Dating braver: claiming the space to be me

your light

We had only one date.

I was early. He was right on time. I got up from the table when I heard him walk into the restaurant and announce he was meeting someone, stepped into the entrance and smiled. And though we greeted each other warmly, turning an awkward half-handshake into a hug, I felt the drop. The small, deflated swoosh of breath, the curling smoke of  hope.

We had been writing to each other for more than a month, long, intrigued and curious messages on the site where he first reached out. Those evolved into even longer emails, rich with stories and insights, thoughtful questions and lighthearted humor. He liked this form of communication, the slow, deliberate attention it required. I liked that he was well-traveled and had an interest in volunteer and service work, though most of his traipsing across the world was tied to his career. My own devotion to my children at Save Africa Orphanage in Tanzania, where I’d spent time over the summer, was what first prompted him to write, as he had visited the country the year before, and was about to embark on a three-week journey to Africa. He wrote to me, sometimes daily, while he was gone.

And over weeks, despite the fact that he was older than I was comfortable with, separated not divorced and lived a little farther than I was willing to drive, I gave myself over to possibility. To its slow unfolding with every tale traded, every line that stitched for me his character, his values, the threads we both might weave.

When we met, I wanted to be excited, feel my misgivings soften in the spool of some unnameable more. Over the busy holiday season, we stayed in touch, fell a little deeper into knowing each other. And yet inside I knew I was turning away, growing tepid even as I looked for confirmation otherwise: in the conversations where friends shared their own stories of suddenly ignited lukewarm beginnings, in the memory of a giddy first love born of unexpected friendship, in every debate where I questioned the absence of a spark. Wondered if it were my own folly to wait for a flash of something as capable of treachery as intoxicating promise.

I chided myself for being shallow, captious. For dismissing the shape of the sustainable for a fleeting, guiding wind. I decided to make three dates my measure, even as I postponed a second, cautioned myself against being misleading.

And then I sat before a friend who invited me to notice the following: the way my body slumped when I talked about him, the energetic caving in, how my voice fell, sometimes cast its weight through barely moving lips.

It wasn’t that I wanted a flare of passion, needed some current to jolt me into the assurance of an immediate, physical chemistry. What had been missing was my own body awareness, the knowing that steers me to so many decisions in my life — that spark, not of a physical attraction, but of joy. Of being with its slow, steady hum or bold, buzzing insistence. Of letting it carry me, my very own river of truth.

Yet somehow I was about to convince myself I would be mistaken to let this go. I was willing to make it fit where there wasn’t room, carve out space in a life I realized was so big, so full, so wonderfully just right I didn’t even want a relationship.

All my waffling and reluctance had never been about him but about trying to make myself OK with what wasn’t true for me.

I am happily single. I have been for four years, despite the occasional date, the three months I spent with a man who had me grinning and bouncing around alone in my bed — a thick, whole-bodied joy — when I awoke the morning after we first met.

All, save one of these men, I’ve met online. A place I keep returning to, though it exhausts and frustrates me, though with every click and scroll I know it’s not where I’m meant to be.

But sometimes I question being alone for so long. Sometimes I watch a movie or read a book and convince myself that a momentary longing is a sign of wanting more. When friends ask if I’m dating anyone, when my mom says she just wants to know I’ll be taken care of after she’s gone, when love and romance are constantly portrayed as the height of fulfillment, I abandon myself. Think, “Maybe it’s time.” “I guess I should.” “Wouldn’t it be nice…”

And when I meet a man who, obviously drawn to me, lifts me up with his words, I let my head get turned, sometimes forget my light.

Not anymore. I’ve decided to commit to dating braver, honoring my knowing that where I am is enough.

Dating braver means holding the gift of my aloneness, aware that being alone and being lonely are two very different things.

It means listening when loneliness does strike and letting its wisdom move through me rather than capitulate to passing impulse or expectations that have nothing to do with my own.

Dating braver is celebrating my life and all that makes it rich and beautiful, knowing a worthy partner will complement that fullness rather than fill a void.

It is romancing and loving myself because who or what does show up in my life will ultimately reflect the way I value myself.

It means trusting the meantime and the voice that whispers to me of other plans, other spaces, other dreams to fulfill.

It is tuning in beyond the emotions that skate the surface of any encounter to settle into the body that breathes every answer I need.

Dating braver is moving from my intuition, engaging with my desires and holding my place of belonging for the one who won’t only bask in my light. He, too, will lift me with his radiance. He’ll be his own bright sun.