If the last year has taught me anything (other than how frighteningly fragile life is amid this global pandemic), it’s that I’m not looking for a conventional relationship. Even my astrology app notifications keep insisting that any potential partners must be willing to follow me along on my own path—not the other way around.
With that in mind, I started using a dating app for the first time in awhile around the end of last year. I quickly connected with a very cute, smart, funny guy (let’s call him Joe) who just moved to my city. We met up for drinks at a pub around the corner from my place; I usually ask dates to come to my neighbourhood so that I can be reunited with Netflix within 20 minutes if things get uncomfortable or if I get stood up (true story—but I’ll save that for another day). But within an hour, I knew I didn’t want this date with Joe to end yet and I felt comfortable enough to ask him back to my place to listen to some records.
We eventually moved into the bedroom and had sex. It had been a really Iong time since I’d been so intimate with someone—I found myself more guarded than ever in the era of #MeToo and letting someone get this close to me so quickly was a little scary.
I started to panic slightly. It felt just like what Brene Brown talked about in her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability: I was in the middle of a “vulnerability hangover.” As Jasmine Davis, Ph.D., psychologist at Lotus Counseling Center describes it here: “It’s that lingering fear after you share something where you put yourself out there in some way, and you’re not sure of the response yet.”
Up until this moment with Joe, I’d only thought of a vulnerability hangover in emotional terms. This time, I was feeling super raw because of the physical intimacy we’d just shared. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but I soon realized just how much I was sharing with him—my body, my bed, my apartment—that it made me feel uneasy. I hold my home, and especially my bedroom, as a sacred space that I enjoy keeping all to myself. And I couldn’t let myself focus on how he was feeling about it all because that opened a Pandora’s Box of possibilities: What if he didn’t enjoy himself? What if he’s not as attracted to me as I am to him? What if he wants to stay over? WHAT IF HE SNORES?!
Here’s what Brene Brown says about overcoming the vulnerability hangover: “This idea that we can be brave and comfortable is mythology… You gotta embrace the suck of vulnerability and you have to remember that as long as your intentions are in the right place for what you shared and how you’re sharing, it’s not supposed to be comfortable.”
In the past, I would always suppress my needs to avoid conflict with partners. Which, I realized later, is a recipe for a self-love disaster of epic proportions: The idea of being vulnerable and getting totally honest about what I needed scared me more than just agreeing to what someone else wanted from me. So, I ended up in toxic relationships where I’d give and give, and not have my own needs met.
And even though I was aware of that laying next to Joe, I still tried to push my feelings down with Joe initially. He asked if I wanted him to stay over. “Yeah, sure,” I lied. I cuddled into him a little closer while we talked, but I was distracted. I wanted to be alone again.
I decided to embrace the raw feeling and lean into it. Because here’s the thing: If I can’t be completely honest with someone after being so intimate, then that is not a relationship worth pursuing. Being single and having the privilege of my own apartment, my personal sanctuary, means I get to decide who I allow into it. In that moment, all I wanted to do was snuggle my dog and go to sleep in the middle of my bed.
“I’m feeling really raw right now.” I said while Joe started to gently doze. He turned and looked me in the eye. “I think I have a vulnerability hangover.” I was calm and measured, but the Leo in me was ready to kick this guy out if he got irritated or attempted to convince me to let him stay. “What can we do?” he asked me.
“I’ve had such a great time with you, but I need to spend tonight alone,” I said. “I know I said you could stay but this has been a lot of intimacy for me really fast and I need some time to decompress and process everything.”
“Ok. That’s totally fine.” He leaned over and kissed my forehead, which made the moment feel even more tender.
The subway had stopped running, so I called an Uber for him. The fact that he didn’t question me or show the slightest bit of annoyance made the situation easier to navigate. It also made me trust him a little bit more. And speaking up about what I needed in the moment made me trust myself a lot more, too.
It didn’t work out with Joe in the long run, though I would totally have gone on another date with him. He moved back to the US and we slowly fell out of touch. I still think about that night a lot. It’s the last time I was intimate with someone and, like many others, I’m missing affectionate and romantic touch right now.
But ultimately, giving myself the time and space to process how I was really feeling after my first hookup in a long while was the best thing I could have done for myself.
It’s empowering AF to listen to what your inner self needs in any given moment. I got to fall asleep feeling completely chill again—no snoring (except from my dog, Bigsby).