Fragile ballplayers prone to recurring injury are said to have glass knees or glass shoulders. When I felt ready to get back into the dating game, it was with a glass heart. To avoid pain and the risk of someone new re-shattering what I’d been piecing back together, I held back my true self.
I have always been a very expressive and communicative person; for better or worse, it’s impossible for me to hide my feelings. If I like you and you are important to me, I am all-in on our relationship. That’s why keeping a safe emotional distance from other people sapped a great deal of energy. I wasn’t used to functioning with a protective wall around my heart.
“How do I let down my guard and learn to trust again?” I asked my counsellor.
“Trust a new partner, or learn to trust yourself?” she challenged.
Ugh, she was right. It wasn’t that I was distrustful of the opposite sex as much as I was distrustful of myself. I was still sore about being blindsided; that my intuition hadn’t warned me of impending danger in my marriage.
Or had it?
You know when your car starts making that weird engine noise and you tell yourself, “Aw, it’ll go away” and then turn up the radio to drown it out? Yep, that was me. After much soul searching, I faced the truth: all of the obvious, neon warning signs had been there, but I just had failed to pay attention in my marriage.
Maybe deep down I knew something wasn’t quite right but I suppressed it, content to smooth out the rough edges as “normal ups and downs.” I was too busy fulfilling my role, too laser-focused on raising two kids, starting my own business and fluffing our home nest to see what was really going on. As with a weird engine noise, the things we don’t pay attention to always get us in the end.
I was mad at myself. I was mad at whatever little part of me didn’t pay attention, didn’t protect my heart and allowed me to settle for less, believing that certain behaviours were perfectly normal. If I didn’t trust my radar to detect the warning signs with the person I was married to for 20 years, how was I supposed to trust it around complete strangers?
First of all, my counsellor said, there was no use in beating myself up. I may be a nurturer, but I didn’t have to bear the weight of responsibility for another person’s decisions and actions… it had been a two-person marriage after all! Secondly, although my heart had survived this trauma, I couldn’t keep basing my decisions in fear if I was to move forward with a new relationship. Yes, I risked more heartbreak in the future, but if I didn’t let down my guard and open my heart, I risked closing myself off to love.
So I started to focus on trusting myself again. And that’s where the healing began.
Violations of trust are painful lessons that we can turn into opportunities for profound personal growth. One good thing about what I’d been through, my counsellor assured, was that I could now trust myself to recognize those flashing warning signs when something was off. I was now in a brand new state of awareness.
I remember reading somewhere that when it comes to trust, “Life gives you the process through your experiences; people provide you the opportunity to practice.” In the dating world, people were going to do what they were going to do; there was little I could do to control it but that sure didn’t mean I’d have to put up with it.
I had to trust in my ability to acknowledge and call out unacceptable behaviour; to see things as they really were instead of blindly making excuses for it or brushing it off. If something didn’t quite add up or seemed like a flimsy story, I could assert myself by taking a closer look at the situation and if needed, ask for verification.
(And by the way, a woman who stands up for herself doesn’t have “trust issues,” she believes that she deserves honesty and is worthy of her own trust.)
My intuition has never failed me; my mistake was in choosing to ignore that inner voice. By checking in with it and asking it for confirmation, I regained trust in myself and, not surprisingly, those protective walls around my heart started coming down.
Part of my journey has been learning that by trusting others, I am actually fine-tuning my intuition. As I met new people socially and allowed myself to be vulnerable, I not only deepened my ability to trust my own instincts, I found a safe place to open myself up to love.