I was thinking about a new relationship in my life.
Something was missing, and it was bothering me. I didn’t feel cherished or embraced in the way I was used to, when men would bend over backwards to tell me how wonderful, sexy, smart and beautiful I was. Where was that comfort, that reassurance?
For a few painful days, I was convinced that this meant my lover didn’t care for me. But when I looked at his other behavior, and our obvious pleasure in each other’s company, that didn’t make any sense. He clearly cared. We clearly had a meaningful connection. Yet where were my sweet words? Where was the romance? Where was the tender touch at night, in bed, as if to reassure himself that I was still there? Why did I feel so separate?
The urge to do something, to make it mean something, to have “a talk”, to break up even, was strong and pounded in my ears as I tried to focus on other things in my life. I knew that relationships shouldn’t be my sole source of happiness, pleasure or joy. But what was I supposed to do with this doubt?
This wasn’t like the sweet, sappy notions I’d been taught.
Was I being played? Was this yet another situation where I was involved with an emotionally unavailable man? But there was no evidence in his past that this was true of him. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. There was a puzzle piece missing.
Then, a conversation with wise friends opened the door of awareness a crack and a light shined through.
I had a vision of offering this man my bruised, bleeding and wounded heart, and expecting him to bind it up, heal it and keep it for me, so it wouldn’t get hurt again.
And I realized my need for sweet reassurances wasn’t about him—it was about me and my wounds.
All of a sudden I understood the downfall of a previous relationship, where my demands for connection, for support and for tender words pushed a cherished lover away.
I understood how I had been asking that lover to take care of my emotions for me. To take away my doubts and my self-criticism by telling me, repeatedly, that I was fine, and that I was necessary. I understood why he had gone away, unwilling to provide that solace for me when he could barely provide it for himself.
I realized that so often, the dance of relationship, if done blindly and without self-awareness, is really the dance of wounds.
We ask one another to heal our childhood scrapes, our teenage angst, our adult tragedies. And we can’t heal that for one another. It’s impossible. All we can do is witness it and cherish the other’s journey, if we have the strength to see one another clear-eyed and clear-headed.
When we ask our lover to buy us diamond rings, anniversary presents, to say certain words, or to act certain ways, even to forsake all others, we’re really asking, at the core of it, for our partners to make sure we won’t feel bad.
We’re asking them to assure us that we won’t feel doubt, or the pain of loss, or worry, or anger. We’re asking them to protect us from our own emotions. And we’re asking them to fix it all: every bad thing that daddy or mommy did. Every bad thing that our exes have done. Every worry we’ve had when looking in the mirror. Every bump on the road. We’re crying to our lover, Please. Don’t let me get hurt.
The truth is nobody can protect us from hurt. When we realize we are, in essence, alone, and can only heal these wounds for ourselves, we can be in real, genuine and honest partnerships.
This is the only way to accept our lovers for who they are and not for who we want them to be.
We can’t expect our lovers to take our heart up, stitch the wounds, wrap it in bandages, and then mop up the blood we’ve spilled all over the floor.
It’s the only way to break out of the fantasy, to end the too-common cycle of disappointment and false promises.
Can we finally stand up on our own feet, take our hearts back, accept that we are here to heal ourselves and let go of our expectations that another person will do it for us? Can we grow up?
Whatever happens in my life with my lovers and partners, I will sit still in the mornings and face the fact of my simple, exquisite aloneness. My goal is to become strong enough to let my loves go, so that our connection is about seeing and cherishing one another’s true, whole heart, and not about cleaning up each other’s blood and silencing each other’s anguished cries with kisses.
I have a new ambition now: to stand strong alongside my loves, to be the best person I can be in any moment, and to see them clearly, without the blinders of my expectation.
Wish me luck.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Assistant: Kim Haas/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo credits: elephant journal archives