I didn't date in highschool or most of college, because of odd religious ideas I had. I kind of got over those ideas halfway through college, but then I just managed to get a bunch of crushes on guys who refused to acknowledge my existence. Most of the dates I did manage to score --before meeting the guy who would go on to become my abusive (now-ex-)husband-- were one-hit wonders. I think I went out with one guy twice. Post-divorce, the longest healthy relationship I've ever had lasted 3 months. (I don't consider my most recent heartbreak, which I blogged about here, here, and here to have been a healthy relationship.)
Just bear that in mind... because I recently decided to join a dating site, and... I've found someone interesting.
But I don't know what to think. I'm wondering if history is going to repeat itself, and I'm feeling a bit anxious.
In the healthy relationship I mentioned above, I broke up with him, because things just didn't feel like I thought they should. I knew from the start that I wasn't hugely attracted to him. He was just a long-standing, good, distant friend. But I wanted to give him a chance. "Maybe feelings would develop over time," I thought. "I've changed so much since last time I knew him, maybe things will be different now."
I tried, I really did, but I just couldn't make myself feel like I thought I ought to feel for a romantic partner. There was nothing wrong with him, and so much right with him, but there was no spark. At least not on my end. On his end, well, I'm pretty sure he had strong feelings for me... so it was really hard to tell him I wanted to break up.
I've often wondered if I did the right thing. If I should have just told him upfront that I didn't feel a romantic attraction for him, and not started anything with him at all. It would have saved him a painful heartbreak. I still feel a twinge of guilt about it to this day. Heartbreak is agonizing, I know all too well. But I just didn't know what would happen. I hadn't had enough experience to know. I honestly thought that maybe feelings would develop over time. But they didn't. How could I have foreseen?
Should I have "gone with my gut?" My so-called "gut" has led me astray in the past. "Trust your instinct" is sometimes good advice, sometimes bad. My opinion on "the gut" or "the instinct" is that it is a deeply-embedded, instantaneous response stemming from primal, implicit conditioning, programmed in the emotional parts of my brain, based on in-born survival instincts, plus how I have unconsciously processed the millions of life experiences I have had. I do NOT think "instinct" is based on an objective view of reality, nor indication of connection to a transcendent guidance system, such as a deity, or "The Force," or what-have-you. If my understanding of "instinct" is correct (and, of course, I think it is), then my knee-jerk responses are influenced mostly by my past experiences. And because my past experiences with romance have been heavily tinged with negative beliefs, expectations, and situations, I don't "trust my gut" when it comes to relationships. I know that I need to rewrite this part of my life. I need to rebuild the "relationships" schema in my mind. (Just like I am rebuilding so many other schemas in my life these days, post-religion, now that I think about it!)
I have thought a lot about what I want in a partner, and I've gone so far as to write it down. I have quite a list of character traits that I feel are indispensable. And yet, how many of them really are indispensable?
Here's what I carefully wrote in my journal a couple months ago:
communicative (good at listening and speaking),
worldly-wise (not naive),
good with people,
social justice minded,
To boil it all down, I need someone who 1) affirms what I like about myself, 2) makes me feel safe by providing for the areas where I am weak, and 3) assists me in accomplishing what I need to accomplish in life. I want to respect him and feel equal to him.
Could one person live up to all that? I don't think I'm being incredibly unrealistic. High standards, yes, but not impossible. However, what if I found someone who met all but one of these traits? All but two? And so on? Can love be reduced to a check list? Or what if I found someone who met all the things on my list, but had some sort of major problem that I hadn't foreseen, like "he rolls in the mud every day for fun" or something? Oh yeah, and how much should physical attractiveness play into the decision?
So that brings me back to the guy I'm currently considering. We've been communicating online /texting /phone calling for all of three weeks now, and we've met in person once. There's a lot I like about him. It's hard to say definitively at this point, but he seems to meet my requirements on the above checklist so far. That I can tell, anyway. However, the "unforeseen problem" is that he is very mild-mannered. Only after spending time with him did I realize that I have tended to prefer men who challenge me, argue with me, push me, give me an "edge" to work with. Not in a mean way, just in a direct, strong-willed, verbal-energetic way. I like someone strong to push against. (Mars squares my Sun, Saturn conjucts Pluto and squares 7th-H Mercury, and Venus squares Jupiter in my chart, astro people...) This new guy is pretty laid-back, though. I have started a few discussions on controversial topics, and while he hasn't tried to avoid conflict or tell me what he thought I wanted to hear, his style is very... well... gentle. Calm. Acquiescing. Could I live with that? Should I add "edgy" or "strong-willed" to my list, and just write off this current guy? How could I know whether this "style" issue will eventually bore me and make me miserable, or if it'll grow on me?
I'm trying to decide how "attracted" I feel to him based on the one day we spent together. There's more attraction there than there was with the 3-month guy I mentioned above. But I've definitely felt stronger feelings for other people in the past. Does the fact that I'm actually trying to decide how attracted I am indicate that the right kind of attraction isn't there? Or is my mental gymnastics routine just a byproduct of being a sensitive, thoughtful person who tends to "over-think" everything? Does a relationship need to start with a head-over-heels infatuation in order to have the passion necessary to be enduring? What if it's just a head-over-shoulders infatuation at first? Is a cautious, tentative approach good enough, or is that already a red flag that something important is missing?
I don't want to break someone's heart again unnecessarily, nor my own.
Maybe I'm worrying too much about this. Maybe I should just take it one day at a time. Something doesn't feel right, but looking back, NO relationship has ever "felt right." Ever. Even when undeniably strong attractions were there. So, like I said, I'm pretty sure my feelings are not an accurate barometer at this point.
I need advice!