It seems that since about late July, my life took a turn for a country-western song playing forward, complete with the dog that went away. In the past few months, I’ve allowed myself time for reflection, renewal, and attempted revival. This seems to happen amidst major life changes, sometimes even minor ones, and this is no different.
As such, I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities before me and some time on my hands, to reconnect to some pieces of me that I had long thought were gone forever and happened upon some really helpful realizations.
What I’ve learned in the process is certainly worthwhile, though I’m really quite tired of learning in such ways: through pain and heartache. Yes, life teaches us lessons, but honestly, I’m tired of learning life lessons… can’t I just learn random facts? I’m still learning and still healing, but here are two core pieces I’ve uncovered so far.
One key piece of change for me has to do with emotional connection. For more years than I can remember, at least since about late 2001, I have had a very difficult time crying. Unless while watching an emotionally inspiring film, I think I could cry for about 15 seconds before telling myself it was not really worth it and then I stopped – and that was, at most, two or three times a year. I was quite an emotional child and easily cried and was encouraged by teachers and implicitly by my father to filter out that facet of emotion. As such, I eventually became quite cerebral and pushed the emotions socially perceived as negative (anxiety, sadness, anger) to the periphery, which then led others to seek out my input since I could offer predictability and rationality, which, in turn, reinforced that separation from those emotions. There were a few occasions where I would experience and express some melancholy during my teens. Yet after some personally traumatic losses in 1999 and in 2001, in my early 20’s, I think I ran in fear from the sadness I was feeling in those losses and subsequently cut off emotional connection to much of anyone: perhaps for fear of losing the connection before I was ready – as if we can ever be ready to lose those for which we care so much.
Though I rediscovered the ability to feel and process anger and anxiety in as healthy as possible ways, prior to this work as of late, I had not been able to break through and feel sadness. Through this process of healing in the last couple of months, I have reconnected to sadness. I knew it would be difficult, but helpful to finding the whole me. I don’t know that I’m quite at the balance I’d like and the feeling of sadness is still uncomfortable and feels much like heartburn, yet I know I’m closer to where I want to be. I still don’t allow myself to cry whenever I feel I could – that would be all too often these days, for various reasons – yet I do allow it more often than I had before and I can have a good cry, which was long overdue (and, honestly, feels so good to allow myself to do so).
The second piece learned, and perhaps the most transformative change in this process, has been more of a realization: I cannot approach dating the same way I approach all the other relationships in my life. Shocking: I know!
For as long as I can remember, I have approached relationships with most people both with a realization of their flaws, but also for what they have the potential to be. I come by this honestly as it’s often the way that my grandma Mutter (german for mother) viewed and my mom views people. This approach is a core piece of my daily work as well, but is older and goes much deeper to the core of who I am. I can often view the best that lies within most people in my life, and even give the same benefit of the doubt to most strangers. I can explain and understand just about any behavior (see the above note to cerebral tendencies). However, I have found that such a view of a potential long-term partner is not beneficial to happiness, particularly not at the outset of a relationship.
Of course, we should view our mate for who they are and who they can be, after all, we should be supportive of who they want to become. Yet the “who they are” now should definitely be someone who we’re compatible with in all the ways that matter most, prior to entering a long-term deal. I believe that in the past I have allowed my future view of the person I was dating to overlap and become indistinguishable from the current actuality of the person. I dated with the future in mind without enough regard for the quality of the relationship at its present moment. This is not to say that those prior relationships weren’t worthwhile or meaningful – they were – yet it is to say that perhaps quite a bit of heartache could have been avoided if this were known then. But then again, “no one gets to miss the storm of what will be, just holding on for the ride” (Indigo Girls, The Wood Song).
I’ve learned in the recent process that though the ability to see someone for what they can be is beneficial at work, and is helpful to be optimistic and supportive of friends and family, that this vision of the “best person you can be” cannot be the foundation upon which any long-term loving romantic relationship is built. In such a way, optimism loses to realism, which is quite the challenge to this eternal optimist. We must date the person who is in the now, for we deserve to be happy not just in some arbitrary “soon”, we deserve to be happy in the now.