What it’s like dating when you have PTSD

In my last blog post, I explained that I left an unhealthy relationship and now I’m single.

I’ve never experienced feeling truly loved unconditionally. My family never loved me. They said they did and I believed them for a very long time. Recently, my mother (who is cut off) found out that I left my ex and she said she felt bad for him and that I should go back to him. When she found out he cheated on me, she said that it was my fault he cheated. My mother also told me she would pray for me to get cancer and that she’d tell everyone who asked I died because I introduced my ex to her and she wasn’t a fan of his race.

My father would tell me he loved me all the time but he manipulated me over and over. He has been on and off drugs and in and out of prison my entire life. He wants me to fit into the mold he has in his head of what his daughter should be. He wants me to be a good little girl and live at home because god forbid a woman lives on her own. I left my husband and they want me to live with them. Although I’m 23 and I have a toddler, they will certainly control me. They will want to know where I’m going and they will want me home at a certain time. They won’t let me spend the night anywhere except at home and lord knows they’d never, ever let me date. I need to be on my own.

I need to get to know myself. And I am getting to know myself. I realized that I’m actually a very friendly person, behind my fear of people. At my new job, I’ve been having no issues getting along with anyone and making connections here and there. I also realized that I’m funny and I love to laugh. I get along best with people who I can joke with all the time, even during bad times. I like dark humor. I’m also extremely insecure.

Because of my past traumas, I get attached to anyone who makes me feel loved, even if it’s just for a night. After leaving my ex, I’ve been on dating apps, looking for hook ups because that high I get while I’m wrapped up in someone else, completely vulnerable, is addicting. I fell hard for the first person I slept with after my ex (who took my virginity and was the only one until we broke up). This guy said all the right things, he was sweet and he knew exactly what to do. I honestly should have known how it’d end up. He seemed too perfect. Of course, it was all a lie. He continued to use me afterwards and I wanted him so badly I would’ve done anything for him. He’d ignore me all day long until he needed something but seeing his name pop up on my screen gave me a hit of sweet dopamine, which is undeniably the best “drug” on planet earth.

Fortunately, through my hook ups and me getting to know myself, I realized the toll the relationship was taking on me. He came along at a horrible time in my life. It was probably the day I got out of the psych ward when he first messaged me and we got to talking. He was really great in the beginning. That’s why I got so attached. Having someone hold my face in their hands, smile at me with so much love in their eyes and tell me that they can’t believe I’m real and that I’m so perfect really got to me. My ex never did anything like that. I was always, and still am, very affectionate and touchy-feely with the person I like. Once upon a time, back when I liked my ex, I was like that with him too but he was always cold to me. He didn’t like affection or physical touch and made me feel like I was bothering him. Eventually, I lost interest. Ironically, the tables turned and towards the end he tried to rekindle things by being affectionate and touchy-feely. By that point, I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t want his affection and I didn’t want him close to me. For a long time, I thought I didn’t like to cuddle while I slept but I learned that was wrong when I fell asleep wrapped up in the first guy I slept with after my ex.

Because I’ve never felt warmth and love, I’ve never had someone who wanted to hold me and kiss me all the time and tell me sweet things, I crave it. When I feel that from someone, I become very attached very quickly and I’ll do anything to get that feeling again. I’ll show up at the house of a guy I’ve never met in person before to feel love for the night. When I do that, I don’t consider my own safety. I don’t even let anyone know where I’m going. But I didn’t have any scary situations until a few days ago.

I deleted the dating apps. What I need now is to have boundaries. I can’t give all of myself to someone who hasn’t earned it. I need consistency. I don’t want someone who talks to me only when they feel like it and ignore me for days on end. My friends’ and family’s love is conditional. If I don’t meet their expectations, I’m not worthy of love. If I make too many mistakes in my own life, they will cut me off. If I head down a similar path I went down, everyone will tell me it’s all my fault, like everyone did before. I was forced into a sexual act on a bumble date and everyone told me it was my fault, that I should’ve done this or that. The reality was that I was in a neighborhood I didn’t know in a place full of his friends. But it was my fault that he forced me to give him head until I puked, and then continued to shove my face into my own puke. I should’ve acted the way everyone else would’ve or else it’s all my fault. I should’ve listened to everyone who told me my ex would break my heart, or that the last guy I fell for after him was shady. That’s what they’ll say and I know that because that’s what they have said.

My therapist and I had a talk about my craving to be loved. The craving I have for unconditional love is something I can provide for myself. I can love myself unconditionally. I can give myself a hug, as silly as it might feel. I can give myself the compliments and reassuring words that I need to hear. I can give myself consistent love. I can even satisfy my own sexual needs. I need to learn this because otherwise I won’t ever be able to experience a healthy, loving relationship.

If I don’t learn to love myself, I will always choose the person who does show me love and affection over myself. Even if that love and affection comes with abuse. That’s what I’m used to. Growing up, “I love you” always came at a price. It always felt weird to say I love you to my parents or my siblings. “I love you” was a phrase that was hard for me to learn how to say truthfully. But now it’s something I say all the time because I want the people that I love to know that I love them. Even with my ex, I told him I loved him several times a day. Despite the fact that he said it back, he didn’t show it. And now I have a hard time trusting “I love you”s. It’s hard for me to trust words so I rely on actions and then when there isn’t much action, I panic.

I need to set boundaries. I need to slowly learn to love another person and not attach myself to them at the first sign of warmth. I need to learn how to give myself the unconditional love I crave so badly. I need to be able to recognize that sometimes people who are using, abusing, or manipulating me can show me affection and warmth and that shouldn’t be worth more than my own sanity.

That’s what people mean by “love yourself first”. It doesn’t mean that you are narcissistic or that you are having a good time. It means that even when things are bad, you choose to fill your own cup before you sacrifice pieces of yourself for others. Connections and socializing and love and relationships are incredible and necessary for the social creatures that humans are, but you’re worth too much to give chunks of yourself to people who don’t deserve it.