If you follow this blog, you may remember the much older man I dated during college. When that all fell apart, it was awful, and it took me over a year to get back on my feet, closer to two, really. It would have been great if I’d taken some time to heal, but instead I ran head-long into another disaster. Rebounds rarely go well, but I hadn’t figured that out yet.
After finally ending the previous relationship with a man who’d been emotionally distant and unkind, inattentive and unfaithful, and ultimately, very cruel to me, I suppose a guy who was jealous and possessive, constantly in my face and in my space, seemed like a good call. I won’t recount the million examples I could, but it was so crazy that one night after we’d had dinner out, he grilled me all the way back to his house about the way I’d looked at the waiter, screaming at me as we walked north on Broadway. Apparently I had lust in my eyes when I ordered my soup.
This kind of outburst was so common, I started “watching myself.” I was a little less friendly and open (he told me I was naive when it came to men, and that my friendliness was being misinterpreted as flirtation), and I checked in with him by phone all day when we weren’t together. If I called ten minutes later than he expected, he was positive I was sleeping with every member of the New York Knicks. Nuts? For sure, but I certainly didn’t feel ignored. Anyway, this insanity continued, and I became less and less of myself, until one fateful weekend when we went to Lake George with my best friend and her then-boyfriend.
When they pulled up to his apartment to pick us up, they heard him screaming from their car from inside the building, which is saying something considering we were in New York City. I can’t tell you why he was screaming, but I’m sure it involved some other imagined transgression. By the time we got to the lake-house I was so tired, I wanted nothing more than to collapse in bed. Instead, as I unpacked, he noticed a pair of sandals he’d never seen before. “Where’d you get those sandals?” he asked. I told him I’d had them for awhile and couldn’t remember. He proceeded to ask me twenty-five questions about those sandals, with the wild look in his eyes I’d come to know so well, and I guess I’d just had it. “You know what? You’re right!! You figured it out. Some man came up to me on the street the other day, and told me he had to have me, but first, he was going to buy me a pair of sandals. Then I went home with him and we had wild sex all afternoon, and I kept the sandals on the whole time!!!” He stormed out. My friend came in to see if I was okay. “Wow,” she said, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this guy with the sandals.” And I started laughing and crying at the same time. By the time the weekend was over, so was the relationship.
This is an extreme example, of course, but in many relationships, people do some lesser degree of this dance. Frequently, the very traits that drew a person in become the same qualities they can no longer stand–gregariousness or shyness, confidence or insecurity, warmth and affection or aloofness. What was appealing or endearing when the hormones were raging, has become a source of annoyance or frustration or despair. This is different than the natural compromises that are part of the process of two complex people choosing to come together and create a relationship in the space between themselves. There’s a difference between give-and-take, and trying to change a person, or possess them. Love is not controlling or jealous. It doesn’t manipulate or force. Love is a celebration, and when it’s happening well, it’s the most liberating foundation there is. You love well with open eyes and hands, and with an open heart. It’s an acceptance and an honoring and a cherishing. It’s an expression of your deepest yes, and an extension of that yes to your partner. It’s wanting their yes to blossom also. And you simply cannot do that for someone else until you know how to do it for yourself. Two rooted flowers leaning in together and rising up toward the sun is a gorgeous thing to behold. Two weeds strangling each other, not so much. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton