LOVE


loveOn Friday, I participated in a fun little blogging activity – Five-Minute-Friday – where a topic is thrown out and you write for 5 minutes.  It is pure free-association and is not meant to be some polished piece of work.  It is designed to get you to let your creative juices flowing and just connect to a word and write.  I love the idea behind that and found myself thinking about stuff that would not ordinarily come into my mind.  That’s the point!  Yesterday, I shared a little bit about this with my coaching group and asked them to do a similar exercise with the word “love” and agreed to participate as well.  So, for today, I am doing my own “Five-Minute-Sunday” and free associating with the word love.  But, since this is not such a formal activity, I might expand beyond just the five-minute limit.  But, I promise to not edit myself.  I’m committed to some free thinking here.

So, love.

I love love.  I used to be very uncomfortable with the word.  I used to never say the words “I love you” to anyone.  I was not raised in a home where those words were ever spoken.  We never acknowledged love for one another and, quite frankly, I think that contributed to our lack of love for one another.  As a parent, I tell my children each and every day – sometimes more than once a day – that I love them.  It comes easily and naturally and I love doing it.  I truly LOVE it.  The words rolling off my tongue feel healing and it warms me up.

As a child, I think the idea of love, in my mind, was reserved for romance.  What I knew about love I saw on TV or in the movies.  Or what I read.  I never understood the concept of loving your family.  I really did not understand what that meant.  Well, I’ll retract that a bit.  My mother used to often say “I love you but I don’t like you.”  I didn’t have the language to understand what a mixed message that was.  She used the idea of love as a way to ridicule me.  Essentially, she was admitting that she loved me (as if that was some great sacrifice) but she didn’t like me.  In fact, in many ways, she was emphasizing the like over the love.  Of course I have to love you because you are my child but I do not have to like you.  Hmmm, I never thought much about that.  I like my kids.  I cannot even imagine suggesting that I did not like them.  I don’t approve of their behavior sometimes but it does not change how I feel about them as people.  It makes me sad for my mother that she could not experience the joys of both loving and truly liking her children.  It gives me the most satisfaction in my life.

I am so uncomfortable with people who throw around the words “I love you” so easily.  If I tell you I love you, I mean it.  And when I mean, I really, really mean it.  It is deep, it is penetrating, it is life-altering.  If I am so connected to you that I can tell you, without provocation, that I love you, then you have so much power in my life.  And, I’m so good with that.  I LOVE being able to be open enough to have people in my life that I can be that raw, that vulnerable, that open, that honest, that connected to.  It is what makes my life that much more meaningful.  On the other hand, I like a lot of people.  I like them a lot.  However, I do not love them.  And that is for all the reasons I explained.  Love is a powerful thing.  Love connects people in ways that expands so much beyond what might be part of a relationship where people are in “like.”  Love commands expectations.  Love gives you license to set expectations.  Love offers some latitude.  It means we have something more meaningful going on here.  I am going to trust you, accept you, forgive you, respect you, acknowledge you and stick with you.  Love means you’re in it for the long haul.  Casual friendships are not loving but they can still be meaningful.  For me, when love enters the equation, I’ve let you into my deepest core.

The love that I struggle the most with is self-love.  I recently had some photographs taken of me and I looked at them with such a critical eye.  I called myself names in my head as I looked at some of the less attractive images.  I would never, ever, ever do that to someone I love.  I would see the photos through my loving eyes.  I would see all the beauty and be enamored by the love I had for the person.  I was not able to do that for myself.  I know I am not alone with this struggle. I often challenge myself to treat myself as if I were one of my own children.  Find a loving way to tell me something that is hard to hear.  Tell myself that I love you every day – sometimes more than once a day.  Make myself feel blanketed by the protection that comes from my love.  I wish I could do a better job of that.  Because, at the end of the day, if I don’t love myself, I am going to have an awfully hard time authentically showing love to anyone else.

I have a lot of love in my life and it makes me warm.  I am going to try to pass that warmth on to myself, when I need it, rather than looking for others to always give it to me.  Feels like that is definitely part of the story for me.

MARRIAGE


marriage“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” – Unknown

My husband came home from work today, after hanging out with some guys at the bar to watch the Masters, and said “I think we are becoming a minority.” Knowing my husband as I do, I could have gone in so many different directions with that comment. I looked quizzically at him and, as has happened hundreds of times in the 21 years we have been together, he realized I had no idea what he was referring to. “It seems like we are the only ones left married,” he said smirking. I laughed, knowing he was being facetious but I also stopped for a second and took in a deep breath. He is right. Maybe it’s because of our age, maybe it’s because of where we live, maybe it’s because of our circle of friends and acquaintances but, whatever the reason, it seems like every day we learn of more and more couples splitting up. Today he learned about yet another and, as is always the case, it sends chills down your spine. You can’t help but wonder if one day it will be you. I cannot deny that there have been moments – more than I care to admit – that I wondered if our marriage would survive.

I entered into marriage completely clueless. I had no role models. I had no reference point. Frankly, I had no interest in getting married. I had determined, at a pretty young age, that I wanted to have a fantastic career and would not submit to giving up my dreams for any man. And, I certainly did not want to have kids. Sure, I was a feminist. I was also broken from all that I had experienced in my childhood that I couldn’t even imagine a reality where I could be happily married. By the time I was in college, my mother had been married and divorced 3 times and was on her way to her fourth. My father had 2 under his belt and my sister, 14 years my senior, had just split up with her husband. She would go on to marry 2 more times. I wanted nothing to do with all this. I was not interested in participating in this ritual that seemingly always had an unhappy ending.

I was a serial dater after I got out of college. I would meet guys, date them, break up, find another, date them, break up, find another and the cycle went on and on. Nobody lasted more than weeks or maybe a few months and the relationships never went very deep. I had so much intimacy with all of my gay boyfriends that I never felt needy in that way. If it were not for sex, I would have been content to hang with my gay posse forever, collect some cats and become a living, breathing stereotype. I simply did not see a pathway that would ever lead me to wedded bliss. I had a great career, was starting to make some money and had, what I believed to be, a relatively glamorous life. I worked for a major movie studio optioning books for movies so I spent my evenings going to plays, movie premieres, parties, fancy dinners – all surrounded by the largest group of gay men imaginable. I guess, perhaps one of the reasons I could not see the pathway was because there were not very many suitable candidates crossing my lane.

I met my husband when I was 24. When I think about it now, I realize how I was still an emotional amoeba. I simply knew nothing about the world yet I had lived what felt like 5 lifetimes sorting through the turmoil of my family’s drama. We met as friends – he and I were both dating other people (he was living with someone!) so there was no pressure on the relationship. He seemed like a nice enough guy and, much to my amazement, I found myself quickly intrigued by him. The relationship became romantic very quickly and, after we sorted out our other conflicts, we started dating for real. Both of us being somewhat impulsive, dating lasted about two minutes before we fell remarkably, passionately, overwhelmingly in love. He was my soulmate. I could not imagine how I could spend one minute away from him, which was extraordinarily difficult since he lived 3000 miles away on the other side of the country. We managed to find ways to see each other several times a month and each visit was filled with anticipation – heart-racing, soulful expectation. And every goodbye was marked with tears, sometimes painful and gut-wrenching, because we could not imagine how we would be able to fill our lungs with oxygen without the other to move the diaphragm. We so quickly became a symbiotic unit and every thought I ever had about not wanting to marry went out the window like a paper floating away in a brisk March wind. My fears or uncertainty about how I could sustain a relationship seemed foolish and immature. Here I was madly in love and all I could think about, even at the tender age of 25, was how fast I could begin my life as his wife.

We got engaged in less than 6 months and just a little more than 2 years after we met, we walked down the aisle in a lovely spring wedding and began a whole new chapter in our lives. We set out to right the wrongs of our parents. We vowed to do it differently. We committed to break the cycle. We blindly, ignorantly, whimsically set out on what seemed like a perfectly paved pathway together.

Next month will be 19 years since that lovely spring wedding. 19 years – nearly two decades! In contrast, his parents’ marriage lasted 13 years, my parents stuck it out for 15 before they separated, my sister’s ended at year 14. There was a moment, several years ago, that we realized that we had hit some magical milestone in our family. We were officially the longest married couple. We made a toast. And returned to our blissfully banal life. We have expanded our symbiotic union by two with sons that keep us grounded and focused and remind us why we decided to enter this extremely challenging and complex obstacle course.

In 19 years we have had more than our share of fights and far too many moments, through tears, that we each gritted our teeth and questioned our beliefs. That perfectly paved pathway has revealed many cracks, uprooted roots that have pushed up the concrete and we have tripped and fallen many, many times. We have been challenged to find the intoxicating love that left us in tears when we could not be together every moment of the day. Now the tears were rage-filled and that love was nowhere to be found. Well, actually, it was buried beneath piles and piles of hurt feelings, unkind words, bad choices, anger, resentment and all the wonderful things that are often hallmarks of long-term relationships riddled with financial woes, exhaustion from child rearing and general disappointments that life did not turn out to have the fairy tale ending you dreamt of. For some couples that is where it all goes awry. For many, the challenges become too untenable and the relationship dissolves. For us, we had many sleepless nights, raging battles and days where we could barely look at each other because we loathed the sight of the other but we pushed through. Perhaps the fear of splitting up was more overwhelming than the notion of trying to tolerate each other another day, but we persevered. Despite our efforts to hold it together, I was certain we were doomed. Everyone around us seemed so happy. Their marriages looked so healthy. Everyone seemed to be having sex ALL THE TIME while I couldn’t muster the energy to even think about it most of the time. Everyone appeared to be blissfully in love, even after the trials of marriage had weathered their bond. They all seemed to have a healthier, stronger, more powerful attachment and I didn’t see how my marriage could ever compare.

The joke was on me, of course. Sure, some couples seem to have the good fortune of peaceful and loving relationships and personalities that are not like firecrackers with short fuses and a lit match. Many couples, however, put on a good show when everyone is looking in order to make the pain of their own unhappiness less visible in hopes that it will make their misery more manageable. They sweep it under the rug and put on a good face, hoping no one will notice, existing in silent desperation. For me, I had to learn to stop looking around for comps and spend more time looking at my own relationship and understanding what it needed to work properly. When I searched my soul, I knew I loved my husband on the deepest level and could not imagine a life without him. I needed to focus in on that and stop worrying about the window dressing. None of that shit mattered.

As I watched so many friends delight in the sparkle of new relationships after their marriages ended and they were reborn into these new loves, I had to dig deep to find a way to reconnect with the man who changed my life and brought peace to a war-torn girl. I doubted, I questioned, I ached, I cried, I searched, I begged for mercy. And then I fell in love all over again. This time, I fell in love with the old pair of shoes lying in the back of the closet that I had forgotten were hiding out, stuffed underneath some boxes of new shoes that were so shiny and inviting. I slipped into those shoes and they felt warm and comfortable, and my feet knew exactly how to mold themselves into the leather. They were perfectly suited for me. I exhaled and I opened my eyes wide to find that nothing ever changed between my husband and me. We still loved each other deeply – in fact, we were much more in love than we had ever been but we had lost our way. We fell victim to the complications of life. We stopped paying attention, took our eyes off the road as the car careened into the woods. It was a bit dented but still ran pretty well and just needed someone to get behind the wheel and steer it onto a new road.

I love my husband more today than I ever could have imagined that pretty spring day 19 years ago. I look into the eyes I have stared into millions of times and I see our lifetime together. Soon we will be together longer than we have not. Now we fit together like two puzzle pieces that slide together so easily. There were days we had to shove ourselves together, taking a second look to see if, in fact, we were the right pair of pieces but, now, it is easier. Sure, we still take each other for granted at times and we still have trouble finding time and energy to have quiet intimate moments but I know, without any uncertainty, that there is no one else I would travel the road of life with. We are a real story, a 3-dimensional, full-color, reality of married life. We are imperfect, we hurt each other, we make mistakes. And, we love each other with everything we have. And we fall in love over and over again.