“Dating is like crossing the monkey bars, don’t let go of one until you have grasp on another.” I was told this by another prepubescent boy in 5th grade. It made sense to me. I had just been dumped by Sharla and was feeling crushed. We had “gone out” for almost 3 days, a record in my short dating career. We were meant to be forever, or so said the scrawlings on my notebook. And when I tallied the letters in our names as they added up to the letters in True Love, it was supposed to be inevitable we would be together. Now three days later, I was picking up the broken pieces of my heart.
I was never all that good at dating. I was a bit chubby, had low self esteem, and didn’t like all the things the jocks (who seemed to have all the girls attention) liked. I repeated the “Sharla cycle” frequently through my adolescence. I rarely, if ever, dumped someone, I was always the dumpie. That isn’t meant to be a pity thing, looking back, I would have dumped me too. I was needy and fake. I tried to be whatever the girl seemed to want. I was in love instantly. However, I was so worried about being dumped, I couldn’t talk to them. It is tough to “be going out” and never say hello. I had a chance in 6th grade. In a moment of incredible courage, I asked Kristi to the dance. She was new at the school and was (and still is) one of the most beautiful people I knew. We got to the dance and the macho guys met her and I felt about 2 inches tall. I slunk away.
I continued this trend into college. I started to date and hold back my feelings, or decided beer seemed to be the ticket. It seemed to work. I fell in love still. I got hurt. But I just ignored the feeling or drank them away. I didn’t seem to be able to perfect the aloof. I couldn’t be totally detached. I would want to be, even pretend to be, but it still seemed to result in pain. I used to wish I could just be the Fonz, and drift from woman to woman. But I would get over attached and needy. I believed the lie of someone completing me or needing someone else. So, I kept loosing more of myself and feeling more and more empty and panicky with lost loves. My 5th grade playground profit echoed in my head. I started to serial date. It was rare that I was without someone. I never allowed for healing. I never allowed for growth. I didn’t break up with dates, I just sabotaged the relationship or became less attentive until they broke up with me. It allowed me to not have to be honest and to play the victim role and feel sorry for myself. It was the beginning of my self victimization role play.
In medical school, I met a wonderful woman. I still faked who I was and tried to be what she wanted. I changed my religion, I didn’t have sex with her, I drank less, and changed my friends. I even stopped being so judgmental, well I stopped talking about it out loud. I would marry her. A few days before I proposed, I tried to flirt with my resident. I told myself that if she wanted to date me then it was God telling me this wasn’t the right move for me. She didn’t and so I asked to be married. I was still in the mode of not letting go of the cold steel bar and kept flirting with other women. I even asked one to a movie. I was still wearing my wedding ring when we went out. She figured it out and ended the date early. I had a one night stand in our first year of marriage. I told my wife about it, half thinking and hoping she would ask for a divorce. She didn’t and we did counseling once or twice. I recommitted to the relationship and flirted continuously with other women, explaining that I was just outgoing and nice. I see now it was “coat checking” the next Monkey Bar, just in case. I am disappointed that was me at the time. I have forgiven myself for the craving for intimacy. I wanted it, feared it, and didn’t know how to do it or get it.
As the need resurfaced when I stopped hiding behind alcohol, I was more frustrated at not knowing how to do it. I felt desperate and more lonely than I had ever felt before. I felt lonely and isolated in my marriage even when we were right next to each other. I tried to fix it. I remember the day that my ex wife told me that she didn’t feel intimate to me anymore. We had just returned from a marriage retreat weekend. In hindsight, I panicked like I had done as a 5th grader. I went into full “Sharla mode”. She repeated it a few years later and I reacted by trying to find another monkey bar. It was weak and panicky. I know it was dishonest and creepy. I wish I could take it back, but I cant. All I can do is tell that scared, lonely boy, “Thank You for doing the best you could do.” I tell mid-schooler, “You are good enough and thank you for doing the best you could do.” I tell me as a high schooler and a college student, “Thank you for doing the best you could do with the tools and knowledge you had.” I tell myself that I did the best I could do, I made mistakes and caused pain. But I have addressed myself honestly and compassionately. I accept me. I am intimate with myself. I love me right where I am, but too much to leave me here.
I will learn. I will grow. I will accept. I will communicate I will love. I will be accepted. I will be loved.