invisible ink – part one

My Story

deskSo this dating lark. It’s been a strange few months; a bit of a learning curve for me. A re-learning about how social etiquette works and the expectations of others. And my own responses to some not so nice experiences.

I’ve had the sad and somewhat heart-jarring privilege of being ‘ghosted’ three times in the past year. Most recently by someone that by all accounts, is a well-rounded, empathic, thoughtful man, with a vast amount of challenging and interesting life experience and even counselling qualifications. So. You would have thought that between us we could have had a fairly honest conversation. And because it’s me, a light-hearted one. About the end being nigh.

It’s pretty simple. “He’s just not that into you…”
Even with the weight of the world, the baggage of previous lives, or the inability to pay attention to one person for more than a week at a time – there is still a need for a modicum of respect to be extended.
Don’t get me wrong. I now understand my assumption that men in their 40s have developed a little compassion, is utterly incorrect. First lesson learned. That by offering my humour, company, friendship, intimacy, and eventually sharing my bed, this does not in any way guarantee I will be treated with kindness at the supposed demise of the dating dance.
I do however realise that this behaviour links closely to a guy’s emotional maturity and communications skills (or lack thereof).  Which is why the last one is still a surprise. But maybe I read that wrong too. His behaviour fits with the pattern of the others: All in, all in, all in, nothing.  I also know, that I am expected just to go away. Second lesson learned.
“He’s just not that into you…”
So how do I feel when this happens to me?
The first time it happened, earlier this year, I wasn’t engaged enough to really take it personally. Before him, I had not dated anyone long-term for three years and spent that time healing, being healthy, enjoying my own company and learning that I was going to be more than ok.  I had worked through feelings of shame absorbed from a previous relationship, realised I was able to engage in a new one with happy self-awareness and had regained my sexual confidence; something almost destroyed by accepting someone else’s judgement and limited referencing.
So, I figured his ‘ghosting’ was just one guy not being mature enough to cope with ending the casual thing we had created. I didn’t feel anything romantically for him, so when he didn’t have the care or skill to attempt a conversation about not seeing me again, it didn’t really matter. And while I thought he was a fine kinda guy – rough and ready, in the moment and enthusiastic, fun in a bawdy, carefree way – I knew we didn’t have the connection that would progress into anything more than weekend drinking buddies. I didn’t miss him particularly, and I didn’t guess at the time it was an epidemic.
And so I continued dating. Embarked on a fun and interesting list of first dates. Meeting new people, making them laugh, helping them relax and enjoy a no-pressure evening. I never progressed to a third date, rarely wanted a second, though was always asked for one. So this helped my confidence. I didn’t expect to find ‘love’ nor indeed more than a fun night and maybe someone to join me on the adventures I had planned for the year. And I never ghosted. I always had the conversation. It isn’t easy, but it is the responsible and natural requirement of dating. Especially if the other person may be more invested. There’s an implied duty of care, surely? It’s a scary and anxiety-ridden experience for some. This dating thing. And I truly believe we should do our very best to make it as harmless and scar-less as possible for each other. And hell, it’s just basic manners, people.
Then my second ghosting. This one still brings a sadness. In cushions of dull ache. Because I liked him. Really liked him. Thought there was the chance at something very cool for both of us, and he said he felt the same. Not serious in a way that would forge our story in steel for generations to re-tell, but heightened. Connected. Good. And also a bit dark. Exciting. And charged. Made me feel ok to embrace my free-spirited independence. Tapped into my need for adventure and movement. He was wily-clever, and street-smart. Worshipped by some, adored by all. The social centre of a large world; fun-time guy, with a contagious laugh. And a body I wanted to climb all over, pay homage to. Someone who was teaching me things and finding connection in things I already knew. He was relaxed enough to take the piss and receive it. I could have fallen in love with this one. Maybe I did? It was only a brief thing. But they felt like months that could easily lead into a year of adventure before we knew how the time had sped by. Days that held laughter and flirting and sparking with each other. He was all in, all in, all in, nothing.
Nothing. Nada. Off-radar. And I was left confused. Worried. For him mostly. It never crossed my mind I would be considered so disposable that he could drop out without a glimmer of guilt or concern.
“He’s just not that into you…”
So how do I feel when this happens to me?
Am I ugly? Was I not fun enough? Do I not drink enough? Was I too old? Does my wonky smile annoy? My big hair repel? Is my accent too harsh? My butt too saggy? Was I too stupid not to understand? Too intense? Not engaging enough? Not ‘feminine’ enough?
Am I so dislikable, I’m dismissed without a look backwards?
What’s wrong with me?
He did come back. On the proviso he would talk to me; tell me where he was at. Never just disappear again. And though hesitant and wary, our faces reflected intrigue at the possibilities. Taking it steady, slowing it down, setting a pace he was comfortable with – it had been his pace the first time, but I was too happy to point this out. He promised care and respect and more fun. Said he knew he needed to “step up his game…” and we grinned at each other across our tapas. Dates, calls, kisses.
Then see ya. Well, not even a see ya. More than a week of radio silence. Then the ‘we aren’t looking for the same thing’ spiel. And I’m grateful I received that at least. By text. Of course. I didn’t agree. Still don’t. But this beautiful creature with the quick smile and hands that fitted mine perfectly, at least offered a tiny but honest apology for going blank. Made the missing of him a little easier. The grieving less acute. I watch from a distance now and am happy he is happy. I know he doesn’t miss me, know he’ll fall for someone soon. But every now and again, the thought of him makes me smile. And that makes me wish I had been what he wanted – whatever that was. We never had that conversation. I will never know. And I miss him. With a rueful sadness. And maybe that’s just because I feel like we didn’t get the chance to explore what we could have created. But that’s another story.
“He’s just not that into you…”
So how do I feel when this happens to me?
So second time? The second time he ghosted? Humiliated. Stupid. Vulnerable. Delusional. Desperate. Like a mug… broken-hearted. A sweeping sense of premature loss, rather than any self-loathing. Until recently; it changed, re-established itself with creeping sabotage. And the old inner questioning raised it’s ugly voice; how can I compete with all the gorgeous, young, available, women out there? How can I tone down my sassy and be compliant and happy and cute? Non-threatening? Coy and addictive? How do I stop being so… Me? Hide the Me bit that they don’t want anymore. When this guy seemed so into me, then… wasn’t. What’s wrong with me?
The next one? The third one? A sexy, accomplished, grounded, man walked into my life. This is the one that has blind-sided me. Left me all reeling and unstable. Wobbly on my feet and teary in my day. This man, the polar opposite of the last. Softly spoken and self-aware. With a past that hosts deep knowledge and an emotional strength beyond most mortals. A statue of a man, with the most gentle gaze. Physical prowess that plays at extremes; kind or coarse. His hand, in intimacy, stroking my cheek or holding my throat.
A counsellor, and wise-man. A Gentleman, with heritage and a history. And we moved well together. A slow-burn, the beginning of understanding. A story being unveiled and shared. And we made each other laugh. Bright smiley giggles amidst the serious chat and the getting to know one another. The Me in this story was circumspect; hesitant but willing. Careful. I joked off serious questions, honestly but lightly answered requests for the relationship to progress. I wasn’t making the same mistake. And if I took it unhurriedly and respectfully, why should I expect anything other than like in return?
Good conversation, fleshing out hopes and beliefs, and each other. Little adventures accompanied by talk of big commitment. Learning about our people and our journeys. It seemed natural, healthy. Worthy of both of us. I felt safe. A sexy place to be; in his arms and on his arm. He wanted to rush, but said he was happy to wait for me to catch up. Making plans. Letting me get my bearings, feel my way. And I wanted to look after him. An odd, rare, lovely response. Strange to me; not felt for a long time. I wanted to care, to be his person. Not just a fumble or a frolic – as much fun as that definitely was with him. Maybe even let him guide me toward a future.
Then guess what?
Yep. You know. Again.  A “Morning, sweet cheeks. Have a great day…” at 7am on a Monday morning, then not another peep. Off the radar and offline. I worried. This guy must be in pain, must be struggling with something – he wouldn’t do this to me if he wasn’t. He is too fully-formed and respectful. This must be serious. And it must be about him. It can’t be me? He would have said something; taken my hand and explained. So I messaged. And worried. And became upset. I called. No answer. I was genuinely anxious about him. Listed scenarios. Checked my own behaviour, fearful I had hurt him in some way.
The weekend came around and I texted, offering a chance to meet, a hug – no pressure, no accusation. Just the opportunity to be in each other’s company. And he accepted. He joined me. And we reconnected. Relaxed. Smiled. He was fragile, but apologetic. Discussed boundaries, helped me gauge where he was at. There was stuff. His stuff. Not me. And he seemed so sincere. A little lost, sad. I wanted to hold and comfort him. We touched on his story, and remained touching all day. Walked, and kissed, bonded, lunched and talked. Smiled and listened to each other. He took me to his sanctuary, offered me a view of his life I hadn’t seen before. Asked me directly, if I thought it would be somewhere I could share with him. And I thought, this is something I am almost ready for. This is a person who will cherish me and I will be excited to have that privilege. Maybe this is the direction I want to be moving; he is certainly the person I want to explore it with. I thought, this man makes my heart lighter and eases my worries, he gives me attention and allows me to gift it in return. He wants my love. And I can do that.
This may be a Big Love.
And I left him that night, chatting with him by text on my journey home. He told me he missed me already and I realised I felt the same. So I let myself enjoy it. Let it sink in. Let myself get excited. And then on Wednesday morning at 7am “…hope today is a good one, sweet cheeks”.
And he disappeared.
“He’s just not that into you…”
So how do I feel when this happens to me?
Even the most laid-back, careful, reticent people, will be hurt or distressed or crazed by this kind of behaviour. If they are invested, and feel it was reciprocated. Even the least obsessive will do stupid things that seem over-reactive or melodramatic to the Ghost. But I am not a naturally high-maintenance girl. I am not an obsessive who will fixate. I sent messages – I asked for guidance, requested kindly that he help me understand. Deaf ears in return. Stilled fingers. Nothing. Took days to read my messages. Didn’t reply. And then he was back online, but not with me. ‘Active’ at unsociable hours. So. Just offline to me.
And I have gone from debilitating chest-ache to indignant anger and back again. I am shakey and struggling. I never intended to fall for any of these guys, didn’t want to relinquish my independence for a man. Am happy on my own. I took their lead, thought I read the cues. Cautiously listened and watched and let myself go at the speed they chose. Slowly unfurling and making myself open to possibilities. Was never looking for love. Certainly not demanding it. And maybe this is about it happening three times (or five times if you seek the bounce-backs), but I truly believe it is because I actually cared. Thought they cared. Thought what these guys were telling me – verbally and non-verbally – were honest reflections of our relationship, or the beginnings of one. Where their heads and hearts were at.
I am generally rather casual; easy-come, easy go. Let acquaintances cruise in and out of my life without holding grudges or being possessive. Though I will nurture and defend dear friendships to the death, and prize honesty and loyalty above most else. I also know we outgrow or evolve beyond our social spheres, and our loved ones, sometimes. That is the way of things. I have been loved well and have loved in return, but have also allowed myself to be hurt by those I’ve given my heart to. So over the years, this Me, has functioned with a strong wall built up for a long time; to get around or over that, has taken some work. And to do so, they are made of something pretty special. So. That means it must be me?
But why not take the five seconds it requires to send a text?
Why not pick up the phone and impart the sad news gently and with caring?
Say you don’t want me any more… to my face…
After all, this is the face you were kissing only yesterday, the eyes you were looking into last night.