“Real love is messy. If it isn’t messy, it isn’t real. Besides, if you want neat and simple and uncomplicated love, you should stick to getting a dog.”
Someone said this to me recently and I laughed out loud. But it stuck. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about my relationship with James, and, more particularly, what went wrong in that relationship. Needless to say, this isn’t a fun exercise.
In my recent post “mike. finally.“, I laid bare my darkest demons right now and how they are affecting me. I wrote about how I didn’t really talk about that relationship or those feelings with anyone other than my two closest friends. I am, by nature, a pretty open person, but I don’t burden most people with the stuff that makes me cry when I’m alone. I know that the repercussions of my relationship with Mike must be addressed, and I am doing everything I can to process that and move through it — I acknowledge it, I am in therapy, I talk to my friends when my fears get in my way. I’m not sure what else I can humanly do to get over it any faster. If I could change things, I would. Lord knows, I would.
But I can’t. This is where I am right now.
One of the blessings of being an adult is that we get to choose whether we want to sign on for a ride with other people’s “stuff” — the messy, sometimes ugly, sometimes confusing emotional junk that they have accumulated living on this Earth. In my life, I have certainly chosen not to sign on with some people, and I’m sure I will do again. I was very aware of James’ “stuff.” I considered and made a deliberate choice to take on his closed-off nature, the frequent silent treatments, the ever-present, ever-unpredictable ex-wife, and the four kids with sometimes heart-breaking problems. I figured that he was worth it, and most people at our place in life aren’t easy or uncomplicated. Of course, I’d love to find perpetually easy and light, but I truly do believe that if I did, it wouldn’t be real. My friend Annie is the least messed-up, most well-adjusted person I know, and even she has not infrequent moments of abject emotional fear and insecurity. That’s life, isn’t it?
But the fact still remains that James is allowed to decide that my “stuff” is more than he wants right now or ever. It’s his prerogative to opt for easy and emotionally-distant. And I know that. Even if it hurts.
I learned a helluva lot from this relationship. I saw my own issues in stark, bright light. But I also remembered the things that I do well when I care about someone: I like to do nice things for them. I like to take care of them and the people they care about. I like to shower them with affection. I like to hear their stories and their fears and the stuff they don’t even like about themselves. I like to make them feel special and appreciated and valued. All of that makes me happy. Really, truly happy.
And I learned a lot about what I need back: I need some reassurance once-in-awhile. I need to be reminded sometimes of the things he likes about me. I need to feel that, after some amount of time, I can show him my fears and not be judged or abandoned because of them. I need to be able to talk to him about things, without fearing his defensiveness or silence or anger. I need to be with someone who is sure about his feelings for me, whatever those are, and who can tell me that occasionally.
James and I were together, including short break-ups, for about a year. He was sweet to me, he took good care of me, and he spoiled me with delicious meals and wonderful nights out. But in most ways, our relationship was the same at one month as it was at one year. We dated exclusively during the last four months, but only because I finally insisted on it. We did not talk about the future beyond a few weeks’ time. We didn’t say “I love you” or anything even close. I didn’t keep so much as a toothbrush at his house, even though I spent about 1/2 of my time there. We were a couple, but in name only.
I dreamt earlier this week about a boyfriend I had when I lived in England in my early 20’s, and an incident I hadn’t thought of in many years…. We were standing in the pouring rain, at a busstop beside a busy road, and I was freaking out. “What are we doing?!” I screamed at him over the din of the rain and the traffic. “This is crazy! Your parents hate me! I’m going back to America some day, and your life is here! This will never work!” He grabbed my shoulders and looked me in the eye and shouted back, “I love you. You love me. Together we’ll figure out the rest.” And, instantly, all the power of my fear disappeared and I collapsed against his chest and we stood there, getting soaked to the skin. (As it so happens, our relationship didn’t make it. We were too young and too inexperienced and we let all those outside forces undo us eventually. But I still wouldn’t trade that moment for anything in this world.)
There were times — sweet, perfect, brief minutes — when I thought that this was what James and I were doing, tackling the stuff the world threw at us, together. But then I’d hear him say that we were “still getting to know each other” and I’d realize that there was not anything about us that I really knew for sure.
At this point in life, there are so many external pressures on a relationship — children, careers, financial worries, aging parents, ex-spouses — that it seems to me that it’s more important than ever to be able to have faith and security in that relationship. I didn’t have that with James. I wanted it. So very, very much, I wanted it. But he couldn’t or wouldn’t give that to me. And so it didn’t work.
So, yes, love is messy. I am ready to embrace that mess, with the right person. I have my sleeves rolled up and my eyes wide open.
And until that happens, I have my dog.