This evening I had an experience worth taking time to sit here and process. I have recently decided to start my own version of a bucket list, only slightly different. This list is similar in that the name of my list rhymes with “bucket”, but is compiled of hard things which have the potential of knocking one to the ground but I overcome. This list is compiled of big things and small things. Things which are intentionally or unintentionally presented to take you down, but you end up rising above it. Resiliency occurs when you experience something potentially crushing, but you find a way to see the light in the darkest of moments and find a way out of the predicament. Tonight was one of those nights.
I will not disclose to you the name of this list, although I am certain you can figure it out. What I will tell you is the most recent experience I can now cross off the list. Tonight I prepared myself mentally and physically for a first date with a recent match on a dating sight. This is part of my life now. Not my proudest of moments, but certainly not my worst. While I never ever thought I would be single again nor imagined experiencing the dating scene, this is where life has taken me. I am learning to be more than just okay with this season. I no longer regret nor despise this space I am in and am actually learning to enjoy it. I am learning so much more about myself, my wants, my needs and what I like and what like and what I do not. So much of my life has been about putting others first that I have forgotten about my own needs and desires. I am learning better ways to communicate. I am learning to walk wholeheartedly into vulnerability and developing resilience.
So there I stood waiting in the line at Por Que No? in the Missippi District letting people behind me pass by while I waited patiently to meet my potential match. After twenty minutes or so I was left with an internal conflict: Should I stay or should I go? For whatever reason, I was stood up by a beautiful woman who I was really looking forward to meeting. I know this happens to people all of the time, but I had yet to experience it, and I think I passed the test. Without much time to process, I made the best decision I could have. I stayed and enjoyed the best tacos with one of the best guys I know. Yours truly.
This has been one of my greatest barriers to overcome on this journey of singleness, that is, learning to appreciate spending time with myself more. I have experienced a lot of firsts including going on dates with myself while my greatest fear stares across the table at me: the fear of loneliness. What was once as terrifying to me as looking into the dark nothingness of the grim reaper, has become a familiar friend who I am becoming more and more comfortable with hanging out with. This morning I told a coworker that I loved my rather crazy brain and how it works. In all of my eccentric tendencies and social awkward behaviors I have found someone who is kind, compassionate, and really enjoyable to be around. I need to continue enjoying these moments of solitude for several reasons. But there are a couple more specifically worth noting:
I need to face this fear of being alone. A couple years ago I went on a solo outdoors adventure for a few days in the Wallowa Mountains. The closest towns were quiet as the summer tourists had returned to their busy lives and left the locals to go back to the simple and laid back northeastern Oregon life. The sidewalks of the small town of Joseph were rolled up, so to speak, and the quietness was rather eerie and disturbing. This trip was one of the single most dark and lonely experiences I have ever encountered. It was a month after the finalization of my divorce and the beginning of a new season of self discovery. The adventure was simultaneously beautiful and incredibly lonely.
During my hike into the Eagle Cap wilderness, I did not see a single soul, neither human nor wild animal. I was sincerely hoping for a deep spiritual experience or a revelation from God. At least a word of hope and encouragement would have been appreciated, but all I heard was silence. What I encountered even more pervasively was the sound of silence and the pain of being utterly and completely alone. Some seek out solitude on purpose and can go several days without a single interaction with another person. I am not one of those people. But lately I have been taking myself on intentional solo dates. Somehow I feel the need to face my fear of being alone and, perhaps, come to appreciate this person who lives inside this body. Rejection, insecurity and shame have worked really hard to diminish the value of this incredible soul, who I am learning to appreciate.
Secondly, I am learning to love myself better. For years I have made the needs of others take precedence and have somehow managed to lose myself while catering to the needs of a partner. I am not sure I have ever really loved and valued myself , at least, not very well. It sounds incredibly selfish to talk about loving myself, but I am learning how important of a quality it is. I do not need another person for me to see my worth. I am also learning that I unknowingly train others how to treat me and if I want to be loved and respected, I must love and respect myself.
A wise man once said that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Talk about the perfect opportunity for a mic drop. Such a statement begs the question, How do we love others if we don’t really love ourselves? Whether it was religion, growing up in the ministry or generational trauma and insecurity, I never learned to love myself. It has always sounded to me the opposite of what we are supposed to be doing as humans: that is to live lives of selfless love for others. I often wonder how it was possible to love others if I am more worried about number one? However, I am learning the importance of re-framing this quandary into: How can I love others well if I do not first learn how to love myself?
Loving others like ourselves is perhaps one of the greatest social experiences of all times. To many, including this guy, it feels like an oxymoron and an impossible feat. I know some proud and egotistical people who love themselves too well. (While it is often the case that such behavior is a mask of their own insecurity or unmet need.) I do not want to be so self-absorbed, but I do have to detach from this self-loathing self and find the lovable person who is worthy of being loved.
Tonight I am grateful for the beautiful woman who stood me up. Not only can I cross the experience off my list and devour some ridiculously delicious tacos, but I wound up going on a date with one of the coolest guys I know.
Friends, if you find yourself in a moment of loneliness or loss, please know you are not exactly alone. Whether in a relationship or single, we all face this extremely real and often painful feeling. Love is certainly what the song refers to as a battlefield. What an opportunity we have to search inside ourselves to discover whatever it is we are learning from the experience and who we are created and destined to be. Could this moment be a blessing in disguise? I do not know your current situation, but I do know you are loved and never completely alone. I hope you will take care of yourself and come to know the amazing beautiful person you are. Nurture your soul and be easier on yourself. Trust the process. Give space to heal before giving away a piece of a broken heart. Trust me, I learned this one the hard way.
Love is certainly a risky battlefield, but it is not lost on broken hearts and dreams of whatever we imagined it to be like. Love and facing our fears are opportunities for hope to grow and resilience to be strengthened. You know the anecdote, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Yep. It is still true.