I’d never been “all in” in a relationship. I’d always held back.
On a recent walk I watched as my new husband, who needs to go further and faster than I do, peeled off ahead of me. His gait, the swing of his arms, the way he—as I constantly tease him—“swishes,” all brought up an enormous feeling of warm, tender love in me.
That’s what I mean. I’d never felt that warm, tender feeling of love before.
I always held back.
It’s not that I didn’t do all the right things, or behave in all the right ways or even say all the right words, all the “I love you” words. I just never had any feelings too, not feelings like I had this morning watching my husband’s “swishy” walk.
In my first marriage, I didn’t know better. I was 19 years old. I still thought love was the guilt/blame/shame/symbiotic mess that my Italian parents taught me—because that’s what they thought love was. That’s what they learned. How could they have known any better?
In that marriage I played the role of the good wife for 30 years and finally awoke to the fact that playing the role just wasn’t enough. I wanted to “feel” something too.
So I left and moved onto another relationship that I thought was different.
I was right. He was different, that’s for sure—but I wasn’t.
I still didn’t get close to what was missing. I still didn’t get close to my feelings. They remained out of my reach.
By that time of course I had the “doing the right thing” part down. In fact, I had it so down that when he got Parkinson’s disease, doing the right thing carried me through.
Still, I would lay in bed at night and cry out, “Why don’t I feel anything?”
He refused to believe me.
“But you act like you love me,” he’d say, right up to the day we split.
So when I met the man I’m married to now, the man who’d been married for 48 years to one woman who he loved and who he actually felt love for and who he actually was happy with I thought, “It’s now or never.”
“If you’re ever going to feel anything along with doing the right thing, now’s the time.”
I decided something. I decided to be all in.
And then I felt my decision. I felt a little seed take root. I could feel it grow, ever so carefully. It was as if it came up from between the cracks in the concrete, looked around and checked things out.
When I saw it, I just wouldn’t let it duck back down. Instead, I watered it, even though I was scared that it would be trampled on, or that there would be too much cold weather for it, or even too much sun.
“It’s okay, little seed,” I told it. “I picked a really good gardener this time. He’s going to show us the way to help you grow right out in the open. He’s safe. I can tell. I promise.”
That little seed has become a plant and now, when my husband swishes in front of me on our walk, I feel inside me the love that the little seed has grown into.
It took me 70 years to get there—70 years to understand that not being all in was because of a promise I’d made to myself in childhood about how to keep myself safe. 70 years to figure out I was doing the same blame/shame “this can’t be love” thing with the partners I’d chosen as my parents had done with me.
70 years to understand that there’s no such thing as safe.
But it was worth it.
Do I get scared? Yes. My husband and I are in our mid-70’s. I get scared of losing him—or more, of losing the part of me that feels love. But when I think of it, I remember that even only 10 more years of feeling love or only 10 more days or maybe even only one more day of feeling it was worth all the time it took for it to wake up and grow out from under the concrete.
I also learned that it’s never too late to make a new promise.
A promise to be “all in.”
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Catherine Monkman