“You’re really mean to yourself,” my friend said after I’d finished listing all the ways I’d messed up a date with a guy I really liked. What did I do that I found so unacceptable? Here’s the list:
1. I didn’t offer to pay. I always offer to pay, but then I feel resentful because I don’t really want to pay and I want the guy to decline my offer, so I was just trying to experiment with letting myself feel treated. But now he probably thinks I’m using him and just in it for a free meal!
2.I botched the kiss goodnight moment. He went in for the kiss and I kissed him on the cheek, then gushed about what a great time I had to overcompensate for the missed kiss, then jumped out of his car. Because I wanted to kiss him, but I also wanted to take it slow, but I was nervous, and could I have been more horribly awkward?!
3. I talked about an ex. Absolutely unforgivable!!! Why, why, why did I do this???
“What if he never calls me again? I totally ruined it!” I exclaimed.
“Really mean,” my friend said again.
I let out a slow sigh. “I know.”
“Don’t pick up those thoughts,” my friend reminded me, as if I was an alcoholic reaching for a drink.
This wasn’t the first time I’d kicked the crap out of myself for being less than perfect on a date. I have a pattern of compulsively beating myself up about almost everything I do. This behavior probably developed as some sort of attempt to keep myself in line so I don’t make mistakes. The problem is, according to my inner bully, I can never make the right decision or do the right thing; any choice I make is the wrong one and I pay for it with a mental thrashing.
This can happen all day long, about big things, but often about really small, insignificant things … like botching a goodnight kiss with a guy I like. I punish myself mercilessly for saying the wrong thing (mentioning the ex!), too much, or not enough on dates. I ruminate about my wording and tone in emails and texts, worried that if I don’t get it right the recipient won’t want to go out with me again. And God forbid I ever have a typo, because I will be flooded with shame.
Even if we had a great time, I still can’t feel good about it because my mind will search out the one thing, however minor, that I could have done better, like remember to offer to pay. Trapped in this painful cycle, every perceived dating transgression is met with a barrage of berating thoughts as my chest tightens and my stomach twists into knots.
Drop it! I tell myself. DROP IT!!! And then I remember that I want to be nicer to myself so I try again. Drop it, please. Thank you, Jennifer. You’re doing great.
But it’s hard to rip the inner bullies who are piling on top of me off once they’ve already gotten started. And it’s hard not to start.
Several years ago I read this mantra in a self-help book by Michael Neill: “I cut myself infinite slack.” I cut myself no slack. And this habit tends to make my love life rigid and robs me of joy, spontaneity, ease, and fun that should be a part of dating. In and of themselves, wrong-thing-saying is not at all painful; it’s the brutality I heap on myself afterwards that causes the constant agony.
So after this brutal beating up of myself over this date-gone-wrong, I took a walk in the park letting my friends’ words resonate and the mantra repeat itself. My inner bullies started to retreat and mind was miraculously quiet. I was peaceful and serene. I felt happy—and free. This is how I want to live, I thought. Cutting myself infinite slack. Not getting hooked on the minutiae, trying to whip myself into some nonexistent state of dating perfection.
Beating myself up actually doesn’t work. It doesn’t make me better or perfect or more lovable, it just makes me miserable. I can’t take it anymore so I’m calling a permanent moratorium on beating myself up after dates. I’ve decided to put down the thoughts I use to beat myself with Please put them down. Thank you very much, and pick up kindness and gentleness instead. Oh, and I’ve promised myself not beat myself up if I don’t do this perfectly!