It’s been almost eighteen months and I’m not dead yet, and as much as I may have wanted a life with Painter, I know I don’t need a life with her to find my joy. Where I described her as my anchor, I realize she was simply a mooring and we lacked a secure attachment. I realize now we were both responsible for that lack of security.
Part of the difficulty is that I am still teasing out the lessons from the mythology. Were Painter and I the “golden couple of YoYo Town,” as a friend described us? Were we the “cutest couple of summer camp” as some fellow artists called us years ago? Were we emotional children playing at adulting until it became too much adulting?
None of those questions are really about her as much as they were about Us, the way we presented ourselves, or the way people saw us.
A friend recently said to me, “I’m sorry about you and Painter. You seemed so happy together. Maybe you were just too much for her? Looking at her FB page it is obvious she is a very traditional girl.”
I burst out a laugh and responded, “It’s FB! Painter is curating what she wants you to see.” One of the basic truths I have learned is we all have our things. Painter is no different.
In many respects, I treated Painter as my honey bee. As Mark Nepo writes, “I became lost in how everything other than my pain was reflected in her beauty.” As long as I focused on her happiness, played her Hero, made myself valuable to her I had a place, meaning, a purpose, and I was worthy of being loved.
That is not a criticism of Painter. I am not blaming her for my choices. I am simply stating the reality of our relationship.
It was only after I fell off the white horse, and my weakness became apparent, and Painter asked me to leave was I able, with help, to recognize how “I was abdicating my own worth, empowering her as a key to my sense of joy.”
As long as Painter wanted me, her joy was my joy. I was her flower. In this way I turned over sovereignty for my life to her feelings and my shame.
My Good Doctor and I were talking about how I approached Painter in the early summer of 2017, about 7 months before Beatrix called Painter, and told her we needed to make some changes to our relationship, work on some hard things, that although I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, what we were doing was unsustainable.
I told Painter I wanted to go to counseling with her so we could get stronger together.
I even contacted a mutual friend that is a licensed family counselor and, as a therapist, she felt she was too close to us to really give us a healthy third-party perspective and referred us to someone else.
After talking about this with the Good Doctor, I realize Painter never mentioned it again, or if I brought it up, she ignored the topic. Just like Painter never mentioned her resentments about the life insurance and wills or the truck transmission or my involvement with her business. She ignored my concerns with how her son was behaving or how she always made me the heavy with the boys. Painter simply ignored anything she didn’t want to do, gunnysacking resentments, letting them fester expecting me to know.
The Good Doctor made interesting observations as we talked about this. A perspective I never considered.
She said, “Sean, if I went to my current partner of six years and said, ‘This relationship matters to me and I want it to work but there are some things we need to talk about and I’m not sure how. Would you go see a counselor with me?’ She’d be all in. There would be nothing to think about or discuss. She would just take the initiative and help me make it happen.”
“When you care about people and the relationship, that is what you do,” adds the Good Doctor. “You step up to the issues at hand and learn how to navigate them together. Emotionally mature adults don’t simply cut them loose and run. Adults look for perspective and then make a decision. They always come back to the table with the intent of understanding so they can make an informed decision.”
“She chose a relationship with you for a reason. She was getting something out of your heroing. Look at how her patterns repeat over and over but she avoids owning any of it. She is never going to speak with you unless she starts to own her part in the patterns. Why should she, as long as she has the act down someone will always be there to help re-energize her pattern. No reason to do it differently if it works.”
Interestingly, early in my marriage to Beatrix, I tried to get Beatrix to go to counseling with me because her anger and my avoidance were killing Us. To her credit, Beatrix was willing to go as long as she could pick the doctor. We went three times before she announced to me, she wouldn’t go anymore because the doctor was taking my side.
Similar issues, similar outcomes.
And this is why it matters now. I do not want to participate in another relationship with my primary partner is not willing to own their part in building the relationship. I will not participate in a relationship where I am expected to guess. I will not commit to a relationship where the really hard and Ugly weeds are ignored.
I have changed.
I may still be unskillful at many things but I have never shied away from that truth post-discovery. And frankly, outside of my emotionally Ugly behaviors with Beatrix, I was consistently invested in building a future with Painter. Anyone that saw us together knew that. Anyone that saw us apart knew it. Even Beatrix.
As Chef said to me recently, “Anyone that knew you, knew your passion for Painter.”
I have spent over a year, two to three hours a week, and thousands of dollars, going through the list with my Good Doctor and dissecting the entire relationship with Beatrix, with Painter, my choices, my feelings, and our patterns.
I realize something a few months ago: I am doing the work. I always tried to do the work. I was committed to the work. And even when I was acting out with Beatrix (and with Painter) I was always aware that I could do better and was trying to figure out how. One of many unskillful decisions I made was thinking I had to do it alone.
And now I realize, without Painter owning her patterns and responsibilities in the relationships, I was doing it alone anyway. And that is exactly why our relationship was non-sustainable for me: I couldn’t count on Painter to tell me what she felt, needed, wanted, or hungered for and she wasn’t interested in teaching me.
By being Painter’s Hero never had to either.
Painter and I are finished now. Beatrix and I are finished too. Those chapters are over.
For the first time in a very long time, I am free of the shame of my secrets and lies, the unspoken expectations and resentments of others, and the anxiety of discovery, failure, and judgment. I cannot unring the bell, but I can move forward and strike a new chord.
Here is the thing, I am done dreaming of Painter, my honey bee. My life with Painter was an illusion. A mythology. A story.
I remain deeply saddened by the ending. A sense of Saudade remains. I carry grief best defined by Mono No Aware.
In the meantime, I’m learning who I am in the light and dark. I’m learning what I am capable of. I’m learning my Value.
The flower doesn’t dream of the bee.
The Bee Comes
The flower doesn’t dream of the bee. It blossoms and the bee comes.
At times in my life, I have wanted love so badly that I have re-imagined myself, reinvented who I am, in an attempt to be more desirable or more deserving, only to discover, again and again, that it is the tending of my own soul then invites the natural process of life to begin.
I remember my very first tumble into love. I found such comfort there that, like Narcissus, I became lost in how everything other than my pain was reflected in her beauty. All the while, I was abdicating my own worth, empowering her as a key to my sense of joy.
If I have learned anything through the years, it is that, though we discover and experience Joy with others, our capacity for Joy is carried like a pot of neck doctor in our very own breast. I now believe that our deepest occasion is to root ourselves enough in this life that we can open our hearts to the light of the experience, and so, bloom. For in blooming, we attract others; in being so thoroughly who we are, and inner fragrance is released that calls others to eat of our nectar. And we are loved, by friends and partners alike.
It seems the very job of Being is to ready us for such Love. By attending our own growth, we uncannily become exactly who we are, and like the tulip whose blossomed pedal is the exact shape of the bee, our self-actualization attracts a host of loving others more real than all our fantasies. And this way, the Universe continues through the unexpected coming together of blossomed souls.
So, if you can, give up the want of another and be who you are, and more often than not, love will come at the precise moment you are simply loving yourself.