Post Traumatic Stress Dating (Part One)

During the year following my brother’s death, my dating life consisted of the following:

One recycled ex-boyfriend. Listen, I’m all for saving the environment, but in regards to exes, I should have remembered, there is no littering fine.

A few bar bathroom sexual encounters (Don’t judge me. This was pre-covid. It was slightly less gross back then.)

And a lot men that I cannot name. Not because it was some scandalous rendezvous, but solely because I either forgot their name or just truly never cared to ask. Typically, the latter.

I wouldn’t call it a coping mechanism. It wasn’t like I was out there trying to feel something. Let’s be real – most random hook ups suck anyway. I think I did it for the distraction. Like I’ve mentioned before, during this point of my life, I hated being alone. My mind would always drift back to my brother. So, I liked being distracted. I liked hearing people talk. I would go out and listen to other people talk so I could forget the voice in my head for a while. And who else is better at talking your ear off than some douchebag at a bar? They’d go on about some 2012 Mustang they drive or how much money they make because they’re in the Union and I’d sit there trying to figure out what their IQ was or how many girls are out there wishing this guy would fall down a flight of stairs. Alright, alright, they weren’t all this bad. Surprisingly enough, I still had some dignity left in me.

But all of this was just a nice little escape from my reality.

I think I also used it as a way to prove to myself that I was okay. “Disassociating? How could I be disassociating, when I’m making all of these (meaningless) connections with people?”

God, my therapist must have hated me…

But if you’ve followed my writing, you know this didn’t last. I got tired of it. They were no longer talking over my thoughts. My thoughts got louder and louder and louder, until they were so loud, no guy, no matter how hilariously much of an asshole they were, could shut them up.

I realized only I was going to be able to quiet them.

So, I stopped going to the bars (as much…) and I told my ex to go fuck himself.

And, oddly, right after that, the nice guy who had always kind of remained at a distance asked me on a date. I had known this guy, let’s call him Keith. His name’s not actually Keith, but I need to respect their privacy and also, I need you to know that I would never date anyone named Keith. Apologies to all the Keith’s reading this somewhere. So, I knew this guy named Keith. We would chat here and there but never really got around to going out. He’s the one who asked me out hours before I found out my brother died. So, as you can imagine, the timing just never really worked out. But we stayed friendly. And there he was again, right when I was ready to swear off men for good.

God, how I wish I did.

So I figured, fuck it, maybe it’s time to take someone seriously. And so, I did.

We went out and I only had one beer. This was big back then, guys.

I finally wanted to talk. I wanted to be sober and honest. I didn’t want to fake a smile. I wanted to actually get to know someone and not just have them talk over the thoughts in my head.

So, we sat and we talked. I remember feeling so comfortable that when we got past the light conversations about our hobbies and mutual friends, I still had this feeling that I could be completely honest with this guy. So, I was. I spoke in depth about my brother’s death and how it affected me. I spoke about my lack of trust for things working out. I spoke about how hard it is to live happily knowing that my brother can’t. And I spoke about how I was so tired of having to act like I’m okay.

And after all that I thought…great job dumb ass this dude’s definitely not calling tomorrow.

But just then he said, “I completely get it...” and went on with his own stories, theories, ideas, dreams, losses, and pain.

I felt the figurative bricks that had been sitting on my shoulders for months lift and a lightness come over me.

I finally was able to relate to someone. Someone finally understood me.

Keith and I were very similar. Almost too similar in some ways. He also suffered his fair share of loss and pain. He also developed his own distrust for the world and his own debate over what the point of life is without our lost ones. But our biggest similarity - he also had his own pain that would never heal.

Keith was a good guy. He was kind and interesting. He planned out fun things to do on our dates. He called to see how my days were going. He liked to talk about the deeper things in life. And his biggest attribute of all was that… he had a Nespresso machine.

So, you may be thinking: “you found a great guy, what could go wrong?”

Well, if you asked yourself that, I can only assume you’ve never had anxiety before and your dad always told you that he loved you.

I thought I was ready for Keith. I really did. But I quickly learned that I wasn’t.

I would tense up when he would pull me close. I’d pretend I didn’t hear the sweet things he said. I would often leave in the middle of the night after he fell asleep and went home to my own bed. And if I ever got myself to spend the night, I would rush out the door in the morning. Well, that’s not entirely true. I would try, but he would insist on making me a latte before I left. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of sleeping with someone who has a Nespresso machine, you should know it’s not like a fucking K cup. That shit takes a bit. As I would hear the coffee beans being grinded through the machine and the steamer or whatever that part is called heat up, I would yearn for my past days of just being able to dip out of a guy’s house without a sound. I’d slip out and speed over to my local 7/11 and pour myself a quick cup of old burnt coffee, usually accompanied with the purchase of a tall boy of Bud Light as well. But those days were long gone now, because Keith turned me into the one thing I never wanted to be…a coffee snob. Once you wake up to a fresh brewed latte in your face a few days in a row your palette begins to change. You change. You’re no longer the girl whose idea of a “nice splurge” is a signature latte from Dunkin’. You’re a dark roast bitch now. You’ll settle for Starbucks, maybe. But, 7/11 Coffee Rach was gone. Nespresso Rach was born and frankly, I hated her.

Eventually, after I ended things with Keith and his Nespresso machine, and some time to think things over, I have made my way back to Dunkin’. They’ve accepted me with open arms and I am grateful. But, every once in a while, I stumble into a cute little artisan coffee shop in Brooklyn and the beans are brewing just right. Nespresso Rach wants to come out with her French hat flaring. But she stands at bay while I consider if $7 is too much to spend on coffee.

So, there I’d be, sitting on the edge of the couch, fully dressed, shoes on, waiting anxiously for my opportunity to leave. And remember – I liked this guy.

He was attractive. He was nice. He was fun. Had a good job. The Nespresso machine. He had it all. He was a great guy. But, I soon learned, he wasn’t my guy.

I think those are some of the hardest break ups. You know they’re good. You care about them. But, they’re just not yours.

I wanted to run more than I wanted to stay.

This is where my mind really starts to get a little confusing so try to follow me here.

I was so emotionally and mentally fucked up, I was afraid to feel things. Don’t worry, that’s not the hard part. We’ve all heard that cliché. The damaged person can’t tell the great person that they care about them… blah blah blah… and then they make out on the football field.

The hard part is, that I was so afraid of someone who understood me. I didn’t have to explain my pain to him. I didn’t have to fix myself for him. He knew me. He knew me too well. He understood my extensive lack of trust. He understood my inability to confess my feelings. He understood it all. Well, not me leaving in the middle of the night. He definitely thought I was sleeping with someone else for a bit. And for the record, I wasn’t. But other than that, he understood me. It was more like - damaged girl meets damaged guy. Well then, why didn’t it work? If the movies were true all along, we shouldn’t have even had to work our way to the football field. We should have been making out in the art room, skipping the homecoming dance to apply to art schools and telling our parents to go fuck themselves.

He accepted my emotional shortcomings, but I didn’t.

I didn’t have to change for him. I had to change for me.

I didn’t have to be the happy girl.

I didn’t have to have to be the person who had it all together.

I didn’t have to be fearless.

But, I wanted to be.

I think, looking back, I was looking for someone to change for. I was hoping I’d meet some guy and realize I wanted to be better for them. But, I can tell you, from way too much experience in this category, you can only really change for yourself.

I ended things with him shortly after I realized this.

During our last conversation he said something that stuck with me ever since. I remind myself of it from time to time. A simple thought, but a big one.

After, I apologized and said, “I just don’t think I’m ready,”

He said, “Well that’s the thing, Rach, you can’t keep waiting to be ready.”

Life’s moving with or without us. You meet people unexpectedly. You lose people unexpectedly. You can’t put it on hold. You just have to roll with it.

We went our separate ways, and one single soft tear rolled down my face when I passed his Nespresso machine as I left.

So, there I was. In my new found singlehood ready to focus on me for the foreseeable future!

…and then two months later, I met Seth (again, name changed out of respect for privacy).

Like I said, we don’t get to put things on hold until we're ready.

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