Could that lack of emotional intimacy be a consequence of our own fears? If real and raw is what we crave, it’s time to melt the walls that are keeping us from what we say we want.
About a year after my divorce from a nine-year marriage, I made my foray into online dating. “Must be emotionally available,” I stated in my profile. I was tired of not having the same level of emotional intimacy with my romantic partners as what I’ve come to cherish with close friends and family.
At the time, it was easy to lament the plethora of emotionally unavailable men who had no interest in meeting me in the deep end of life. Now, two years later, I realize I’m the one who wasn’t setting myself up for emotional intimacy in the first place.
Break the Rules
Up until now, I’ve been leading with a toned-down version of myself in the dating world. All the quirks that led to intimacy in my friendships—my tendency to dive into topics that make most people squirm, my hippie leanings, and my untraditional approach to parenting—are the things I kept under wraps until I felt it was safe to be my whole self around a man. Until then, I put my heart on ice and followed the subconscious, unwritten rules of the dating game as I understood them:
- Don’t be in a hurry for commitment.
- Don’t be needy.
- Try not to cry so much.
- Stop being so sensitive.
- Pretend to not be bothered by wandering eyes.
- Laugh off demeaning jokes and insensitive comments.
- Look good, and for god’s sake, don’t wear the purple tie-dye pants in public.
And then I’d wonder why I was having emotional intimacy issues.
I’m finally realizing that going deep in love requires showing the real me from the get-go. As my therapist says, think “in-to-me-see” when it comes to intimacy.
It can be challenging enough to allow myself to be seen on a physical level—stretch marks, cellulite, and all. Revealing the whole me—character flaws, bad habits, and fears—can be even harder. But I’m not doing myself any favors by hiding. Inevitably, we all know that my metaphorical Spanx are coming off at some point.
I’m starting to learn that leading with the whole, messy me is my way forward to a healthy romantic relationship. Case in point: two years ago I had the fleeting thought that I’d better find someone while I’m still 35. In the online dating arena, that seems to be a lot of men’s age cut off criteria. But if you flip that concept around, me being over 35 should help weed out the men who view the difference between 35 and 36 as a deal breaker. They probably wouldn’t be as good of a match for me anyways, and neither would anyone else who views one of my “flaws” as unacceptable.
Rejection is Protection
Rejection sucks, especially after I’ve had the courage to put myself out there. But by relaxing into my whole self instead of leading with my toned-down representative, I’m saving myself the heartache of getting hooked into someone who would never work out in the long run. And I’m setting myself up to see and be seen in the context of real intimacy.
I’ve been so focused on what makes me acceptable and desirable as a romantic partner that I’ve glossed over who I am and how I want to live—and who might jive with that. As scary as it is, it’s time to let go and be all of me. Once I can master that, if there’s still an intimacy problem, it’s not me. It’s you.
What parts of yourself have you been keeping under wraps? Has that helped or hindered your progress towards emotional intimacy in life?