Saturday, November 29, 2008

Breaking the stress wall

A stress wall is a barrier most people build to keep strangers from getting too close too soon. It keeps others at arm’s length. Like small talk, the walls we construct to protect ourselves have gotten a bum rap. When built properly (out of movable and removable building blocks rather than cement), emotional walls serve a very handy purpose. They keep dashing, yet deadly, Attila the Huns from jabbing a spear into the center of your heart, or nineheaded Hydras from swimming across your emotional moat and slithering into your life. The notion that instant vulnerability is a desirable trait is dangerous, indeed.

After all, we’re not in Eden anymore.
What I’m trying to get at is the sense that some feelings of stress are a normal and essential part of being alive, and — dare I say it? — of staying alive. Dating, by its very nature, is one big, fat unknown. It’s okay to feel a bit of trepidation. It’s good to drive cautiously with your eyes on the road and your hands at “ten and two” on the steering wheel. What’s not productive, however, is to work yourself into a tizzy because you’re suddenly convinced a serial killer must lurk in the soul of anyone who would date you or that a vengeful ex in an eighteen wheeler is about to cross the median and obliterate you. The goal of this section is to show you how to manage your stress and make it work for you, not wear you out. First, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Was I sober and of sound mind when the date was originally arranged?
  • Have I spoken to this person since the date was made?
  • Is excitement buried beneath my feelings of stress (as opposed to dread)?
  • Is this someone I would unhesitatingly introduce to my mother? If all or most of your answers are “yes,” your stress wall will probably start lowering a bit as soon as your date laughs at your first joke.

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