What, love on tinder?! Yes indeed.
It has taken me a good four months to write since my last post, with me dodging and diving my writing. I honestly cannot fathom why I have such difficulty writing this, but at last, here goes….
It all started the middle of May when I was in Jozi for work, and was staying with my friend Adele. Now this is the kind of friend that covers all bases of what it means to be a friend- she provides important perspectives on matters that challenge me emotionally; is generous to a fault, no questions asked; genuinely wants me to succeed and be happy; and is also that friend that will have you behaving very badly where you end up dancing on tables after sharing two bottles of bubbly between the two of you at a Sunday afternoon Barnyard show. That is, the two of you being the only audience members to be dancing on tables! To top it all, she’s the one with whom you descend into cosy, pitiful domesticity on a Friday night in front of the TV. She’s that friend.
The first evening of my stay with her in May had us sitting in front of the fire in our pyjamas and slippers, wine glasses at hand. She pulls out her knitting and asks me about my love life, and in particular, what I’m doing to advance it. I tell her what I tell everyone, that “the universe and Divinity know where I live and hang out, and where he lives and hangs out. They must tilt the world to facilitate our meeting when we are both ready”. I soften it by clarifying though that I am ready.
She, ever the pragmatic, responds with a vehement “nonsense gogo ( she’s come to call me that each time she wants to prove a point- mostly a point indicating my ignorance and shortsightedness!), I’m sure the universe and God both know about Tinder too”.
So saying, she grabs my phone and tells me she’s going to download the Tinder App. “It’s an App? Really? I thought it’s an online dating service” I respond, as if it matters. All she says is: ” No. Gogo” as she proceeds to download it. She tells me she will give me a ‘how to use Tinder’ crash course as soon as it has downloaded on to my mobile. When the App appears on my phone, she pulls my profile and photographs from Facebook to build my Tinder profile. When we are set, we go exploring the field, as pictures and profiles of men appear on my screen one at a time. I’m supposed to swipe left for what I don’t like, and right for what I do like.
So, I swipe. Left, mostly, since there’s so much I don’t like, until she tells me to lower my standards, and risk swiping right- the person may not reciprocate anyway, so I would suffer no loss. With deep embarrassment, I start swiping right, essentially letting random strangers know that I am interested in them. What if they don’t like me? No actually, what if someone does like me?! I’m instantly turned into a 51 year old teenager.
I am both astonished and delighted when I get a few matches, (men who have swiped me right too) and actually I’m more than delighted. It does something to me, this indication of my desirability. I either didn’t know this, or I’d honestly forgotten. Adele reminds me: “Don’t be ridiculous gogo, of course you’re a catch!” But in all seriousness, most of my very few romantic relationships were initiated by me, and since the ending of my last one in 2012, not one single person, male or female, has shown any romantic interest in me. So… And yes it has been that long.
And so it is that I pick up many men from my matches, but settle on three, and engage in a virtual relationship with them. I feel guilty as hell, that I’m cheating on all three of them even just by talking.
All three are widowers in their mid years like me- one, the one I like the most, lives in Joburg, while the other two live abroad. I think I like this Joburg one because we are in the same country at least, even though I live in Cape Town. My heart isn’t really in it with one of them, let’s call him Em, and I tell him he’s wasting his time since I’d prefer someone close by. Obviously. He says he too would like someone close by, but that maybe we can get to know and like each other enough to be friends. “Let’s start there, with getting to know each other first” he asks, and the logic is so clear that I agree.
I don’t let go of my other two cheats though, mainly because they are so damn good looking. I’m ashamed to admit that yes, I discovered a shallowness within me previously unacknowledged.
The euphoria doesn’t last though. One of my beaux is too wounded, desperate for love. Regrettably, he leads with this desperation, proposing marriage within a few text exchanges. Oh dear. My heart breaks for him, and I energetically send him some healing light. Through this I get to recognise that men most likely also walk around with wounds related to love and life in general, as much as us women do. I’d never seen that before, mainly because they hide their pain so well in order to meet damning tribal norms about masculinity.
Joburg guy feels like he’s just lying to me. I feel as if I am but one of the many women he’s most likely talking to. His texts have a cut-and-pasted flavour to them, and I see that he isn’t interacting with the personal me, that somehow I’ve disappeared from this relationship. That’s too bad for me, since I really liked him. However, I don’t pull out straight away, not wanting to hurt his feelings, and wait for him to let go before finally exiting also. This gives me space to focus all my attention on Em, the one I’d originally dismissed. I’m happy and unhappy and happy again about what’s happening to me.
Right at the beginning of us making our acquaintance, Em (who lives abroad) scores major points by not asking me to tell him about myself, a question I loath both in personal spaces, and as part of a job application interview. My responses always feel contrived, devoid of rhythm. I’m pleased therefore when we organically reveal ourselves to each other in the things we are engaged in in the present. This makes our conversations pretty random, but also very real:
Me: “So what are you doing this weekend?”. Him: “I have to work in the garden. I have a whole lot of dead leaves needing to be raked, before they kill my lawn.” This is immediately followed by a photograph of a garden indeed heavily covered in yellow leaves all around, and a long-toothed rake resting against the garden fence. It makes me smile as I imagine myself rolling in that sunshine yellowness. Of course I don’t tell him this though.
One Saturday he tells me he is spending the morning preparing for his son’s weekend visit. I pick up in his tone that he is excited, which warms my heart when he tells me his son is 24 years old and is away at university in the UK. I tell him that I see how much he loves his son, and my reflection both surprises him but also makes him happy. He tells me: “He is all I have”.
Later on in the evening he sends me pictures of the meal he’s prepared for the two of them, and I tell you, the man can cook. And pretty food too. Me I don’t care how food looks on a plate- as long as it’s tasty, that’s all that matters to me. When I compliment him on his cooking skills he tells me not to worry, that he will be cooking for me when him and I are together. This thrills me like you cannot believe.
We continue like this, with conversations that are mindless at times, and deeply personal and revealing at other times. One day during one of our random conversations he tells me that he can see he’s going to fall in love with me, and soon after, maybe a week later he signs off from a text conversation with a “I love you baby.”
I swoon, but don’t respond with the same immediately. Rather, I wait, and a few days later tell him “I love you too baby”.
And I do.
There is a lot I love about him- the father he is; that he took time to work on his healing after his wife passed away; the way he pays attention to what I say, and how he holds a mirror up for me to see my own beauty; what we love in common- gardening, running, cooking, our spirituality, red wine; and his sexy smile and chest and legs! But he just feels like a good person, like a friend. My friend.
For instance, there was that time in June, when the Western Cape was hit by that horrific ‘hurricane’. During that time I was freaking myself out at home as I listened to the scary wind threaten to uproot and deposit my entire house into the lake across from me. This is even before the unleashing of the deluge upon us. As I sat in my home in deep fear, I posted a text on my neighbourhood whatsapp group that read “Urgently seeking a husband-for one night only, to hold me and reassure me through the storm. In the morning we part ways, no strings attached, no hard feelings!” I meant it, due to the inexplicable overwhelm that gripped me. Why do I have to handle everything on my own?!
When I tell Em how scared I am, he immediately goes into man mode and takes care. Yes I choose to call it man mode, and of course if I were here with small children, I would be doing that for them. Of course. But right now I just cannot. I can’t. My inner masculine is impossible for me to locate, so I go looking for one outside of me.
Em asks me to make sure that all windows and doors are closed properly, and that there is nothing outside that could potentially go flying off and course harm or injury. Potentially physical threats taken care of, he then focuses his attention on me, gently but assertively calming me down: “Don’t be afraid baby. 120km per hour winds do sound scary, but you must try get some sleep. But stay alert in case you need to respond quickly. And call me whenever you feel you want to. I will check in with you later to see how the storm is going. You’ll be okay baby. I love you”.
The thing is, I’d lived in New Orleans before during hurricane season, and have had to learn about hurricane preparation, so I’d already done what he had suggested. I guess my inner masculine had already taken care of me after all, but just having Em there reassure me was so comforting, that I melted into his love.
As time goes on I notice how happy I am, and how my boundaries dissolve and paradoxically get strengthened at the same time. As I make space for him within myself, I inadvertantly loosen my attachment to the vision I have of myself, and somehow get to encounter myself in new ways.
I suppose this is what love does- it makes one less self- centered as one willingly joins with the beloved. As the two join, each one becomes the perfect mirror for the other to see the parts of self that are hidden even from oneself, the parts that only emerge within the safety of love.
The safety of love invites us to stand naked not only in front of the beloved, but most frighteningly, in front of ourselves, hidden parts exposed. These hidden parts are essential to our wholeness, since they hold painful traumas that make us feel too unsafe to even look at by ourselves. When kept hidden long enough they form our shadow, our hidden perceived shame, cut off from us, but which in fact is the very portal through which we need to traverse, to get back to ourselves.
Love gives us courage to be able to withstand the weight of our own and each other’s pain/shame, leads the journey as we welcome back into the light, those cut off and rejected parts of ourselves, and cracks our hearts open so that we can learn to love ourselves and each other back to wholeness, through the love we have for one another.
Right now however I am at the dissolving of boundaries stage, which feels pleasurable and good, as if I’m super healthy and strong. I’m giddy and lose my breath at Em’s morning: “Hi baby, are you there?” texts. He tells me that looking at photographs of me makes him breathless, that he wonders how we will look together. He says when he’s driving in his car he sometimes imagines me there in the car with him, talking and laughing.
I tell my loved ones about him, and he tells his one friend about me when we both realise how deeply we’ve fallen in love with each other. We develop such trust that we become very vulnerable with one another. We continue to share stuff, very risky stuff, and fall even deeper in love. Love glues us together, forming a sort of a oneness. We plan our first meeting since he travels to South Africa regularly for work. I’m even promised bedroom Olympics! Through this, my mind creates all sorts of scenarios of us together, which I have enough sense not to share here.
I marvel at how happy I am, and get what the fuss about love is al about. I suddenly understand why we all yearn for it so much, because it really feels like it makes all things fall into place- things that were never out of place in the fist place. I walk around feeling like I have my own constantly full tank of oxytocin. Dopamine and endorphins are working overtime in my body, and I spread pheromones all around me. Yho!
It is at this height of emotional arousal that he one day asks me a favour which I cannot do for him. It’s a long complicated story which I shall not relate here, except to say that for some reason, this marks the beginning of the end of us. It’s not my no that creates this, but rather the consequences of my no. My inability to help him throws him into a big challenging situation, which he struggles to address successfully. He’s stressed beyond belief, and is unable to receive any of my reassurances and support. I in turn feel helpless at not being able to help him, and this throws me into stress too. We are two desperately unhappy people. The tone of his texts change, with fewer and fewer endearments expressed. The ‘I love yous’ cease, as do the ‘baby’. I become clingy, but there is no one there to cling to. My heart starts to break.
One day he stops communicating altogether. I desperately send texts and emails, but he remains silent. I give it two weeks and send a very neutral text, and receive a lukewarm response. I then decide to stop chasing, to rather wait to be chased, but he doesn’t.
My heart breaks so much, that it shuts off all dopamine and oxytocin. But cortisol, ever in the wings, takes over. I’m a wreck, weeping in public as much as at home. I lie in bed in the early hours of the morning begging for something, Anything to explain to me what happened? How can he leave me just like that? Why?
One morning a response comes through in a meditation. I’m invited to contemplate my life, and to identify what Em’s sudden departure could possibly have been reflecting back to me about myself. Ah, the gazing in the mirror stage. Sigh. Have I ever left myself like that before? When have I disappointed myself like that? Dropped myself so unceremoniously?
I have suffered with this illness most of my teens and early adulthood. Although it’s mostly gone now, there is the occasional purging of what I have taken in. It is extremely rare, but sufficient enough to show up on this radar. Hmm…
So what is this then, this bulimia? For me it’s the ultimate expression of ambivalence. I want it, but am afraid of holding in, whatever the “it” is .
This is good yes, but what could it potentially do to me?
Actually am I worthy of it?
I suppose it’s the expression of my belief in my unworthiness. Will I get what I want, and more importantly, will I get to keep it?
So when Em defied my sense of unworthiness and loved me regardless, my internal structure was shaken at its core. Somehow however, the structure of unworthiness remained intact, prevailing against Em’s love. My belief that I am unworthy of love was so strong that it stood firm against freely given love. He did, after all leave me, and without a word. Self expelled without warning. That’s bulimia.
I want love, but feel unworthy of it, and in fact secretly fear it, so that even as it shows up, I have to throw it out in order to maintain the painful loveless status quo. I can try and create all sorts of realities on the outside, but ultimately it is what I hold to be true on the inside that will eventually manifest and prevail.
When I see that this is what is happening, I immediately vow, NEVER again. From the last time, whenever that was that I purged a meal, it stops now. I’m not willing to lose love again. The stakes are too high for me, and I want to be in a loving relationship. So I vow to chose myself, and thank Em for what he brought me. He insisted on loving me, and in challenging me to alter my own view of my worth.
What’s interesting is that I’d done a lot of work around restoring my sense of worthiness of love, and truly believed that I had managed to create that sense of worth. Clearly though there were still parts of me that clung to the unworthiness narrative, which were exposed through Em’s loving me, and ultimately leaving. I would not have known about these hidden parts had things happened differently. What I mean is, by myself, I would only have gone up to point. I needed another to hold the mirror up for me to see myself.
When I look back on all this, I see that parts of me had been yearning for healing for the longest time, and as a last resort, had planted the desire for a relationship in me, in order to walk me along a path of healing. Without Em and losing his love, I may never have fully committed to my healing.
But maybe we hold mirrors up for each other, irrespective of the nature of the relationship? Maybe every one of our relationships offers potential for our own healing? What if every relationship is a necessary space within which we can all learn to be more of ourselves?
Ka lerato 🙏🏾