I wrote these words a while ago. I hope they may help you meet the challenges of dating with a brain injury with some mindful self-compassion. 

Nearly three years after my ex ended our long marriage, I began online dating. If the connection progresses, there’s the inevitable moment when it’s time to tell my date about Mindful Concussion and about my brain injury. It’s not a sexy topic to raise. I’m privileged in that my symptoms don’t necessarily show up on a first date if I avoid loud locations, but still, it’s a difficult subject to broach. 

Dating is hard enough without the added burden of wondering what might happen if I met someone and we really hit it off, and then they pulled away because I need quiet. Because I can’t handle music on all the time. Or bright lights. Or too much stress. Or being too busy. These fears lead to a bigger fear of being single FOREVER. 

Luckily, my mindfulness practice has helped me navigate the rough waters of dating. It helps me work with the feeling of aloneness when it hits. I put my hand on my heart and notice that this is a moment of suffering. I remind myself that although it’s painful it’s not life-threatening. I unclench my muscles. I unclench my heart. I remind myself that I’m not alone in this aloneness. There are literally millions upon millions of people feeling this way right this very moment. There are untold numbers of brain injury survivors who, like me, are afraid to put themselves out there. One day I was finally brave enough to give it a go. My desire for connection outshone my fear of rejection….  

Today as I write, my mind keeps wandering to a boy. It’s such a hard move to resist the urge to check my phone. The dopamine hit of that Red Dot of a notification is oh-so- alluring. Yesterday a sweet meditator ‘liked’ me on a dating app. We went back and forth, back and forth, texting in fun, flirty, deeply connecting ways. He said, “I invite you for a beverage later this week.” Now it’s been nearly 24 hours since he wrote those words. Is he ghosting me – on Halloween? Oh, the cruel irony! It’s SO PAINFUL to feel the sweetness of human connection, and then to feel it fly away so quickly.  

How can I mindfully meet this grossness? I remind myself: self, this is a moment of suffering. It’s natural and normal to feel the sting of rejection. Online dating can turn on a dime like that, from seemingly going swimmingly well, to a poof of dust in the face. So many millions around the world understand the pain of online ghosting, with no explanation, no word of farewell. 

Did I say something wrong? No, it’s not that. I remind myself that it’s always about the right fit, and if I am not feeling like the right fit for him, then so be it. I feel myself getting pissed off at him (and all men who bait and switch in this way). But truthfully, have I always moved on from those who didn’t feel like the right fit to me, in the most kind of ways?

I feel myself bracing against this pain. I don’t want to feel it. I can’t think straight. I’m in some crazy combo of fight, flight, and freeze. I feel hurt (my heart is constricted) and confused (my brain can’t figure out why he would invite me for drinks one moment and disappear the next). 

I can’t control the impulse to keep going to my phone, foolishly hoping for a text from him. My survival brain’s desire for connection is stronger than my thinking brain’s knowledge that this is not a good idea. I feel hope surge in the second before I see that there really is no bloody message from him. The creep, what’s his problem?

I finally stop. I notice that I’m using up an awful lot of energy trying not to feel this pain. I notice the clenching against it, physically and emotionally. I let go. I loosen my muscles in the face of it. The pain surges. Oh, it’s so scary! But then I notice that as I allow the pain to be there, to feel it rather than fight it, it dissipates a bit. It loses the intensity of its grip.

My friend just wrote to me to say, ‘hang in there Jessie.’ And now the tears fall. The acuteness of this pain will pass, I know. Soon he’ll become one more funny/painful dating story. The strong feelings ebb and flow, but the overall pain of being on my own remains. The fear of how hard it may be to find someone who adores the fullness of me, TBI and all, remains. It grips my very soul….

I remind myself that I will find love again. Instead of reaching for my phone and hoping for a message on a dating app, I can choose to move my attention to the beautiful realm of Universal Love that is always available to me All Day Long. I can tap in and soak it into my cells. I can let go of the longing to receive love, and instead I can give love. Way out into the world. I can give love and compassion to fellow survivors who feel like me right now. This hurts, but I am not alone. Nor are you. 

***PS: After 6 months of rather frantic dating, I met a beautiful, understanding man. My symptoms do show up in our relationship, but when I asked if he’s bothered by the restrictions they bring to our life, he said something like this: “Those are not problems. Being mean. Being unkind. Those are problems. You, on the other hand, are the kindest person I have ever met.”