Confessions of an Adoptee’s Dating Life

Fear of Rejection

Growing up as an adoptee, I had my fair share of “fear of rejection” (not excluding dating). My story is not unlike many adoptees, I always knew that I was adopted, and I had a sister who was also adopted as an infant. I grew up with pride in my identity as an adoptee and felt that it was a symbol of how loved I was. I would boast, “I have two sets of families that love me very much.” Fast forward to my late twenties—-I found out that the statement was definitely true; however, during my adolescence, I struggled a lot with my identity as an adopted child. 

I never really knew during the thick of it that I was hurting or feeling the effects of trauma, but now that I am older and have processed my story, I see the correlation. I was always begging someone to accept me. It made friendships a revolving door and left me feeling less than enough. And then came relationships. Growing up, I almost only found attention from boys. Granted, they weren’t worthy of my time, but as a teenager struggling with identity, I wasn’t my best advocate. I took the junk and thought it would build me to be a better girlfriend or that I deserved being treated poorly because that was what I was worth. I was so wrong. I was a hurting teenage girl who didn’t understand why people didn’t like me for who I was, so I adapted to their needs. 

It all comes back to that subconscious question I’ve wrestled with for ages “Why am I not enough?” Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that my birth mother did all she could in her situation. I think I always believed that she didn’t mean to hurt me or set me up for hardships, but inadvertently, her decision made me wonder deep down if she ever loved me—if I was ever enough to keep. I had no idea her story growing up, but now as an adult, I know that it was a good thing I had not been raised by her. She is an addict and has struggled with a difficult life—a product of her decisions no doubt—my entire lifetime. My life would have looked drastically different than it has, so I am grateful that’s not how it played out. 

However, growing up without that knowledge made me assume a lot and have to guess at the realities of her love for me or her ability to parent which has carried over to my dating life as an adult. Most of my dating career has been spent on people unworthy of my time and effort. I didn’t really begin to unwrap the core of these beliefs that affected my worth until I was at the end of a seriously toxic string of relationships. I had been through so much that it finally caused me to isolate myself. I spent seven years working on myself and chose to begin healing the deep inner-child wounds I was carrying with me. I dated a tad, but it was more like every year I had two or three first-dates that never flourished beyond that. Until Jared. 

I have been in a relationship for four months now with a man who, to be frank, is not my typical type. As you can probably gather from above—bad boys and jerks were my m.o. But after you get to know yourself intimately and realize all of the ways you mistreated yourself before, it can be eye-opening. I decided to give Jared a shot. And y’all, I am realizing that even healthy and secure relationships are work. Hard work. That fear of rejection comes in strong on those first dates, but as I shared above, I was pretty good at having first dates; mind you it stopped at that, but I had mastered the awkwardness of them and how to save face when I share parts of my story and get rejected. I am not only an adoptee, but a birth mom as well, so I have quite a story to take in. However, adoption is a huge part of my daily life, so whoever is dating me ultimately will be in that life as well. So, I usually give the SparkNotes version of my adoption story date one, because if they aren’t here for it, I can save us both time and walk away. 

While I have been able to value my story and worth, it doesn’t make it hurt less or feel less scary to share my story and be rejected. It’s just a part of being an adoptee (and a birth mom) to face people not worthy of my story and who are ultimately ugly and judgmental about my life. Before I move on, please know that if you have faced judgment for your story, it doesn’t define you. They do not know what it’s like to walk in your shoes and they do not get to place their junk on you. Period. Words fly, but they don’t have to stick. Easier said than done, right? Regardless, fearing rejection is a huge part of dating as an adoptee. I am so grateful that my boyfriend not only respects my past because it’s made me who I am today, but he supports me in advocating and caring for others who have similar stories. I hope that you find that in a partner someday too. 

How might dating be different for an adoptee? The goal is to work toward a secure relationship together and to face that fear of rejection...

Attachment Styles Help Us Cope

Ever since getting into therapy, I have been obsessed with learning about attachment styles. There are four main attachment styles: avoidant (me…), anxious, disorganized or fearful-avoidant, and secure. Ever the avoidant, I will start with something else. 

Anxious attachment styles exhibit anxious behaviors such as seeking validation, struggling feeling safe in a relationship, and having, what some call, “clingy” behaviors to attach themselves to someone when triggered. 

Disorganized styles have a mixture of the anxious and avoidant attachment styles, but it’s disorganized and inconsistent. They’re kind of all over the place with their reactive behaviors. 

Avoidant attachment styles exhibit avoidant behaviors when in a heightened emotional state like isolation, being direct in conflict, or showing a lack of physical affection. 

Granted, all three of these are far more complex than I am laying out here, but it gives you a general idea. The goal is to be a secure attachment style. 

Secure attachment is healthy and they are aware of and transparent with their feelings, they build intentional relationships with others, are self-content, and are easy to connect with. 

While I am an avoidant attachment style, I do have some secure attachment behaviors that I have worked hard to acquire, so this doesn’t mean if you aren’t a secure attachment style, you aren’t healthy or valued. 

The beauty of attachment styles is that you can learn how to communicate with your partner on a deeper level based on your attachment styles. For example, my partner is an anxious attachment style, so there are times when I need to be gentle and validate our relationship with him. Such as if we get into an argument, I start by saying “I am upset, but this does not mean I am leaving or diminishing your value in my life.” This totally applies to what I was sharing above with the fear of rejection or abandonment a lot of adoptees face. When we are in a conflict, I tend to react impulsively with wanting to withdraw or dismiss comfort. That last one is a typical response for me. Don’t pet me or try to tell me that it’s ok. It’s not ok. (I know, I’m a treat). My partner has learned that it’s better to ask questions in these moments like “How could I have approached that conversation differently?,” “What is this really about?,” and “Where is that trigger coming from more deeply?” It helps us be aware of how we behave in heightened emotional states because we can grow from that and support one another more intentionally. The goal is to work toward a secure relationship together and to face that fear of rejection that is deeply rooted within us. 

Confessions of an Adoptee’s Dating Life