Sometime in the last few weeks, I made another major breakthrough. My goddess of a therapist pointed it out to me this week. I finally started owning myself. Not owning my bad deeds or my failures (I’m pretty decent at that, these days), but owning my place in my relationship with James. Sometime recently, I stopped wondering why he is with me or whether he will stick around or whether I can trust that what we’re creating is real rather than fantasy. As my therapist pointed out to me, I am finally owning my place in this relationship. I am finally owning what it is he sees in me and what I bring to our relationship and allowing myself to believe that I am worthy of this kind of happiness. I have finally relaxed and allowed ease and joy and acceptance into my view of this relationship.
And the results are amazing.
But they didn’t come easily. My last 2 1/2 years are littered with relationships that were “almost” or “kinda.” Men who had “potential” but not much else. Lots of second (and third, cringe!) chances and “why not?”-s and excuses for men who would not or could not offer me what I wanted or needed. Granted, what I needed during that time was constantly evolving, but that will always be true, won’t it?
Finding someone who has the same relationship dream as you is not easy. Especially at this age. It’s not all about getting married, having a couple of kids and a nice house and a few vacations each year. Relationships are more diverse and complicated than they were in our twenties. But what hasn’t changed? You still can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, no matter how much you pound it with your mallet. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit.
I think that getting to the relationship you want is like having a door in front of you and an endless supply of keys to try in the lock. Sometimes you might find a key that is super shiny, or made of beautiful materials, or heavy and solid and secure. Some keys won’t even slide into the lock, but many others will. But very, very, very few will actually turn it. I have spent a lot of time staring at beautiful keys that were worthless for my door.
I am currently watching many of my friends struggle with relationships that range from “kinda” to “almost” what they want and I am amazed at how we all do the same things. How we rationalize and excuse and ignore the stuff we don’t want to see in favor of the stuff we do.
Just to be clear, I do this as much as anybody. In fact, once I realized it last year, I became over-vigilant about not doing it. It has been exactly this tendency that has held me back in my relationship with James — I was so busy trying to avoid rationalizing and excusing and ignoring things I shouldn’t about him that I wasn’t really letting myself go. I had become so aware of my tendency to fall for the fantasy, that I couldn’t accept that the reality could actually be good… or even better. I didn’t trust myself to make good choices because I’d made some pretty lousy ones before.
Some of those choices involved genuinely bad people….people I cannot believe and am ashamed to admit that I allowed into my life during a particularly desperate or needy or sad time in my life. I don’t have many regrets, but some of those people were truly not worthy of my time or attention. One of my dearest friends is going through something similar right now. “Katrina” is trying to let go of a man we have both known for many decades. When we were teenagers, he was a wonderful person; truly one of my favorite people and her first true love. Now, it makes me sad to acknowledge that he has turned into a liar and a player and a charmer who seems genuinely incapable of offering any intimacy to any women he dates. His temper is frightening and his behavior unpredictable. But Katrina is struggling to let go of her lifelong fantasy of the two of them ending up together. If they did, it would be horrible for her, but her heart will not let go of the memory of him as a great guy, and the alluring fantasy of them being together forever.
Not all bad choices involve bad people. Sometimes they’re just about good people who don’t want the same things we do, or don’t want those things with us. That can be particularly hard to swallow and very easy to internalize as a personal failure. But it really isn’t personal, is it? It’s like going into a shop and finding that they don’t have what you’re looking for, even though they have a lot of beautiful things. It’s an easy analogy to stomach, but much harder when it is your heart that someone bypasses. When we offer someone all we have and they decide it’s not what they want…. well, that’s pretty brutal.
I guess a lot of dating, at least for women, involves trying to turn a relationship that isn’t what we want into something that we do want. I don’t know why we do this, but we do. It’s a phenomenal waste of our time, but I guess it’s also good practice for relating when we finally do stumble upon someone who wants what we want.
We all want to believe that we are special, different, important enough to this man in front of us that he will rise to the occasion and be the Jerry McGuire who can’t live without us. We believe that if we only care enough, he will come to his senses and fulfill the potential to be the amazing partner we all know he can be.
But let’s be honest for a minute: how many of us know of such a man? How many times, in your actual life, have you seen a man rise to the occasion or come to his senses or any other such redemption? Because I’ve never seen it. Never once. I’ve seen men make dramatic and significant changes in their lives and themselves, but never for the woman who waited patiently by their side for it to happen.
I thought I saw it once. A college friend of mine, “Tracy,” dated this amazing guy off and on all the way through college. He was hot and sexy and enough of a bad boy that you could totally understand why Tracy couldn’t let go of him despite the lying and cheating and general disrespect she endured. Finally, in senior year, he appeared to have an epiphany and righted his ways. We were all floored and happy for her. Two years later they married. Four years after that, they divorced. Because he was lying, cheating, and being generally disrespectful. Sad, yes. Shocking, no.
I realize now, looking back, that one of the necessary steps for me in my process in the last year has been to walk away from relationships that weren’t offering me what I wanted and needed, even though the men involved didn’t want me to go. It was tempting to stay and imagine that things would get better… that he would change… that I would change… that it would all work out and be wonderful. But deep down, I knew it wasn’t real. I knew if I stayed, I’d be selling myself short and selling out my dream. So, as scared as I was, I turned and walked. And damn, it was hard.
I know that all of my friends who are balancing all these feelings and needs and wants and desires will get there too. We all sell ourselves short sometimes. I am certainly not extraordinary; I am just ahead chronologically. And when they reach the other side, I will delight in their healthy, fulfilling, happy relationships and laugh with them about what they hell they were thinking. Just as they have with me.
Because that’s what we all do, isn’t it?