Sometimes really crappy things happen in life. Sometimes life is general can feel like the crap parts are not going to end. Sometimes things happen, and the grief of it takes much longer than the event that started it to move forward.
However, sometimes what helps is to move forward and realise that you are better off, that you can survive the pain, and that there are better things ahead than behind you. It is really easy for those who care about you to worry about you for far longer than you feel they need to. It is really easy to feel as if in a way you should be grieving longer, or need to justify why you aren’t, or even that they will judge you for being done with grief earlier than expected.
This is me saying that I decided to start moving into my future, reminding myself who I am, who I wanted to be, and part of that, strangely, was to start dating. Being unexpectedly single by the end of 2018 meant I went through a fairly radical set of mental changes. I had been told almost two years before that I deserved to be loved, and honestly I didn’t believe it. I had sat with a friend six months before my separation who had even described love in this beautiful, touching way, and internally wondered if I even believed that could exist in reality. I was twisted and bitter and feeling so unbelievably alone. So on a final spur of fierce freedom I signed up to dating.
When I say dating I don’t mean that I believed I needed someone else to complete me, or that I needed some random one night stand, or throwing myself into the idea of some relationship, or even expecting one. I signed up to a dating app at first to remind myself that decent people existed, that I could actually talk to people, that my past didn’t define me. Conversations with strangers bring a huge amount of freedom: you can set the pace and share what you want to. Obviously that means that there needs to be a level of safety and not-so-common-sense, but it can be so freeing to be considered just an interesting person, not a single mum, not a part-time administrator, not a divorcé with tricky questions around life.
Now believe me when I say I am more than aware of how some people will see this.
Too soon? I am pretty sure I am the only one who gets to say when I am ready.
Not OK for a mum? No-one will be meeting my kids until pretty much every other important person in my life has. I’m not stupid.
Still married! Shouldn’t you be working on it? Separated with papers signed. I tried for 7 years.
Christians shouldn’t date? I’m happy to say I’ve move past 90/00s flawed theology.
Done with that? Good.
Honestly, excluding the obvious and occasional weirdos, it has all been a strangely healing process; when you start to talk to people who already share things in common, you get the opportunity to discuss some of what brought you to your current location. It can be a release to know that you can be honest without it negatively effecting those who are closer to you, who might have been partially involved, or who you might just want to protect from the years-long events that has happened to you.
The first date I went on in a decade was the best choice I could’ve made but for an unusual reason. It was a type of bonus on my journey of self discovery that I gained one great friend; someone who has been supportive and kind and I would never have met otherwise. Did our date come to anything? No, it didn’t. Except that I am more myself after meeting this person than I was before. Talking about politics, religion, cultures, art, movies, families, etc, will do that; sharing vulnerabilities and building each other up will do that. I learnt that I do not need to put up with toxic people in my life because there are so many great people in the world your life would be pretty full if you decided to keep only them. I gained a kind of big brother/best friend in an unlikely place and I am stupidly grateful for him as he helped heal a lot of insecurities I was holding onto. He was also a wonderful voice of support when I was struggling with the girls or my own internal mental breakdown. He was a blessing in disguise.
I also went on dates that didn’t result in a super close friend, but wasn’t going to be anything else either. That was OK. I have spoken to people I found interesting but didn’t want to meet in person. I have decided extremely quickly not to respond to messages that were not worth any kind of effort. I may also have met someone I very much do want to get to know better but that’s a whole different story.
A lot of it was about my own level of self-worth. Learning to speak again. Learning you have something to offer the world. Learning that people might actually want to get to know you. Learning that whoever might have put you down in the past is just one voice, and there are plenty of others who will help you up again and fight your corner. Learning that you can be happy, whilst single, dating, in a relationship, just because you are gradually feeling more yourself.
Dating apps are no longer on my phone, and I’m good with escaping the cattle-market-like system for a number of reasons. What I can say is that if you have been wondering if I’m OK, I am. I am happy. Life is hard sometimes but I have and will continue to survive… more than that: I will thrive.