Leaping for me means jumping into the unknown with fear and with faith.
I joined an online dating website this spring, and it felt less like leaping and more like being pushed over a cliff.
The amazing thing is that I discovered that I had a parachute all along.
Fear has always outweighed faith in my life. What I feared most were men and dating and relationships.
Bad experiences in my twenties had impressed themselves on me and I responded by shutting down. I didn't trust men in general and I had lost all desire to let someone too close to me. This period of celibacy had so far lasted for all of my thirties.
Little did I know (as we never know, do we?) that when a stranger sat down next to me on a train this winter, my life was going to change.
I recognized him as a soul mate almost immediately. We were connected by our hopes and dreams. We talked and laughed and shared and laughed some more.
I knew he wasn't lying when he told me I was beautiful. "Now you need to believe you're beautiful," he said. And I cried, because I knew he was right. I had wasted so many years of my life not believing I was worthy of anyone's love.
But love is complicated and he was only separated from his wife. He was still too connected to her for me to trust him fully or to invite him fully into my life. He had his own issues to work out.
I commend myself for not staying in the "affair". As much as I wanted to, I knew it was wrong, for me and for him. "I'm not going to wait for you," I told him. "I am going to date other people."
I didn't want to wait for him. I wanted to get on with my life and not let this experience hold me in fear for years to come, as my other bad experiences with men had.
But how was I going to find people to date? For years friends and family had suggested that I try online dating.
Not interested, I told them.
Even after hearing success stories from people I knew, I still wanted nothing to do with it. My biggest fear was that someone I knew would see my picture. An ex-boyfriend might see my profile. People would know I felt lonely. It would seem desperate.
I had pretended that I was ok being alone. And I was ok. For awhile.
I knew I wasn't going to meet people in bars or at work or the grocery store. I knew that in order to date, as I had said I would, I would need to go online.
So one night, alone, with no one watching, I signed on to a free dating site and created a profile.
I knew that if I kept it a secret, I would make up excuses and eventually quit. So that night I went on my blog and told the universe that I was now dating. I was going to follow through.
"Nicole is officially online dating," I wrote, "(well, not actually dating, but signed onto a site) for the first time in her life. This is scary already and nothing has happened yet. Here goes."
This is what I wrote the next morning:
"Morning after regret. What was I thinking last night. I must have been possessed. Did I really put myself out there like that? Whose idea was this anyway? ... Ok. It's an experience. Nothing has to come of it and if they are all creeps, then I can laugh about it."
I had entered the unknown and was in the grips of fear, but I had announced it out loud and I was determined to stick to it.
On the free site I felt very exposed and didn't like the types of email I was getting, so I joined a cheap site. The men I heard from on that site, for the most part, seemed to want hook-ups.
So I joined the most expensive site, which was more controlled and I felt more comfortable. Slowly I learned how to work the site. I started noticing patterns. I laughed at the ridiculousness of some profiles. I tried not to let the rejection get me down. I seemed to be accumulating more stories than dates, but I relished in the great material I now had for cocktail party conversations and blog posts!
The online dating world is a strange world indeed. Maybe I wasn't pushed into it, maybe I did jump, but regardless I ended up there.
And my parachute? My parachute was the stories I got out of it, the humor I found in it. Talking about it and sharing it with friends and family allowed me to experience it with less fear, with more confidence.
Online dating has forced me to face many of my fears - rejection, insecurity, trust, and even love.
I am happy to say that for a month now I have been dating a wonderful man who I met on a dating website.
I take my fears one day at a time and am learning to have fun without thinking too much.
I also have more faith—faith that whatever happens, I have my parachute and I will survive the fall.