Tag Archives: romance

Closer to Love

Mat Kearney: Closer to Love

Oh it’s your light,
Oh it’s your way,
Pull me out of the dark
Just to show me the way
Cryin’ out now
From so far away…
You pull me closer to love
Closer to love

In the last 24 hours I’ve had two very thought-provoking things happen. The first was when a dear friend asked if I “missed being in a relationship,” after I mentioned the commitment I made to ride this year out single so I could focus on self-reflection and getting to know MYSELF through a variety of people and experiences. The second was when I ran across an incredibly dynamic and attractive individual – one of those people you just instantly connect with, that get you thinking intensely about what you want in life, somehow. You know those people – the game-changers. The “hail marys” of your life that skyrocket you into self-reflection and sometimes, powerful life changes.

Between those two incidents, I’ve been thinking deeply on how my approach to love has changed in the last decade. Thinking about the assumptions I now make about self and world, about how I’ve lost the romance along the way amidst the pain, and about the bigger picture of human relationships and connection.

I’ve been reading an amazing book lately called “Waking Up: a Guide to Spirituality without Religion” (available on amazon – highly recommend it!). In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that people tend to love one of two ways: first, for what you give them or how you make them feel, and second, for who you are. He calls the first “transactional love” and makes a firm point that this type of love exists in a vacuum – it cannot survive if practiced by one or either individual – in any type of relationship. Ironically, I’ve said this in my own way upon reflecting on my past this last few years. I say often that “it is possible to be loved selfishly, while loving selflessly.” 

My own experience of platonic and familial love has been powerful and life-changing. I have an incredibly, unconditionally loving family. Parents who love each other and their daughters with reckless, selfless abandon. I have friends who will be there for me at the drop of the hat – who truly love who I am, regardless of what I can do for them, or how I’ve changed. I’ve magnetized more and more of these people this last few years, and I am deeply grateful for them.

What has been painful for me is the romantic aspect of love. I have a deep, vested interest in the success and wellbeing of every stranger I meet. Truly, I care instantly for people, and want their best. If I only touch their lives briefly, I want to touch them powerfully, positively, and inspirationally. I want to help everyone. I’ve always been that way, and I passionately love this about myself.

This is, however, crippling for me in romantic relationships. In a culture where what we have – what we own – seems to determine our self-value, people seem to be just another commodity to acquire. Something entertaining, fulfilling, satisfying – to discard when the amusement has passed or the newer model becomes available. We’ve marginalized human relationships in our quenchless thirst for the next-best-thing.

I’ve never loved this way. I can honestly say that even in two long, emotional, deeply powerful, monogamous relationships, I’ve felt every day that I wanted the best of my partner first and foremost – even if their best was not me, or not what I wanted. I was more invested in their future, their health, their self-fulfillment, than in my selfishness on any level.

There is a fine line to walk here. I fully recognize that while selflessness is admirable, a martyr mentality is not a healthy approach to romantic love. What I’ve come to recognize the last few years is that love is at times, selfish. Love begins with self-love, and self-love INCLUDES a certain level of selfishness – the courage to say “I want this.” The commitment to speak up when we are hurt. The ability to ASK. 

Somewhere along the way, in the darkest places of my broken marriage, in the corners of my living room – as small as possible, hiding from the world and from my shattering reality – I learned that if I expected nothing, asked for nothing, dreamed of nothing – if I turned fear into open-handed coexistence, if I took away the romance… I was less brutally torn apart by rejection and sharp words and raised fists and a relentless verbal destruction of the things I had always found most beautiful about myself.

I learned not to ask, not to hope, because there is nothing more painful than loving selflessly, and being loved transactionally in return. There is nothing more painful than realizing that you love more deeply and powerfully than your significant other is capable of loving you. There is nothing worse than being loved intermittently, haphazardly, while loving someone with love like the ocean – vast, expansive, endless, deep, constantly moving and changing but always there. There is nothing sharper and more destructive than the careless wounds of someone you love wholly and completely for everything they are, and can be. 

I’ve swung to the opposite extreme these days – not to selfish love, but to the absence of romantic love. I expect nothing, hope for very little, and keep my hands open. I reassure people over and over that I’ll never ask anything of them – that I expect nothing of them – I don’t dream or read into things or romanticize anything, because it is much easier for me to accept the transience of human relationships than it is to hope that something powerful, purposeful, and earth-shattering could come into my life, and remain. 

This year of committing to be single is so very intentional. These are the revelations I need to make – the observations about my extremes that I need to master, to conquer – to find that middle ground. To find the balance between love and martyrdom. To practice discernment in avoiding transactional lovers, but investing fully where I find the possibility of something lasting.

Somewhere amidst the ashes of my former life, there are burning coals of romance and hope and passion and a curious desire to be loved the very same way I love everyone else in my life.

But if there is one, simple way to explain the evolution I am undergoing, it is this:

The more I love myself, the closer I feel to love. 

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Comprehensive Disclosure

Comprehensive Disclosure

Tonight welcomed in a strange moment for me.

The man I once called my husband, who abased and destroyed me emotionally and mentally and left me fishing for dignity, self-worth, and any remnants of pride in who I am and all I can be… this man was sitting in my living room and we were laughing and holding a friendly (if respectfully distant) conversation.

If you had told me a year ago that this would be happening right now, I would’ve been completely confident that you were wrong.

This is a good and beautiful thing, and redeems a lot of pain for me. It was accompanied months ago by profound and sincere apologies, and has gradually evolved into a confident acceptance that things are over, and done, and were very, very wrong, but that people can change, and redemption can look like moving forward as parents to our son in an amicable and respectful fashion.

This is where things are now. In many ways because I have found myself; found my own two feet, my “balls”, my confidence in my beauty and strength and abilities, again. It took at least 11 months to do so.

Here is where you should probably stop reading, if you’re a very religious person, my parents, a man (this may wind up coming off as male-bashing although this is not the intent) or an interested party.

So basically, if you’re a female, non-lesbian, non-relative, uninterested atheist, this is for you… ha.

Here’s where we get into the gritty, gory, messy details of the rebound confusion and self-discovery phase post relationship.

*God alone is my judge.*

—–

After my ex and I split up last year, I was lost. So incredibly lost.

With the culture I grew up in, all I knew was monogamy… committed, defined, going-somewhere-(and-fast) relationships. The only man I had “known” was my husband.

I was naive, abased, had no sense of value, and no real understanding of the world when it comes to relationships, sex, and male-female interactions outside of monogamy.

Where was I? Where did I want to be? Who did I trust?

It has taken me a while to figure these things out. During that first 6 months of a rebound phase, sex just happened, quite a few times. It really did. But not in great ways.

I went from someone who had waited 23 years for sex to someone who was so stupid and sheltered, she would place herself in situations (a car at night to talk, trusting and agreeing to “just sleep, no sex” in bed with someone, late night outings or isolated movie times at someone’s house) where someone would make a move, I would be taken aback, but then have so little self-value that I simply caved even when I really didn’t want a hookup.

I remember many promises men made “not to f*ck [me]”, many suggestions of interest in a relationship, cards played, mind games, blameshifting, tactics, working of angles to confuse and manipulate me.

I was weak. Lost, unaware of the value I held. I caved. Over, and over. A few times I said no… the kept going, and I simply gave in and felt empty, used, disrespected, stupid, almost like throwing up amidst it all.

There was #1.
He was a “no”. I was in a situation I shouldn’t have been in, sleepy and disoriented and alone with him. He seemed aloof and respectful, and then he wasn’t. And I just didn’t care anymore. I gave in after faint protests.

There was #2.
A few days later, lessons unlearned, the “two adults taking care of each other, no big deal, just sex” card played, taken. I said no a few times this time, I felt dirty and empty… and cheap.

There was #3.
Through a friendship, one I trusted. I didn’t know how to relate to men without sexuality after so long being that for one person… I was beginning to enjoy realizing I was wanted, after the one person I really wanted did not want me…. and it was consensual, but still so empty of meaning.

There was #4.
A player, the best at his game, manipulative, crafty, a liar, and a douche bag. Ignored attempts at asking for respect and the strangest, most awkward engagement so far.

There was #5.
If you count him, some favors given and received after he pushed me to believe he wanted a relationship, and that “men need sex to feel love”. No sex, but sexuality. More emptiness when a few days later, he admitted to zero interest in who I am as a person.

There was #6.
A major front given online, to others, to the world. Supposedly, a man of honor, integrity, who treats women with respect. Who drew me into a situation after months of talking on promise of helping with my career, and pushed physical boundaries, made me feel guilty for saying no. .. and so very stupid when I gave in and realized a day later that I was doing the walk of shame, and that that was all he wanted from me.

Over, and over, and over.. this continued for a while. I was desperately searching for something to mimic the companionship and consistency and intimacy of my first relationship, back at the beginning. I longed for it.

During this time I began to realize a few things about myself and the world. Here they are:

1. Far too many people trust themselves.
Men, and women. Even the good men think they can keep it to “just a kiss” or a cuddle, but any straight heterosexual male who has been in my bed has quickly forgotten those restrictions. I think I can keep them at that door, “keep the wolf at bay”, if you will, but I am weak in certain situations.

2. Wisdom looks like learning to not put yourself in situations where those boundaries and willpower may be tested.
The more I remove myself from those types of interactions, the less drama is in my life and the less regrets I have.

3. Sex has become the H2O of our generation.
People reach for it and ask for it and demand it and feel entitled to it from others like one grabs a bottled water in a checkout line.

4. 90% of men want to f*ck me.
Only a small percent of them are interested in more than just hooking up; a small percent convince themselves it’s not “just sex” so they don’t feel like tools but are completely emotionally unavailable; 10% (at most) and 10% only are interested in friendship or wouldn’t take a chance if I offered it, and the majority have so little value for me or themselves that they’re able to make “convenience store sex” the standard for performance.

5. No means no.
My original instinct is a good one. If I say no once, and that’s blown past, it’s rape. Stop, no, don’t = GTFO.

6. Just because I’m treated nicely or someone pays for dinner doesn’t mean I owe them anything sexually.
Men who work on a give and take system of treating a woman a certain way in order to acquire favors they then believe they deserve are dbag jackasses and not worth a moment of my time.

7. It is possible to have intense sexual chemistry and zero relationship potential.
This was really tough for me to learn because it was so outside of my experience. It was a shock to realize you can have physical attraction and a “spark” without relationship development. Discerning which is which (and if both are present) takes practice.

8. Men are manipulative bastards, even the nice ones (sometimes).
The good ones don’t always mean to, but still find ways to coerce you into intimacy. The bad ones do it on purpose. Sooooo many guys played or tried to play the “it’s just sex, you’re overthinking it” card, the “this will help you heal emotionally” card, the “you owe me because __ card”, the “this is normal and should be expected even outside of anything long-term develping” card, and the “you’re a bitch if you don’t” card. I’ve learned to essentially say “shut the f*ck up and stop playing mind games to get your d*ck wet”. Forgive the bluntness, but it must be said.

9. The best sex involves a marriage of minds and bodies.
Mental compatibility and a desire to explore someone’s mind, emotions, and heart make for some crazy amazing physical connections if there’s also chemistry there. The rest of sex (for me, at least) feels cheap and stupid and very over-the-counter.

10. Save that sh*t.
Screw the 3-date rule, the roadtrip rule, the time frames given or demanded by others or by what society seems to think is acceptable. Take your damn time. Don’t cheapen that type of intimacy by throwing it around. If you let the sexual side of any relationship drive relational development, the rest of the important compatibility departments like respect and fun and friendship will struggle to keep pace.

Take your sweet effing time.

After that first string of empty, unwanted, painful, confusing hookups and some tough life lessons…

There have been a few guys who never demanded it, didn’t expect it. Waited for it. Honored me, themselves.

Made me feel wanted without feeling violated, and respected without feeling unwanted.

As I’ve learned to really value myself again, to own my potential and interest and strength and beauty, I’ve quit frequenting convenience stores. I’m going all gourmet with that *sh. Making it count, making it last, keeping it for the best moments, the best people.

You can judge me all you want, condemn me, preach at me for my casual discussion of sex. But this learning curve of sexuality, of understanding how to take care of myself, but also simply rediscovering that I am WANTED, was a powerful and beautiful thing.

Simple lessons in profound ways, through profound pain and much confusion, but lessons well-learned.

*CHEERS*

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Time

Toss a pebble of sorrow

Into an ocean of memories

Salty with tears

Ripples of unfulfilled promise

Waves of emotion
Crashing on the shores

Of bitter sand; grains of beautiful shells

Once homes to cherished jewels
Laughter, friendship, and hope.

Gaze on the shoreline
A mellow moment of history’s introspection
Reflection of shimmering sun’s rays of joy
Darkened by clouds of shattered dreams
Tempests of self destruction
Helpless at the helm.

Listen to the wind whisper stories past
Vivid imprints of the footprints of a soul
Ghostly shadows of haunted dreams
Frustrations brightened by threads of past beauty
Clipped, snipped, broken, a tapestry undone
A landscape unpainted
A story, with no final chapter
A neverending storm with an eerie final calm.
 
Sink into sands of time
Memories slipping through fingers
Coarse, real, tangible, present
Shifting, falling, moving, passing
Eroded dunes of opportunity
Withheld but barely by thin roots of seagrass
Clinging desperately to a past heavy with companionship.
 
Hear the albatross cry hope
Over the siren’s song of the past
Horizons bright with promise
After blood red setting sun
Captain’s pride
Destiny’s wake
Strong oars
Weathered hands
Bright sails
Steady wind

Tomorrow’s promise.

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A poem. A River Runs From Them. Inspired by Jill Andrews’ “Always Be Sorry”

The deepest of duplicitous loves
Cause for tempests of doubt
Only the passion
Sustained in a vicious cycle
Of fear and distrust.
The greatest betrayals of belief
In a black hole of forgiveness
Transgressions disappearing
Into mercy
Extended once, twice too many times.
A small existence
Narrowed daily by broken confidence
Empty kisses
False promises
Embittered by betrayal of self
Soul sacrifices on an alter of commitment.
A past empty of companionship
A future shattered by fear
Broken glass on a dashboard of dreams.
Wounds so deep
A river runs from them
Memories of moments
Clinging to the dark corners of the mind.
Empty hands
Calloused heart
Virgin hopes robbed of their romance
Life of its sunshine.

Bitter darkness broken
By the sweet siren’s song;
Music, the poetry of the soul
Piercing through the marrow of pain
A thread of hope in the darkness of unforgotten misery.

[thank you to those who have recently revived a passionate interest in one of the greatest loves and the constant salvation of my life… music]

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Strength vs. Control: Dating 101 PT 1

edge

In the bodybuilding world, if we’re being honest, the focus is actually on how strong you LOOK, not how strong you ARE.

This is why crossfit competitors and powerlifters and competitive athletes have my respect. Don’t get me wrong, TONS of work goes into bodybuilding competition prep, but the focus is on how you APPEAR, not how functional your fitness actually IS.

Let’s carry this analogy over into my personal experience in the dating world.

Growing up in a strict church culture, I wasn’t allowed to date anyone until I was 18, preferably later. I was in two fairly long, committed relationships between the ages of 18 and 23. I was single for about 6 months and then met my ex and was married for 3 years.

My abuse counselor has been pushing me to be open to casual dates for the sake of self-recovery and healing as I make my way through the difficult process of moving on from an deeply abusive experience. Trust me, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

What I’ve found is that for some reason, I have been conditioned to view a certain “type” of guy as “attractive”: the guys who give off that strong, aggressively “masculine” vibe; the military guys, construction workers, trainers, cops, coaches… usually guys in that line of work are instantly “attractive” to me by the way they carry themselves and the confidence which they portray.

The key word is “portray”.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I am in NO way identifying these job descriptions with abusive behavior or writing any of them off. I am simply speaking from personal experience. There are wonderful, loving men in every profession and equally terrible, abusive, controlling men of every job description. I also have a deep personal respect for the careers these men choose and particularly for the sacrifices made by military men and their families. “Rah!”

No matter what the job description of the guys I’m typically attracted to, I’ve come to find that MANY times this “overtly masculine” vibe is actually a harsh mask for deep insecurity and controlling behavior.

Here’s a stellar example:

I meet – let’s call him “John” – John at the gym. John is pushing some serious weight, he’s rugged, tall, “confident”, and clearly approaches me to ask if I’m using the tricep press for one reason.

I’m flattered. We flirt a little.

John gets my number.

I have a deep feeling of concern which I ignore over attraction.

Texting happens over the next week or so.

John disappears. Then reappears, more interested then ever.

I fail to text John back one evening while working a 6 hour shift on my feet (no phones allowed).

I return to my phone to a string of insecure, concerned text messages such as “Where are you?” “Are you okay?” “I hope I didn’t offend you” “I didn’t mean that to sound that way” “I know sometimes I come off too strong” “If you’re upset at me you should tell me, you’re being immature” “I guess I’ll talk to you later, this is ridiculous”.

In the span of a few hours of not talking, in a non-committed relationship with someone I barely know, this man has gone from happy and confident to angry, upset, self-abasing, worried, anxious, critical, and dismissive.

Whoa. BRAKES ON.

If you find yourself CONSTANTLY having to reassure someone you’re not even dating (let alone actually in a committed relationship with) that you’re honest, loving, non judgmental, faithful, and available in order to make them feel they have self-worth and that you’re “into them”:

BACK THE EFF OFF.

One of the things I’ve learned in abuse counseling has been the vicious path that

  • begins with insecurity
  • moves on into fear
  • then to control
  • then to anger
  • and then to abuse.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Lesson #1: Don’t date anyone who “needs” you to be constantly affirming in order to feel they have value.

Here’s another scenario for you (these actually happened):

“Ryan” comes to me as a client via FB. We hit it off via email and move to texting or phone calls.

Things are going swimmingly: we have a lot in common, easy dialogue, attraction. I’m considering saying yes to the offer of a coffee date.

After a few days of talking, Ryan starts pushing a very sexual vibe into our conversations.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sex. I miss it. I had a deep, personal, intimate relationship with my ex and a very steamy sex life (at first). Might be TMI, but I’m just saying.

I’m uncomfortable with the vibe. I’ve been used and hurt and I’ve come to understand that friendship and care are the basis for healthy relationships. You need passion and sexuality, but you can’t start there.

I’m very, very hesitant to give into this type of talk. Ryan pushes and uses all sorts of manipulating phrasing and sentences like “Guys need sex to feel love” (we’re already talking about love??), “You’ve just been hurt, you need to let go of it and move forward”, “If you never open yourself up to a passionate relationship with someone again, you’ll just be lonely forever”, “You know I’m not that guy, I’m really into you”, “I’m not asking for much, just tell me/show me ___”.

SCREEEEEEECH. BRAKES ON AGAIN.

There’s a REASON time has taught me to distrust this as a starting place for anything healthy and real and lasting.

Once again, it may come off as confident and flattering, but in truth it’s from a place of selfishness and control. It’s manipulative and it’s probably not new to them.

The right guy will understand several things about me, and these may apply to you as well (guy or girl):

  1. The right person will understand your hurt and be patient with it.
  2. The right person will value you as an individual enough to wait until you’re ready.
  3. The right person will be secure enough and ACTUALLY, truly strong enough to avoid rushing the relationship.
  4. The right person will let time develop intimacy and will not ask you to prove yourself.
  5. The right person will make you feel safe, vs questioning yourself every time they want something you aren’t ready for.

I describe my previous relationships and mistakes to people often as “instant coffee relationships”:

Very hot water. Add nasty fake coffee. Strong, heady, quick, hits you right away… and then the grinds start separating from the water, it goes all lukewarm because you only nuked it, and you’re left with a bitter aftertaste.

Lesson #2: The good stuff takes time.

So French Press that bitch if you want it to last.

Be very careful to cautiously analyze whether or not someone is legitimately strong in character, intentions, and integrity.

I’m learning to redefine “strong”, “masculine”, and “attractive”. I’m reconditioning myself to appreciate the humble, patient, loving, caring, quietly confident types. Those are the good ones.

You would think I would’ve picked up on that a long time ago, because my mother married one, and 30+ years later, they’re happy as can be.

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