I feel irrevocably split between two extremes. One being a “fu&k everything” attitude that makes me feel impenetrable to the sharp jaws of modern dating, the second being the genuine and loving person, who wears her heart on her sleeve and feels rejection deeply. The stark reality of dating is that both extremes coexist in a perpetual cycle – at least for me they do. I am always holding two flags: red and white.
In my younger years I had some very unrealistic life expectations. Naïve, 18–year- old me always thought I’d marry the first man I dated. Happily ever after. I focused (or so I thought) on making a wise first choice. It so happened I did marry the first man I dated…but a happily ever after, it was not. If only I had access to the red flag then. I rode in waving the white flag of vulnerability, rose-colored glasses and trust. Without realizing it, I had galloped straight onto a battlefield and was waging war within a toxic partnership.
After it ended, buried in my back pocket I found the red flag I never knew I had. It holds the power to facilitate informed and rational decisions. Perhaps I got a little “red flag happy.” While understandable, I tended to build a wall around me and balked at any sign of incompatibility. Seriously. I’d swipe left on a man because I didn’t like his sweater.
Then it happened –the inevitable – the person that would coax me to revisit the white flag again.
The walls began to crumble, almost as quickly as they were built. And while I wasn’t yet completely vulnerable, I was marching toward that eventuality at light speed. I gave my all and allowed my heart to live upon my sleeve once again. And for a short while, it was good. I lived in a realm of comfort, resting safely in a monogamous pairing.
We lived in different cities. He had kids. Our jobs were demanding and busy. I was already spending too much cash on train tickets. All were reasons to wave the red flag and none of it mattered until:
Just before Christmas holidays, we broke up via text.
I had walked this road before – the embittered walk of heartbreak. I cooled myself on the outside while breaking within. There’s no way around it: rejection sucks. He wasn’t falling in love with me. He “liked” me but the feelings weren’t growing. I spent a lot of my holiday drunk and in a foul mood. And when alone I had the space for the tears I didn’t want to display.
In a series of conversations with my roommate, I had reconciled that my era of vulnerability was over. The white flag was scheduled for destruction. My heart would not be given so easily anymore. And I would never pour myself into new relationships. I would be strong.
And I was given a firm, verbal slap from my friend.
Part of what makes me a beautiful person is being able to pour myself into another. Vulnerability and the ability to fall in love is part of what makes me lovable. Feeling love for another person is never a weakness. She told me not to change who I am but to embrace my own, unique strength. In the midst of my whirlwind of hurt, I had found solace in this. And while it will take time and practice, perhaps I can turn a bit of my loving nature upon myself.
The red flag is still in hand, as there are plenty of bad sweaters on Tinder. But the white is firmly clasped in the other. The truth is that I still want life partnership. I still want to love and be loved. Every so often, I will have to wave the white flag and let someone in the fortress. While dating and relationships offer infinite complications, there is simplicity to letting your guard down – just a little. Perhaps Tennyson said it best (cliché warning!):
“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”