After all of these huge life transitions (divorce, moving, job hunting), I finally have time for some fun which includes dating. (If you’d like some context, check out my previous post on starting to date here.) But you don’t get to this age without some baggage. Here’s mine.

Like you, I learned survival skills early. Don’t touch a hot stove, check both ways before crossing the street, brake early when it snows. Sometimes I learned the hard way and got burned or worse, in an accident. Sometimes I learned the easy way and simply acknowledged that I didn’t want to be leveled by a truck. And sometimes, I got lucky and the stove was cold, the street clear, and the intersection salted.

In addition to the practical, I learned a whole set of relationship survival skills. Some of them are from way, way back. Be quiet, be good, get good grades. Don’t touch the radio. Identify the perfect time to ask. Don’t ask. Some of them are less old. Don’t get angry. Stay in line. Don’t share. Be prepared for consequences.

These skills spared me then, but they don’t serve me now. I am a different person with new skills and wider perspective. Which means that everything feels like I am doing it for the first fucking time. This sparks the battle between my survival instincts and my rational brain. Do I need my survival skills or not? I feel the need to recalibrate often. What am I feeling? What am I picking up on? What’s old and what’s new.

Fortunately, these skills are situation dependent. I don’t have to worry about a hot stove when I’m not in the kitchen. Cross traffic isn’t a problem in a field and the streets are not icy in summer. It’s the same with relationship survival skills. They are people dependent. A different me and a different partner produce a different relationship…if I let it.

It would be easier to simply tell myself every stove is hot, it’s never okay to ask, and never safe to share. That’s when my survival skills are running the show. I am protected but separate and what’s the point of that if I want connection. My hard work is in assessing the situation, trusting my new skills and perspective, and knowing that I will be okay… even if I occasionally make the wrong call.

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