December 16, 2011
This post was brought to you by Therapy.
I've had three significant relationship failures in my adulthood and now, at 39, I can finally see what part I played in making all of them possible. I always suspected I shared a not insignificant portion of the blame, but could never say exactly what shape that blame came in. If you don't know exactly what you did wrong, how can you ever expect to change?
And that's why I went to therapy -- to find out who I am and why I do what I do. Not to judge it (at least not at first), but to wholly understand it. After almost two years of gentle cognitive behavioral therapy, much of it focusing on managing a life and relationship through chronic pain, I figured out that my bad hip wasn't spoiling my relationship with Wine Guy. It was already destroyed. The hip stuff just prolonged the misery.
Wine Guy thought I was in too much physical agony and grief over the sudden loss of my sister and nephew to be able to handle another emotional hit like a break-up, not to mention too physically restricted to handle the move physically. He was right about that. But he wasn't just being a martyr. He was being a friend by sticking by me and helping me through such an awful time. Granted, we fought a lot and neither of us were happy, but we were still taking care of each other like family. I find this oddly comforting. The whole time I thought our relationship was slowly dying when, really, a fierce friendship was holding us together.
So why did we fail in the first place? One simple reason: my impatience, which pushed me into a relationship that was doomed from the start.
This explanation is true for both Wine Guy and Only Child (Naval A-hole gets his own category called "sociopath"), both of whom I picked because they were kind, harmless men. They were also both indecisive wheel-spinners, but really nice, non-threatening ones (yes, at some point in my life I saw/see men as threatening - that's another year of therapy to figure out). Perhaps not insignificantly, they both had verbally abusive fathers and both men, at one point or another, compared me to their dads. Yeah, not good.
Why was I such a verbally abusive bitch (I really wasn't that bad. These guys were both overly sensitive too, as most of my friends will attest)? Because their indecisiveness drove me fucking insane. It made them seem weak. It made me lose tiny flakes of respect for them. That shit builds up fast and, well, I've always had a bit of a verbal temper.
Of course, when I first met them they just seemed like unusually kind men who were more comfortable hanging out with women than their own brute gender. Hence why I called both of them my "gay-straight boyfriends." It takes a little time --usually 6 months to a year-- for those qualities to start seeming weak, indecisive, overly sensitive and wimpy (at least to me).
But why, oh why, once I figured that out, did I move in with them and begin the march towards marriage, whether we liked it or not? This was the part of the blame that was hardest for me to accept. Actually, I couldn't or wouldn't even see it as a possibility until my therapist gently guided me there and placed it on my lap to be gently examined.
Ah, yes. Impatience.
I was so busy pushing the ball and chain up the mountain that I forgot to stop and notice if it was too heavy for me in the first place. Never one to back down from a struggle, I assumed this was one more "battle" I had to fight (sense a theme here?). That it was supposed to be this heavy. Besides, it would take too long to let it roll back down and go off to try to find another. I have a ticking clock here, people. So I pushed on. First Only Child, then Wine Guy (with a pause for the whirlwind, long-distance mind fuck that was Naval A-hole).
Now I see it clear as day and I can assure everyone that it won't happen again. Not the failed relationship part, there are countless ways I've yet to discover to ruin one of those--but the pushing something forward before I've checked to see if I like the way it's rolling part. I feel really solid in this realization and proud of all the work I did to get myself here.
But what am I supposed to do now that I know every relationship instinct I've followed has been flawed pretty much to the core? How am I supposed to know when the right situation presents itself without worrying about the accuracy of my instincts? How on earth did all that therapy lead me right into George "if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right" Costanza territory (you remember that episode of Seinfeld, right?)?!
Needless to say, without an accurate compass to rely on, I'm in no condition to be dating. I learned this after my third date with Globetrotter. We're a great intellectual/sense of humor match and it's impossible not to be comfortable with him. But do I detect a little wheel-spinning there? Hmmmm. I want to jump up and high-five him when we stumble on another crazy thing we both have in common, but when he tries to hold my hand or kiss me, I feel like I turn to stone. I could see on the poor guy's face that he was sad and confused, but if he thinks my signals are mixed, he should try being inside my own head. It's even worse in here.
As I sat down to type this, I remembered having a similar panicky feeling about getting physically close to Wine Guy when we first started dating. I dug around in my Spring 2007 entries until I found the post I was looking for, My Walled Garden. I was amazed at how accurately I described what I felt the other night after awkwardly saying goodbye to Globetrotter and driving home in tears.
"I know when I've gone a little while without being - um - touched, I tend to build up walls. Then I get used to being walled in. It actually starts to feel all safe and cozy there in my little walled garden. So when potential for simple intimacy pops up (holding hands, arm around shoulder) I feel myself tense up. I can't help it. He probably feels it too."
I suppose the fact that I'm finding similarities between the two dating scenarios already should tell me me something. Globetrotter is safe and comfortable to me because I know his "type." But a safe, comfortable "buddy" isn't what I should be looking for. Shouldn't I be kicking down my stupid walls and climbing all over him? Trust me, that's what I want to be doing-- just not apparently with him.
The difference between now and then is that now I know how to emotionally nurture myself. More specifically, how to not beat myself up about it. It's not my "fault" that I froze up. That's how I felt and it's OK if I don't know why. Maybe I'm just not physically attracted to him (he is an inch shorter than me). Or maybe I'm just not ready to date. Or maybe I should stop putting myself in forced romantic scenarios through online dating and only date guys I click with "in the wild" (not that it happens a lot). Maybe it's a little bit of everything. But the one thing it isn't is something I should be kicking myself over like I was during my drive home that night.
Whatever it is, I'm glad shared it here instead of picking up the phone and calling my best friend, Wine Guy, a thought that seriously crossed my mind until I realized my phone had suddenly died. Divine cellular inspiration perhaps?