A Story About Love.
"I've loved you for 8 years," he said. "You're my dream girl."
I've never had anyone tell me that before. I'm not even sure I've ever had a man really love me before.
Not like "Let me help you be all of the things and do all of the things and not ever make you feel bad about who you are" kind of love.
Naturally I had a lot of questions.
"Do you tell all of the girls this?"
"Can I run a credit check on you?" (that's normal, right?)
"How long is this likely to last?"
I was committed to my skepticism.
I was also falling in love.
The first time I hugged Charlie I had to stand on my tiptoes. He was so tall and SO SHY. I can not over emphasize his shyness. He was a great listener but I struggled to get inside his head and really know him at first. He lacked confidence and seemed to think most things about himself were boring or ordinary and that I wouldn't care. Over time he shared more and we spent hours and hours talking. Weeks upon weeks of talking. Months upon months. I love it when you're getting to know someone new and extraordinary. They're bottomless, it seems. And Charlie had/has this way about him where he's just totally delighted by you and also ready to challenge you every step of the way. It's like playing chess in conversation. I adore it.
Pause: there's something important that you should know before I go any further and it's this: I am very, very, very difficult to be in an intimate relationship with. It's just a fact. You can ask any man I've ever been with and they'll tell you the same thing. I'm moody. I'm opinionated. I'm passionate. I'm argumentative. They'll also tell you I can be ecstatic fun and that I'm crazy supportive and loving as well. But I'm tough. I am.
When feeling convicted about something and faced with the choice of a) letting something slide and b) speaking up and potentially rocking the boat, I will almost exclusively choose to rock the boat.
I was also raised in a very religious, conservative home and now consider myself a liberal, feminist, atheist. I am the only one in my family. Like my ENTIRE extended family on both sides. This makes me scrappy. Defensive. Always ready to protect myself in an argument.
I tell you this so you better understand how committed I am to going my own way... at almost any cost... if I feel that it's right and best for me to do so. I also often choose the 'long way 'round'. I suffered with migraines for 34 years before I went to see a neurologist. I only consistently started managing my mental illness 3 years ago at the age of 33. Instead of going to college at 18, I bought a ticket to Glasgow, Scotland and spent 5 months overseas. When I came home - at 19 - I got married. When I found out I was pregnant at 29 I decided to have a home birth instead of going to the hospital. I labored for 19 hours, pushed for 2, and delivered a beautiful 8 pound, 4 ounce baby boy completely unmedicated in my bathroom.
I'm not writing these things so you think I'm cool. In fact, I'm mostly certain you'll think I'm a wacko. I'm writing these things so you can glimpse into my past enough to get a little picture of who I am and what drives me. I'm largely driven by proving something to myself about my power and independence. I'm also largely driven by the desire to feel joy. It's elusive in my life and feels like the holy grail.
This need for radical independence AND my relentless pursuit of joy... well... they make relationships tough.
Anyhow, Charlie thinks I'm an utter pain in the ass 24/7 and also firmly believes I'm 100% worth it.
Even with this though. Even with this kind of love...
I've packed my bags at least 5 times. Five times I've taken my grey duffle out of the closet and filled it with my essentials. I like to throw my toothbrush and phone charger in last for extra measure and so he knows I'm serious. I'm usually crying when I do this. I'm shaking with anger.
And when I think about it now, this escape hatch goes back to childhood. I used to want to run away all the time. I would fantasize about it. I would imagine the horror my parents would experience when they realized I was gone. Then they'd be sorry. Then they'd appreciate me.
On occasion - when very, very, upset at him - I've told him, "You're just like the rest of them."
I say this because I know it hurts him. I know it's the one thing he never wants to hear. What kind of person uses the one thing another person NEVER wants to hear against them when they're angry? What kind of person does that???
A human one. A hurting human one with old wounds around love and commitment and loss of power.
The leaving never makes it past the driveway.
I sit and I sob and I tell myself, "You are committed to this. You are in this to win this. You have what it takes to stay. Grow up and be your best self right now. Stop with the 11 year old self. Start with the 36 year old badass self. Now is your time to build something new. This is that something."
And I speak very firmly and lovingly to my 11 year old self and my 21 year old self and my 29 year old self (because these are the ages when I felt most overwhelmed by life and hurt by others) and I tell her, "I know you felt powerless and confused about who you were and like no one understood. I UNDERSTAND YOU. I SEE YOU. YOU ARE GOING TO BE O.K. - I WILL NEVER LEAVE OR FORSAKE YOU. I WILL HUG YOU HARD EVERY TIME YOU NEED IT. Also, I will tell you to stop. Stop invading my now with your drama. Stop invading my now with your pain. I will have boundaries with you and I am practicing them every day."
I am lucky (because it's luck, in the end) that I found a person who is patient with my 11, 21 and 29 year old self. He understands and hugs her hard too. He also has boundaries with her.
I've decided this is a big piece of what love is for me. It's finding people who give you space to heal, are patient with your old wounds, and who also have boundaries with them. It's finding people who speak consistently to your highest self and tell her, "You are worthy. You are worthy. You are worthy." and "You have what it takes. You have what it takes. You have what it takes." also, "I am with you through it all. I am with you. I am with you."
These people can be hard to find because these people (all people) have their own 11, 21, and 29 year old selves they are busy healing. They have to make space in their heart for yours. They have to love you enough for that.
Charlie loves me enough. He loves me more than enough. But love is not enough. You know that, right? "Love is all we need" is a really disappointing lie.
We also need consistency, patience, and boundaries. Those are the tough ones to mine. We need forgiveness, persistence and freedom as well. We need a whole list of things that make up the rib cage that holds the heart and keeps it safe.
I could have just as easily written this story about my parents. Or my best friends. Or my relationship with my son. Charlie is one example of the love in my life that encapsulates this message, but there are others. I am grateful for them all. They are my lifesavers in the storm when I need a break from treading water. They're the safety nets in place when I jump so that I have the incredible joy of getting to JUMP in the first place.
Find this love. Keep this love. Give this love... and we will all be o.k.
PS - Need support with your communication, boundaries, and commitment? Let's chat! My Pep Talks are 75 minute conversations about anything you need support with as a leader and a business owner. Let's hone these beautiful skills together. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org