Last week I sent a letter to 25 of my posse asking them to help me find a sweetheart. I thought of it like a barn raising, like something I had to reach out into my community to get help for, something I couldn’t do entirely alone.
I’d been on the dating sites off and on for a year or so and it felt like shooting fish in a barrel – except the barrel was as wide as the sea, and the shooting felt like a sloppy, blind spray of arrows flying out into infinity, never to be seen again. I’m sure there were plenty of good men on the sites, but rarely did I see someone who I might want to know more deeply. Most of the men never seemed to recognize the specialness in me either, passing me by, and I often felt invisible. I found myself checking the sites multiple times a day to see if anyone had found me. I was on three dating sites at once. That’s a lot of checking, and a lot of wasted time. It was like some horrible high school punch in the stomach over and over, and it did nothing for my self-esteem or my nervous system that got jacked up each time I logged on in the hopes of finding someone. It’s a helluva way to start the day and I don’t recommend it.
Sometimes if I hadn’t been on the dating sites for a month or so – because I’d randomly gotten off when I’d had enough – but then found myself lonely, I’d get on for a few days just to see if anyone “liked” me. I wouldn’t even necessarily send a text if we were matched because it was the attention I was looking for. Men do that all the time. Sometimes I’ll match with someone and text them a hello and never hear back.
Did I really want to connect or did I just want to be seen?
But that’s the swipe left, swipe right culture we live in. Do you like him? Swipe right. Otherwise, move on to the next one. And of course, I don’t need to explain this to you. The phone, email, texting, and Instagram has completely changed what we call connection. The dating apps are like loose change falling from holes in our pockets. Not real money at all.
No surprise, I began to feel lonelier than I had in years, and noticed a growing shame around being single, that maybe there was something wrong with me. Maybe I was damaged, or my heart was faulty or maybe I wasn’t happy enough to be in a relationship. That must be it. I needed to be a happier person. For months I found myself staring at pictures of couples on Instagram who were smiling, leaning into each other. Maybe I should be like her, was my thinking. Maybe I should smile more.
To be fair, I did meet some good men in the last year, but no one who was a real match for me. In a land of regular people – at least on the dating sites – I feel like a bit of an anomaly. I’ve been writing and working with writers for 25 years. Each week I sit with 70 souls who are doing deep personal work on the page, and my job is to hold space and to try and model truth and vulnerability for them. I hang with artists, I hold concerts at my house, invite visiting writers to teach here. I’m working on a memoir told in numbers. Therapy and deep work have been a mainstay in my personal development for my entire life. And I haven’t even mentioned the 24-year-marriage and the 10 years it was open.
On the dating sites I see a lot of guys leaning back on their sports cars, fishing, playing golf, at the helm of their boats, guys who talk about walks on the beach, catching live music and sipping fine wine.
So not a lot of dates came from Tinder and Bumble and Hinge. Mostly a lot of loneliness and shame that I kept going back to this pool of people who didn’t seem like my people.
And then a couple of weeks ago I thought about asking my friends for help, although the thought of making my singleness and my desire to be partnered public horrified me. Saying aloud that I want to be touched and loved, to wonder openly if I ever would be, was like confessing to a disease, and I had to sit with all that shame for about a week. And then one morning, I woke up and it had lifted. I thought, there’s nothing wrong with me, but I do need some help.
I was inspired by something my friend Joel had said about online dating when he told me, “I don’t want to date anyone I don’t already know.”
In my letter to my friends I wrote, “I’m reaching out to you, people who know me, my family. What I’m hoping is that if someone is already a friend of yours, they might potentially become a friend of mine since you and I speak the same language. Meeting someone who has already passed through the gates to become your friend is a lot different than casting my net out into the big wide unknown.”
It took me two days to write the letter. It wasn’t perfect, but it was honest. I put myself into the lap of my community and I told them what I wanted and how I needed them. I took a deep breath, said a little prayer and pushed send. Almost immediately my shame of singleness disappeared, and within days I was off the dating sites. Not because I thought the letter was going to net me some love, but because the hunger to be seen by someone on a dating site was replaced by a calm that may have had something to do with bringing my dark longing into the light, and being seen in a way that mattered.
Friends, would you like to write personal stories? I have room in my live video Wild Writing classes that begin the week of January 8th. These classes are deeply rich and intimate and they’ll change your life.
If you’re not ready for a class, but would like to start a personal writing practice, consider 27 Wild Days, my 27-day self-paced writing class. One short video a day from me with a writing prompt to send you on your way. One of the best things I’ve ever made and totally fun. A no brainer.