Friday, January 30, 2009

My Favorite Myth about Love: Or, Why it Sucks to be Alone on Valentine's Day Even if you Think Valentine's Day is a Ridiculous Hallmark Holiday

Psychology Today just published an article on what real connection in an intimate relationship means, debunking the myth that we should be totally independent of our partners and never need anything from them - or never show them we need anything from them. On the contrary, the article says, we seek intimate partners in order to get certain totally normal emotional needs met - the need for emotional and physical attachment and connection - and if we don't get those needs met through our partners, we end up in unhealthy, conflicted relationships, trying to get them met through excessive neediness, seeking reassurance, or withdrawing in an effort to get our partners to come forward and show us they love us. Obviously, these techniques aren't usually the most effective, but they are normal, understandable ways humans try to feel loved and cared for by a love partner.

Right before I read this article, I had been having a mental monologue about that pervasive old saw that in order to truly love someone else, we need to love ourselves. Let me clarify: I was having an out-loud monologue while driving home, as I often do these days when alone in my car. I was hoping all the people driving around me though I had an earpiece and was talking on my cell phone.

Anyway, this idea that to be able to love another, you have to love yourself is, if you'll excuse my bluntness, pure crap. If this were true, nobody would ever love anyone else, because nobody, except maybe the odd monk who's reached pure enlightenment, is ever totally free of self-doubt, self-criticism, or the occasional bout of self-pity. None of us loves ourselves truly, completely. We aren't designed to, we're designed to be in community, to be connected, to really only feel complete when we have supportive people around us. It's a survival mechanism.

In fact, I think it's the opposite that's true: if you haven' t been shown love by others in your life - by a parent, peers, family, lovers, or friends - you cannot love yourself. This has been proven time and time again: before babies can speak or understand speech, they can interpret the facial expressions and quality of touch of their caretakers. If a baby's caretaker interacts with her in a positive way - smiling, mirroring her own facial expressions - touches her gently, and comes to her when she's in distress, a baby is more likely to grow up confident and able to withstand life's ups and downs. On the other hand, if a baby grows up being frowned at, ignored, neglected, treated harshly, or even being treated inconsistently - having a caretaker smile and be gentle one minute and be harsh and upset the next - she's more likely to be afraid and be less resilient. We've all heard the horrible stories of orphans who are never held or comforted, and grow up to be unable to form bonds with others.

I believe that in all relationships, we need mirroring, that we need to see ourselves in the faces of others in order to know ourselves, and that we provide the same for our friends, family, and lovers. We don't truly know ourselves, and we can't learn how to love, if we don' t have loving, responsive people in our lives. If we have relationships with people who don't respond to us - don't laugh when we make jokes, don't act supportive when we feel sad - we feel lonely and unseen. And if we don't respond to others - as is often the case with people who never got healthy affection or care as children, never learned how to interact with others - we are also lonely; nobody likes to be around someone who won't mirror them.

People without strong social ties are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and to suffer physical health problems, and to recover more slowly from illness and surgery, than people who have strong social ties - friends, close family, a supportive community, a healthy love relationship. When we are loved and we love others, we have a stronger immune system and healthier body functions (lower blood pressure, less risk of heart attack, etc.) Humans are simply not meant to be alone.

If it were true that in order to love others you need to first love yourself, narcissists would be the most loved people in the world, and while it may be true that selfish pricks (i.e. bad boys) get a lot of chicks initially, they don't generally get a lot of long-term love, the best and most fulfilling kind of love.

I've often felt like - and sometimes been made to feel - like I'm a needy, insecure, messed up creature for wanting a healthy love relationship, and for being upset when my needs aren't met in the relationships I have found myself in, but I've recently decided that this is bull. I'm not saying I've always acted well in relationships, and I certainly don't deny that I can be needy and reassurance-seeking - which is something I'm trying to work on. But the need to be mirrored in a positive way and to have a solid physical and emotional attachment to a lover is a basic, normal, human need. Gloria Steinem (supposedly) said "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle", and, as the Psych Today article says, in more polite terms, that's crap. I do get the sentiment, but actually, we all need one another, and we all need love. Here's to it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I remember that first date – a blind date – after 20-something e-mails and a 2-hour phone conversation. He drove up to my house in a green convertible, the top down, the dog in the back seat. He got out of the car, smiled behind dark glasses. A good-looking guy, not my usual type, but chivalrous, confident, and all smiles. He opened the door for me. I felt nervous. We talked nervously on the drive to Napa, the wind in our hair, it was hot, even on the freeway with the top down. We talked, and talked, and slowly got more comfortable with each other. There was the nice dinner in the French bistro in Yountville, the flowers and chocolates. This was an old-fashioned man, but only old-fashioned in the way I like – all generous attention, with grown-up goals and a grown-up life behind him, with sadness and joy freely expressed, but without possessiveness, arrogance, or judgment. He told me he wanted to know all about me. Later, he told me he knew from that day that we would be together,

I wasn’t so sure. At the Police concert, afterwards, I drove home and he stopped me in the parking lot as I was driving away, down on one knee, and told me he wanted to kiss me. Maybe it was the champagne talking. But I told him I wasn’t ready. I drove away, watching him in my rearview mirror.

At my birthday party, I watched him watch me. There was something about him – what was it? In a photo of the birthday crowd, he was there in the background, watching me with a strange combination of intensity and calm. Strangely sexy. When his friend got locked in the bathroom and it took three guys an hour to realize they couldn’t un-jam the door, he took control and kicked it down. The next day he came over with bloody maries and an omelette pan, fixed the door, then made me breakfast.

He was going to Burning Man, so I came by to help fix the food. He showed me how to efficiently chop an onion. We worked in the kitchen like we had been born to work together.

I told him I’d be his when I took his hand. He told me his hand would be there any time I wanted to take it.

Then the dinner – he's a trained chef – and the wine and I couldn’t drive home but didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in his bed. So he gave me a Dan Marino football jersey to wear, that fit me like a dress five sizes too big, and I slept on the couch with the dog. Or didn’t sleep, actually. In the morning, a Friday, he made me coffee and we sat on the couch and talked about books. We kept pushing back the time we needed to be at work. We walked the dog in the park, and I did it – I took his hand. And we kept walking as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And we sat on a park bench, looking at the water, and we kissed. And checked in at work, to tell them we wouldn’t be in that day.

Then he was off to Burning Man. I went to Grass Valley, a solo trip, and from Reno, he called several times a day to tell me he was thinking of me. The sweat dripped down my back, as I sat on a wall under a pine tree, and heard his words and felt his love, and I missed him so much, but it was a beautiful feeling, to miss a man I loved who loved me.

Within weeks of knowing each other, we made plans to travel to Florida for a week, where he grew up, so he could show me the Florida keys. We drove up to Mendocino in his crotchety old van to collect driftwood for facing for the bathroom he was installing, stayed in a crummy dog-friendly hotel right on the freeway, got popped by the local cops, but got out of it, as he's wont to do. On the way back, me driving, we stopped on the shoulder of the road, overlooking the fierce ocean, and he held me with tears in his eyes, telling me he was so glad to have found me. Told me I was the woman he'd been waiting for his whole life.

There was lots more – the drama with his best friend – a woman – who wanted to be with him and stopped talking to him after we got together. The complications of old friendships, the disappointments, the needs not met, the old stuff that comes up, the marriage that wasn’t quite ended. And our love that seemed to grow and grow, within three months came up against obstacles it couldn’t overcome. The talk of love and a future, yet the past coming back and back, to haunt us, not quite ready to leave the stage. My need for solitude with my love, his need for social time, my insecurities, his need to hang on, my uncomplicated life, his complex one, and then, as usually happens, the purity of love being sullied time and again with emotion, bad decisions, resentment, things we both wish we could take back. Then the pain, such pain, a different agony than the agony of missing someone you love. The agony of seeing your love and dreams fading.

And now? The love and the truth, the pain and the ambivalence, all intertwined and inseparable. A decision that must be made, and we know what decision that is, but I, at least, rationalizing how not to go there. How to have what we had, back then, though I know we can never go back. But I want to, so badly. To be in that place of uncomplicated love again, when we thought the future was there waiting for us.

I’m sorry, S, for everything I did wrong. I wish you and I all happiness, love, calm, and peace. We were meant to meet, and I’ll always remember that first sight of you, driving up to my door, the top down, all smiles behind dark glasses. I love you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Weird things that make me about you?

  • New colored pens!
  • putting together a new outfit that totally works, man.
  • getting off the phone with an author after having a really good, professional, confident conversation about publishing contracts.
  • Seeing new roots growing on the plant cutting in my window.
  • when my step-dog sees me and greets me running and jumping.And when we lie together in the sun and he puts his head on my arm.
  • Getting invitations, even when I can't go.
  • Having people write sweet/supportive/intelligent responses to my blog posts.
  • Having friends who I can cry with as well as laugh with.
  • Going into some hole-in-the -wall place and hearing a great, unknown, totally unexpected band.
  • The sound of a powerful high-performance engine starting up. Total turn-on!
  • The wind blowing through a eucalyptus grove.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lover gave me "The Compassion Box" for Solstice this year. It's a lovely gift, with a book by Pema Chodron about the Buddhist lojong (or "mind training") practice of working with slogans in meditation (and in life) to become increasingly awake and aware. Pema is my hero when I've struggled with depression, grief, and confusion; I love "When Things Fall Apart". The box also includes a set of lojong cards and a CD with a guided meditation.

So, in my recent struggles, I got out the cards and have been picking one every day to reflect on as I go through my day. I don't (yet) have a formal meditation practice, but I have the cards by my computer at work, where I look at them all day long.

Today's was "Don't Try to be the Fastest", and the commentary on the back says, simply, "Don't compete with others."

It's extremely apropos to my current struggle because I realize that I've been competing, at least in my own mind, with my partner's past, and it's been causing me immense pain. The phrase "Don't Try to Be the Fastest" reminds me that not only is competing with another woman for the affection of a man ridiculous, juvenile, and unfeminist, it's based entirely on my own deep sense of insecurity. That I'm OK with him, I'm OK without him, and that I'm the same as her: a feeling, thinking, struggling human being dealing with relationship and emotion, always confusing at best and horridly painful at worst. Enough of this catfight shit.

I like the idea of not struggling to get ahead, to be the best, to win the man, or to be the one and only in the perfect blissful relationship . I like the idea of just being, not thinking about the race or participating in it. I've always felt like I wasn't ambitious enough in life, I don't have a high-paying job, a McMansion, or many save-the-world credentials, but I have a nice life and wonderful people to share it with and a flexible mind to take it all in.

Who needs to be faster?

Monday, January 12, 2009

What I believe

  • That everything that has come before this – in our personal lives and in the world – happened in order to prepare us for this moment.
  • That we all have a shared responsibility to create a world that nurtures and supports all beings, even the people we disagree with, and even the people we don’t understand.
  • That being truly open to and accepting of another person is the most difficult thing we can do.
  • With the exception of being totally open to and accepting of ourselves
  • That love is a daily practice and that we have the opportunity to practice it in every second, with everyone we meet.
  • That all of it’s worthless if we can’t also laugh and play and be silly
  • That rules were meant to be broken, or at least twisted.
  • That hate, resentment, guilt and self-righteousness are the most useless of emotions, unless we can learn from them.
  • That the important thing is not what mistakes we make, but what we do with the lessons.
  • That it’s okay to be afraid.
  • That the hardest moments of our lives are also the ones that include the most profound seeds of growth
  • That no situation is a problem, just an opportunity to learn.
  • That there is no such thing as perfection, only the pursuit of balance
  • That we all have things to teach each other, and things to learn from each other
  • That if we ever stop growing, we’ll die – or we might as well.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Were hearts just meant to be broken? Is that why we have them? So we can break open and feel the true energy of the universe - all the beauty, joy, poignancy, messiness, confusion, fear, and pain, pain, pain that exists in the world? Maybe a broken heart is the truest thing in the universe - and a joyful heart is, also. They're both sides of the same coin. Maybe diving into the pain the the only thing we can do when confronted with the pain and confusion, and maybe on the other side of that - somewhere that I have yet to find - is joy and release from all this exquisite agony. Maybe opening up to that pain - being brave enough to do that - is opening up to the universe, to God.

The confusion is so deep - the love and the hurt intertwined in such a way that I can't separate them. Is this normal? Is it because I'm supposed to learn the exquisite lesson that pain and joy and life are inseparable? Or is it because I'm too sensitive, because I can't turn away from it? Is it something I'm forced to live with, my whole life? And can I do it?

In "Doctor Zhivago", one of the lines that I loved, and wrote down (somewhere), was "For a moment, she re-discovered the purpose of her life: … to call each thing by its right name.” I remembered this when I saw "Into the Wild" recently and he quotes that line. I remember when I first read that, I felt like that was me, that was my reason, too. And maybe me role in life is to observe, to watch, to experience the nuances of human emotion. Maybe my exquisite sensitivity and tendency to absorb emotion, like a sponge, maybe it's my role to live with that, to experience it fully, let be the pain flow over me and through me, so that I someday, somehow, find the joy on the other side. Maybe pain and joy will always be my companions, no matter what. Maybe they're everybody's, but we just don't like to talk about it. Maybe my job is to talk about it.

Today, in talking about my situation, I was told that I'm too nice, that I let him get away with too much. I was always taught that, as a woman, I had to be nice to be acceptable, happy, coupled. But nice only gets you so far. Nice gets you happy smiles when your soul is breaking apart, sweet words to hide the truth, declarations of love and actions that speak the opposite. Not uncommon for the nice girls, the ones who trust what people say. The nice girl in me says I'm being too harsh, that he's only dealing with his own confusion and pain. But the dark one says I'm being played for a fool. And I'd rather believe the nice girl, but there's still that doubt, that doubt....

But in this week, I've heard such care from people I never would have expected it from. I'm so grateful for all the people who have been honest with me in my confusion, supportive, let me cry in the middle of a party, led me outside to talk, called to check on me, told me they loved me and how special I am. The people who are taking care of me in my grief. My best friends, my mom, even my hairdresser, my doctor, and my boyfriend's neighbors...they all support me in being my whole, true, self. And that's magical, and I love them all for reaching out to me, for letting me cry, and unload all my crap on them. For telling me I deserve better. Maybe that's why I'm in this situation of limbo, pain, confusion and yes, I can appreciate the good things I have while letting go of the expectations of what a love relationship is supposed to be. Maybe my lesson is to accept what is, exactly as it is, and to dig deep into myself to find the unconditional goodwill that can support the one I love through all, even if it means it takes him away from me, and to find the strength to live my own life, on my own, without dependence. Maybe the interdependence will come later, when this period in our lives is over.

I just want to lie down in some field and sink into the dirt, become part of the earth, because I don't know how to be in this life at the same time that I must. Am I just too sensitive to pain and the nuances of truth? Do I need too much? Then how can I exist? How do I cope? I know there's a profound lesson here, but I'm damned if I know what to do with it. That love hurts, like Steve Perry always said? And I sit here popping anti-anxiety pills and drinking champagne to dull the pain that wakes me up at night. I don't know what to do. I've moved on so often. I'm so tired. Part of me wants to become one of them - the mercenary, the manipulative, the ones who just use others to get what they want - because that's who gets ahead in this world. Maybe it's time to turn over a new, even more cynical leaf.

On one hand, can I accept the love that I'm offered, accept his confusion, and make a life with him that has room for that? Or should I be the iron bitch and just move on, not looking back, my tears being wiped away by the wind of my passage as I go, because, dammit, I can't get everything I want? Should I relish the good things and just accept the rest, caring for him in his confusion and pain, and seeking his acknowledgment of mine without wallowing in it or allowing it to turn me into a harpy? Or should I look, yet again, for someone with an uncomplicated life, who has all the room in the world for me, and who can offer me the warmth and strong arms around me that I long for. And does that person even exist?

I don't know. I don't know.

The image above is from

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Day and my love can't be with me, is wading in the deep messiness that comes from all human relationship, navigating the road of love and pain, past and future. I miss him so badly, want so badly to call to see if he's OK, but I'm trying to be strong and let go, the way they say you need to let go of the one you love. And in the letting go, I'm catching glimpses of that soft love in the center of my being that says everything's going to be OK, no matter what. The unconditional, encompassing love-with-sadness that the Buddhists call bodhichitta. I realized with a jolt, while taking down my Christmas lights: I love this man and I just want his happiness, whatever happens. It feels like a warm glow in my chest, like the sun that's right now breaking out from behind the chilly fog of the first day of 2009.

I regret the times I've tried to control him, make him meet my expectations. Right now, at this moment, I don't care about all of that. I just want to see him happy. I still miss him, but I'm holding him in my heart. It's funny how underneath all of our struggles and pain, is this love and warmth, and if we could all just learn to sink below the pain, we'd realize how lucky we are to be here.

OK, that's enough new year's cheesiness!

Happy New year!