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