Navigating Self Care and Dating as a Millennial Caregiver

Let me begin by giving you some background about where I’ve grown from. I love dark subject matter, always have. I find things like true crime, scary movies, adversity, abnormal psychology, and emotional footwork fascinating. Over the years though I’ve become much more sensitive to the heaviness of such avenues of human turbulence. As a young adult I rarely cried. I compartmentalized my emotions and kept them buried deep. Sometimes I wanted to experience a physical release, badly, but I couldn’t squeeze a single drop of briny melancholy from either tear duct. Hiding my true self was a sort of torture I don’t wish to self-inflict again.

Now it’s entirely unsurprising for me to tear up for even the smallest of triggers, sad movie previews and kind gestures alike. I still use art as a prominent form of self-expression. The only difference is that I am much more comfortable with being publicly vulnerable as opposed to drowning in angst. No surprise here, as you’re reading my journal right now.

But when I reach the crest of a stress wave I now know that it’s much more healthy to balance out the anxiety with activities that aren’t also emotionally grim. As much as I love immersing in human grit during my down time I understand that paying attention to the tension in my body is key to knowing when it might be better to step away from saturating myself further with that which is cumbersome.

This is a new skill I’m still developing, but I find it wonderfully helpful to take note of how my body and mind feel on any given day. What is my instinct telling me? What do I crave? What do I need that I’m suppressing?

During this pandemic and the journey of caregiving I’ve understood that hiking, travelling, personal space, venting to/validation from trusted friends, creating art, love, and spending time unwinding with other positive outlets are key to keeping me sane. So instead of watching the newest deep dive documentaries about Jeffrey Epstein or the Golden State Killer when I’m struggling with anxiety, I’m trying to choose lighter avenues of relaxation. Shows like “The Floor is Lava” on Netflix, Instagram accounts like that of @urbanfarmstead, and podcasts such as “RadioLab”, are all examples of “productive down time”. This doesn’t necessarily mean physically productive (like cleaning and organizing are), but emotionally productive. It’s a way to create space for recharging and processing, taking a step back so I can more quickly move forward again. It can be equally as important as the physically productive stuff, so don’t let anyone shame you into believing otherwise.

You’re probably thinking, “Okay Lauren, so how does this all tie into dating?”

If you haven’t figured it out by now I tend to take the backroads when it comes to narratives. I’m sure my friends will easily vouch for this as well. I value details and backstory, so bear with me.

The other day I searched Netflix for something easy going and mindless to watch. I’m not into many reality tv shows a-la “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” or “The Real Housewives”, but for some reason I was drawn to the advertisement for “Married at First Sight”. There are eleven seasons, but I’ve only ever seen an episode or two a few years back. The premise of the show is that a team of matchmakers set up four couples for marriage. The pairs meet for the first time on their wedding day. Obviously the concept of arranged marriage isn’t new, but it is culturally foreign for a majority of Americans. The show is an intriguing social experiment, packaged and produced to keep audiences interested though there is plenty of material for the creators to work with.

I dove right into season nine. Right away I was magnetically enthusiastic about one groom in particular: Matt. He checked a lot of boxes for me when it comes to men I easily gravitate toward: lowkey charming, quietly confident yet reserved, very tall, frequently smiling, verbally and physically affectionate, passionate about something, excited about travel and being outdoors.

His counterpart, Amber, seemed at first to be an excellent fit for him. She was understandably nervous, but excited to put herself out there with a Hail Mary for lifelong love. After a pattern of unhealthy and unsuccessful relationships she was tired of picking men who were emotionally unavailable, didn’t want to put in the work and who chose not to respect the generosity and loyalty she abundantly offers. Amber thought that perhaps entrusting the panel of experts (a sociologist/sexologist, pastor/marriage counselor, and a relationship therapist) would yield a more desirable result.

Her and Matt hit it off right away, brandishing exuberant smiles when first drinking in each other’s appearance. Amber gushed to the cameras and to Matt that she was really attracted to him and was more than pleased with who she was set up with. He reciprocated with leaning into her ardor and by confessing that her forwardness made her even more likeable. They quickly learned about several common interests between them, which of course intensified the immediate connection.

Throughout the first few episodes it seemed promising for them. The initial attraction made it apparent that the pairing was a great foundation for a potentially successful relationship. But in true reality tv fashion by episode eight some drama began smoldering and then quickly ignited into a downward spiral of relationship tumultuousness. Matt left one evening for a casual hang out with a friend, but left his wedding ring at home, didn’t answer his phone for several hours, and didn’t return home for the night. It eventually became apparent that Matt was not honest about his intentions with Amber. He portrayed himself as someone ready to commit, emotionally available, respectful and responsible, and serious about making big changes in his life. It was a facade.

In that last scene of this episode I was hit with a reality of my own: Amber is me.

to be continued…

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