Two goals of mine that surprise some people are my desires to be married and have a family — with the latter happening if the former didn’t pan out. The shock may come from the fact that I’m a reserved person, that I’m a man, or even that good ol’ stereotypical chestnut of black men not being family-oriented — thanks to the amount of African-American single mothers and TV shows depicting lack of male accountability (That’s My Mama, What’s Happening, Homeboys in Outer Space).
But yeah, my biggest dreams in life involve a wife and kids. It seems normal to me, though maybe not those around me; At the age of 10, I was passing out invitations around my house to my wedding to my fourth-grade crush — who I had courted in my mind for about 3 months. My knowledge of married life came from what I observed from my mom and dad, and they seemed to like each other, so I wanted that. Never mind that I didn’t know the hard work, communication and stress that went into it. Married life seemed peachy keen, and it felt all but inevitable for me.
Then I got older. I experienced the horrors of junior high and high school. I experienced humiliation, alienation, loneliness and despair that I still cope with today. I started breaking away emotionally from people, wanting to be on my own.
And then I experienced dating.
Dating was a lot tougher, less fun and more depressing than I ever thought it would be. My childhood knowledge of dating was from TV, and that it was a straight path to the wedding aisle. Little did I know that most relationships dissolve, and that more than one of two marriages end in divorce — something I was experiencing in my personal life.
I got a late start in the dating game thanks to low self-esteem and lack of confidence, and my limited experience in conjunction with uncertainty and disrespect grounded my attempts to form bonds with girls — mostly through self-sabotage. The long gaps between dates were self-imposed “hiatuses,” convincing myself that I would focus on school to get done ASAP and not look back, to get my working career off the ground, to get settled into a new home and state.
But what I was running from was being vulnerable, avoiding opening myself up to letting someone in. And I wanted to let someone in in the worst way possible. I wanted that end result. I still didn’t know what that goal entailed or about maintaining it. I knew in my heart that it would sate that thirst, fill that empty void.
In 2006, I pulled myself off of the sidelines — another term I often used when being on dating hiatus — and hit the dating scene hard. I put my profile on several dating websites and went on more dates in 9 months than I had in my 26 years combined. And every single bond petered out after one or two dates. I vowed that I would find the one — somehow, some way.
And then I fell in love. And then I suffered heartbreak.
I had been in love before, or so I thought. And I felt heartbreak before — plenty of times. But placing my heart in someone else’s hands that I felt was The One, willing myself into thinking that she was The One — The One I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, have kids with, hold, hold hands and cuddle with — exposed myself bare, letting them have control over my emotional makeup.
And like most relationships, it ended. And I was emotionally shattered.
I retreated back to the sidelines, vowing that it would be temporary. And then I got up and hit the dating ground running. Never mind the caliber of person; I would get over that hurt. Little did I know it, but I was still wearing the bandages from the scars. That tiny plot of land around my sidelines had grown, expanded and broke away, finding water to make it harder to reach; walls sprouted from the ground and climbed high until I couldn’t see what was around me. I was adrift at sea, and every visitor eventually ran for the nearest emergency raft.
What I didn’t expect from my emotional exile was an inordinate amount of introspection into my life and actions. I grew up and became less selfish. And it gave me new insight into those two goals that I long wanted. I finally learned that having that wife and kids would come from making myself vulnerable to the possibilities of love or agony and all of the responsibilities and emotional endurance that it would require.
But what about the self-esteem and confidence? I can’t say. We all have our barriers of baggage that we bring into relationships, and I’m trying to tear mine down. But I’m slowly paddling my island back to the mainland, and maybe someone will find a bridge to me.