When you have been hurt by people in the past, it can be really hard to trust people in the now. And it isn’t the fault of whomever you are with now if someone before hurt you, but it is also not easy to keep the two experiences separate in your mind and heart. As a result, we often try to control things in new relationship and new situations—to keep things safe and metered and carefully mapped.
But things like love and care don’t flourish in an environment where things are safe and metered and carefully mapped. Passion can’t exist there. Trust can’t exist there. So, by trying to prevent hurt from happening we create a place where the happiest and most healing relating is also prevented.
I’m certainly not proposing that we let any and all experience happen to us, without setting boundaries or ensuring our health and safety. We definitely need to be safe and have boundaries. But there is only so far we can take those boundaries and that safety before they transform into something else—something more sinister and potentially damaging. If we are not cognizant of what we are doing with those boundaries and that safety, they can become control. They can become an inability to let go.
The other night I had a date. It was an amazing date. We had an early dinner and drinks, and there was not a moment of dead air between us. We talked about all sorts of things, and then we dropped my leftover food off at his apartment on our way to a karaoke bar. We had tons of fun. We drank, he sang, we made “friends” with a group of Guns and Roses fans on one side of the bar, and a beautiful mother and her daughters celebrating a milestone birthday on the other. He held the room captive as he sang, and every single person clapped and sang along with him. He loved being on that stage, and his excitement was contagious.
Eventually we ate again, because we had been out for so many hours and had so many beers. We took a cab to another bar, and once more he brought everyone into his state of excitement and his love of song. And I watched him with pride. Because between songs he was talking to me.
He was more than talking to me. He was holding every word, and passionately engaged in conversation, and geeking out on my fandoms as hard as I do—maybe harder. He was wrapping his arm around me. He was holding me close. He was kissing my lips. And I felt honored to have him there doing so. I felt blessed by his presence, and I felt privileged to be his chosen companion. I was certain that he could choose lots of other women, but he was choosing me.
And I still refused to let go.
I didn’t sing on stage. Which makes no sense, because from childhood I have been desiring the stage, and loving every moment I was allowed and able to sing upon it. And while I am a bit self-conscious about my voice today, with hoarseness and the breaks of a pubescent boy often plaguing my vocal chords without warning. But that wasn’t why I didn’t sing. There were plenty of singers worse than I who took the stage. And I sang loudly from our little table in the corner, with him at my side. I didn’t go up because I was pretending I didn’t want to.
I wasn’t pretending for him. I was pretending for me.
I was pretending I had too much humility or shyness or reservation to perform on stage. I was making excuses for myself and to myself. Because being up there meant being vulnerable. Being up there meant I had no control over the outcome. Being up there meant opening up and letting loose and letting go. And I wouldn’t do it.
Later that night, back at his apartment, when I took off my shoes and my sweater and my scarf to be more comfortable and cool, the tattoo on my left arm was in full view. After having hugged and kissed me a bit, he ran a finger over that tattoo, which boldly declares, “Enough”, and he said, “I assume this is about taking your life back.” Taking my life back is how I described myself on the media platform where we first came into contact with one another.
He had the right of it. That tattoo is part of fighting back, and saying I have had enough—that I won’t take any of the bullshit I do not want and that I create my experience from now on.
But that tattoo is also about reminding myself that I am “Enough”, just as I am and without any comment or consideration or care of another. I am not almost good enough. I am not lacking. I am not without value or merit or reasons for pride. I am, wholly and completely, enough.
And in that moment I started to cry.
I wasn’t entirely sure why at the time. Further thought on the subject, however, brought me to the place I stand this morning. I know now that I cried because I wasn’t acting like enough. I wasn’t letting go and letting my true self shine. I was controlling and metered and safe the whole night. I was in the presence of another for only a few short hours. But in those hours, I wanted to be what he admired, instead of being all that I am and waiting to see if he might admire me. I wanted to create an ending where I don’t get hurt more than I wanted to create something real and deep and true. And the moment I felt that was what I was doing, I wept.
Crying on the first date is usually a terrible idea, as a general rule.
But even then he was fabulous, and walked through that moment and moved forward with me to the next. And a bit later I reluctantly left, wanting to remain curled up in his arms, but knowing that my poor dog needed my attention more than I needed the attention of this man.
The next day, thinking it all through once more, I felt ashamed. I felt foolish. I felt the familiar weight of having pretended instead of having let go to be myself. And last night my text went unanswered, and all I could think was that I hoped that my pretending did not take the opportunity to be with this man again from me. I hoped so much that my refusal to be vulnerable and true didn’t take away the joy of that night and leave me always wishing for another.
I still wait in hope. And I hope that this realization will offer me a chance to step up next time, and to boldly belt out songs from that stage.
While I do want to see this man again, there is more to it now than a connection with a potential partner. There are all these layers of decision that we must navigate in every single moment. And in the moment, I denied the truth and didn’t let go. In the moment I played safe and controlled and let the hurts of the past define me, and not the heart and the soul and the spirit of the present. I sought approval, instead of seeking joy.
Sometimes, when people ask me about my history and what I might regret, I shock them with my answers. They think that my bad marriage or the night of binge drinking where I was sexually assaulted before morning or my drug use or any number of “bad” or “sad” or “regrettable” decisions should be what leaves my lips. But it is not those things that haunt me. Because during that time, when all that chaos was happening around me, I still held fast to me. I didn’t feel like that woman needed to hide in the shadows. That woman took the stage. That woman built her own fucking stage if there wasn’t one to take. That woman was brave and powerful and wild in ways that her later incarnation has not been. I regret leaving her behind. I regret not being her on Friday night. I regret that I forgot that I am enough.
I believe that this man will offer me another chance. I believe that he is kind and caring and understanding, alongside being fun and courageous and cuddly and cute.
And when that chance comes, I need to swallow any hint of reservation, of safety, of control. I need to jump up and sing out and let vulnerability rule the day.
I need to trust that I am still, and always, Enough.
I need to let my heart love. I need to let my spirit fly free. I need to find and hold joy.
I need to let go.