This: I’m gonna be
These people I love, and that love(d) me, often lacked the skills to educate me on how they needed to be loved, just as I failed to educate them. We just assume everyone knows what to do and if they don’t know we just assume they must not care.
We assume our parents know how to love us, because youth is defined by an inability to discern the consequences of touching a hot stove or the cold heart. Unfortunately, too often successful parenting is defined by the art of coercion and we learn that is love.
In our unskillfulness, our unquestioned loyalty belongs to our parents. There is no doubt of our parents’ love because we lack the wisdom, and experience to self-reflect, ask questions, or say no.
We assume knowing people love us is the same as them knowing how to love us. For most of us, we come into the world with love as our default position. Then, when fallible people inevitably fail, we file the lesson away and try a different tack…and then another…and another…and another until we are so busy chasing the Way of Loving we lose sight of our default position.
We forget that loving someone can be as is simple just holding someone’s hand when they hurt or cheerlead their passions. We forget that when they fail it is not a sign that they don’t love us but that they are human and love is more art than science.
As such, I always saw my role with C as her cheerleader. I was here just to witness the experience of her being human. I obviously didn’t always do it well at times but that was always my intention.
In my off key, and through mumbles, I would sing the The Proclaimers‘ I’m Gonna Be to her. I posted this song to C when I was traveling just to let her know I was always coming home to her. I would tell her, “I’d walk 500 miles and then 500 more just to be that man to fall down at your door.”
I’d add, “I’d walk 1,000 more but it would take me twice as long.”
It was sung from my heart every single time.
I was in Pittsburgh when I heard C needed an emergency root canal with a specialist ninety minutes from our home.
I left Pittsburgh and made the eighteen hour drive just to be there for her on Monday morning. I know she’s an adult. I couldn’t fix the tooth or her take away her pain but I made the effort because she was important to me, and if nothing else I could hold her hand and bring her soup.
When I told a friend my plans, she exclaimed, “Who does that?!”
However, I wanted C to know she could count on me. I wanted her to know that I would be there if there was ever a problem. If she was scared or hurt I wanted her to know I would hold her hand.
Although, C is capable of driving herself to the oral surgeon and driving herself home, if there was a complication I wanted her to know she could count on me. I wanted her to feel like she matters and was important. If something happened I wanted her to know I’d take care of the twins and the schedule, and her, until she felt better.
I wanted her to know I would move heaven and earth to be there for her. It was how I demonstrated my love, concern, and support for her.
And here is the thing: those are things I wanted and I never asked her if she wanted me to be there. I just armored up, climbed upon my white steed Silver, and drove myself home.
A week later K called and told her about my betrayal.
and another thing: Let me love you
I’ve almost never had someone in my life willing to love me the way I needed to be loved. I almost never show anyone how.
Unless they know themselves they cannot know me. “For only by daring to be ourselves,” wrote Mark Nepo, “can we deeply know others.”
Almost without exception my experience in past relationships with family or friends restricted me to role of the well being pumped dry to feed their insecurities. It was expected to the point, that as an adult, I have just assumed the role.
I learned to hide and keep secret my need and wants because my vulnerability was often weaponized, guilting me into giving up my own ambitions or shaming me for being so selfish. As the Hero in my family, and in my relationships, it was my responsibility, the expectation of others, I would eat how I feel, what I need and want, to care for them. What I needed and wanted was forced underground. That is not an excuse, that is the reality of unhealthy, unskillful, and codependent relationships.
Today, I will not shy away from looking in the mirror. I’ve come to recognize that I was loving C the way I need to be loved. I wanted her to see me but my secrets and lies veiled her beautiful bedroom eyes from seeing me, and in the process I made myself unsafe.
Sadly, I played Marco Polo with her heart and I played Wack-a-Mole with my life.
I won’t live this way anymore. As Nepo implores, I am daring to be myself, and for this reason I see others more deeply.
The thing: Abandonment
For many reasons I feel C abandoned and betrayed me and Us.
For example, when I needed her to stand with Us in Indy, she ran. I asked her to financially contribute more to the household expenses and instead she hid money and expenses. I asked her to go to counseling the summer before the reveal and she ducked the topic. I pleaded with her to stop making me the constant heavy with her kids because it was ruining my relationships with them and she blamed me more.
I asked her to fix the auto insurances so we were properly insured, make sure I was on the car titles, have life insurance, and have wills so that if something happened to one of us the other one was protected and her boys would be financially secure going into their teen years.
On all of these topics and more she simply ignored me, ghosted on the issues, and avoided the necessary adulting to grow forward together. She abandoned the topics that didn’t matter to her but were all the ways I needed her to act so I felt safe and loved.
This is her pattern and I knew early her patterns were going to be a problem. I loathe admitting that because I feel stupid now for not confronting her behaviors as they happened.
As such, in those betrayals, and others, I learned what to expect when my betrayal was revealed, even if I didn’t consciously know. As my doctor reminded me, I chose to ignore her choices, silently shifted more weight to my shoulders. and avoided the conflicts necessary to grow together.
C was always going to run and avoid anything that makes her uncomfortable or responsible. She is just as frightened of conflict and vulnerability as I am.
She had secrets. She had lies. “We all have something,” says my Good Doctor. I was so busy hiding my own somethings I ignored C’s somethings.
When you are trying to maintain control of what is happening inside we find ways to manage those things we are afraid of. K threw a vase down the hall and stopped wearing her wedding bands. C sought validation and attention by playing the damsel. I doubled down on a secret life and lies.
My Good Doctor asks me if I kept one foot in my relationship with K because I knew I couldn’t count of C to be there when the things of the relationship become more human and hard?
It’s an interesting question.
THis thing: Our burdens
Since the reveal C has continued to sacrifice me to the altar of her pride by playing the victim, perpetuating half-truths in her social circle, and spreading rumors and lies that prop her up and demonize me.
As she said to me around Day 3: “My pride will not allow us to be together.” As such, she isn’t doing this to me. She is doing this because this is what she knows how to do, what she was taught, and the burden she carries.
She and I both know this truth even if we cannot discuss it.
In reality, C did precisely what I knew she would when things were hard for her. She is doing what she knows how to do: she finds new heros, turns off emotionally, and salts the earth of the past relationships, using others as a foil to avoid vulnerability.
I really believed I was different and she wouldn’t do that to me, or to Us, but patterns don’t change unless we want them to change. She has no reason to change but I do.
I have accepted this is her pattern, who she is and what she does.
Even now, when I see her, I wait a moment and give her the chance to chose vulnerability or bravado. At the bar, at court, at Walmart, and at the gas station she continues to choose bravado. When I see her choice is made, I turn and walk away. I’ll never roll up her.
She knows I’ve risked making myself available to her repeatedly. I cannot continue doing that. Although she knows I will always listen to her and talk with her like she is someone I loved, I cannot coerce or compel her to choose a conversation with me. The choice has always been hers.
Loving someone is a choice. I’ve chosen her. I accept that in the middle of the night my dreams will turn towards her and I will awake feeling an ache in my chest where my heart use to be. This is the life she has chosen.
Today I still have room for her in my heart but not in my life.
In C’s next relationship I hope she stops long enough to learn how to love him the way he needs loved, and learns to teach him how to love her. I hope she stops running because when she isn’t hiding the complex parts of who she is emotionally, sexually, and creatively, she is an incredible woman.
In reality, in most moments I am able to forgive her for lashing out at me, the lies she told about me, the unskillful and reckless ways she tried to shift her pain onto me. I have compassion for the pain I created, and the fear she brought into our relationship. I offer her clemency, acceptance, forgiveness, and love. I refuse to abuse her back.
I try to greet her arrows as flowers.
Perhaps if we owned the beautifully dynamic and complex flowers that life has planted in us over our lives, instead of hiding them in secret gardens, we could have sown a healthier and more diverse garden together.
When I’ve tried talking to K about the damage we did to each other she becomes defensive.
She perceives talking about the things that happened in our marriage, and after, as blaming her or blame shifting. I see it as trying to be open and vulnerable and talk about how I felt at times and in situations while learning about what she was thinking and feeling. I am attempting vulnerability.
She cannot hear me because the old wounds still hurt. That is her burden to carry. She and I created this exact situation because we shifted her burden to me and I took it on only to make things worse. I won’t make that mistake again. I will own only what is mine.
Whoever K allows to love her, and she loves, will not find a more committed or passionate heart.
They will be lucky to be loved by her.
LAst THing: Being Loved
People do what they know how to do until the emotional cost of change is less than the emotional cost of protecting the status quo. We all carry a load that was cast there through the fire of experience. “It doesn’t take long for each of is to accumulate an emotional history,” writes Mark Nepo.
If our emotional history hurts, we often expect to be hurt when touched in specific ways, so we avoid the very touch that would heal us. Fear of pain is why, when we go to the doctor we cringe for pain before they needle us.
When frightened or startled we will be touched we shift the weight of our history in a way that makes us less vulnerable to the pain we imagine. It is why, when we were kids and our friends pretend to whack our sunburn we run. We imagine the pain…and sometimes laugh through the rush of adrenaline.
This is why I think people run, not from people, but from the pain of being with people invariably brings into life.
I use to think K called C to be cruel and vindictive to punish me. I use to think C’s rumor-mongering and lying was to punish me. They aren’t doing anything to punish me. Hurt people hurt people. They hurt and it comes out. My hurt came out and hurt them. Their hurt comes out and it hurts others.
When I see people for who they are, what might be intended as arrows are actually flowers. I see more clearly how my selfishness hurt them. Their actions are a natural response to their pain. Each new ripple is a new choice.
It is like rain falling into a once still pond. Each falling droplets creates waves, and the ripples intersect, cross, and occasional intensifying – or diminishing – the amplitude. C, K, my parents, and everyone I cross paths with are all creating ripples. Some pass without notice, while others will sink my Battleship.
This experience has me choosing to practice the expression of what I feel, need, and want in more constructive ways. It is my choice to face my life with bravado or vulnerability. I choose the amount of energy I place into the ripples. After all, we do what we know and at the heart of our existence we are all just waves of energy rippling across time.
Some of my moments are better than others. I am learning it is okay to make mistakes, be wrong, change my mind, be inconsistent, and contradict myself. It’s the same with you. You will not do it perfectly…or even well.
Most of what people do is made up as they go along based on their accumulated emotional history. It is my responsibility to invite people into my life that will stand with me and not run when it is hard or difficult or confusing.
And if they are hurt and and act out anyway?
If the relationship matters, it is up to me to patiently love them until the emotional cost of change is less than the emotional cost of protecting the status quo.