I Just Haven’t Met You Yet marries a memoir of childhood sexual abuse, family relationships, and finding healing from trauma with a search for romantic love and hope for the future. Tracy writes letters to her future life partner and writes about her adventures and challenges in dating, while also laying her own story bare. We caught up with her to talk about her book.
Tell me about your book?
I Just Haven’t Met You Yet is basically a guide to empowerment in dating, relationships and love. It’s also a memoir of my journey in dating and the obstacles that I worked to overcome on the road to finding the love of my life. The book is written as an open love letter to my future life partner–each chapter begins with a letter which serves as a frame that segues into narratives and stories about different aspects of my dating life–trials and tribulations of dating, different scenarios and situations, and the lessons I learned along the way.
Would you just tell me a little bit about how you came to write the book?
When I was forty-something and single I went to the bookstore and I looked on the shelves for the solution. I thought I had this lifelong problem—and the problem was that I had this inability to meet my life partner and I knew that there were other people out there who had the same problem. But as I went through book after book on relationships and dating I didn’t really find anything that spoke to me. There was a lot out there written by celebrities or kind of how-to manuals or research about spinsters and things like that and I really was searching for a book written for and by someone who is like me: just a regular woman working her ass off, working her heart off to conquer these challenging circumstances in pursuit of love. I was looking for someone who had gone through some deeply personal struggles and had found a way out onto the other side. I didn’t find that until I started writing my own story and kind of accompanying myself on my own path, so that’s part of it. The other part is that I felt that I had tried so many ways to meet my life partner, but I had never written him a letter and and I really wanted to talk to him and so I started writing in the letter form to tell him things about myself if I hadn’t yet met him. I thought ‘well, I can still have a conversation with him at this point in time.’ I know it may sound a little crazy, but that was the impetus behind the letters themselves. The letters sort of embody this intimacy of couplehood and then the stories were about the single woman’s journey towards actually finding couplehood.
One of the through lines of your story is seeking healing and wholeness after experiencing childhood sexual abuse. What advice or encouragement would you offer to those who are in a similar situation or who are facing another traumatic recovery and would like to be dating or to find a partner?
I think the biggest piece of advice I’d give is to believe in themselves and their worthiness of being in a relationship—in a good relationship, in a satisfying relationship, in a fulfilling relationship. I think many times when we go through trauma we tend to believe that we’re damaged goods—I talk about this in my book—it’s one of the things that I had to learn to overcome. I had to learn what kinds of assets I really did have to bring to a relationship and how my experiences actually prepared me even more to be in a successful relationship. We always hear about baggage, right? Nobody gets through life without baggage, and for a long time I really believed that my baggage made me less worthy. Then I realized, through dating, that my baggage is really invaluable. It gave me insight into how to handle problems as well as the ability to empathize with my partner’s struggles. That, in a relationship, increases the capacity to bring a couple closer to each other and I think really solidifies a relationship. Baggage is is not a weakness or a red flag. I think if we let our struggles, our pasts, play out blindly and destructively, then yes, that is a red flag. But if we’re managing our issues in a way that is self-aware then I think it becomes an attractive strength.
I think too, the issue of disclosure in relationships comes up when it when it comes to people overcoming trauma of any sort or any any kind of hardship. I think people are always afraid when they bring up something about themselves that they’ll be rejected or judged and that’s another issue that I talk about in the book.
It seems like one of the important things for you has been finding, building and maintaining a therapeutic relationship. Would you talk a little bit about how you think that would be helpful for single people of all kinds?
I think therapy is a great way of taking care of yourself and finding a way to work through whatever experiences you’ve had that are holding you back from living your best life and fulfilling the potential of who you are. For myself, being in therapy was a way to find the strength within myself to push forward beyond what had happened to me and to find a way to truly be myself, so that I could be in relationship with others. Everyone goes to therapy for different reasons, but I think overall it really is a great way to take care of yourself in a way that actually helps in a partnership. When we’re in partnership, our partner is there to support us and we’re there to support our partner, but sometimes, if we we don’t have a handle on our problems, we tend to dump it on other people and that can be very damaging in a relationship and can sometimes cost the relationship itself. So, for me, I think therapy has helped—I’m able to handle my problems. I’m not looking to someone else to fix my problems. I am looking to be authentic in a relationship and say: ‘Look, these are the things that I’ve struggled with. This is where I’ve been. This is where I am now’ and to be real about it.
You’re now in your forties. Would you talk about differences you’ve seen dating in this decade versus other decades?
There’s definitely a perception that there are less men available. I think that’s actually a misperception. I think that there are a lot of great single men out there—it’s a matter of finding them. I have to say that when I turned 40, I carried a bit of shame with me. I thought: ‘Why am I this age and still looking for love? What is wrong with me? Why haven’t I found it?’ I grew to learn that being older, there are more opportunities in the sense that we know who we are. I know myself better now than I did in my thirties. I know more of what I want in a partner and in a partnership. I know more of what my values are. So it’s a lot easier for me to assess relationships as they begin and as they go forward. I think I’m much better at communicating than I was in my thirties. So I feel like being older—although there’s a stigma—I think we’re actually better equipped for relationships, and lasting relationships, at this age. We may have had many failed starts, and we might believe that our age stacks the odds against us because there’s this perception that there are less available people out there, but I really think that being older is an advantage. We can put our past relationship failures in perspective and I think the experiences that we have give us the confidence to move forward.
As any single person knows, friendship is crucial to navigating the world. Would you tell us about how your friends have been there for the journey?
I have married friends and I have single friends. My married friends give me advice about how to meet potential mates. I’m open to hearing their advice because I feel like ‘Okay, they’ve found their partner, they’re successful, right? So maybe I should listen to that.’ But also in the book I talk about how my married friends said I should try a whiskey tasting class because that was the way to meet eligible bachelors—and I don’t drink—but I thought I should go because that’s how I’m going to find somebody. I learned that trying to be somebody that I wasn’t wasn’t going to bring me my match, but it helped to know that my friends were supporting me and they were encouraging me and trying to help me. I just had to be more discerning about their advice. They meant well, but some of them haven’t dated in many, many years so they didn’t quite have the perspective of what it was like to still be single when you’re in your late thirties and forties. So my single friends have that perspective, sometimes we bitch and moan about it, but I think overall we try to help each other to keep the faith and to have that hope that we are going to find that person, we’re just on a different time table than sort of the stereotypical, you meet your mate in your twenties, you get married, you have X amount of kids, you buy a house and happily ever after. We keep each other going—we text each other before dates, during dates, after dates—we debrief , we figure out what were the positive things that happened and what things maybe didn’t sit right in your gut and talk that through. We also just take time to laugh about it because dating can just be really absurd sometimes, we have to have a sense of humor to keep going. Also, for safety too, it’s important to just let a friend know where you’re going to be.
What are your hopes for your readers as you send this book into the world?
I hope that my readers will relate to how difficult the journey and dating can be and grab onto the sense of hope that I think the book puts forth, even when things are very dark, and to have faith that when you follow your heart that eventually you will reach your goal. It may not look like what you originally imagined, but following your heart really does bring you to where it is that you’re meant to be. I believe that. I think that finding our life partner is a journey in finding our strongest selves. So I hope that readers will believe in themselves and find strength in themselves to really put themselves out there. I feel like it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and I think sometimes that gets harder as you get older and to be able to take comfort and say ‘I’m not alone in this journey. There are other people out there too, just not too many people talk about it, but I’m really not alone in this and I can do this.’
Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook.