The heartbreak that followed a particularly difficult breakup turned me into a shell of a person for a year and a half. Then, when I decided I had healed enough to get back onto the dating scene, I made a pact with myself to never be as vulnerable as I’d been with my ex. In my eyes, the reason I hadn’t felt joy for the last 18 months was because I’d let him occupy such a large part of my heart.
While this was partially true, I now know that my emptiness was mostly a product of my poor relationship with myself. I’d struggled with my own demons (perfectionism, eating disorders, depression and anxiety) for many years, which caused me to find self-worth externally through romantic relationships.
For the three years my ex and I were together, I’d invested all of my self into “us,” letting my own dreams and friendships fall by the wayside.
But at that time, I couldn’t recognize my bad habits, and I was convinced my broken heart was the result of my vulnerability. The reason I was crushed was because I’d needed and depended on someone else. Because I’d imagined a future together. Because I’d loved.
So while I dated aggressively for the next few years — initially as a distraction and ultimately because I genuinely enjoyed it — I was a different version of myself. I was determined to be the opposite of “needy” and “emotional.” I swung to the other end of the pendulum, and I didn’t let anyone get past the first layer. I would have great first, second, even third dates. But then I would shut down any deeper connection.
I rarely spent the night. I frequently chose my girlfriends over whomever I was dating at the time. I thought my cool, unemotional persona would ensure I was never hurt again. In my mind, the less I was needy, the more I was attractive.
Unknowingly, I was inadvertently making myself unattractive and sabotaging any possibility for connection. Here’s why:
1. It’s in showing our imperfections that connection occurs.
Think of your closest friendships — the ones full of intimacy, caring and understanding. Chances are, you've revealed your full, imperfect self to these friends. Why? Because when we can show off our perceived flaws, our imperfections, and our shameful parts, and still feel accepted, that’s unconditional love. Sharing our true selves creates a safe, deep connection.
Alternatively, when we wear a veneer and attempt to come across as perfect, we sabotage any potential for intimacy. In the words of psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson, “In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us.”
2. Humans need, but we also need to feel needed
Everyone has needs, and we all like to feel needed, especially in romantic relationships. We don’t want our partners to be whole and complete without us. We want them to tell us that they need us, because doing so is a sign of secure attachment, trust, and intimacy.
3. Only while being ourselves can we actually experience the moment
When we’re focused on how we’re perceived by others, we can’t live mindfully in the present (where the joy happens!). We’re so busy observing ourselves that we can’t be awake to or fully participate in life. The romantic and electrifying moments we cherish while falling in love are contaminated by “How am I coming across? What should I say? How do I look?” thoughts.
Along my journey, I realized that needing, exposing my true self, and remaining vulnerable are prerequisites to deep connection, and they are the qualities that make us attractive to others. So I finally breathed through the anxiety and stayed the night, told my truth, met the family. And then I fell in love again.
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