One day, my counselor got my attention with one little question.
Often I talked about dating troubles, which tended to focus on me not understanding why the person I dated did things I didn’t like or understand.
Mostly, I didn’t understand myself—or what I wanted or needed—as my counselor pointed this out to me again and again.
For example, I lived at the time in a small southern town and taught high school all day. This town didn’t have much of a dating scene (or anything that had to do with single living), so I often drove to a bigger city 40 miles away on the weekends to meet friends and go out. After teaching all week, this was a welcomed escape for me, and one I didn’t mind beyond the exhausting, rat-in-a-wheel experience of my classroom.
So one night, I met a great guy. We started dating on the weekends when I drove into the city, and this was fun and exciting…at first. But as we spent more time together, he wanted to see me during the week. He lived in a big house, got off work later than me, and there was so much more to do in the city than where I lived. His reasons included all these, but whenever I suggested he drive to see me, he quickly said things like, “If you want us, you will come here” and “It’s just easier for you to drive here after school.”
And, at the time, I was a huge people pleaser, thinking I had to do most of the work to have a relationship, and I didn’t notice the red flags in his position. And, I liked being him, but I simply wasn’t able to check with myself to ask if this was what I wanted—or if seeing each other like this was truly easier.
After a couple of months of clocking hundreds of miles during the week, I was exhausted.
Not only was I driving every Tuesday to his house to make dinner and hang out with him, I was driving back the same night, late, and scrambling for the next day’s lessons. I also spent most of the weekend with him—foregoing time with friends or family who lived nearby or any time I might have to myself. This started to seriously drag on me, but if I expressed this to him, he brushed it off as a “sacrifice” to make so we could date.
When I related this to my counselor one day, he smiled his no-nonsense smile. I thought he was going to say something like you have to think about what you want or you have to communicate what you need in this relationship.
But, instead, he said, “Let me ask you. Where are your feet?“
I looked at him, not understanding. My feet? What was he talking about? He could see my confusion and began to explain.
Your feet, he said again, pointing to his shoes and then mine. Where are they?
I looked down, considering my feet and where they had been all day—at school, walking around a room, stopping at desks to help students with their writing…and driving to the counselor’s office.
“I don’t understand,” I said, still not getting the point.
Where your feet are tells you what you value, he said. If you are watching TV every night, your feet are pointed toward the TV and that shows you value watching TV over doing other things. If your feet are on the tennis court Saturday, you value playing tennis. Wherever your feet are—or where they are going—shows what is important to you.
“So you are saying I value traveling to see this person every week,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “You value it if your feet are moving toward it. You like spending time with him. But what about important time you may need for yourself?”
I thought about being continually on the road, almost running from being alone and precious time to reflect, rest, and rejuvenate. This made me pause and question: Why are my feet always in the car going toward him? Is that what I value the most?
And then he asked: “What about your friend’s feet?”
I smiled and thought about his feet. What did he value? I relayed how during the week, he went to work, worked out, and watched football. I thought about his feet propped up on the table, continual reels of Sunday night and Monday night football playing. And I thought about my feet curled up next to his as we ate dinner while watching, me falling asleep and half-dead from working all day. Then I saw my feet walking to my car, driving late and in the dark toward home.
My counselor listened to this and said, “So what bothers you about your feet?”
“Um…I guess they are always going,” I said. “Like…running away?”
“From what?” He asked.
“From…” I stopped, and then added, “From being alone.”
“Exactly,” he said.
“So think about your feet and what they value,” he said. “Maybe you’re just scared to be by yourself? Think about the things you do that support yourself-—or not. Then think about this relationship and how it’s valued. Clearly he values you coming to see him…”
“Yeah,” I said, “But it’s becoming really tiring and hard for me, and he doesn’t seem to hear this, and this bothers me. I’ve suggested we alternate the drive.”
“Well,” he said, “Why should he? As long as you keep taking your feet to his house during the week and spending your time that way, he will not get that it’s not supporting you and that you might need something different.”
“So where are your feet is kind of like actions speak louder than words,” I said.
Exactly, my counselor said, smiling his half-smile.
“So,” I said, “I think this week I’m going to keep my feet home and rest.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Put your feet in a bubble bath. Or take them on a walk to a friend’s house. See what happens and go from there.”
From that point forward, I’ve learned that where I move my feet tells me what I believe and value. This also helped me see clearly how actions follow beliefs. If I value self-love and self-care, sometimes my feet will simply stand still in order to reflect and regenerate. And if I value relationships and friendships, each step I take toward them will be because I want them in my life.
For the record, that guy and I didn’t date much after I kept my feet home during the week. Turns out, he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t take the extra miles for him and “us,” but I realized at that time I needed to take the steps toward me.