We all know those couples. The ones that met when they were in high school or saw each other on the street, locked eyes and immediately knew they were soul mates and meant to spend the rest of their lives together. They got married, never questioned it and appear to have found the key to true love.
I hate these people.
See, for me love doesn't come easy. Allow me to clarify: I love my family, friends, and tell my dogs and cat that I love them daily. But when it comes to true love...real, romantic, spending the rest of your life together kind of love...it terrifies me and remains something that I don't know that I am capable of achieving.
I used to think I was alone when it came to this feeling, which made me feel like even more of an outcast. Then, one night after a little too much wine, I confessed something to a friend: Even though I had been married at one point in my life, I didn't know that I had ever been in love. I loved my ex-husband, but I wasn't in love with him. Now, there were probably many reasons for that - the least of which was our relationship was more of the roommate variety opposed to the husband and wife kind, much to my dismay. But then, after my divorce, dates with other men, a few marriage proposals, and even one man's request to have a child with him, I found that I still felt the same way. Whenever I would think about the idea of falling in love or enter into a relationship with someone I would get the same image in my head that would cause me to high tail it out of the relationship so fast I'd leave a Scooby-Doo type shape of myself in the door behind me.
I'm standing alone, strong and independent. Then a black, transparent, ghostly shadow with long arms, and exaggerated, skinny fingers comes up behind me, wrapping it's arms around me so tight that I can't move and begin to choke. It pulls me tighter and closer into it until it envelopes me completely and I am lost forever.
OK, air... I need air.
I mean, seriously, what the hell was wrong with me? Was I cold-hearted? Unfeeling? Too realistic? Too logical for love? Or was I just simply incapable of love? Then my friend responded in a way that I did not expect, "Oh my God, you feel that way too?!? I thought it was just me."
My friend and I discussed it at length and dissected it to the point that would exhaust Freud. We both wanted to fall that deeply in love, but didn't know if it could ever happen. Neither one of us could imagine letting ourselves be that vulnerable and surrender control long enough to fall in love. Maybe it was trust issues; or maybe we were both control freaks; or maybe we just couldn't let go of how bad we had been burned by previous relationships. I remembered something my ex had said while we were still just dating, "You can never love anyone like you loved your first love."
At first the statement bothered me and I took offense to it, but then as I thought about it more, I began to understand. See when you go into a relationship for the first time, you open your heart and give it everything you have. You become infatuated with the person and they occupy your every thought. As you're driving in your car and a song comes on the radio, you find yourself thinking,This should be our song or this would make a great wedding song someday for us. You imagine your perfect future together - the house, the kids, the dog (or cat) with the fluffy tail, traveling the world, and living happily ever after. Then WHAM!!! You catch your guy (or girl) in bed with your best friend. You're mad, hurt, heart broken, and most of all, you're blindsided. The life you imagined for yourself with the person you never thought would hurt you is obliterated into a million pieces and you're left standing there thinking, what the hell just happened? How did I not see it coming?
Once you have been hurt like that, no one has the ability to do it again, because, on some subconscious level, it is always in the back of your mind. And I think that really is true. Was that what was holding me back? Is that why I could never feel that deep love?
Or was my definition of love wrong? I remember my first love. He had long dark hair and was a grade above me. We were friends, which meant that we hung out at school, but other than that, he didn't notice me. I used to pine over him, doodling his last name behind my first name, writing poems about him, imagining the day when he would wake up and realize we were destined to be together. Needless to say, he never did. He ended up knocking up his high school sweetheart, getting married in 12th grade, and having a mess of kids. And he broke my heart most likely without even knowing it.
My next first love came when I was around 20 years old. I say my next first because over time I realized I probably wasn't really in love when I was younger. It was more of a crush... an infatuation with the idea of the guy and life I created in my mind. My second first love I actually dated. If you have read my book Why Am I Still Single? A Tough Love Guide for Single Women (Chapter titled The Savior) , then you know it was visceral, very tumultuous, and almost destroyed me. It was also what I thought was love. I did everything I was supposed to - when he had to move to another state, I went with him. When he struggled with addiction, I stood by him; when he didn't think he was worthy of love and tried to push me away, I wouldn't let him and tried to show him why he deserved to be loved and how good it could be. I sacrificed my wants, needs, and basically myself again and again thinking that it would prove my love because to me, love was supposed to be unconditional.
Eventually I ended the relationship, but the pattern continued even into my marriage. The only way to prove that you loved someone was to support them no matter what, even at the expense of your own happiness. After all, if you were supporting their dreams, they would reciprocate and support your's as well and it would even out, Right?
Inevitably my dreams were put on hold. At first, it was OK. I didn't mind showing my support because well, that's what women were supposed to do. Yep, I said it. Little Miss Independent just said that line of crap. Like many of my friends, I grew up in a time and with a mother that instilled in me that women sacrifice for the men in their life. To be fair, it is the way she grew up too. Women stayed home and took care of the house and kids while the husband worked. So naturally if his job required a move, the family relocated and everyone just had to adapt. My mother once told me, "I'm going to tell you what my grandfather told me. Relationships are 90/10 and you're [woman] the 10."
Naturally I balked at the sentiment. I would reply that relationships should be equal with both partners giving 100/100, to which my mom would laugh and say, "We'll see."
Still there I was in each of my relationships, throwing a bowling game so that my partner wouldn't ruin the night, mad because he was beaten by a girl, or putting my dreams on hold so my ex could pursue one dream after another assuring me that my time would be coming. Whenever I would try to pursue my own dreams, I would be accused of not being supportive.
After my divorce I realized two things - 1) Love isn't unconditional. You have to have conditions in order to have respect. No matter how loving and supportive someone can be, if you push them far enough, they can (and should) leave. My ex once told me that there was nothing I could do that would make him leave me, then got mad when I didn't return the sentiment. The truth was, there were things he could do that would cause me to leave him like cheating, physical violence, etc. Some people see unconditional love as romantic; others see it as carte blanche. People need boundaries and need to know that although you love them, you aren't going to be treated like a doormat to prove it and will walk away if necessary. And while that statement may scare some people that want a guarantee of forever no matter what happens, it can also provide a comfort because it shows that you are staying with someone by choice, not obligation.
The other thing I realized was that I had lost myself. It had never dawned on me just how much I was walking on eggshells and doing things to please my spouse at the cost of my own happiness just because he was so high maintenance and I wanted to seem supportive and avoid a fight, which although never turned physically violent, would involve him throwing things. Finally, one night after being pushed too far, I stood up for myself and pushed back. When I did, I found myself.
Since then, I vowed to never lose myself again. Hence the image that relationships have taken on in my head: one of suffocation, sadness, stress, panic, utter sacrifice and loss of self. Is that really what love was? And if so, why the hell would I want it?
I have to admit, I took some comfort in knowing that my friend felt the same way I did. At least I wasn't alone. In fact, the more people I talked to, the more I discovered just how many people were viewing love and relationships the same way I did. When it all came down to it, one person was the giver (the nurturer), and the other is the receiver.
The funny thing is, after everything, I still believed in love. Not the impending doom image of love, but real, crazy about each other, best friends, soul mates, lovers, spend the rest of your life together and still snuggle on the couch watching movies, hand holding when you're old, respectful, reciprocal, trustworthy, smile when you think of them, doesn't make sense love. Which is why I have avoided relationships. In my heart, I don't want to be proven wrong.
I want to...I need to know that it exists. I am still a huge commitment phobe and for the first time in years, I am dating, ironically another commitment phobe who has been very patient with me. And while that could mean we're doomed, it may just mean that we understand each other enough to take down our walls long enough to let each other in, even if we don't let anyone else enter. Only time will tell. But I know one thing for certain - I believe I'm willing to redefine my idea of love and to try be open to it because I'm worthy of it and I deserve to be loved like that.
Someone once said, "Do what you've always done and you'll get what you've always got." Well, I don't like what I've gotten so far, so I'm going to give it a shot. Right now, all I can do is try. Because when it all comes down to it, I want to live in a world where there is true love.
Don't forget to check out my book Why Am I Still Single available in hardcover and Ebook/Kindle on Amazon.com Ebook link to Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.com Hard cover link B&N
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Monday, August 11, 2014
As little girls most of us grew up watching movies showcasing a women in some sort of predicament in which she needed to be rescued by her very own Prince Charming, at which time the happy couple, usually knowing each other for a full 15 minutes, would consequently ride off into the sunset creating the perfect happily ever after storybook ending.
This became the standard to which we measured all of our relationships. Somewhere in the recesses of our brained it became engrained that the steps to a successful relationship were as follows:
Step 1: Be lonely and miserable while somehow remaining cheery and optimistic.
Step 2: Sing a song to (or with) animals or inanimate objects as they help you clean or get dressed
Step 3: See Prince Charming and immediately know it is true love.
Step 4: Wait for him to save you from your miserable life
Step 5: Live happily ever after.
Easy-peasy. End of story
OK, in retrospect maybe the whole bursting into song and singing to animals about our love lives should have been the first clue that Disney was full of crap, but we were kids. Then, as we got older, it seemed that many movies glorified the damsel in distress relationship scenario. Clearly Hollywood knew something we didn’t. So all we had to do was happen upon this beautiful man and wait for him to come and rescue us from our humdrum lives, right?
Unfortunately what Disney (and for years, Hollywood) failed to show us was what happened after the happy couple road off into the sunset together. We weren’t privy to the fights Cinderella and Prince Charming had about him getting falling down drunk and hitting on every maiden at the ball each night; or that Prince Philip was crazy jealous and demanded Snow White stop socializing with the Seven Dwarfs. We didn’t feel Ariel’s pain realizing that she didn’t really need her voice back because Prince Eric never listens to her anyway.
No instead we succumb to the fantasy that we would meet the love of our life and then everything that would be perfect and easy. And while many women went on to realize that fairytales aren’t real, some of you are still holding out for that Prince Charming – the man that knows you perfectly without knowing you at all.
The hope of this imaginary perfect man may lead to the dismissal of men that you meet but may not have that instant animalistic attraction. And if you do find someone that you feel that visceral connection to, you may mistake that attraction for love at first sight. Often times, this causes a relationship built mainly on sex. The attraction is so strong that you tend to overlook other deal breaking flaws. It is important to understand the difference between infatuation and love and never confuse the two. ( See previous blog titled: Mr. Kryptonite).
Another reason Prince Charming poses a threat to your romantic life is the tendency to see him as the key to your happiness. Sometimes when we get so wrapped up in the idea of love that we fool ourselves into thinking that the only way we can ever be happy and complete is to find the One. I'm going to let you in on a huge relationship secret that so many people don’t know: If you aren’t happy with yourself when you are alone, you won’t be happy with someone in a relationship. In order to achieve happiness you have to reach a level of self-acceptance and happiness with the person you are. If not, you will continue to look to someone else to fulfill that empty place inside and be disappointed when they don’t come through. After all, if you don’t know what makes you happy, how can they?
Once you reach a place where you are happy with yourself, you will be a better partner and companion. But even then relationships take work which leads us to the biggest of the Prince Charming Pitfalls - disappointment. Prince Charming has no flaws. He always does the right thing and never behaves contrary to what you expect. He is a classy, charismatic, chivalrous gentleman that is great with kids, has an amazing job, gets along with your family, and has the same morals and ideals as you do. He is always understanding, never cross or grumpy, and exists to make you happy. Prince Charming is placed on a pedestal and becomes this impossible ideal to which every man is measured. If a guy fails to stack up, it seems the only option is to end the relationship because, obviously, if the guy were the right guy, he would be automatically in sync with your wants and needs.
Real relationships are not so simple. People have conflicting opinions and different backgrounds. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your relationship is destined for failure. It is important to communicate your feelings and expectations from the beginning and give someone time to understand them. Listen, none of us come with a manual. The only way to learn is over time through trial and error, so you have to give someone a chance. True that handsome guy on the bus may not embody everything you’ve ever imagined you’d end up with but have you ever stopped to think maybe you don’t possess all of the qualities his ideal woman does either. Maybe he thought he’d marry a bike riding, guitar wielding, 5’9” brunette covered in tattoos or a prim and proper southern bell that never uttered a curse word in her life. That doesn’t mean he can’t fall in love with a 5’4 red-head with a sailor’s mouth that has never ridden a bike in her life.
Fairytales are fine as long as you take them for what they are – unrealistic fantasies. Real people have flaws. Nobody is perfect. No one can read your mind. That doesn’t mean you should close the door on the possibility of a relationship just because upon meeting, a man doesn’t know the inner workings of your soul. Don't let a good guy with morals, that strives to be a better person, and tries to make you happy get away while you hold out for an imaginary Prince Charming that only exists in your dreams. Real trumps imaginary every time.
**Don’t forget to check out my book Why Am I Still Single? A Tough Love Guide For Single Women available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com