How you show up is your choice
Relationships have always been my kryptonite. I love sexuality. I love love. I love understanding how people tick. Psychology. Biology. Sexology. It’s my fuel, it’s how I understand emotions, thoughts, feelings.
Despite my complex understanding of relationships on an academic level, I’ve never been particularly skilled at facilitating them in my life. I’ve never had a long-term, serious romantic relationship. Most of my friends have been made in the last three years. I only consider two people from my childhood currently close enough to call or text. I’ve been estranged from half of my family since high-school. I am in contact with 0/4 of my former roommates.
I’ve always been searching for the balance, the sweet spot between connected and self-fulfilled, independent and cared for, love and obsession, infatuation and aloofness. It’s always seemed to elude me, as I ebb and flow between being liked, to despised, open and closed, vulnerable and unavailable. As soon as I dip into one extreme, I start to long f or the other.
One of my biggest weaknesses in relationship dynamics? Fear of abandonment, often wrapped up in the form of rejection-avoidance. I’ll reject someone before they can reject me. I’ll act aloof and distant to avoid showing my true feelings. I’ll act stoic to mask the depth of my emotional investment.
I also have a deep fear of inadequacy. A sense of being broken. It’s been plaguing me since I was first sexually assaulted, as I often feel unworthy of love, sex, pleasure, and affection.
Despite these shortfalls, I have to also acknowledge my strong suits. I am very persistent, aggressive, and ruthless in my approach to mate selection. I go after what I want and am not afraid to ask for more. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I also have a certain amount of frustration at boy’s not seeming to notice me very much and feel that I have to put myself out there to get any attention, sexually or romantically.
Back in December or January, I had taken a class at one of my favorite boxing fitness studios, Box + Flow, with an instructor I didn’t recognize. I instantly felt an admiration for him and an inner spark that I couldn’t really explain (but we can’t really explain the biological and psychological underpinnings of romantic interest with conscious thought processes, right?).
It’s not really my style to flirt with someone randomly in a first meeting, I’m much more likley to try to get their number or pursue them in some other way later on. Often behind a screen. My comfort zone, I admit.
I didn’t for a while, but found myself one night with too much wine and too little connection, and slid into his DMs. I hemmed and hawed over the opening line, wanting to make it funny, smooth, and intentional. When I landed on the right verbiage (I decided to use an analogy that only MMA fans would understand, also a test on my part), I took a sharp breath and pressed send.
He replied back quickly, with a response that was avoidant, sort of ignoring the point as a way to shift away from the question. I am nothing if not direct, so I asked “Does that mean you’re not interested?” He confirmed what I already knew.
My heart dropped and I felt a huge sense of shame come over me. Rejection is not something I can take. I felt regret, as I now worried about having to see him at box + flow, how I would deal with my emotional discomfort. I told him that I was sorry for having vouched the question, since I truly wished I’d kept my mouth shut. He tried to comfort me, reminding me that we never land the shots we don’t take. True enough, but I was still filled with remorse.
This remorse led me to avoid the studio I once loved and found so much solace in. The place that forced me to push myself, face myself, and be myself, like no other studio did. The place I felt both so at home and empowered in, I even inquired about teaching. For months.
At the same time, I was facing many other demons and harsh lessons: I got screwed over by my roommates and had to move, I felt constant pressure to make things happen in my career that weren't happening. I used money and food to numb my feelings. I ran into constant roadblocks in sex and dating, because I was emotionally unavailable. I faced physical and emotionally illnesses. To myself and everyone around me.
As my stress built, fitness, boxing, and fighting slid off of my priority list. I ended up going from working out almost daily, sometimes two or even three times per day, to hardly moving at all for two months.
It was late July when I saw on Instagram that box + flow was hosting a free workout class at the William Vale. I jumped on the chance to get a ticket. I almost chickened out, since I was afraid that I would gas out during the sweat session thanks to my lack of fitness, that I would appear to not embody the values I stood for (and told them as such).
But I did it anyway.
I am so glad I did.
It was the renaissance of my love of flow + fight.
The class itself was magical, but it was the domino effect that happened afterwards. I started running again. Attending yoga. Strength training. Boxing. Doing everything I loved. Feeling like myself again, my true, authentic, raw, and real self.
Box + Flow became a staple once again, grounding my Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings. I found my strength, fought through the fatigue, and saw myself growing more and more each week.
On a Tuesday evening, I found myself once again on the mats of Box + Flow. The instructor in question was taking the class taught by Liv too, although we were in separate sections of the room. I’d seen him around the studio before, didn’t think much of it, wasn’t ata ll phased, and honestly, had moved on from my crush. My heart didn’t flutter when I saw him, but I cringed at the thought that he perhaps thought it did.
When it was time to drop the weights and move to the heavy bags, I zigged and zagged through the crowded studio and decided to take a spot in the back of one of the bags, since everyone was going to have to share, as the class was full. I’m not sure exactly how it happened but somehow the guy and I ended up as partners on the same heavy bag.
I remember hating myself and this moment because it was taking me out of the game. My focus was on what he was thinking, rather than on what I was doing. I was upset that his tall, solid frame could thwack the bag harder with a jab than my hardest punch could ever hope to. I was upset that my stomach wasn’t flat and sticking out over my leggings, that I didn’t look at flawless as I felt I needed to in order to be seen. I still gave it my all, but I didn’t feel that inner warrior come out to play, I had to really force myself to stay in it. I felt mentally flat the entire class.
After we boxed and it was time to yoga flow, he put his glove out to give me a high-five in the form of a glove tap. I tapped gloves and gave him a smile.
In that exchange, I realized that all of that bullshit was in my head. It wasn’t real, it was just a combination of a mental projection of my own insecurities and fear taking hold on my mindset. I was so afraid of rejection, I couldn’t face someone after they’d rejected me, even if I didn’t care anymore, even if it didn’t really matter, because of the shame and fear it provoked. My instinct was to run and hide.
It was all mental. My lack of performance, my flatness, my lack of drive in the workout was a reflection of my body responding to the paranoia in my mind. It was all a process, all a system, one that I could choose to fix, abandon, or simply cave to.
Your life. Your mind. Your body. Your choice.
When I came back to class on Saturday morning, I was amped. I realized how my being was a system, my body and mind intimately connected through my actions, thoughts, and feelings. It was my choice to show up. I came into class properly hydrated, fed with healthy fats, rested, well-read, and ready to rock.
This time, my performance looked completely different, you wouldn’t know it was the same me as four days prior. I was focused, I was punching with power, and I even decided to fight through the entirety of the speed and power rounds (which ususally alternative between partners on the bags). I got to see first hand how mental and physical preparation shaped my entire performance, that it was a choice in the moment, yes, but also a summation of choices made throughout the day, evening, or week, with the bill coming due when I had to ask myself for more. Was my bank account empty from constant taking, or did I save my pennies for when it mattered?
Relationships are a reflection of this same process- not just about the current moment, but how you’ve show up throughout your lifetime. How your parents did or didn’t show up for you. How their parents did or didn’t do the same. Even if it’s not your fault, you’re still stuck with the bill, so you’d better figure out how you’re going to pay for it, or else face the burden of debt for years to come.
I become a shrinking violet when I have to face my demons of rejection and inadequacy. But it was my choice how I wanted to show up now. Was I going to start paying the bill and working down all of the bad habits that were blocking me from success, love, and energy, or was I going to keep shoving it in a drawer and acting stoic towards the mess?
Your life. Your mind. Your body. Your choice.
I’m ready to choose differently.