Conversations we don’t have.

 

“Is that from the Walla Walla trip?” I plopped down on his futon and looked over at the glass of wine in front of him on the desk.

“Yeah.” He half stood up nervously, “You want some?”

“Yeah, that’d be great,” I said. My brain teeth were clenched that there wasn’t already a glass of wine waiting for me (uh-gen).

He handed me a glass. I held it in my lap and threw my head back, “Hang on, I just need to settle in for a sec.” He knew that I had come over cause I wanted to talk. After a few sips of chilled rosé, I started.

“So, this is basically a continuation of the conversation we had last week. Like I said before, I want to make it clear that what I am about to say is how I’m feeling and what I see from my point of view. This does not mean I am right or that you did anything wrong or that there’s anything wrong with you. I don’t know how else to preface this conversation.”

He looked at me like he knew what I was about to say but had no idea what I was about to say at the same time.

I continued, “The past week I have felt more disconnected from you. I feel like you’re more distant than before. I feel like, after all that we’ve been through, that our level of intimacy should be on a deeper level. It use to be on a deeper level! What happened?!”

There were things I wanted to express and questions I wanted to ask but I felt as though there were no words. There were no verbal containers to hold the frustration and love and fear that emanated from my core. I had put a lot of thought into what I wanted to say. I was hoping for responses that could help me make sense of what was happening between us. I needed reassurance.

“We just started dating a few months ago,” the way he said it sounded like a question. and defensive.

“Yeah but we have been in a relationship for basically a year! I feel like our closeness is regressing.”

He looked at me, “People move at different speeds. Not everyone gets to the same level of intimacy at the same time.”

“I don’t want to philosophize and speak in generalizations! I’m talking about us. You. and me!”

(In hindsight, this is probably where I cut him off and shut him down. Who feels like sharing their feelings with someone who is yelling at you? No one.)

***

So that’s how the conversation started out – approximately – and ended in a break-up. But what if it happened this way?

***

“Is that from the Walla Walla trip?” I plopped down on his futon and looked over at the glass of wine in front of him on the desk.

“Yeah.” He half stood up nervously, “You want some?”

“Yeah, that’d be great,” I said. My brain teeth were clenched that there wasn’t already a glass of wine waiting for me (uh-gen).

He handed me a glass. I held it in my lap and threw my head back, “Hang on, I just need to settle in for a sec.” He knew that I had come over cause I wanted to talk. After a few sips of chilled rosé, I started.

“So, this is basically a continuation of the conversation we had last week. Like I said before, I want to make it clear that what I am about to say is how I’m feeling and what I see from my point of view. This does not mean I am right or that you did anything wrong or that there’s anything wrong with you. I don’t know how else to preface this conversation.”

He looked at me like he knew what I was about to say but had no idea what I was about to say at the same time.

I continued, “The past week I have felt more disconnected from you. I feel like you’re more distant than before. I feel like, after all that we’ve been through, that our level of intimacy should be on a deeper level. It use to be on a deeper level! What happened?!”

There were things I wanted to express and questions I wanted to ask but I felt as though there were no words. There were no verbal containers to hold the frustration and love and fear that emanated from my core. I had put a lot of thought into what I wanted to say. I was hoping for responses that could help me make sense of what was happening between us. I needed reassurance.

He leaned in and touched his knees to mine, “I don’t know…I really don’t know, O.” Tears were welling up in his eyes. They glistened. they were beautiful. “I don’t know what’s going on with me but I don’t want there to be distance between us.”

My heart softened and broke a little. I could see he was in pain. A tear broke on the bottom edge of my left eye and raced toward the crease of my nose. I sniffled and grabbed his right hand with my left. I put down my wine to cradle his hand between both of mine. “It’s so nice to hear you say that you don’t want there to be distance. I want to know what you’re thinking, babe, even if it’s that you don’t know. I want to be here for you but I don’t know how to be if you don’t give me anything. It scares me.”

He put his head down and let out a long hard sigh. I moved closer. wiggled my way onto his lap and stretched my arms around him. “I’m sorry I kinda stink. I didn’t take a shower after yoga.” He held me tighter. We both sighed. and cried. our heads cradled in each other’s necks. For a split second I had an image of two swans with their necks intertwined but the smell of him brought me back to us. I took in a deep breathe to smell his skin, his hair, his shirt, the wine on his breath. Him. I could feel my muscles ease into our embrace.

It was like nothing more needed to be said. at least not in that moment. I felt so close to him. We sat there. holding each other. the record stopped and we both popped up our heads and looked at the record player, then looked at each other, and laughed. 

“What do you wanna listen to?” he asked. 

“Umm, Cocteau Twins, of course!” He tried to get up from the chair but I held him back with the weight of my body and gave him a kiss on his nose. “OK, you can change it now,” I said with a grin.

He smiled.

It involves laughing.

Thank goodness for good friends. I had a long talk with one of my oldest and bestest friends this evening. Now I know what a car feels like when its tank is filled with petrol, or how Tic Tok feels when he gets wound up (Return to Oz reference – a gazillion brownie points if you get it). Sometimes you need to talk to someone who knows you well and shares their thoughts with you to know how you want to move forward. Good friends are the best reflective listeners. The message that rings with me from our conversation this evening is this:

“Dawni, you sound like you are ready for a relationship. You sound like you know what you want and you want to be with someone who is ready for a relationship too.” (paraphrasing here)

Yes. It’s true. I’m 37, and though I don’t subscribe to the expectation of marrying with 2 kids and a white picket fence, I want to find a partner, damn it. I have lots of good stuff to share, and other people do too, and I want to know it, share it, explore it, ask questions, really stupid questions that that person will tell me are not stupid because no question is.

Now. I know myself. Historically I have a tendency to fall hard and fast. but as I have grown older, I feel as though I can no longer afford to. I yearn for partnership, someone to grow with, like roots from two trees in a big tangled beautiful mess. I want that.

I didn’t think I would end up in this position again but I am considering re-igniting my match.com account. (my stomach is churning as I type this) There is someone to meet. who wants to meet me. and come out from the shadows and show themselves. there is a future together that we are both so excited and ready for. and it involves laughing. a lot.

 

Break-up, make-up; repeat.

Naturally, since Mr. G and I have a steady history of break-up/make-up, I wonder how things with us will roll out. Is there another make-up talk in the future? Or at least a kinder conversation for closure so that, as my wise therapist (lovingly nicknamed, ‘The Wizard’) says, “We leave each other better off than when you found each other.” I love that sentiment. Regardless of the turmoil, discomfort, or pain. we gave something to each other. At times, we showed each other a tenderness and curiosity that softened our hearts and made us feel special, because we were. We are.

I have no expectation of the future but I do carry a hope that we can find a way to sort it out. It would take a lot, and perhaps more opening up than Mr. G is ready for, but I believe people can change and are capable of so much more than they sometimes think they are.

Giving in to the humanity of oneself changes the world around you. Every day is more alive and interesting. excessive complaining feels like a waste of time. moments are gobbled up by appreciation and gratitude. Don’t get me wrong. The lows still come around and there are days when you feel like gnawing your fingers off cause you’re so pissed/annoyed/frustrated/[enter any painful, uncomfortable emotion here]. Ultimately, it feels amazing to open yourself up to someone. To let another person see you in your rawest moments. Those are the most beautiful, I think.

I digress.

As the days pass since our break-up, I wonder. What will happen with Mr. G? I’ve been doing some reading on the cyclical make-up/break-up relationships and the chances that they can end in success. There are mixed reviews. Of course, the circumstances and people in every break-up are different. But there is some valuable information to consider here. I’m a silver-lining finder so I appreciate some of what I’ve read. Break-ups aren’t always horrible. As with anything, there are opportunities to be had.

I’m not feeling especially creative this evening so I am going to info dump some snippets from articles I found useful. See what you think:

Get Back With Your Ex Permanently After Multiple Break-Ups

  • The only way too truly breakaway from the vicious cycle that has plagued your relationship and build something stable is to start by identifying the real wants, needs and aspirations of both individuals.
  • The tension, frustration and built up resentment from being misunderstood always leads to a breakdown in communication. In order to make the relationship permanent and to avoid yet another breakup you will need to fundamentally change the way you communicate and interact with your ex on a multitude of levels. In fact, your main goal moving forward should be to completely shift the way that you approach talking and relating to each other. Look to always avoid arguments and instead think of potential solutions that can bridge your differences before talking back to your significant other.

How Healthy Are On-Again/Off-Again Relationships?

  • If we’re trying to understand whether on-again/off-again relationship are healthy, we should acknowledge that they’re not all the same. Some evidence suggests that on-again/off-again relationships sort themselves into two primary types (Dailey, Jin, Brody, & McCracken, 2013). The first, called the capitalized-on-transitions type, describes a couple that makes the most of changing circumstances, letting transitions serve as tests or opportunities for relationship improvement. For example, a break-up might allow for the growth that enables a healthy relationship after reunion. The gradual separation type engages in the on-again/off-again pattern with hopes and expectations, but ultimately this pattern gives way to a final break-up.
  • The on-off partners who do report more satisfaction say that the on-off nature of the relationship helped improve the relationship; the breakups and renewals gave them a chance to work on themselves or the relationship.
  • Even if your relationship has gone through several renewals, the lessons from those who have stopped the cycle of breaking up and renewing may still apply. Change something about the relationship. Discuss new rules and norms. Talk about how to resolve issues that led to the breakups or how to improve the relationship. Don’t just hope that the relationship will be better the next time around.

Could Breaking Up Help Your Relationship?

  • Although ending a relationship can be painful, a separation can give a couple space to work on personal issues that have been harming the relationship. ‘It can help individuals reassess their priorities, helping them to know more about what they would like to get out of a relationship,’

Imago relationship therapist, Dr. Sophie Slade, suggests five ways to get your relationship back on track:

  • Get curious – curious about yourself, curious about your partner and curious about what led to your break-up. Try to replace all the criticism in your relationship with curiosity.
  • Take a long, hard look at your own contribution to the break-up– what were you doing that contributed to the pain in the relationship? Blaming your partner won’t get you anywhere. You can only change yourself.
  • See your relationship as an opportunity for your growth. What part of you do you need to grow to create the relationship differently and meet your partner’s needs? And how can you ask your partner to grow to meet your needs in ways he or she can hear and doesn’t have to defend against?
  • Create a vision of the relationship that you both want to haveand then work out what you each need to contribute to create that kind of relationship.
  • Create some rituals of loving behavior and expressions of appreciation for each other regularly: for example, expressing at least one thing you appreciate them doing for you each day at a specific time.

 

In a safe space where only (s)he and I can go.

So. I broke up with Mr. G. It happened in a haze and I don’t like the way it rolled out – me. tangled up in emotion and letting my anger and frustration marionette my limbs and throw my words. I stormed out and walked away from a conversation (something I need to work on) that was going nowhere because. it felt fruitless. I felt like the conversation was being deflected from talking about us. like I wasn’t being heard. We went in circles – driven by defensiveness and frustration – as it went in a similar conversation between Mr. G and I the week before.

People give a slight gasp and say, “Oh no! What happened?!” when I tell them about the break up. There’s no simple answer so I’ll attempt to give you a more than simple yet not too complex response. Now, this is only one side of what happened and only how I viewed the relationship. I am only sharing what I felt and saw, which is how I prefaced my conversations with Mr. G. Mr. G had his own experience (that I wish I knew).

“I don’t feel connected to you. I feel like you don’t share yourself with me and that you have become more distant. I wanna know! Your thoughts, your fears, your dreams.” I had been feeling like I was picking up most of the slack in terms of being vulnerable and attempting to deepen our level of intimacy. This is how the conversation began (after clarifying to Mr. G that what I had to say was neither right nor wrong, nor a criticism of him…”Everything I am about to share with you is what I feel,” I said. My intention for the conversation was to deepen our connection through conversation. strengthen our relationship via reciprocity: I’ll talk, you listen. You talk, I’ll listen. (easier said than done).

After our first talk, we were able to get to a place of calm. some tears were shed. we acknowledged the cycle we tend to spin into – a whirlpool fueled by my anger, his defensiveness. We agreed that either of us would initiate a time-out in future when we knew that we needed to stop, take a break. before we say something we don’t mean. otherwise something might happen that we don’t necessarily intend. like breaking up. exchanging keys, packing up PJs, rain boots, records, guitar. We forgot to use the time-out.

This is not the first time we have broken up. It’s happened multiple times. I’ve broken things off with Mr. G a few times over the past year. but it was for a different reason before. I was not yet out of a previous relationship. I needed time to myself to figure things out emotionally, for school, for healing. for me. But we always found our way back to each other. Just couldn’t stay away. “There’s something about you that I can’t explain. I feel naturally drawn to you,” I would tell him. It’s visceral.

This time, the break up was spurred by things between just us. There was no outside circumstance pulling me back or confusing my emotional compass. When we decided to start our relationship a few months ago, I was all in. Bought my one-way ticket to Vulnerability City. If you read my previous post, you know that I essentially fought my way back into Mr. G’s life after a couple of my jealousy episodes. I realized I had made a mistake. I love this guy. and I want to work this out. “We can work this out!” I thought. 

I thought. I tried.

I have mixed feelings about the break-up: relief, sadness, frustration, anger at the situation, confusion, enlightenment. all of it. everything. But, I wasn’t happy in our relationship. I told Mr. G that, and I told him why. I was hoping we could talk through how I was feeling and I wanted to know his thoughts and his feelings, but instead I found myself responding to defensiveness, to which I would say, “You’re not listening!”

“You always say that! I’m not listening.”

There’s only so much clarifying one person can attempt. and only so much time one can withstand stagnant or regressive intimacy in a relationship. only so much a person can carry in a relationship. There’s only so much I can carry in relationship.

A dear friend shared a quote with me that I love. and fits quite nicely here:

“I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me. ” – Jim Rohn

This captures love to me. Some say you have to love yourself before you are able to love someone else (I’ve said it.) but now I think that the processes can be parallel, symbiotic. Only. both people have to be in that space. together – aware, ready, reflective, and willing. It’s a balance of selfish and selflessness. and perhaps Mr. G and I are on different planes? We can physically inhabit the same space, but relationships are more than that. so much more. There’s a whole world inside each of us that only we can share with each other. and it can be scary as shit to go there, to share it. but that’s part of the process. the abstract construct of love between two people takes two dreamers, two sculptors, two minds, two souls, and two hearts. It doesn’t work when one heart is open and the other is closed.

Now. I know what it is to have a closed heart. It’s not by choice. We’ve had early experiences that calloused over our belief that we are good enough, lovable, valuable, worthy. I’ve had to soften the callous and crack open my heart ribs. I had to learn how to put words to my emotions. and I did through years of therapy and self-work. I still struggle with those negative automatic thoughts. but I struggle. I mindfully struggle and want to learn from the struggle. I want to grow from the struggle. And I hope that I am able to share in this struggle and support another’s struggle with someone who shares this view, this belief, this goal.

In her book, Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson wrote, “The ability to attend to our partner’s deeper disclosures is the beginning of mutual responsiveness and engagement. The word attend comes from the Latin ad tendere, which means to reach toward.”

Reach toward. Exactly. To form these connections and build intimacy, we must reach toward each other. and keep reaching. Dr. David Schnarch wrote, “Desire mobilizes you to become more than you are, to reach for things beyond your grasp.” The relationship I want and the love I seek may seem beyond my grasp at times but I want to become more than who I am to reach it. and hold it. in a safe space where only (s)he and I can go.

 

Bowl full o’ jello-c.

Oh dear. It’s been a while since my last post, hasn’t it? I want you to know I have been thinking of you and I’m not saying that as an attempt to butter you up. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what to write about next. I wanted to give you the excuse that I’ve been too busy learning how to love (which isn’t entirely un-true), but really, I just need to invest more time in doing what I love – writing. So… “Hi!” Thanks for coming back. I suppose I should give you a quick update on my love life since this is why we’re here.

Since I last saw you, I have been in a relationship with a guy with whom I have a very complicated history – a story for another time. – I’ll call him Mr. G. After about a year of see-sawing between kind of, sort of being together and kind of sort of not, we decided to ‘make it official’ and give this relationship thing a go. (This was marked by officially changing our FB relationship statuses, as all serious relationships tend to be made official in this way.) When I started this blog in January, we were taking time apart (on his request) as a result of an incident that occurred involving jealousy. My jealousy.

Another incident occurred more recently. It wasn’t quite as dramatic but has had me evaluating my thought processes in relationships. Note: I was considerably inebriated on both occasions so I would likely have kept my jealous feelings to myself instead of acting on them as I did. As I’m writing this, I realize that I am thankful for these incidents – ‘thankful.’ I have been carrying them as opportunities for growth rather than take the auto-pilot route of feeling ashamed or guilty.

Don’t get me wrong. I also felt like a total and complete dumbass all dramatic and aggressive and out of control and mean. It’s humiliating losing your cool. It’s embarrassing reacting on your sense of insecurity in the presence of some of your closest friends, because really Dawni? Mr. G is gonna be hitting on one of your best friends right in front of you?

Surely you have experienced jealousy at some point in your life. But like any other emotion, people experience jealousy on a spectrum. At times, mine falls somewhere near “intense jealousy” or “more jealous than normal.” And I hate it.     I.   H-A-T-E.   I-T.  It feels like a monster that spuriously sprouts and erupts from your core and your limbs and voice are at its whim. Jealousy plays you like a puppet. I often refer to depression as a bitch. I would say jealousy is….a butthead. Yes. Jealousy is such a butthead.

So, the first incident that almost rendered Mr. G and I no-more happened one late night after playing Cards Against Humanity at a friend’s place. It was a small group of us, most of whom we did not know, and there was a young(er), beautiful, witty chick there who, as the night wore on (along with my level of alcohol) I got it in my head — this is where the butthead part comes in — that, Maybe Mr. G should be with someone like her? Maybe they would be a better fit? They’re closer in age. She’s laid back and fun. Maybe Mr. G should be with her? Maybe he’s interested in her? Oh god, that sucks. Is he interested in her? I wouldn’t blame him, but shit. That would suck if he realized that someone like her would be a better fit for him? 

(At this point jealousy has it’s whole hand up my ass and I’m watching to see if he’s checking her out, looking for nuanced gestures of flirtation or interest from either of them.)

– Time out –

Yikes. The process of writing about this experience is striking my anxiety in a big way but this reflection is good. This recounting of my thought process is helpful. As I have been writing the thoughts that swirled in my head that night, the voice in my mind (my sober, reflective, present mind) has been saying, Wow, that spiraled down super fast. Really? Was I really thinking these thoughts? And believing them? Cause I’m wonderful and awesome! Those thoughts are ridiculous. OF COURSE Mr. G wants to be with me! He chose to be in a relationship with me, not this springy, spritely, cute girl. But springy, spritely, cute me.

I digress. When we got to his place, the first thing out of my jealous-laden lips was, “Maybe you should be dating other people?” Mr. G was not happy about this and rightly so, “That’s a terrible thing to say to someone that you are in a relationship with! Why would you say that?” Why would I say that?

Instead of communicating my jealousy and insecurity with him, I took the I’m-not-taking-responsibility-for-my-feelings-and-will-instead-sloppily-project-them-onto-my partner approach. I don’t recall all of what was said but at one point I was yelling at Mr. G from across the room, “I’m insecure, OK!? I’M FEELING INSECURE AND I NEED REASSURANCE!” I remember putting my whole body into those words. My neck strained forward and my fingers wide-spread at the end of straightened lengthened arms at my sides, like a scarecrow in standing savasana. Clearly, I was opening myself up to him in a way that he wanted to listen.

The next day I realized what had happened and why, and I asked if we could meet because I had been doing some deep thinking and wanted to share my thoughts with him. Mr G. wanted space, if I didn’t mind. I wanted to see him but I understood. Instead, I wrote a lengthy email to Mr. G explaining what happened and what I had been feeling, how I had been treating him poorly at times and I realize it now, how I had said unloving and unsupportive things. It was a confession wrapped in apology.

Acting on my jealousy brought many self-realizations to the surface. Paying attention to my experiences with it and observing without judgment has opened up parts of myself that will only strengthen my capability to trust. I prefer this understanding of my experience vs. that I am a drama queen with low self-esteem. That perspective helps no one in relationship.

***

Now, I appreciate viewing things from multiple perspectives. You learn more that way. You grow exponentially.

Jealousy has always gotten a bad rap. I mean, I’ve been calling it a butthead (which it is). But there are other considerations at play here. Somethings deeper to explore. I leave you two quotes; each offers a different view of jealousy.

“Jealousy, like many psychological problems (from hypochondria to paranoia), is driven by the destructive use of the imagination.” – Mark Tyrell

“Psychologists—especially psychoanalysts—have looked at jealousy as a sign of deep-seated insecurities and personality defects. We view jealousy as a much more complicated emotion. In fact, jealousy may actually reflect your higher values of commitment, monogamy, love, honesty, and sincerity. You may feel jealous because you want a monogamous relationship and you fear that you will lose what is valuable to you.”  – Robert L Leahy, Ph.D.

***

What is your experience with jealousy (first-hand or otherwise)? What have you learned from your experience(s)? About yourself? About relationship?

And then you give.

More often than not (in my love life), I have been in a relationship. I’m the friend who engages in serial relationships, the one who always has to be with someone. It’s true. While I have had spates of enjoyable stretches of singledom, being in a relationship is something I have always sought. It feels good to have a someone. It’s nice to be looked at in that way that someone looks at you when they think you are the most wonderful thing in the world. It feels nice to gaze at the person you think is the most wonderful thing in the world. Now, this is not the entirety of relationship. I know.

I’ll be the first to tell you I have been in some messy messy ones. I’ll be the first to say that navigating a relationship has been a lifetime of trial by blazing fire. Many, many fires. I’ve peeled my rain-soaked clothes from the sidewalk where my ex threw them in a fit of anger. I’ve dumped a glass of iced-water on an ex’s head at a club after seeing him dance too close to another woman. I’ve confronted an ex together with his other (secret) lover, only to be told, “I love her, I don’t love you.” I’ve cut my wrist with a kitchen knife amid a fight with an ex, when I couldn’t express my apology and regret after kissing another guy. Woah, now. Heavy stuff, I know. My life has been an anthology of Modern Love essays.

Of course, I’ve listed a few of the most dramatic instances. My relationships have not all been rife with such acts, but I share these to expose these bits and to unravel my understanding of these experiences. You can chalk it up to my exes or me being “crazy,” but nary is “crazy” a choice. And really, that explanation is a cop out from attempting to understand human nature, from attempting to understand someone and their unique circumstances. There are reasons. And the quality, care, understanding of and practice in interpersonal relations are a foundational aspect of these reasons.

In any relationship, there are a total of three at play: the relations between two people and the relationship each person has with themselves. You know the cliché of not being able to love others until you are able to love yourself? Wait, before you roll your eyes, let’s explore. What does this mean? What does this mean for you?

It’s easy to focus on each other. It’s easy to point your finger in the opposite direction when something in the relationship has gone awry, but is this easier in the long run? Does it feel good to blame others? Is it fair to place assumptions on another’s actions or to conjure private interpretations of another’s words or gestures? Is it caring to not be curious about the other? Especially when they are hurting and reacting based on fear. Especially when it is the person with whom you want to build a trusting and unconditional connection? Are we resolving anything within ourselves by looking outward?

We must look inward. We must care for ourselves first. In case of an emergency, we’re told to put on our oxygen masks before placing them on kiddos, because if we can’t take breaths and remain conscious or aware, how are we to perform CPR? How are we to hold others in comfort when we’re unconscious or unaware? We don’t blame children for not reminding us that we need to care for ourselves first. We don’t blame our friends or partners for not reminding us that we need to look out for ourselves first, but when they do, we express gratitude.

The quality of care and support you are able to give to others is directly correlated with the quality of care and support you dedicate to yourself. In a relationship, it’s your responsibility to look inward before looking outward. In a relationship, it’s up to you to discover and determine how much of yourself you are able and willing to give. And then you give. You give freely and without condition. And you are able to hold whatever you are left with regardless of how the other person responds because you care for you. You love you first – so that you can love another.

I leave you with a couple of quotes by Schnarch (2009) and the time and space to think on this and ponder.

“Intimacy is an interpersonal process, involving confronting yourself and disclosing yourself in your partner’s presence.” 

“Intimacy is not designed to make you feel one particular way; it’s designed to make you grow.”

xo, O.