I Flirted With Everybody To Convince Myself I Needed Nobody

I was living a lie, hiding behind my loneliness.

Last updated on Apr 11, 2024

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Before the year 2001, I was a happy, healthy, married mother of a 3-year-old. I was the sum of every good thing that got me to that place, and it was a very good place. My art business was flourishing, my music was selling, and my career as a writer looked promising.  Having been popular all my life, I had many friends, even fans. Life was good and in my little corner, I was Queen of the World. I was loved, respected, and in some circles, honored.


After my cancer diagnosis, everything went downhill. I've tried over the years to downplay the truly gut-wrenching horror and havoc that cancer can wreak on a marriage, simply because I did not want to come off as the world's greatest downer. More specifically, I hid my pain from the world because I didn't want other cancer survivors to assume my incredibly bad fortune was par for the course.

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Having been a sensual person throughout my life, I got to experience something I didn't think was possible: complete intimate rejection. After cancer and surgery, I saw the impossible come to pass. My surgically altered body was no longer desirable to the one man I had hoped would be strong enough to accept me as I was: my partner. He was always a good guy  —he still is —  and he was very supportive all through my treatments; however, it didn't take very long before he lost all interest in me whatsoever.


Some people just can't handle it; it's just a truth. He said scars made him squeamish. I took that to heart and realized that if the man I loved thought that, so must the entire world. Married still, I was now utterly alone. We left my sacred home in the north and moved to the impossibly dull state of Florida where he felt he could make more money. Within a year, we were divorced. Now, I had no family, no money, no friends, no job, and no love. No love at all. And that was all I wanted: to be loved, to be accepted, to not be shunned for having a life-ruining disease that I'd survived. I just wanted someone to love me for who I was, and who I'd become. Was I not still beautiful?



Thankfully, my daughter remained with me, and taking care of her became my life. Raising her was my pleasure and without a doubt the greatest experience I've ever known. Still, I was struggling to stay alive in my loneliness. How could this happen to me? Me, the warrior! Me, the talented one! How could I have survived cancer only to have all this stuff happen to me after the fact? And so, I began to build my Ivory Tower of self-protection. Survival is definitely about being the fittest, but what constitutes "fit" is individual. For me, my survival depended on how deep I could plunge into denial. I forced myself to start seeing the world around me as wonderful, extraordinary, and promising. My insidious and soul-eating loneliness propelled me into what I now refer to as my “imposterhood.”

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Being that I was now a single parent having to do it all, I found myself online all the time: reaching out, trying to find friends, and finding them. Oh, the glory of not being seen! How incredibly freeing it was to not have to be regarded as this hideously scarred freak that I came to know myself as. The eye-opening truth behind the scars that have fueled my “poor me” existence for so long is that I’m hardly scared at all. But whatever scars I did have were enough to get me removed from everything I knew and loved, so I bought the entire package of self-hate and made it my religion.

Allowing myself the full burden of self-loathing and body hate, I found some flirty buddies that I could have online affairs with. My brain was still sharp as a tack, so seduction came naturally to me. With the power of words and my ironic ability to enable the insanity in others, I found many wild and crazy online mates to have good fun with. Men and women alike. No one would ever touch me, it would all be in the mind. I could be beautiful again, and no one would ever know how wretched I was in actuality. No one would ever see what cancer did to me, which, in my mind, I had come to understand as nothing less than monstrous.

And so, I lived in this mental fortress, this Ivory Tower for 15 years. I built my online image up so gorgeously that you'd think I was Xena, Warrior Princess —  that's how marvelous my metaphorical armor was. I sold myself and others lie after lie to ensure my pain would be held at bay; I flirted with everybody to convince myself that I didn't need anybody. I created this alter ego of asexuality so that I could be cool with the idea that I didn't dare try to be intimate with a real person. I even tried to sell myself the idea that I liked Florida. Funny, of all the lies I was able to sell myself, I could never like Florida, and in some way, that was what finally broke the camel's back. Florida exists to make one look forward to death, and I most certainly wasn't ready to die.

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And like the tarot card, my Tower came tumbling down. Shortly after my daughter and I separated around her 18th birthday, I realized I was free. Having lived such an imposter life for so long, I figured that my fate was cut out for me: I'd live by myself in the most boring place on earth until I died, alone, isolated, and without love. I'd do art and go down in history as an artist, a cult of personality, a writer, and nothing more. I've just spent the last 15 years of my life begging the world to worship me for my talents. And they did. I craved attention so intensely — but only for my abilities and never for who I was as a woman. My message to the world was, “I am a creative machine.” Meanwhile, I was the wizard behind the screen, working the gears to project a grander image of myself, and always, always saying, “Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain.”



I don't know how this has all changed so suddenly, but it has. Maybe I just did enough time in the gulag of self-hate and now it's time to ramble. I can no longer carry this pain torch, I must lay it down. I have to live; I have to love. And I am now open to being loved. And yes, I do want to fall in love again. I want to take that chance. I want a male partner because I am attracted to men, despite my trying to come across as the cool, asexual, bi-romantic artiste. I want the company of a man who can love me for who I am because I now believe some men are kind, smart, and accepting. There is no desperation here.

This is not a need, it's a curiosity that invites me to take a closer look with an open mind. For the first time in years, I am open to the idea of real love in the form of a real person. How novel, how unique! Yes, I was hurt, but that doesn't mean I need to live my entire life in reaction to that hurt. Enough is enough. The Tower stands no longer as I sift through the rubble and the ruins of an idea long gone. The flag of self-hate no longer waves. It's just me now, no protection, no armor. Just me, this incredibly awesome woman who stood in her way for way too long. Come find me, lover.


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Dori Hartley is primarily a portrait artist. As an essayist and a journalist, she can be read in The Huffington Post, ParentDish, YourTango, The Daily Beast, Psychology Today, More Magazine, XOJane, MyDaily, and The Stir.