Dating, Emotional Availability, and the Wait

Being sick is exhausting, not just physically but emotionally as well. Add to that mixture the stress of waiting to find out what is going on with your body and let’s just say it pretty drastically shrinks your capacity for… well, everything. At least, it did mine.

When I first got sick, I was seeing someone. A little while after we stopped seeing each other, I met someone else, who eventually broke things off in large part because they could not handle my illness- which is probably mostly fair and for the best, but will never not feel like an extra crappy reason to be dumped. Then I didn’t date for a little while, figuring it would be better to focus on my illness and finding out what was wrong and getting better and stuff.

Eventually, though, that didn’t feel better at all. It just started to feel like my illness was holding me hostage. My entire life was on hold, and I hated it! So I ventured back into dating, and I noticed this pattern that I had developed of being attracted to people who could be categorized as “emotionally unavailable” for one reason or another. Some were active alcoholics of the emotionally unreliable sort. Some were recently out of long term relationships. Some were just inexplicably aloof. The running theme, though, was that these people were not as openly jazzed about me as I felt about them, and I couldn’t understand why I kept winding up in the same predicament over and over again. In hindsight, though, it makes sense.

I was attracted to emotionally unavailable people because my own emotional capacity was so very limited that they felt less overwhelming to me. Truth be told, they mostly still do. The idea of having to show up for someone else at the level expected of a person who isn’t sick terrifies me. The idea of being needed, or of letting myself lean on someone who might not turn out to be up for everything that encompasses dating me, or of negotiating a whole new set of boundaries and likes and dislikes with somebody who really, really likes me is enough to induce a panic attack.

On the flipside, what is hardest about those emotionally unavailable folks is that dating them ends up feeling way too similar to waiting for a diagnosis.

I have a pretty clear idea of what I need out of a romantic relationship. It’s not unreasonable. I need monogamy, I need honestly, I need attention, I need space. I need to be able to fight well with the person, I need mutual kindness and I need sex that’s worth sticking around for. None of these has to be mind-blowing or amazing. If I happen to meet someone who can give me these things and who I want to return them for, if we only do one or two of them amazingly or mind-blowingly well, I will feel like a very lucky gal. I’m blessed (cursed?) with the gift of assertiveness, so I’m able to be pretty up front about all of this with folks I start to see.

What happens with the emotionally unavailable crowd, though, is that this starts to feel like submitting a request to see a specialist. First, I have to wait for the initial appointment. Does my condition qualify as something that falls within their purview? Do they find me attractive, interesting and pleasant enough to want to see and keep seeing? Yes? Okay, first hurdle overcome. Next come the lab tests, which presumably measure my awesomeness against either other people’s awesomeness or against Other Fun Stuff (we’ll call that OFS). By the time I’m calling to ask for the results (is this a go? Do you want to do this relationship thing?), “I don’t know” is not really an acceptable answer, because I have been hearing “I don’t know” for YEARS now, and I literally cannot stand having one more area of my life where I don’t have some clearly defined next course of action. If my awesomeness doesn’t clearly, CLEARLY measure up against other people’s awesomeness or OFS, I need to be moving along. Not only do I not have the time or energy for someone who feels lukewarm about me, but “meh” basically feels like yet another “beats me!” Wrap that in a package that gets its feelings hurt about not being able to keep me around in their back pocket or on a shelf for a rainy day, and I might also have my sanity questioned in a way that feels eerily similar to being at the doctor’s office when your doctor doesn’t know what is wrong with you.

So… emotionally available folks may be overwhelming, but emotionally unavailable folks don’t work out so well either.

For the past while, even though I have a diagnosis now, I’ve been on a hiatus from dating. It feels good. I have begun to venture into new friendships and light crushes here and there. Those feel like the right speed for my body and my mind now. I’m still not letting my illness hold me hostage- I’m just pacing myself, and along the way I’m on the lookout for new folks to invite into my life who have some emotional availability, but even more importantly, emotional awareness. Folks who, for example, are able to not take it personally when I need to reschedule or cancel plans.

Maybe eventually I’ll wind up with someone I like who likes me back, who doesn’t overwhelm me AND who can tell the difference between “I’m naked because you’re here” and “I’m naked because my clothing feels like it is crushing my bones, please don’t touch me.” THAT, my friends, would be pretty dreamy. If it happens, I promise I’ll write more about it.

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