“It was a beautiful wedding—everything you could ever want…
But I knew I shouldn’t have married her. Something was niggling at me, even that morning as I got ready. And did I listen? Of course not! I just put it down to cold feet and kept going. It seemed the honorable thing to do at the time, after all the effort we’d put into planning the day. It was only later that I realized I should have listened to myself.”
It wasn’t that my friend didn’t love his bride. And it wasn’t that he didn’t want to commit to her. It was something else that was bothering him, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on at the time. It was as if he’d lost himself somewhere along the way to the ever-increasing expectations of what it was to be firstly a boyfriend and then a husband.
It took almost two years of inner struggle before the person he felt himself to be finally erupted, colliding with the man he appeared to be on the outside.
“…all the empty things disguised as me…”
(from Sympathy by The Goo Goo Dolls)
He found it impossible to continue living up to expectations (his own as well as others’) and simply fled. The marriage ended with disbelief and hurt on his wife’s side, and bitter regret and guilt on his.
Whether the marriage was a mistake or not from the outset is not really the issue here. What is relevant, though, is that so many of us find it difficult to be ourselves in our intimate relationships.
And what does that even mean—to be ourselves?
“Truth is, we enter into a relationship with a whole heap of acknowledged and unacknowledged motives. We carry with us our experiences of all relationships in the past—good and bad, friends and family. We bring to it our beliefs about ourselves, unfulfilled desires, habits and thought patterns. We come looking for love, companionship, fun, understanding, sex, reassurance, and God knows what else—and that’s only what we may be aware of. Our unconscious beliefs lie dormant, waiting to steal up on us from behind as we start to open ourselves in the presence of another.”
(from The Beautiful Garden)
So, with all that going on at various levels inside of us, how on earth do we know who we really are and what is right for us? No wonder it can seem so much simpler to just follow a social code which outlines what is normal—that offers steps from dating through to commitment, marriage and family life. Maybe if we try to be ‘good’— following society norms and doing our part to keep the moral code alive—the world will reciprocate by being ‘good’ back to us?
And hence the attraction of articles and books that serve up recipes for attracting, and keeping, Ms/Mr Right. We’re hungry for perfect love and relationships. We want to know that it’s possible to meet a soul mate and to live happily ever after. Surely there has to be a formula out there which, if we stick to it, will guarantee the ultimate, life-long, intimate connection?
Surely if we all follow the rules, everyone will be relatively happy, right?
If only it were that simple. But no matter how perfectly we try to design our personal world and relationships to fit a preconceived idea of how they should be, the reality is that our deeper selves will always be looking for expression. In the words of Jung, ‘when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.’ And, to add to that, we are constantly evolving—always, at some level, striving to become more whole than we have been.
All this seems to suggest that if we try to live up to others’ guidelines for relating and living, something inside us is likely to creep out at some stage and trip us up. And yet we never really, completely, know who we are and we probably never will. Damned if we try to live as society suggests we should and damned if we don’t?
Well, not quite. Although ‘authentic relating’ is rapidly becoming a trendy term, many of us have come to the conclusion that it is the only real way to live, having experienced the pain that follows the discovery that we have been relating according to someone else’s rules rather than from our own hearts.
It may not be a term we consciously use, but it sums up perfectly that determination to be as much ourselves as possible, particularly in our most intimate of relationships.
We all come ‘wired’ in particular ways and if we’re willing to shift more of our energy away from the effort it takes to fit into society ‘norms’ and towards self-discovery, we can find out a little about that ‘wiring’. Even the following simple queries can get the ball rolling.
What am I like emotionally—ballsy and forthright, or sensitive and less direct? Or some other combination?
Am I more introverted (needing time on our own to recharge) or extroverted (needing time with others)?
How do I like to communicate?
What do I really value?
How independent am I, in my thinking and my living?
What do I really yearn for, regardless of what society may suggest is appropriate?
What makes me feel nurtured and valued?
How do I like to nurture and value others?
How do I feel and express love?
The answers to these simple questions will change depending on what’s going on in our lives—and some of the answers may seem contradictory—but they do offer some insight into our underlying expression and into what kind of relationship might nurture us. If my friend had had the maturity or understanding to be able to address some of these before his wedding day, perhaps he might have noticed how far his relationship had strayed from what he valued as a man and from what he needed in terms of nurturing.
But how many of us end up learning about ourselves the hard way, having tried to live up to expectations and finding we couldn’t?
The more we focus our attention on discovering who we are, the more we get a sense of our underlying essence and the more opportunity we have to relate to others with authenticity rather than according to a set of external norms which may, or may not, fit us. Sure, it’s a never-ending process, but at least it’s a process that is connected to our own uniqueness and which allows us to connect with that same uniqueness in others. And it’s a process that allows us to shape the internal and external structures of our relationships in a way that suits us best.
(If this is a subject which interests you, I’ll be posting other articles on authentic relating over the coming weeks —addressing issues such as how to deal with fear and how to recognize personal truth).
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: elephant archives