Body image, body shaming, fat shaming.
Heart image, heart shaming, self-shaming. Expanding the same concept.
You know how the body piece goes. If you don’t conform to the current, socio-cultural standards and stereotypes of ‘attractive’, you’re f@*k#d. It starts at home, it progresses in school, you’re enveloped in it for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter what gender you identify as, doesn’t matter that you’re binary, non-binary, queer, cis any the anything. Being cis gender heterosexual means you’ve quite likely grown up with stereotypes of what is considered as being attractive, hot and sexy, and internalised some degree of body shame. Being non-heterosexual, non-cis gender, doesn’t mean you’re a body image rocket scientist either. You will most likely have certain stereotypes and a quick check in will identify your pet areas of body shame.
Heart image, heart shaming and self-shaming are real, terrifying experiences and they creep innonto our lives with far greater subtlety than do those of the body. The body, being physical, visible, and tangible, lends itself to the transactions of dialogue, debate, and engagement, publicly and privately, with far greater ease. The heart, that I will now define as spirit, soul and emotion, and not the organ pumping blood, is far less visible, and typically not tangible or physical. How do spirit, soul and emotion suffer shame? Wrestle with stereotype? Identify, accept, reject and create their own image? Most crucial question of all, why and how is it important?
This issue of In Plainspeak is on dating and sexuality. Both concepts have the capacity to expand or contract depending on the vast, and unfortunately often dark, rabbit hole, or the tiny matchbox we choose to unpack our stories in. There are questions one must ask. Who is the person in that dating space? What is their experience and perception of sexuality? What are the truths that shape us? To look at either dating or sexuality in isolation of all other unseen, unknown, formative, powerful life experiences and desires, to consider a coffee meeting or a fuck on the first date as the single most significant starting point of anything, is a massive error. Everything we are, or do, is part of a progression of our personal history, and influenced by the times we live in, the larger events that are our context, and therefore nothing is actually the start nor the end of a story. We just pick a point of the narrative to focus on, when we tell ourselves or somebody else what’s going on, and we pick another point of the narrative where we stop ourselves from continuing the story. We think it stands alone, but it doesn’t. The awareness of this keeps a person in a state of flow, as opposed to finality. That everything is in a state of change, that an encounter with another person may be the first, the last, or an opportunity for deepening connection, but is always a point of progression from yesterday through today into tomorrow, this shapes perspective. Perspective on self, other and any event of a story in progress.
Very recently, I had a heart encounter with someone. As a result I almost did my unpacking of these concepts in a rabbit hole but I was led, gently, out by the same person, a sensitive, kind, human being. I thank them for doing this. To not dwell at great length upon this part of the story, just treat it as the context of my epiphany, I fell in love with someone too soon, too swiftly. At this point in time and life, this person did not feel as I did, or want what I wanted. I don’t think we were in the dating space, but then I don’t think I date. I’m a non-binary, non-heterosexual, non-dater!
Falling in love is not the most overwhelming of the issues here. We make too much of it. Perhaps because of the rush of powerful emotion the experience brings, in a world where emotion has either been downgraded, or used to manipulate consumption. Consumption of ideas, propaganda, products, entertainment and services. Do this out of love, buy that because you love, be this because you are loved. Seen that, right? Emotion and feeling, the real and integral raw material of connection or disconnect with other beings and the world around us, has been deconstructed, reconstructed, dressed up like a captive performing monkey on the street, for purposes as varied as vote bank politics, selling apartments to the perfect family, forcing heterosexual norms upon queer people, promoting the gurus of life, love and spirituality to calm the anxious, thumping heart beat that is born of knowing we’ve got it wrong. Just don’t know what it is.
The world is full of people, all kinds of people, unique, intriguing, attractive, full of so many different stories, shades of soul, courage, warmth, love, bringing with them so much experience, insight, learning and ways of being that draw and pull at the soul of another. This doesn’t mean that mutual, reciprocal love, that we identify with romantic love, partnering, soul-mating, intimacy, will happen perfectly each time one attractive soul connects with another such. Though it can happen. It can happen immediately, or it can happen over time, and there may be a process of moving forward leading to such perfection! But generally, when it doesn’t happen, there are many reasons, and they need to be understood in the now of it all, because now is what we know, and have, to shape and be shaped by; tomorrow can only be intent and work-in-progress. Sometimes the timing is wrong. Sometimes the people aren’t in the same head and heart space or on the same journey. Sometimes the terms of attraction are not mutual. This is when crap happens. This is when themes like consent, rejection, harassment, respect, acceptance, bitterness, pain, anger, humiliation, ego, honour tumble out of the common closet of life.
It is crucial that we understand though that all of these feelings have their roots in so much more than that one single life event, such as falling in love with a person who doesn’t fall in love back. These feelings come from the all of who we are, our life experiences, personalities, exposure, our families and friends, the society and culture we identify with, the comments and feedback we anticipate from friends and others in our circle who may hear the story and have much to say. These feelings come from a heart conditioned to understand concepts of love in a certain way, or feel the shame of being a heart that loved and wasn’t loved back.
Why did you put yourself in that position?
You should’ve known better!
You’re such a kid!
Aren’t you too old to keep doing this?
You’re supposed to hold back until you get to know the other person better!
Who puts all their cards on the table?!
You should’ve listened to your parents.
You shouldn’t have gotten divorced.
You should have gotten married.
Stop wearing your heart on your sleeve.
(And if that isn’t enough, the grinding, mean, frightened little voice in your own head repeats in loop mode) F*@k*&@ idiot. You’re going to die and it’s all your own fault.
Now that’s heart shaming and it’s been internalised. And it happens to us many times over, for many different reasons, in a life where we have often held ourselves up against somebody else’s standards of what success is, and we have failed. We have been berated for failure against parameters that are not our own, and had it shoved down our throats that other people have always known better. We see ourselves not as who we are, but as who someone else, many other such elses, think we ought to be. They know better. This is heart shaming.
So now that that’s been identified, defined to some degree, let’s take a look at dating. Dating by its nature and purpose is a process of exclusion, not inclusion. You date because you’re looking for a ‘like-minded’, ‘special’, ‘someone’, to meet and hook up with, meet and see where it goes, meet and fall in love. Maybe. And now there’s also dating to make friends and increase your circle. The implication is that it’s hard to find such people in general. It also means that you’re going to have to sift through ‘candidates’ to narrow down ‘possibilities’, and then you must engage with those possibilities and exclude most of them. As those possibilities do with you. Each of those ‘possibilities’ is a person. You, are a person too. To be so excluded, or to so exclude, even if you know the rules of this game, brings the chilling certainty of experiencing a cross marked against a human being, more often than a checkmark.
See, this is not such a simple deal. Heart shaming and heart image issues, invisible, unarticulated, often unidentified and unknown, are stampeding like wild rhino across the canvas while you try and paint your life into the perfect shapes and colours.
Dating is one of many methods some people explore to widen the field when someone and something is missing in their lives. So let us now make a case for kindness. Let each person be proud, be strong, and let others be proud and strong too. Let each person own their hearts. Let not heart shaming go unnoticed, unreported, unattended, as it eats away at the shape of the human who owns that heart.
This gives us another lens to use when we look to understand consent, rejection, reciprocity or the lack of it. It gives us the possibility of a different approach to saying No. The possibility of a different way of hearing a No. And the possibility of supporting those who are dear to us, when they collide with a No. Because, yes, the fact of the No that must often be said, and as often be heard, in life, remains. The method of delivering that No, and signing to receive this package – that can be reflected upon.
So if someone fell in love with you, you could let that puff you up with power, you could use it, abuse it, abuse them, think it happened because you’re so Mohammad Ali. Or you could reflect a bit and see what it means, to you, to the other person, and what you need to do next. This requires honesty, integrity and courage. It requires compassion.
At the same time, we do live in a world where stalking is a real problem, a real danger. So before you figure out how to be all this honesty, compassion etc., identify whether or not this person poses some active threat to you. If your answer is yes, if even your gut says yes, then seek help immediately from people you trust. Understand that there are people who may not respect your ‘No’ or your honesty, and in such cases, stay away, stay aware, stay supported.
So, in this room where everyone’s looking for something and someone ‘special’, but the ‘No’ is flying thick and hearts are in a shamed hell, step back. If you’ve got the power that comes with being fallen in love with, and you do not reciprocate, then be fierce, be brave and be kind. Give the one who falls in love space to breathe, to understand that this is not them being hated, it is a mis-match. Be careful about the support you present to them at this time and for a while. Being kind does not mean being dragged into the script of somebody else’s drama of unreciprocated romantic love.
And if you are the one who falls in love, finds the feeling unreciprocated, remember that it’s your heart. You own it. Nobody else does. Remember this is also true of the person you have fallen in love with. Your heart isn’t in the hot seat, and nor is the heart of the other person. (Important note: If you listen to a lot of music, create a playlist that has power, dance like a demon, the teary love songs are just the wrong choice right now! Don’t send drunken texts. Definitely no sexting.
Neither of you needs to be answering anybody else’s questions about why you fell in love, or didn’t, or when or will you or do you think. Either today, or tomorrow, or the day after. You answer to yourself, today and tomorrow, and your questions and answers may change, but they are your questions and your answers, pretty much like the heart you own, your own.
Each heart has the right to live in the power of self-love, self-respect, acceptance and dignity. It’s a little bit like saying: this is me, this is the shape of me, and anybody that has judgmental commentary can f@*k off. That’s heart powering, heart celebrating and heart pumping iron!
Cover Image: Pixabay