After a month of researching and one very solid, inspirational story from a trustworthy friend, I downloaded [insert Popular Trash Dating App]* in a startlingly anticlimactic 12 seconds. Immediately I was inundated with profiles and I could have sworn I heard a voice say, “Your future is just a swipe away!” The number of men within a five-mile radius of my location was both astounding and exciting. However, the thrill of a fresh start with new faces didn’t chase away the fear that I could be opening myself to re-living painful scenarios from my past.
Several months prior to these 12 seconds, I first began to isolate the moments of my experience on which I hung my beliefs about men. I sat on my bed — very still, very quietly, sifting through memories that made me want to bolt at the sight of a man. The more I remembered, the more my doubts came into focus.
I didn’t know if men could be safe, because Adam* was my friend and that didn’t stop him from putting me in a chokehold, flicking a lighter on and off in front of my face. His expression after the event revealed that he, too, was surprised at the violence within him. I had wondered if every man had this in him, a rage he could not suppress by any manner of will.
I didn’t know if men could be my friends, because Blake* and I agreed to platonic boundaries before he confessed he needed to redraw the lines. He gave me excessive space in his life without asking whether I wanted to occupy it — and got upset at times when I kept to myself. Later, his humble apology paired with new, clarified boundaries paved a pathway to a healthy perspective, but his initial mistake of accidentally oversharing space in his life made me wonder if men had the capacity to mean what they said. Could I truly trust them to act like we are “just friends”?
I didn’t know if men could put others first, because Chad* and Dean* and Eddy* each wanted something from me, using intimate language to draw forth what they thought might anchor any sense of restlessness — asking me to pause my humanity so I could hold them down. And how could I say that someone else’s emotional needs were less important than mine? How could I look after the wounded and broken if I left someone hanging after they asked for help? After all, they only wanted to get better and I liked being needed. I chalked up my weariness to personal weakness, but I couldn’t help feeling used.
I didn’t know if romance could be real, living with two young married couples who sometimes outwardly expressed more tension than love in the common spaces of our apartment. Watching them made me feel the love I felt promised from a young age was destroyed. It was as if I had grown up eyeing a family heirloom of delicate porcelain, believing it would be passed down to me in due time. It felt good to look at and wonder where I might put it in my own home one day. Then, a friend came to visit and picked it up to observe the intricate design more closely. As my friend replaced the porcelain back on the shelf, it began to tilt and wobble. The heirloom collided with the sterile tile floor, and I lost sense of everything within and without. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I stood staring at my shattered inheritance, my mind reeling at the potential aftereffects of this unfulfilled promise. Today I am glad to have had my previous expectations shattered so I could make room for something a little less fragile, but for a time, I felt my future held little promise if this one item was irreparably broken.
I didn’t know how to handle the things I didn’t know, and I grappled for a solution that would keep me clear of those who meant to harm me and ideas meant to mislead me. There had to be a line I could draw which malintent could not cross, relieving me of as much misery as possible. The most logical thing to do seemed apparent: cut men and romance out of my life. Experience had taught me men were selfish, dishonest, and erratically hostile. And if romance was a lie, I needed to expel the notion, STAT. Any form of media containing a whiff of romance was ousted from my diet. Movies, tv, social media, music.
Of course, I couldn’t cut men totally out of my life yet — they made up a third of my roommates. But I formed a pact with myself that I would be as done with all men as I could be the moment I moved out.
Living with men while trying not to share space with men proved comically difficult in ways I cannot describe here. After a few months attempting to avoid both men and the idea of romance, I was left partly feeling like I had undergone a healthy detox, and partly that the bans I had in place hadn’t improved my fortitude in self-sufficiency or being singularly female-friendly.
Running away from my fears had not made me braver. Hating unkindness had not made me kinder. Recalling lies had not reminded me of the truth.
My retreat from men increased my distrust of men in every space, as opposed to feeling safer at every juncture. My rejection of romance increased my bitterness over deception, instead of dumping lies and being freed to live in the truth of reality. My attempts to be strong left me riddled with tumorous beliefs that threatened to choke out the better parts of who I am, rapidly growing until I was almost incapacitated by spite.
I wanted to reclaim who I was, which meant surgery. An accurate diagnosis required me to name the symptoms, continually naming and naming as I pressed deeper into the wound until I could finally name the root cause. As a lover of lists, I clutched my pen and lowered it to the wide-ruled page, steadying myself to mark the first of many bullet points before giving myself over to the process of emotional upheaval in painstaking detail.
Several lists later, I decided I was going to brave the modern dating world to face multiple fears at once. The plan seemed simple enough. My main fears: that I couldn’t trust men or trust the idea of romance. So I told myself that if I only 1) started by talking to men and 2) tried to make myself available to go on a date, I had made some major progress. After 12 seconds, two weeks, a few dates, and a decent helping of grace, I felt myself letting go of some of my habitual risk calculation I previously leaned on for safety.** I also realized that I lied to myself on multiple levels.
Calling my fear “risk calculation” made the presence of fear feel more productive, and I alone was responsible for the dangerous misnomer.
Since then, I’ve been on a journey of self-reflection, intentional friendship, and deliberate hope.
However, this isn’t a story that ends with my finding someone who is exceedingly patient with my willfulness and introversion, who partners with me so that we are mutually empowering to one another, and loves to share a table in a coffee shop as we independently and productively kick ass. I’m single, and I still have fears.
I still don’t know what men could be, but I’m trying to leave space to let them show me.
*All names within this post (including apps and people) have been changed.
** I do not encourage anyone to abandon reason for the sake of trusting all people at all times. Red flags are real. Some people truly pose a threat to your mental, emotional, spiritual, and/or physical well being — and I do encourage everyone to exercise reason to make productive, proactive decisions.