Friday, June 6, 2014

Self-Sabotaging Our Chances At Love

More love, I can hear our hearts cryin'
More love, I know that's all we need
More love, to flow in between us
To take us and hold us and lift us above
If there's ever an answer
It's more love. ~ Dixie Chicks

Last night around 9 I was laying on the couch looking for something to watch on TV. I forgot that it was Thursday night, which we all know (or really should know) is Columbo night on VisionTV. I was almost gleeful when I heard that the guest star was none other than Johnny Cash. What?! The magical combo of Peter Falk and the Man In Black is about as rare as Halley's comet!

Alas, after a few minutes I decided that I wasn't up for a movie last night. So the search continued until I saw on the channel guide that "The Undateables" was on. If you haven't heard of this reality show, in a nutshell it's another show about people looking for true love. The twist is that the show focuses on people who are either physically unattractive to many people's standards, or they have a developmental, social, or learning disability. I had never brought myself to watching the show, because I figured it was probably a terribly exploitative reality show (i.e. "look at these freaks trying and failing at love). However, by the end of the show I had been deeply touched, as well as personally challenging some strongly held assumptions.

The first man that was featured was a rather Shrek-looking but amiable guy. He had a mild learning disability, and was very nervous when it came to dating. However, this man was a true romantic; he excelled at writing love poetry. He decided to attend a writer's group in the hopes of meeting that special someone. Sure enough, he met a sweet, shy fellow writer, and they ended up going on a date and hitting it off.

Another young man had Downs Syndrome, but was determined to find love. He had a hilarious sense of humour and candor (he bluntly told the matchmaker that he was looking for someone who had the "curves and bottom" of Pippa Middleton). He confidently went on a date; unfortunately there wasn't a mutual spark.

Still another man, probably in his 40's and also with a great sense of humour, decided to try out speed dating. This man was physically grotesque by almost anyone's standards; he had been born with a condition that caused him to have tumours all over his body, including his face. He left his night of speed dating with 4 phone numbers.

Finally, the young man who probably touched me the most was a man with Asbergers, a condition that makes people fairly awkward socially; also, they often need to stick to a fairly strict routine. This gentleman had went on a date previously, and by the end of dinner he was eating food off of his date's plate. She walked out of the restaurant. He decided to try again, the dating agency set him up with someone, and the day before his date, as he was meticulously trying to pick out something to wear, the agency called to tell him that the woman had canceled. In a touching, caught on tape moment, he shrugged his shoulders, looked downward, and said something to the effect of "well, that just proves the point (that I'm not loveable)." A week later he gets a call saying they have found him a new match. He arrives at the restaurant early in order to gauge his surroundings. He is frustrated when she doesn't arrive on time, but when she does, he and the sweet, plain-looking but pretty young woman with the mild learning disorder hit it off. He doesn't steal her food, and they end up taking a walk in the park and spending time with the swans and ducks. They clearly have a lot to offer the right person.

And this is the point that really touched me as I watched it. These seemingly unloveable, undateable people had plenty to offer. Not only did it expose my grotesque assumptions about beauty and loveability, but it made me ask the question, "Why have I, why do I think that I'm just too fucked up, too damaged to love and be loved?" One of the personal results (and shout Amen if it happened to you) of growing up in a very either/or, right/wrong religion is that I often have resorted to black and white thinking; there is NO room for grey. In this particular instance, either I have it all together and am completely whole and thus able to love and be loved, or I focus on my perceived weaknesses and shortcomings and deem myself unworthy, cast to the perhaps-eternal land of the lonely. What's that? There may be all sorts of in-between and, god forbid, room for nuance?

Yes, there very well may be times when people need to or  choose to solely focus on themselves and their well-being. Also, some people are just too disturbed to be in a relationship at some points in their life. It shouldn't be forgotten that some people are perfectly happy being single. And then there are types of relationships that I don't understand, like polyamoury or "friends with benefits." Just because I don't understand them and they may or may not be options I would choose, it  doesn't necessarily make them wrong. (I've been firmly indoctrinated by Notting Hill, Ever After, and Love Actually; perhaps I need to broaden my movie collection).

The main point, though, is that you and I shouldn't self-sabotage our chances at loving and being loved. Take chances, put your heart out there. Be upfront and honest about your wants and needs out of a relationship. When trust is established, open up about certain personal challenges. And remember that while complete dependency is unhealthy, it IS okay to need someone. Start an inventory of what you have to offer someone, because there's plenty there. We all have our shit, but it doesn't mean we have to keep self-sabotaging ourselves.

Mark Andrew Nouwen