i think about the “why am i still single?” question a lot.
like, a lot.
because it’s a big deal. connecting and partnering up with someone is a huge part of the life experience. and not being able to make something so integral to the human existence happen, makes me feel defective.
the horrible truth is that i haven’t been on a date in more than 8 years (i was strong-armed into an awkward blind date 6 years ago, but i don’t think that counts because neither of us had a choice in the matter or talked to each other before or after. or during). i don’t talk about it because if i did, i’d have to explain that it’s not that i don’t get asked out on dates, it’s that the idea of going on a date with someone makes me panic. mentally and physiologically. my stomach clenches, my heart starts beating really fast, my breathing gets really shallow, and the only thought that goes through my mind is, “nonononono.”
and also i make this face:
i’m pretty sure this isn’t a normal, rational reaction.
but it’s the reaction i ALWAYS have. it doesn’t even matter whether or not i like the guy. we can be hanging out and flirting and i will be fine, but the instant i sense a date invite coming, i panic and i shut it down. (like, i could write an instruction guide called “shuttin’ it down: how to not get asked out a date: wait, why isn’t anybody buying this book?: the kat story”) and then i walk away feeling absolutely broken.
so, of course, the question i ask myself is “why?” i never really went through any exceptional trauma or heartbreak. i’ve been surrounded by very kind, good people my entire life. the guys that i’ve dated have all been nice guys. i mean, even the not nice guys i dated would still probably qualify as nice-ish on the jerk spectrum. there’s nothing traumatic to blame my weirdness on.
the best explanation that i can come up with is this: i am a freaking pansy.
here’s something that i remember from my psychology classes. negative reinforcement.
most people know what positive reinforcement is. positive reinforcement is used to encourage a behavior. when ziggy does the trick i want him to do, i reward him with food or praise or a pat on the head.
and most people know what punishment is. punishment is used to get rid of a behavior. if my niece does something naughty, she’s put in time out.
but most people think that negative reinforcement is the same thing as punishment. which it kind of is but kind of isn’t. punishment is about reducing a behavior, but negative reinforcement is actually about promoting (“reinforcing”) a certain behavior by stopping punishment or pain. it’s not an ideal way to teach or train because it’s usually fear or pain driven and it’s less controlled. for example, let’s say you want someone to only bring you objects that are red. if you’re using negative reinforcement, then every time they bring you something that isn’t red, you shock them (*zap!*). eventually they’ll learn that when they bring you red objects, they don’t get shocked.
OR they might simply learn to avoid bringing you things all together.
that’s the problem with negative reinforcement. it’s about avoiding pain so it’s hard to control what behavior is actually being learned.
so even though i’ve never experienced something truly traumatic, i would equate a lot of my dating experiences to getting an electrical shock. (*zap!*) over and over and over. and instead of learning how to do the right things, i’ve learned instead to avoid the pain entirely by refusing to date all together.
again, this speaks to the bigger truth: i am a freaking pansy.
because a lot of the potential pain i panic about shouldn’t be so painful. but in my mind it is. the idea of dating “for fun” or dating “just to date” eludes me. where is the fun? seriously. there is no fun. but i truly do have a desire to form functional and loving, long-term relationships.
tragically, that means i have to go on dates. i used to think that i could stay in my nice protective shell and wait. and then maybe the right guy would come along and then i would just know he was, like, the guy and i would lock it down. but that is a fallacy.
and here is what i have very brutally learned (*zap!*) in the last year: negative conditioning can happen whether i’m actively dating or not. i need people in my life and when i close myself off, i actually increase my odds of getting hurt. because you know what kind of people spend a bunch of energy befriending a closed off, emotionally withdrawn person? crazy, codependent people. do you know what kind of guys pursue a girl who is not putting out a dating vibe AT ALL? creepy, oblivious, socially awkward guys. the more i have tried to let people into my life and work to develop friendships of my choosing, the better and healthier my friendships have been. and the more resilient i've been.
long story long, i have started saying yes to dates!
and it is unsettling.