(Online) Dating as a Trauma Survivor
When you start to get paralyzed, I need you to write about it, my therapist told me during our session on Friday. I need you to write about it because that’s how you process what’s happening, and for too long, you haven’t processed.
He’s right. I know he’s right, but writing scares me. Writing scares me because there’s this layer of uncomfortability that comes with each post. Each time I write about my past or about my feelings or about my mental health, I bare a part of my soul to whoever reads it (and the number of readers has been steadily increasing over the last few months).
And that’s what terrifies me: becoming known, being seen. I’ve always been the girl in the corner, the quiet one, the one too scared to raise her hand in class. Now I have a voice. Now I know how to vocalize the emotions I’ve blocked for years.
The emotions I’m feeling: a healthy mix of anger, sadness, hurt, betrayal, and fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
When I told my therapist I thought I was finally ready to enter the dating world, he looked at me and simply said, tell me about the thoughts in your head. We spent the entire session talking about why I thought I was ready, how I was approaching each conversation, how I was going to balance being honest about my past with not saying too much at the beginning.
I haven’t figured that last part out yet.
But I have learned this so far: it’s better to be honest with yourself than to try to please another person.
I’ve deleted and redownloaded dating apps so many times in the last six months. Once because I met a guy. Once because my mental health was at an all-time low. Once because my trauma kept sneaking up on me any time a guy messaged me.
I redownloaded the apps just a few days ago, not because I’m not terrified anymore. Because I am. I’m terrified of letting guys get to know me, get too close. The what if’s and the invasion of the past reverberate through my mind. But I redownloaded them anyway.
I redownloaded them because I’m more than my past — more than the rape, and the abusive ex, and the eating disorder, and the suicide attempts. I’m more than the diagnoses.
Still, there’s this fear spinning in the back of my head. That I won’t be good enough. Worth it. Loveable. All the things my rapists said to me and I’ve said to myself. I’m trying to change those thought patterns.
A few months ago, my therapist had me write down a list of things that I am — positive words, positive characteristics. A truly daunting task. The words I came up with don’t matter — if you’ve kept up with my story, you probably know the words I chose anyway.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this — there’s really no “how-to” guide for dating as a trauma survivor.
Not really. Besides trust your instincts. I’ve blocked so many guys who said the wrong thing right off the bat — you know what I’m talking about: unsolicited pictures, pick up lines that are anything but funny. You know how it is online; people feel safe behind a screen, say things they wouldn’t normally say.
It’s like a game of Russian Roulette.
The point is: I’m trying. I’m putting myself out there, opening myself up to the possibility of being hurt.
In one of the apps, one of the prompting profile “getting to know you” questions was “What’s the most private thing you’re willing to admit?” So I laid it out there: I said, “I have depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. But I have a therapist for that.” My mental illnesses and my past are as much a part of me as my hair color or eye color. Although I’m not defined by any of those things.
The point is: you are not defined by your past; it’s just made you stronger, more aware, more perceptive. Trust your instincts.
But, most importantly, truly, truly believe that you’re worth being loved. You’re not too broken. You are worth so much more than you even know.