Newly single, I wonder to myself when I’ll be ready to date again.
As I slog through the process of healing, I wonder if I can see myself being interested in women again. Or falling in love again. Or opening myself up to all that is wonderful and challenging about being in a relationship.
Will I be able to do that, and if, so how will I know when it’s time? When will I become emotionally available?
What does it even mean to be emotionally available?
And how, during a pandemic, with all its accompanying fears and anxieties, is anyone emotionally available?
To understand what emotional availability is, I tried to break down what it’s made of.
Honesty, With Yourself
Only you know how you are truly feeling. While your feelings, wants and desires, for yourself and within a relationship, will naturally change over time, you have to be able to determine what’s going on inside you.
This is more than not forcing your partner to be a mind reader, to leaving them with the impossible challenge of figuring you out. This is you doing the introspection and exploration to identify your feelings, and then acting on them.
In my last relationship, I wasn’t totally honest with myself about how me and my partner were operating. And in the times that I was, I suppressed those feelings for what I thought was the greater good.
Any relationship, any endeavor, requires sacrifice and compromise.
But you have to trust your gut. You have to know when something isn’t sitting right with you, when something feels off, and also, more positively, know when something feels great.
Being emotionally available means being able to understand and identify how you are feeling, both in the moment and generally.
It’s not easy. Many emotions, especially the tough ones, are challenging to label: sadness can be disguised as anger, frustration can emanate from depression. It takes years of trial and error to be able to do this for yourself.
But being able to diagnose your own feelings, and then being truthful to yourself about what those feelings are, opens the door to the next step of emotional availability.
Honesty, With Your Partner
Once you’re able to be honest with yourself, it’s time to express those feelings, in a way that is sincere, compassionate, direct and considerate, with your partner.
This can be so much more challenging than being honest with yourself.
With yourself, you have only your own emotions with which to wrangle. You own your feelings — and you can control the reactions to them and the consequences thereof.
Not so with another person.
What you say may upset your partner. Your honesty could lead to unpleasant conversations, days-long arguments, a back-and-forth that pushes you both to your limits.
But a partnered relationship requires honesty.
You must be able to let your partner know how you are feeling, so they can act, think, talk, respond to you in a way that is helpful and appropriate.
You can’t let the same frustrations fester over time. You must deal with them — and that means saying things that come from deep down.
I’ve struggled in my relationships with this. I often can’t tell when I should just swallow something, let it go, wait for the unpleasantness to wash over or fade away — or when I should speak my mind.
Being honest with your partner does not mean to lead an uncensored life and to speak without consideration of how your words will be received.
Just the opposite. As your relationship grows, you hopefully will learn how to have these difficult conversations.
In fact, being able to have arguments and difficult conversations successfully is one of the leading predictors or indicators of maintaining a lasting relationship.
But just as you will grow as a person the more you are honest with yourself, the more you can identify how you are feeling, so too will your relationship evolve the more you can be honest with your significant other.
It breeds trust, and it opens pathways to true sharing. It’s like an access point to your true self. And that means going to places that can make you feel uncomfortable.
This seems like a cliché, doesn’t it? I admit I often struggle to understand what vulnerability is.
So what I did was think of things that make me the most uncomfortable in a relationship. The things I am most hesitant to talk about. The things that even as I think about them as I type this make me nervous.
The insecurities I have with my body.
My fears about love and relationships, and being hurt again. Just replaying the mistakes I’ve made, the failures I’ve endured (and caused), makes me clam up. Literally, I feel myself rolling in my shoulders and leaning forward as I think about it.
I bring to my head what really makes me scared and nervous in this life (which has just been magnified and seeded with steroids by the pandemic).
And then I think of sharing all of that with another person.
That’s what being vulnerable is.
This is a challenge for everyone, but for men in particular. Boys and young men are often taught to be stoic, to manage and to deal on their own, to be the lone cowboy. We are taught to be a man means being able to get through anything with strength, and that strength comes from within.
To knock that down brick by brick is often the greatest emotional challenge men face. It’s part of the reason men struggle with being honest (with themselves, and with others).
The difference between being honest with someone else and being vulnerable is that being vulnerable means exposing the emotional parts of you that arouse fear, shame, discomfort and embarrassment.
To feel that way in front of another person is to be vulnerable. To be that way in front of another person, though, also shows trust, the same kind of trust mentioned above that opens the door to greater bonding and togetherness between you and another person.
It’s not easy, but the dividends are deep.
Allocating Your Emotions
To be available means you have something to give, and that giving takes the form in sharing your life, experience and emotions with another.
Not just your emotions, but theirs, too.
Being emotionally available means you can share what your partner is feeling: their joy on their birthday, their frustration at work, their long-simmering aggravation that emanates from their family dynamics, the daily stress of getting by.
This is all just a fancy way of saying that to be emotionally available, you deeply, sincerely, actually have to give a shit about what your partner is going through.
You have to find the space within yourself to, if not exactly feel what they are feeling, then at least be beside them and go through it together.
Their pain is not your pain.
But their pain does affect you. It does involve you. As does their joy.
If you can’t experience the emotional highs and lows life throws at us with your partner, if you are dismissive of their feelings and blow them off, you’ll soon find yourself alone.
If your partner is crying, hold them (if that’s what they like). Or listen. Really listen. If they are smiling and jumping off the walls in excitement, share in that joy.
If you’ve got no emotional space for another person, that is not inherently a bad thing. There can be times (say, perhaps, during a pandemic?) when you are so flooded with your own emotions it might be hard to share emotional experiences with your partner.
But those should be the exceptions. If you’re partners, you’ll go through each other’s roller coaster together.
And this, by the way, is how I know, as I write this, I’m not ready to date again. I’m willing to allocate all that space — but not just to anybody.
For now, that space is still reserved for my ex. I am not open to giving that space of myself to anyone but her. In time that will change (I assume). If and when it does, that’s when I’ll be emotionally available again.
Knowing What You Want
This is what I’ve started asking myself now that I find myself single again. I haven’t created an online dating profile, but that’s one of the first questions you have to answer.
It seems basic, right? But it’s oh so difficult and complicated.
Just as you can be the only one who knows your honest and true feelings, only you know what you want and need out of a relationship.
It can start with the basics, like whether you want a long- or short-term relationship. Whether you are looking to get married, or date. If you want to start a family, or join one, or not go that route at all. Whether you want to move towards moving in with someone, or keeping your space and building a relationship around shared but separate dwellings.
But it goes so much deeper than that, too. Within the context of a relationship, what are you expecting and wanting out of a partner? That could range from everything as simple as just someone to go to the movies with (assuming we can go to the movies again) or someone to live with.
But you also need to know, or at least be working towards better understanding, how you operate. This covers everything from communication style to emotional needs to sexual desires to the basics of logistics, like how early you like to arrive at the airport before a flight or what temperature you like to keep the bedroom.
Whether it’s when you compose your online dating profile, or on your first date, you’ll be asked, ‘what is it you’re looking for in a relationship?’
Your prospective partner is going to want to know. And you should want to know for yourself. You can’t find what you want unless you know what you want in the first place.
Keep in mind, of course, that your wants and desires change over time, age and experience. Defining what you want is a never-ending process.
Emotional Availability During a Pandemic
All this stuff is hard, difficult, challenging, frustrating, sometimes deflating, often overwhelming, during normal times. Needless to say, these are not normal times.
Our lives have not just been thrown up in the air, sleep patterns disrupted, social outings limited to digital interactions, travel plans canceled or postponed, anxiety levels swinging back and forth like wind chimes in a thunderstorm.
We are all carrying a very heavy emotional burden: fear, anxiety, stress, grief, loss, boredom, frustration, sometimes a bit more fear.
For some, the only way to deal is by reaching out. Others withdraw. There is no one right way. There is no one way.
It feels like we are surviving much more than we are living. This is a traumatic time. And this might last awhile. Part of what burdens me is not knowing how long this will all last. I’m generally resilient, but uncertainty makes me uncomfortable.
And we are flooded with uncertainty right now.
None of us can get through this alone, even if so many of us, like me, are physically alone. We do need others to speak with, to care for, to know they care about us.
Many pieces have been written on whether now is a good time to date, or to start dating, whatever that means in today’s universe. And how to do it, if you choose to do so.
For now, in a way, I’m glad I’m not ready.
As I overcome heartache, at least I know what to look for within myself. Then, one day, maybe, perhaps, I can be open to looking for that in another person, ideally in person.
So now I’ll wait. That’s what you do, right, when something is unavailable? Wait?
Thanks to the pandemic, waiting is what we all have in common.
Previously Published on Medium