To say that I am honored to have my darling friend Sarah McKinney guest blog this week is an understatement. Sarah is one of those rare gems who comes into your life one day, unexpected, to permanently change it for the better. Sarah’s impeccable insights on life and love are unparalleled and one of the greatest gifts I have in my life is being her friend. And now, YOU get a taste of Sarah’s raw wisdom and soulful spirit. Sarah’s personal poetry site is Party Girl Poetry. She is a social entrepeneur, launching an Indiegogo campaign for her start-up AMP on September 4th, and is just an all around good time. Today she writes from the lens of a dater…
When discussing my nearly two-year hiatus from dating recently with a close friend I found myself saying, “I’m so out of practice. I just need to get good at dating.” She chimed in with, “You don’t need to get good at dating. You need to get good at being yourself, regardless of the company you keep.” For a girl who had spent pretty much her entire life trying to read other people, figure out what I thought they wanted and then act accordingly, this simple statement struck me as profound.
Hell, I’d even chosen a career (in market research) focused on trying to interpret what other people said. No, not what they said. What was beneath what they said, so I could extract insights that could be used to manipulate them to buy things. I was compensated to figure out the emotions of others! And this, in turn – I believe now – gave me a false sense of confidence when it came to understanding my own emotional landscape. Ask me what I think? No problem. Ask me how I feel? Fuck off. Or, more accurately, order me another glass of wine.
It’s impossible for me to separate the two in looking back at my dating, and drinking, history. Alcohol was a way for me to escape the nervousness I felt around men, and transform into a more confident, flirtatious and sexy version of myself. Having some wine or a few beers before a phone call, party or date became my solution throughout my 20’s, and the attention I received became validation that I was, contrary to what I feared, desirable. Sure, there were some relatively healthy and loving relationships mixed in there. But, generally speaking, this dependence on external substances and people eventually left me feeling bankrupt. My old tricks weren’t working anymore.
At thirty-three I made the decision to stop drinking. It didn’t end with a bang, but instead was a slow petering out where it became increasingly clear to me that my mostly weekend partying was a problem. I was in graduate school getting an MBA in sustainable management at the time – my last ditch effort to avoid changing myself was, you guessed it, no less than changing the world. Studying sustainability made it impossible for me to avoid confronting my own hypocrisy. And putting down that last drink has been the best thing I’ve ever done. Go figure, the girl who was always suspect of people who claimed being “High on life!” is now one of them.
But dating sober was something I’d largely avoided, until recently. The most important thing for me so far has been learning how to say “No,” “No thanks,” “I’m not interested,” or any variation on this message. In doing this, which is an imperfect practice but is getting easier, I was confronted with the reality that I completely avoided this important step in dating that most people – likely in their teens – go through. Instead of saying no I would often just drink more, make-out with you, and then resent you for my own discomfort at having done something I regretted, and avoid ever talking to you again. Very mature, I know.
Part of me does feel intensely embarrassed about the fact I’m just now, at thirty-six, learning how to draw appropriate boundaries, express my needs, and attempt emotional intimacy with men. But a bigger part of me is grateful – grateful that I get to keep showing up and working through my fears, grateful that I’m growing, and grateful that I’m learning to be good at being myself, regardless of the company I keep. A simple concept, but an important one for me to hold onto as I keep finding the strength within myself to say “No,” until I make it to “Yes.”