Unseating the Knight of Swords (or how to be vulnerable when dating with baggage)

Back in October, tarot reader Sasha Graham flipped a card for me live on my radio show and used it to guide me through what my night had in store.

I was not feeling well, and worried about how that was going to manifest on a date with the current gentleman friend. Sasha advised me to envision myself enrobed in the beautiful silver armor of the Knight of Swords on the card in front of me — strong, self-assured, protected — and it worked! I made it through the evening strong in my skin of steel.

Since that reading, I’ve flipped the Knight of Swords at least six or seven times. He’s my totem, my protector, my buddy, my wingman. But I have to let him go.

Last week, I realized that I wore armor far too much with that gentlemen; it left no room for honesty or vulnerability, which is no healthy way to start a relationship. Upon further reflection, I recognized I’d been relying on it to help me barrel through non-romantic relationships, too; thinking I have to be tough and independent, I denied offered help or love from those who care about me. So I tested shedding the armor on friends and colleagues in a Challenge and felt relief at the removed weight.

Last night, I tested it out on a date.

Dating with a chronic illness can be complicated, as I’ve spoken about on my show and written about for Cosmopolitan. Just yesterday morning, I counseled a woman through the mourning and illness-induced identity shifts that add another layer of complication to finding love. She was feeling open and vulnerable, and I was setting myself up for the same.

How would being honest and vulnerable feel? How would it affect my phsyical health, our interaction, and my sense of self?

The preparation

I don’t date haphazardly, and I don’t suggest others with illness do so, either — when you have limited energy, there’s no reason to throw away time on a date when you could spend the spoons on friendship or in the safety of a bathtub.

So beforehand, I do my best to gauge that I’ll at least enjoy the person’s company. I use dating sites where you fill in extensive profiles. After studying online dating for Love Bites Radio, I’ve learned to only explore who excites me and to follow my instinct. My profile invites men who are “curious, passionate, and good,” and I look for expressions of compassion, creative thinking, awareness, and kindness.

I then try to gauge if a man has lived through or witnessed loved ones experience harship. Because my trials are intricate, yes. But my illness is not a tragedy, and I am not a lesser person because of it.Everyone carries some sort of struggle or “baggage” with them. It’s how we look at our experiences and histories shapes us. I look for those who don’t fear carrying their pasts with them, but work on improving what they can and sharing the load of what they can’t with open, honesty, heartfelt communication. Because if they can handle their own past experiences, they’ll be more likely to welcome mine.

On paper, this guy worked.

The first impression

My illness is a part of who I am along with my jobs, my obsession with my dog, my lack of knowledge about video games, my nerding out about trees, and how long I can contributed to a conversation about french fries…

All things that came up on our first date before I mentioned that I have a chronic illness, too. When he didn’t poke, I left it at that. When we texted later, I dropped in a hint about how exhausted I was from the day, but how glorious a day it was.

Our angst and drama can feel so dark and thick and dramatic. We don’t need to drop it all at once. One of the few things we’ve concluded on LBR is that “timing isn’t everything… but it sure is a lot.”

About last night

So now to this Challenge, where we’re meeting for dinner and I’m going to test out stripping off my emotional armor and letting a new person in… because that’s how you should want to start a relationship, right? Even if it goes nowhere… even if it lasts only as long as the previous one… isn’t it better to start with the best possible version of how you want to move through the world with someone…?

We sat and ate and drank and talked for hours, both of us laying out our cards, figuratively and literally. After a discussion of tarot had me showing him the Knight of Swords sitting protector from the back of my phone, he queried, “Ah, so the card is warning against building up emotional armor…”

Exactly. I told him this story. More cards were laid on both sides.

I woke up this morning thinking about him.

Conclusions

The success of last night’s Challenge wasn’t a one-time habit shift win, but the sum studies of this Year. In late October when the card was first flipped, I was on the No Shopping Challenge, was recuperating from a violent blast of illness, and was preparing for a dark winter. I needed to toughen up.

Being tough got me through winter. It gets me through every time I’m in so much pain that I can’t move. It gets me TeleWonderWoman-ing through massive anxiety and fear.

But as I’ve shifted up habits — by day by week by month — I’ve gotten tougher in my core, so I no longer need to be so tough on my surface. My core is habitually solid and habitually happy. It knows what it needs now, and what it truly loves now, too. So when taking new people in, it can just…. be… a little easier.

This morning, I shuffled the Knight back into the deck and flipped the Ace of Cups, reversed: Flowing water spills out of an overturned cup and up into the earth, which then bursts with new life. It’s about releasing repressed, stagnant emotion for healthier, more balanced expression.

I’ll take that totem.

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