The mind is a weird thing, isn't it? It's supposed to help us break down complicated situations and make sense of the seemingly bizarre stuff the universe recklessly throws in our direction.
But we use our impressive intelligence to question beautiful things; we use our endless brain power to overthink the dreamy gifts life gives us; we use our intellect to question our instincts. Our heads often pull us out of our hearts.
In these ways, the mind can also be our mortal enemy and quickly turn on us.
Sometimes, my mind convinces me that my heart and gut don't know shit about shit, and this fabulous person standing in front of me is too good to be true — that they must be a mirage. And I've pushed away amazing people because of it.
Good things, for so many of us, are unfamiliar. And we're wired to keep pushing away the unfamiliar, right?
Luckily, I've come to recognize the specific signs and patterns that show me I'm sabotaging something good. Becoming aware of these patterns has helped me break the cycle, and maybe it can help you, too.
Here are the three tell-tale signs you might be running away from someone you should be running toward:
You get freaked out by their thoughtful gestures.
A few weeks ago, I was having dinner with a close friend of mine named Cleo*.
Hanging out with Cleo often feels like looking directly into a mirror. We share similar issues, have lived through similar traumas and most importantly, we share the same habit of pushing away good things.
Historically, we've both been drawn to dysfunctional, narcissistic people. We're trying to free ourselves of this screwy pattern that's threatening to destroy our love lives, so we try to keep each other in check.
Lately, it's been more me keeping her in check — though we both fluctuate, taking our dutiful turns as the self-destructive one needing guidance.
"How is that new girl you're seeing treating you? She seems to be that unicorn combination of hot and smart," I asked her at our recent dinner as I aggressively stabbed at my steak with a dull kitchen knife.
"Oh, she's, you know... whatever." Cleo tucked a piece of bleached hair behind her ear and cast her almond-shaped eyes downward — her classic look of defeat.
"What does 'whatever' mean?" I bitchily tapped my nails against my wine glass.
"She bought me a fucking house plant."
"You love fucking house plants."
"So, what's the problem? Why are you recklessly throwing 'whatevers' at me?"
"I don't know. It's weird."
I practically threw my $16 glass of Sauvignon Blanc at her.
"It's not weird! You've been dating Maya for three months! You drone on and on about your epic love of house plants — which, for the record, we all think is weird as hell — but this sweet girl doesn't think it's weird, so she sweetly buys you one. You should be grateful she didn't break up with you for being such a weird house plant hoarder."
Why was I getting so angry? Because I was so painfully irritated that I could see myself in her self-sabotaging behavior, and I didn't like what I saw.
"Don't you think it's too soon?" Cleo pressed, her mesmerizing blue eyes, like two massive swimming pools, scanned the room.
"She bought you a $12 plant, not an engagement ring." I did my best to penetrate her gaze, hoping direct eye contact would snap her out of it.
Later that night, I really thought about Cleo's situation. She had dated a bevy of emotionally abusive people who didn't give a rat's ass about her. And finally, after years of heartbreak, here she was: finally dating someone who bestowed her with the sweet little gestures she so deserved.
And there she was, freaking out and running away from the first girl who actually listened to her when she spoke and paid attention to her quirky love of plants.
Please allow me to teach you an imperative lesson that took me far too long to learn: Don't be like Cleo. Someone doing something thoughtful for you is not weird. It's actually a sign of kindness.
Allow me to teach you this lesson as well: Thoughtful actions do not mean someone is trying to marry you.
(The main theme for today is going to be learning to deal with discomfort.)
If you grew up with dismissive parents or have only ever dated people who are so self-absorbed they would never think to go out of their way for you, it's going to feel unfamiliar to date someone who's thoughtful. But you need to sit with the discomfort for a minute before you run.
Discomfort won't kill you. But staying in this pattern of pushing away amazing people will kill your shot at real love.
You turn sweet dates into destructive fights.
We're creatures of habit; we all get cozy and comfortable in the familiar, even if the familiar is bad for us.
So, when we're dating someone who is good for us and we're on a peaceful, wonderful date, we sometimes can't help but twist the perfect evening into a toxic night.
I dated someone who did this endlessly. I would arrange a beautiful dinner somewhere picturesque and romantic, full with flickering candles and her favorite live music. It would be on these specific nights that she would choose to bring up something small I had done months back that had irritated her. It was triggering for me.
"Why do you have to choose tonight of all nights to pick on me?" I would ask, feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach.
There are few feelings worse than throwing yourself out on a limb and stringing together a lovely date, only to be viciously attacked. It's actually incredibly humiliating. After all, it's a vulnerable thing to put your heart on the line and do something nice for someone in this apathetic culture.
This scene repeated itself so often, I finally had to cut the cord and walk away from the relationship. When I threw my clothes into a duffel bag and called the cab to pick me up from her apartment, she started to cry. And this girl was a no-crying tough girl.
She kept apologizing. She told me she had turned all of our romantic dates into fights because they all felt too good to be true.
"It's too late," I said, finally leaving. I was done. I was tired of feeling like an idiot and having all of the well-planned evenings turn dark. I was ready to step back into the light again.
I also realized I'd done the same thing in the past. And I've also been broken up with because of it.
I thought about why I had done the same toxic thing my girlfriend had done to me, and I realized I wasn't used to being happy and enjoying myself with a person. I was used to good things always abruptly ending. They always had for as long as I could remember.
Girl, I had issues. And this girl I was dating also had issues. So people like us — under the false impression that it's easier to sabotage something really good — eventually turned on each other. The demise, in our minds, was inevitable, so we might as well control it.
But now that I've come out on the other side, I've realized sweet dates are actually magical. They're the sacred moments in a relationship that keep the love escalating and the spark flickering.
I don't want to destroy these moments, I want to savor them. I understand the fear of having something good go away, but you can't keep listening to the fear, baby.
Like I said before: Sit with the discomfort and the fear instead of letting them manifest in mean, argumentative ways.
Because, eventually, these fears and anxieties will taper away. They might not ever be gone entirely, but the very real joy of a lovely date will eventually trump your fears of your happiness going away.
You're mistaking tranquility with boredom.
My first romantic relationship was really chaotic. I was young, and it was with someone who was over a decade older. Even though I was a kid, it was a really pivotal relationship.
But this woman was wild. Not wild in the fun, "I'm going to streak through the streets at 2 am" kind of way, but wild in an unpredictable way.
I never knew when she was going to turn on me. It left me constantly living in a state of fear and anxiety because I never knew when she was going to go the other direction.
One moment, I was the love of her life. The next, she was physically pushing me out of her apartment, leaving me on the stoop of a bad neighborhood at 2 am, telling me to never call her again. This would be followed by grand gestures, beautifully written apology notes and impulsive trips to exotic destinations.
Whenever I would tell her our incessant fighting made me upset, she would say, "Our relationship is passionate. That's what passion is." So I was convinced, up until very recently, that "passion" meant "arguments." And who doesn't want passion?
We all want to feel passion, but so many of us have our definition of passion corrupted.
So when I dated someone and we seamlessly got along, talking things out instead of screaming about them at the top of our lungs, I thought our relationship was fucking boring. I wanted to run back into the arms of a toxic lover.
But as I've gotten older, I've realized tranquility is not boring. In fact, a tempestuous dynamic is fucking boring.
It means you have no real connection and no real substance keeping you together. You're just riding on the roller coaster of hurt feelings and makeup sex, only to crash on your face again later. Eventually, your face is going to hurt after you've fallen on it so many times.
And the other thing about roller coasters is, you can't live riding on one. It's not a sustainable life. They're fun for three minutes at an amusement park, but we'd much rather prefer standing firmly on stable pavement.
Fighting is not passion. Real passion and real love are both deeply tranquil and safe. And safety should never be confused with boring. A deep, authentic relationship must have a solid foundation of respect.
And yelling, pushing, screaming and being vindictive is the antithesis of respect. In fact, they're scare tactics. And in the more extremes, abuse.
Love can leave you feeling many things: confused, bewildered, insecure. But it should never make you afraid for your safety. Ever.
So, while this whole healthy relationship thing might be unfamiliar and bizarre at first, please don't push it away.
Once you break free from this pattern, I promise you, you're going to find that true love that is consistent, thoughtful, tranquil and, above all, kind. And true love is the only kind of love worth experiencing.
So don't push away the people who treat you the way you so deserve to be treated. Embrace those people instead. Those are the only people worth an ounce of your precious time.
*Name has been changed.