Lessons Learned on a Rainy Tuesday Morning in the Midst of Winter

I’ve given it some thought on this rainy Tuesday morning and it seems to me that the key to sustaining a nourishing relationship is being able to answer ‘yes’ to these four things: 1) Do I love this person? 2) Do I love them so much that I would be willing to be dragged through the mud in a torrential thunder storm with them?  3) Do I trust this person to be honest with themselves in addition to being honest with me? 4) Above all, do I feel respected and important? 

I really feel that if you can answer ‘yes’ to those questions about another person, and they can say the same about you, you’re probably destined for truly amazing things.  You are probably on your way to becoming your best version of yourself because it is through our trials with others, especially with those we love and trust more than anyone, that we gain the power (if we allow it) to rise above even ourselves instead of becoming wrought with fear.  And by rising above ourselves, we can know the beauty of true love.  It really is quite simple, and yet so complicated.  But then, I believe we all too often make things harder than they really are.

I think we have to recognize that times are going to be tough.  Insecurities will arise; they’re part of what make us who we are, each one telling a story about where we’ve been, what we’ve done, things we’ve seen.  And they’re also part of what make us so uniquely divine.  In those insecurities are opportunities for strength and vulnerability;  for it is by admitting our vulnerability that we actually gain strength.

Allowing another to see us… really see us… opens up the path to love and enlightenment.  It is frightening and full of uncertainty, yet still, this is the path I choose.  Which one do you choose?

 

 

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Sailor

“I’m married to the ocean,”

a sailor once said to me.

“My heart wandered by the shore

and became a captive of the sea.

 

Sand beneath my feet,

I have sank into the depths of her.

I close my eyes,

let myself go,

and drift with abandon upon her tide.

 

The ground below quickly becomes

the sky above my head

As she pulls me ever further

into her womb

And surrounds me with her love.

 

Never was it so easy

to think myself worthy

of such a genuine embrace;

Allowing me to float away so freely,

Welcoming me always

as though I had never left.”

 

With one more quick breath

he turned to bid farewell,

Stepped out into his beloved’s

prismatic waters,

returning like a mollusk

to her warm shell

Not by Chance, but by Love

This evening I was sitting and chatting with my son, who is 6-years old. He was counting all of my moles and decided that I must have over a hundred. Then he told me about all six of his, the “cutest” one being on his pinky finger. I insisted that the one on his face right below his left eye is my personal favorite. Then I asked him how he got to be so cute. He pointed at me, explaining that I’m the reason he’s so adorable. That makes sense, I agreed, “I did, after all, make you.” Holy shit! I then reflected. I made him!! That shit is crazy! (Not that I wasn’t already aware of this.) He’s so big and so smart and so delightful and fun. And I’m responsible for bringing all of that into the world. I’ve always wanted to make the world a better place. And through my children, I already have. They certainly make my world much more fulfilling and enjoyable. I can’t imagine life without them. So here’s a little story of how their journey into this chaotic world began.

Their dad and I met when we were in the 8th grade. I was 13-years old. I can remember the first day I ever laid eyes on him. We were in the same science class together with Mr. E. It sounds unbelievable, I’m sure, to anyone who’s never experienced anything like this, but it was in that moment that I heard a calm, low voice say, “That’s the man you’re going to marry”. I wasn’t entirely convinced at the time. I mean, what the hell did I know?!  We were YEARS away from being at that point in our lives and plus I didn’t even know the kid!  But as time went on and I did begin to get acquainted with him, I fell pretty hard for the jock who managed to go for a nerd like me.

Throughout high school and then college we went on to have our share of ups and downs. I can’t tell you how many times I broke up with him.  I would often fall for other guys because I didn’t feel like he understood me. But then, we were so young, I think I was also still trying to understand myself.  He was jealous and insecure, which I thought was just an implication of how much he really loved me (wrong). And so I’d go back to him, assured that no one else could love me the way he did (again, wrong). Because here’s what I learned 16 years later: we were both perhaps too young and dumb to know what true love is all about.

When it comes to true love, the kind that is deep and eternal, you have to be willing and able to see your partner for all that they are and embrace them, flaws and all.  You also have to be willing to be honest and able to grow together.  While I did go on to marry the boy I met that day in the 8th grade, after all our years together, he never really seemed to take the time to get to know me fully.  He wasn’t interested in the totality of me, just the parts of me he approved of, denying that there was so much more below the surface incomprehensible to his depthless mind.  But I could not be who he wanted me to be and he couldn’t be anything more than who he was.

So alas, after 7 years, our marriage met its end. But not before creating two beautiful children who have convinced me that destiny is, in fact, what brought their father and I together. Because were it not for him and all of the choices and strong emotional ties that kept bringing us back together, our children wouldn’t be here. We made them, but it feels more like they were made for me. I don’t know if the voice I heard was “real”, meaning that it came from an alternate source. But I do know how real it felt. I’m not sure whether our love was ever real, meaning void of ego, but surely we had our moments. One thing I do know is how real my love is for my kids and how incredibly lucky I am to be able to say that I’m their mom and yes, I made them.

Postpartum Partners

In every relationship we’re given challenges as we face different stages and phases of our lives together. As my girlfriends and I sat around the table one night, sharing and relating our stories of love, life, and motherhood, this is something that became very clear to me. And what I’m figuring out is that women’s and men’s experiences are completely different from one another, but that is not where our problems lie. Without an understanding of and an appreciation for our partner’s experiences, there is naturally going to be a divide.

I think first and foremost, we have to grant ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling. Whatever it is, there’s a reason for it, so allowing ourselves to experience our own emotions without shame or guilt is a crucial step in figuring out where those feelings are coming from. We also need to be aware of ourselves. We can’t expect our partner to understand us if we don’t even know what’s going on inside our heads. But sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint why we feel so unsettled; there may be several factors all contributing to one problem. So, patience and kindness must become cornerstones in any relationship.

Since our experiences differ, our perspectives are also going to be incongruent from one another. It’s easy to feel slighted, overlooked, or unappreciated when we don’t feel our partner recognizes or cares about our experiences. Validation becomes the missing key ingredient then for harmony to exist between two people who are coming at the relationship from opposing angles.

What my friends seem to be going through is something I can remember going through and what I think so many couples with young children encounter. It’s the hump that we all must get over. Or not. One statistic I read is that around half of all children in the U.S. come from divorced families. Perhaps partly because, again, women’s and men’s experiences vary so much from one another, especially when it comes to parenting. We forget to acknowledge the difficulties unique to our partner as a mother or as a father, which may not be fathomable to us, the opposite.

Of course a man can’t even begin to know what his wife is going through after giving birth. And women, how can we even begin to explain it, right? Men, it’s no wonder you may feel neglected after your wife gives birth. SHE JUST GAVE BIRTH. To a real, living and breathing human being. That’s kind of a big deal. And it kind of requires a lot of work to ensure that that tiny person continues to live and breathe. We all know how excited men can get over the size of their turds. So men, imagine shitting an 8 pound human being that’s actually cute, smells nice, and is fun to hold. Can you really blame your wife for obsessively concerning herself with the livelihood of this tiny creature that she forced out of her body?

As a woman who’s had children, it’s easy for me to say: Hey.. guys.. suck it up! Your mother may have been a woman, but that doesn’t mean all women are here to cater to you. There is a tiny person who now exists partly thanks to you and who requires attention. So rather than complain about how little of that you’re getting, how ’bout you tune into your baby’s needs as much as your partner does? This will lighten her load and may mean she has more energy for “other things” that now seem to be more of a priority for you than they are for her.

Speaking of “other things”, boys, please understand the strains that having children bids of a woman’s body before, during and after giving birth. Are you really going to put her through the guilt of not wanting to have sex? When a woman starts having children, her body goes through a series of changes. She begins to see herself differently; she may not like what she sees. And she fears that you won’t either. During this time, your wife or partner needs constant reassurance that she is still the sexiest woman alive in your book. Yet even though she needs to know that she’s still sexually desirable, that in no way means she wants to have sex.

A woman’s priority once becoming a mother is, naturally, her child’s needs, not yours. So while men still feel driven to bury their bone immediately after becoming a parent, women’s experiences are so much different, for obvious reasons. So many demands are placed on women’s bodies during and after pregnancy. Believe it or not, gentleman, we are not just fuck boxes. Our bodies are vessels through which life can safely enter this world. Our bodies are milk machines sustaining that life upon its arrival. Our bodies become a comfy place for tiny babes to rest their fragile heads and for growing toddlers to climb and pull upon as though our limbs resembled monkey bars. Our bodies do not belong to you.

And while you may crave the physical intimacy that was once so much a part of the relationship, if you care about your partner and are willing to validate her experiences as a woman who is now the mother of your children, you will put those desires to rest as you respectfully admire from afar the wonders of her body; as you begin your way towards a different kind of intimacy. One that embraces the responsibilities of parenting and grows out of a sense of cooperation, mutual trust and compassion.

Sure, as a man, you may begin to feel put off; your advances are denied time and time again and you start to question your adequacy. But at this point in your lives, your wife doesn’t want you for what you can offer in bed. The only thing she cares about when her head hits that pillow is sleep. At this point, a woman wants her partner to offer a helping hand, to share the responsibilities of parenting equally; afterall, making a baby is a joint effort. She wants encouragement and reassurance that she’s a great mother; something she’s probably dreamt about her entire life and which may come with a few let downs. A woman wants to feel like her partner is in awe of all that she’s done to bring this little human being into the world and all that she continues to do to take care of them. I mean, it is amazing, is it not? Perhaps the power this ability wields is what has threatened the male species since the very beginning and has led to their efforts of trying to “put women in their place”, knowing that ultimately it is women who give life. And what could be more powerful than that?

Men absolutely struggle with feelings of rejection and sexual frustration as their partner’s body becomes off limits. These are experiences that deserve to be acknowledged and validated by their partner. However, I guarantee the sacrifices men make in their sex lives do not outweigh the sacrifices women make during pregnancy, labor and postpartum.

Easy for me to say, right? The only experience I can attest to is that of a woman who’s given birth twice. But all I’m suggesting is that men consider it a possibility. Because in addition to the stress motherhood places on a woman’s body, there are also mental strains that women experience which men do not. Women often worry so much more than men beginning the second they find out they’re pregnant. Of course they do! They know their unborn child’s health and chances of survival depend on them and them alone. What the father does in no way affects his unborn child, but the mother must be wary of nearly every choice she makes, including what she puts into her body, as well as her daily activities. And for women who breastfeed, these sacrifices continue to be made for months and sometimes even years.

As children grow, generally speaking, it seems mothers tend to put more thought into what is best for them than fathers do. And I think women have been criticized for this. But men, imagine the concern you would feel for something that was once literally one with you, that began its life inside of you. Women want to feel like even though you can’t know this bond, you respect it and understand its value in the evolution of the human race. Your partner wants to know you feel just as responsible for your child as they do because of the love you share for one another and the commitment you’ve made to being a family. Women want to see that you’re willing and able to make life altering sacrifices the way they have.

And in turn for their natural role as givers of life, women want men to be protectors and sustainers of life. It isn’t often that I feel content to place labels on the two genders qualifying them as either ‘this’ or ‘that’. But from what we have observed in the natural world, this often does seem to be the case. Not that females cannot or do not protect and sustain their young; however I think after giving birth a woman looks to her partner and she wants to know how he’s going to show his love for her and their child the way she did by loving and caring this little person into existence. What grand gesture is he going to make? What can he now offer that will at all compare to what she has done for him and their offspring? Or will he instead believe his needs to be more important, dismissing the weight of the responsibilities of parenthood, and allowing most of it to fall onto her shoulders?

For women, perhaps their disinterest in sex is some way of unconsciously settling the score by forcing their male partner to sacrifice as women must sacrifice; to suffer in some way as women must suffer to bring new life into the world. But also, and without question, it can take a while for a woman to adjust to the new, constantly shifting demands suddenly imposed on her. One minute her body is wanted for milk or to comfort a crying babe. And the next it’s being groped by the hands of a man who expects her to be able to make the switch instantaneously from mother to lover. If only it were that easy…

While, as a mother, I can only give testament to the experiences of women after having kids, I do encourage women to consider the challenges men face as they learn to adjust to this new lifestyle of parenting and partnership. Surely it isn’t easy for a guy to suddenly lose his wife’s interest in him sexually, or to make sense of her emotions being controlled by the rush of hormones surging through her body, causing her to respond and behave in ways he’s never had to deal with before. All of these changes and challenges are an indelible part of relationships once children are brought into the picture.

But I think, if it were easy, wouldn’t it cheapen all those moments that eventually make all of the sacrifice and hardships worth it? Through struggle we gain strength and wisdom. Through family we learn the true meaning of love. And with gratitude we can begin to see this time as one that will help to shape us into the greatest version of ourselves. But the longer lovers go without validating their partner’s experiences, the harder it is to break down the wall of resentment that can split a family apart and cause much more than just a case of the baby blues.

Pitter Pattern

Patterns are everywhere. We can see them in nature with the four seasons. Patterns provide us with a sense of dependability. We can safely guess that in July it’s going to be too hot for our winter coats. And in January you’re probably not going to want to step out in your tankini. Patterns are merely repetitions. And repetition is how we learn. So it is that we can begin to understand our world and the role we are to play in it.

Undoubtedly, we are assigned our roles. The more generalized roles, the social roles we play aren’t so much communicated to us directly. But we look to the media, we look to members of our community and members of our family. And we begin to acquire by mimicking that which we have learned will enhance our chances of survival, whether our survival is physical, social, or emotional. To learn how to play out our specific, individual role unique to us and us alone, we must rely on the people around us who take care of us. What other choice do we have? As a child our minds are still developing as we learn to adapt to this strange environment that makes no sense to us. Who am I? Where do I belong? Why am I here? To answer these questions we look for clues from our family, the people we have come to love and depend on, the people we spend most of our time with, day in and day out. We learn how to feel about ourselves. We learn how to treat other people.

This is how we get stuck in a cycle of seeing ourselves and relating with others a certain way–the two are so closely interconnected. I think it’s quite true that we often “repeat the past as a way of remaining psychologically connected to the past.” (*I totally paraphrased that.) For those of us who grew up in a household that crippled us in some way (which, let’s face it, is all of us), why in the world would we do that?! Why would I want to attempt to create situations that I know are just going to cause old wounds to resurface? Why am I hellbent on being unhappy, unloved and a reject? Because, I now see more clearly,

we tend to stage the same charged scenarios over and over, as we search for a different ending–for a resolution. But until the issues of the past are truly resolved, the curtain cannot be rung down upon them, so the repetitious efforts to master and resolve them continue.” (*That is a direct quote!)

Some of us just need our lives to fall apart before we can finally figure out how the pieces fit together. Sometimes we have to make the same mistakes over and over before we’re able to learn the lessons we need to learn to finally be happy, to finally love and feel loved.

When it comes to my previous relationships, of course I have chosen partners who would prefer to defer their sense of responsibility because that’s what my own father did.  And I, having naturally identified with my mother, took on her role as the “responsible” one; the person in charge of matters pertaining to…pretty much everything.  In fact, my dad didn’t do a damn thing to help his family except bring home a paycheck.  Oh, and occasionally he’d take me to school if I missed the bus (which I so often did).  But he’d be sure to remind me how worthless I was for it.  Heaven forbid he be woken from his slumber after staying up late watching TV (porn) in the living room.  (My dad slept on the couch, so catching him watching porn was inevitable–not to mention, traumatizing.)  Things like cooking, cleaning, child rearing…these are areas that my mother has dominated and now so do I.  Because I need to.  At least, I do in order to carry out my mother’s role so that I may rectify some aspect of the past.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I don’t want it to be that way.  I want a true partnership, something my parents never had.

I spent my childhood screaming at my dad in a whisper, alone, behind my bedroom door, telling him he was a damn idiot; softly yelling that I hated him for being so imperious, so hypocritical, so vicious and cruel as he tried in the highest pitch of his voice to convince my mom and my brother that they were “stupid idiots”. He was determined to persuade us into believing that we were a burden to him in some way when my mother did nothing but bend over backwards to please a man who couldn’t be pleased and couldn’t be proved wrong. Behind that door I begged my mom to leave him, to take us away from him.  But she never did.  And my resentment of them both simply grew into a quiet rage.

Fast forward.  I’m a grown ass woman.  I’d like to believe I’m fairly intelligent, intuitive and observant.  And yet here I am, constantly pushing the men of my life out of my life because, I finally realize, I am doing what my mom never could–I’m retaliating against the tyranny of my father.

It all seems so obvious, yet we are operating on an unconscious level much of the time in our relationships.  So of course I would unconsciously choose partners whose temperament is reminiscent of my dad’s.  Because then, rather than address my own anger and admit to having feelings that for so long I was put off by, I have secretly needed my partners to take over those disavowed aspects of myself which I could use against them, becoming angry that they’re angry, making way for pushback.  Even though I’m fucking angry in my own right! It’s just that I’ve never seen anger expressed in a healthy, functional way that is followed by a reassurance of one’s unconditional love.  In fact, my dad never expressed his love.  He expressed hate/hostility/resentment.  Never love.  Not with an “I love you”, not with a hug or a kiss or even a pat on the back.  For all I know my dad thought I had cooties.

And there you are.  Feeling angry and unloved…rejected.  You think there’s nobody to share it with; no one who would get it; no one who would care.  So you grow more angry and isolated.  Even when you meet someone who does seem to care, you push their love away.  Because all you’ve ever tried to give is love, but all you ever seem to get is renunciation. So you push as a requital. But nothing can erase what’s been done, what’s (not) been said.  I can’t change my past.  I couldn’t control everything that has happened in my life or the family I was born into.  It’s not my fault my dad is an asshole and that his dad was an abusive, drunk asshole.  But I can begin taking control of my actions, the way I treat people, the way I perceive things, and the commitments I make. I can learn to express and direct anger appropriately.

My parents went through life pretending nothing was wrong.  Smile and nod, smile and nod, and everything will at least seem okay.  But things were never okay. My parents did not have a healthy marriage.  My dad was some kind of sex crazed maniac who cheated on my mom habitually and made no real attempts to hide it except that he’s never admitted to it–not to his wife and not to his kids.  Now it’s just as if there’s an extra member of our family as we try to ignore the pink elephant in the room.

My dad slept on the couch under the assumption that it was because he was a terrible snorer. But I don’t think that was the whole of it. The whole of it is that my mom couldn’t bear to share a bed with him, even though she felt forced to at times. Occasionally my dad would slip into my mom’s room at night (it was never “their” room) and close the door. Now, knowing what I know, I’m sure he was using those moments to have his sexual needs gratified, as if his lady conquests weren’t enough to fill the void within him.  It forges a pit in my stomach as I reflect on those times and recall something my mother said to me when I told her I was separating from my ex-husband.

I had just confessed to her in tears my unhappiness with my marriage.  I explained the way I felt after once again giving in to having sex with someone who quite frankly repulsed me.  The mere thought of having sex with this man made me want to crawl out of my skin.  The final straw was laying there vacant with him on top of me, feeling dead inside.  He paused, saw me staring off into space as I prayed to be anywhere but underneath him, yet he kept thrusting his penis inside of me as though I was just a body, there for his sexual gratification and nothing more.  In that moment I was not a person with thoughts and feelings, he didn’t care about those. I was merely a depository.

After that I decided I couldn’t pretend anymore. I would no longer sacrifice myself or my body for someone capable of treating me that way.  I told him I wanted to separate.  And the next day I informed my mother. Her response is one I’ll never forget and will never forgive: “That’s just what you do as a woman…you lie there and take it.  What woman enjoys sex?” Gee. Thanks, mom. In that moment I promised myself that I would never surrender myself the way my she has or the way she expected me to.  What a sad, miserable life she’s led.  And for what?  Did she really think she was doing us kids a favor?  Undoubtedly, there was more to it than that.

So then I suppose my withdrawal from my marriage was, yet again, my attempt to do what my mother never could–stand up for myself.  No one should be forced to have sex against their will.  No doubt about it, my mother has been raped by her husband over the course of 45 years.  Dear Dad: You won’t tell the mother of your children–your wife–you love her but you can tell her what an idiot she is and stick your dick inside of her whenever you feel like it???  Well how ’bout this… GO FUCK YOURSELF.

And THIS is me directing my anger appropriately.

*Quotes from this post and other helpful information can be found in Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage” by Maggie Scarf, 1984.  Good luck finding it. 🙂