Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Relationship with Relationships

A couple weeks ago I started to create a profile for an online dating site. It was my intent that this was just a starting point, but despite my intentions the profile went public and I promptly got some responses.

It freaked me out a bit; I wasn’t quite ready to start dating. But I cautiously replied to a woman who made some mention of our lack of proximity, and how that took pressure off the romance part, and she thought we might strike up a friendship based on similar values. I told her a little about where I am in my life, and things that are important to me.

In her reply she described where she is in her life, how she is in romantic relationships, the kind of romantic partner she’s looking for, and her family’s eagerness that she find her life partner.

It is difficult for me to explain why this freaked me out so much. In fact I put it out of my mind for several days. Then it dawned on me that indeed I am not ready to date. Her change in tactics (from lets-be-penpals, to are-you-my-life-partner) made me feel tricked, lured in under false pretenses. Reading that she feels protective towards her significant other made me feel stifled, suffocated. Mentioning her family’s support made me wonder why she already wanted to introduce me to her family, before she and I had even met. I felt panicky, put upon, overwhelmed, angry, and exhausted. Phew!

So I wrote her a very nice thanks-but-no-thanks reply, and deleted my profile.

I would love to feel the romance and excitement of the early days of dating. I truly hope that someday I will share my life with someone special. I never would have guessed that I would spend so much of my adulthood single. And when I left California in pursuit of my long-held dreams, I anticipated putting off romance for a year or two until I felt settled in a new career and in a new community. Right.

There have been many times in recent years that I have determined “I’m not ready to date:” sometimes after brief and unsuccessful forays into that activity, other times after simply playing it out in my mind. I think about my daily struggle to keep my life from fragmenting into thousands of little disparate bits; of the times I need the privacy of my own home to let painful emotions come in like waves until in time they recede. I recall how overwhelmed I feel if I have several emails in my In Box, and resentful that I am expected to reply to all of them. I’m far too screwed up to try to share my life with someone, to take into consideration someone else’s feelings and needs, to either pretend to be normal or to learn to be vulnerable with my neuroses.

But then I think of all the imperfect humans I’m sharing this planet with, many of whom are in relationships with other imperfect humans. They are allowed to seek out imperfect love; why can’t I?

I’ve mentioned that in my early adulthood I became indoctrinated into the culture and beliefs of a New Age group. I will say that I learned not only a lot about myself, but a lot of skills that continue to help me sift through internal struggles. But much of what I took from these teachings was not helpful.

For a long time, I pursued a young man who was in a committed relationship. He entertained a friendship and some flirtation with me, but never suggested that we could have more. (I was young, immature, and self-centered, and I feel remorse for all of this… but that is not where I’m going with this.) For months I would find ways to seek him out, overtly and stealthily, to try to generate his romantic interest. We had many discussions during this time, I even had one horrendous talk with his very angry girlfriend, all of which I filtered through my philosophy that everything happens for a reason (by which I mean, everything happens the way it does in order to provide me with exactly what I need to learn and grow). Through this process, I seemed to work through some personal issues around attraction to unavailable people and pain around rejection. Ultimately I lost both friendships and walked away feeling wounded, yet as though I had somehow “processed” an entire relationship with this fellow.

Perhaps I need to explain what was meant by “process,” as it was a popular term with this New Age group. Processing is taking what is happening in the world around you, and using it as a motivator for talking or breathing through your unresolved emotional wounds, or to unearth erroneous beliefs that you have developed. An example would be the erroneous belief that “I’m unlovable.” By taking the experiences and my feelings around pursuing an unavailable man, I was able to reveal this personal belief that I’m unlovable, and expel those beliefs through a technique of talking and breathing. Truly, whether the relationship happened or not, was successful or not, if it enabled me to get to my personal truth, it had done was it was meant to do.

So even though I hadn’t experienced any of the pleasure around a romantic relationship, only lots of angst and hurt and frustration, because I processed my feelings I achieved what I needed to; and my need to have him in my life was concluded.

After this young fellow came the obligatory father figure. This man was twice my age, and for the life of me I can’t recall what attracted me to him. But he talked a good New Agey line, and I was hooked. He and I actually did become romantic, and our relationship lasted maybe two or three weeks. Same thing. Through rigorous processing, we helped each other to reach deeper personal understandings, and then parted ways.

This actually brought me to the darkest time in my life. I recall driving home from his place after breaking up, wondering what the point was to relationships if we were only meant to serve each other in this rather clinical way, and if we both knew the processing technique, we really didn’t need an entire relationship to work through our stuff. Just a few weeks, and we’d have concluded whatever we were meant to learn together. What was the point of relationships, then? I felt like I was on a speed train, racing through my “lessons” so quickly there wasn’t opportunity to savor. Or to just Be. My future loomed ahead and it seemed too bleak and lonely to bear.

A good two years passed before I simultaneously left the group, and started to climb out of my depression. After breaking with the New Age group, at least I could enter into romances without the preoccupation with processing through our own stuff. In fact of my three significant romantic relationships, none of my partners was able to “process.” None possessed skills in talking through things to determine if either of us was reacting to old, unresolved injuries. Arguments rarely led to vocalizing old hurts, or understanding ourselves and each other better.

All three relationships were quite different, as were my three partners. And to some extent I’m sure I was different in each relationship as well. What was consistent however is that over time, it became difficult for me to distinguish between what I wanted, and what “we” wanted (really, what they wanted). I would lose myself in the relationships. It happened slowly and incrementally, and oh so subtly. And all three relationships ended in the same way, when I realized in a moment of crystal clarity that I had lost myself, and I had to get away from the relationship to find myself again. In all three relationships, I had gotten so far from living honestly with myself that there was no chance of changing the dynamics of these relationships and finding a new way of being me within them.

I like myself better when I’m single. I am more true to myself when I’m single. I don’t let others tell me what I want and what I feel when I’m single. It’s easy to hold the line when the only person I’m holding it for is me.

What I think of most now, when I ponder that time that I will enter again into a relationship, is how I will hold on to Me. Having three ex-relationships, I am fearful of getting it wrong again. I don’t want ever again, after putting years into combining lives, hopes and dreams, to wake up one morning and not find me. It is a terrifying prospect. How will I know when I’m ready? And once I’m in a relationship, how will I know if I’m starting to slip? And if I start to slip, will I be able to do the work to change the relationship’s dynamic?

Phew. It is exhausting being me. In fact it is so exhausting even contemplating a relationship, what makes me think I can be in one?

And why does my brain never, ever stop churning and worrying and wondering and processing? Other peoples’ brains don’t do that. In fact some of the happiest people I’ve known aren’t particularly deep thinkers. I truly envy them.

So who knows. Perhaps I will be fortunate in that I will stumble upon a friendship that leads to a romance, and things will progress slowly and gently enough that I feel able to stay with it. One more step, one more day. Sometimes I read or hear something that gives me hope: I don’t have to be perfect. I couldn’t be perfect if I tried. There is hope for all of us imperfect humans, hope that we will find friendship, love and community, even with our imperfections.

Dear Human,
You’ve got it all wrong. You didn’t come here to master unconditional love. That is where you came from and where you’ll return.
You came here to learn personal love. Universal love. Messy love. Sweaty love. Crazy love. Broken love. Whole love. Infused with divinity. Lived through the grace of stumbling. Demonstrated through the beauty of… messing up. Often.
You didn’t come here to be perfect. You already are. You came here to be gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous. And then to rise again into remembering. But unconditional love? Stop telling that story.
Love, in truth, doesn’t need ANY other adjectives. It doesn’t require modifiers. It doesn’t require the condition of perfection. It only asks that you show up. And do your best. That you stay present and feel fully. That you shine and fly and laugh and cry and hurt and heal and fall and get back up and play and work and live and die as YOU.
It’s enough.
It’s Plenty.
Courtney A. Walsh

I will show up today. And that will be enough.

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