt,” I replied, smiling, imagining what he was trying to imagine. “I’m wearing a blue shirt and jeans,” he responded, “no animals.”
Walking in I spotted him sitting in a chair on his phone. We made eye contact and I breathed a sigh of relief that he was cute, and that he didn’t look like my ex. We stood in line waiting to order and he talked about teaching his son to drive. A small smile broke across his face as he explained they were practicing in the cemetery because… I finished his sentence with the old joke my family always told, “…all of the people are already dead.” We both laughed. I made sure to pay for my own coffee; we sat and chatted. Time blew by quickly. When I told him it was time for me to go, he walked me out and we talked some more until we came to the parking garage. I felt uneasy having him follow me to my car and so said my goodbye there. Surprisingly he leaned in for a hug. I hugged back. He said he thought it would be fun to do this again.
“Sure, text me,” I smiled, and walked back toward my car. I shrugged off the lightness I felt as I slid into the seat of my car and pushed away any feeling of expectation. Maybe he would text, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe we would go out again, maybe we wouldn’t. This was fun but I would not let my mind go any further to where it was just now. No expectation. No attachment.
I started my car and drove toward home.
(to be continued)
Editor: Alicia Wozniak