Lessons Learned From Pulling My Head Out Of My Ass: State Of The Relationship Address

 

I’ve been spending my time since my last State of Relationship Address recovering from a horrible relationship and reaping the benefits of a new one with an intelligent, compassionate, beautiful human. However, there is a problem. Somewhere along the line, I lost my way; I forgot two of the tenants that I live my life by and I am paying the price from a lack of trust and security that now exists on both sides of the relationship.

I’ve always valued communication in a relationship. It’s sometimes hard, sometimes gritty, sometimes beautiful, but it’s always worth the effort. In the past, I moved on from a relationship because communication wasn’t there so I know it’s important to me. Another relationship I left because I was punished for communication. It’s that last one that matters more.

It smells like shit in here

In that last relationship, there was no reward for sharing my feelings. Sharing meant that it would trigger the other person and because of their insecurity, they would try to manipulate and control me. So I stopped. That didn’t work either but since the relationship was abusive it didn’t really matter, nothing was going to work. Little did I know, this survival habit had remained in place waiting for someone to come along who didn’t deserve to have it used on them.

Tenant 1: Communication is key, no matter what

I have been dating the beautiful person I mentioned in the opening paragraph. She is the brightest light I have ever had in my life and one of the strongest people I have ever met. She has been by my side even when I wouldn’t allow myself to be by hers. I kept her at arm’s length because I was afraid of talking about things that bothered me in our relationship. These things I would later learn were small and insignificant. However, when you don’t talk about your fears, you start to believe them.

That led me to end the relationship in a panic but I couldn’t stay away. I ended it a second time but kept getting drawn back. I realize now that I was returning for a good reason; I truly adore her. Instinctively, I knew I should be with her but my fear kept pulling me away.

Essentially, hiding my fear was a way of trying to protect her from what I thought would be hurtful information (and maybe it was), but the real damage is that I hurt her in an entirely different way which cost us our security.

Tenant 2: Let the best version of me get rejected

Historically, I don’t hold back with people whom I am romantically interested in. If I get rejected, I want the best version of me possible to get rejected. The best version of me, not coincidentally, is also the truest version. I don’t want to meet someone and try to fit their mold just to get spurned anyway. I would always wonder how things could have gone differently if I would have just been me. I have never regretted being rejected as myself.

As I mentioned, I was a huge flight risk. I didn’t know when I was going to get overwhelmed and check out. So I kept her at arm’s length to protect her (which is quite possibly the stupidest thing ever written).

Now, I love affection. I don’t mean sex, though wonderful, it’s not really what builds intimacy. I’m talking about walking hand in hand with a partner, pulling them close for a loving squeeze, coming behind her and sliding my hands around her waist while putting my lips on her neck as we prepare dinner, locking eyes with hers and staring deeply, and not so innocently brushing her butt with my hand as I glide past. These, and thoughtful compassionate words, are little touches that let someone know you are thinking about them, that they excite you, and that you love them.

Because I didn’t want her to get too close. I kept myself from doing these things, the very things that would help her feel like I wanted to be around her. From her perspective, I was always pulling away. My actions were ridiculous and predictably it had the effect that you would imagine. Not only was she afraid that I might break up again, the feeling of me pulling away told her it was guaranteed to happen.

Man it’s bright out here

The security rubberband finally snapped. We separated again, this time it might be for good. Now that we have nothing to lose, or perhaps because we have everything to lose, we are finally talking like we should have been from the start. It turns out she was holding things back as well because she was afraid it would push me away. I’m not sure that it would have but back then I don’t know if I was in a place to respond appropriately. We bared our souls to each other and I suspect we have more to go.

I learned a couple of things from this experience. The first is rather obvious, I need to live up to the standards that I set for myself. I wasn’t aware of my behavior and I let my fear and past trauma pull me from the correct path.

I should have been myself. I put the best version of me forward in the beginning and we won each other’s hearts. Then I became scared and let myself diminish. This allowed our relationship to wither. Now the person that she has come to know isn’t really me. I stopped being that loving, appreciative, fearlessly open person she fell in love with, and if we are split for good I have to live with the fact that I could have been more but was afraid. If I had remained true to who I was, we might be giggling in each other’s arms right now.

The second thing is something that I didn’t expect. Being honest with each other and talking through things has taken me from wanting to leave to wanting to start over. More than that, I love the conversations we are having now. It’s not all easy to hear for either of us but I feel so much closer to her now. Talking about my fears removed their power over me.

I want to do the things with her so badly now that I never took the time for previously. I want to give her everything, show her she is loved, cherish and protect her heart the proper way, help fulfill her dreams as if they were my own, and provide the stability and belonging she so desperately wants. The difference this time is that I can do it. Our openness has actually given me that new relationship energy back because, let’s be honest, this is truly new.

What happens now

However, while we still have a relationship, we are not a couple anymore. I am slowly coming to terms with the possibility that we may never be together like that again. I still have hope but I realize that sometimes the damage is too much and the risk for her may be too great; which leaves me with a painful conclusion. It’s possible I ruined the best thing I ever had. I may have woken up too late.

I’m trying to look on the bright side of either outcome. If I get a third chance, we are learning how to talk to each other better than either of us ever have with anyone. That coupled with eliminating my fear will let me show her daily how much she means to me. I can be the person she fell in love with and support her as she deserves.

If we can’t continue, then my path there is clear as well. I will work to recover like I have before and take my lessons and move forward. Thankful for what I had and secure in the knowledge that someone that wonderful can love me. Hopefully, eventually, someone else may come along again.

Either way, I want to be the person I was meant to be.

A Tale of Three Loves: Personal time and relationships

When I was dating the woman who would become my first wife. Initially, I wanted to spend every moment with her that was possible. However, early on (like the first week of us dating) she established Friday nights as the night we would spend with friends. That was a big deal because at the time it established one of the three nights we had available to us for her own interests. After spending the first few nights at home alone hoping she would somehow change her mind, I got my ass out of the house and started making plans with my friends. I realized that Friday night was for my interests as well. That independence was one of the best gifts she could have given me. It allowed me to avoid being one of those people who shed all of their friends as soon as they had a significant other and it caused me to define myself outside of another person.

This led me to develop cycling as a hobby. I established new friends statewide, started racing with some success, co-founded and ran my own race team and helped build and maintain the first mountain bike trail system in a neighboring county. I was one of the people who actually contributed to the growth of the sport. These were good times.

Flash forward a bit (18 years) and I was going through a divorce from my first wife and had started dating my second wife. I was in the best shape of my life and had just completed my first race of the year. It was my best finish ever which was an excellent way to start the year. It was also my last race for almost three years which not coincidentally was nearly the length of my second relationship.

You see my new love expected more of my time than I was used to. While I didn’t mind the idea of spending more time with her I didn’t like that it had to be at the expense of my other interests and even who I was. She leveraged her idea by saying, “This is what couples do. You didn’t spend time together in your last relationship because you two had problems.”

It sounded legit and as it pertains to the tail end of my first marriage it was correct. However, for the first 13 years or so having our own time and space worked remarkably well. Time apart wasn’t what ended my first marriage, but I didn’t really connect those dots at the time. I desperately wanted to please this new person. There was also a practical aspect to the situation. I was using every dime to pay off my debts from my first marriage and racing is an expensive proposition. The money I saved could be put to good use paying bills.

So, I stopped racing, only did trail building a couple of times, gave the remaining interest in my race team to my friends and pretty much just checked out. By this time I was living in a new city which further isolated me from my main source of pleasure and friendship.

Then I moved again, this time 1000 miles away. I played hermit my first year and didn’t make a single friend. When I tried to carve out time for cycling or photography I was made to feel guilty about using some of my time off to do this if she also had the day free. I became completely beholden to her schedule and could only feel good about going out if she was also out. I don’t think either of us were really conscious of this dynamic as it was occurring. She was just speaking to her needs and I was trying to meet those. In reality, I’m sure both of us were acting on our insecurities.

However, I eventually realized that this wasn’t working for me. I started to change the dynamic by saying I wanted more personal time to explore my interests. It took a number of conversations, but eventually we agreed and I did go out. I started working on my photography and throwing a leg over the top tube of my bike again and it was wonderful. It was just like old times and I was having a blast. I felt like I had a small part of the real me back again.

About six months later my second marriage was over. I don’t really think that my newly established independence was the cause of it. If anything, my willingness to give up my time and her desire to garner the majority of my attention was likely the symptom of a deeper flaw. We were just trying to bandage it with being together, both being afraid of what would happen when we weren’t.

Now that I have some distance from that scenario though I can see the mistakes I made. I used to be self-made and independent. I was ashamed of that needy insecure person I was at 17. All it took to reverse my fortune was a new relationship. It renewed my insecurities about a partner’s fidelity which most likely hinges on my perception of self-worth. Even though I didn’t want to relinquish my personal space I let my fears dictate my actions. I gave up the balance that made me who I was. The conversation, and subsequent compromise, should have happened much earlier in the relationship. Maybe I couldn’t afford to race, but just going out to ride or do trail work takes little money.

There’s a practical aspect to this as well. When you give the itinerary of your life over to another person and that relationship ends then you are essentially left with nothing; a place where your life should have been, but isn’t. You are more than just your partner and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s wonderfully healthy.

I read stories about parents who balance work and home life so that they can each go out and go for a run, bike ride or to hang with their friends and I appreciate that. It’s something I need to learn more about and definitely something I have trouble with in a new relationship. When everything is fresh in a relationship and comfort and trust have yet to be established my insecurities can kick in when I’m apart from someone. It’s one of my weaknesses to overcome.

I know that I’m happier with time set aside for myself. I just need to make myself strike that balance until I’m finally comfortable with it. That’s going to take time and tackling a few of my demons (again). To that end, someone bring me a tall glass of beer and a cute priest.