Could you be love and be loved?
Last winter I split from my boyfriend after realizing two things almost simultaneously:
1. my strong desire for long-term travel was not well-suited to his more traditional idea of how we should fashion our relationship, and so
2. our union felt unnatural and increasingly unproductive for me.
Ohhh the chicken and the egg.
Was it the wanderlust that made me truly realize he and I were incompatible?
Or was it in subconsciously thinking about our incompatibility that leaving became the dream?
Relationships are complicated - even the best ones - and this explanation of our intimacy is a gross over-simplification. I say it only to preface what comes next.
On a cold night in December, over the phone, outside, shuffling thru the snow, pacing back and forth, chain-smoking cigarettes, he and I had a discussion about walking away from a year and a half of togetherness and this is what I realized:
There is no substitute for love. Fear is not love.
More personally, I do not desire love that is motivated by fear. Right now, when I ask that it's ok to continue searching for my authentic self, even if it takes us apart from one another for a time, if your answer is an uncompromising no because you are frightened, my answer is no, too.
I am not so insensitive that I think love and fear cannot coexist. For me, it is in saying yes to the other's wildest dreams, even tho you are frightened, that you create a union that is worth coming back to, over and over again.
I am also not so selfish that I think my journey is more important than yours. If you will help me be my best version, I will help you be yours. If you can't continue searching for your authentic self while you and I are together, if we cannot find mutual, satisfying compromise, I will do my best to let you go.
And so: I wanted to leave, he wanted to stay, I would have stayed together and be apart, he wasn't interested in that.
(Which means, for the record, if you ask him today, I think he would unapologetically say the relationship became unnatural and unproductive for him, too.)
Maybe I needed to work harder to make him feel more loved and less scared. Maybe. Maybe I needed to love him more. Maybe if I'd felt more free, I would have been able to.
I am not so self-righteous that I think I did nothing wrong. I was wrong about a lot of things.
(When I talk to people about relationships, that's always my first question: if you had to choose one behavior in your relationships that, if changed, would make them more productive, what would it be?)
If his was possessiveness, mine is apathy.
Is there a worse combination as that?
Looking back on it now, I know the real truth: we shouldn't have met and tried to make it fit. It never fit. I pulled away and he tried to hold on. When I suggested going further away, he had every right to wonder why. Did I say my explanation was a gross over-simplification of our intimacy? Should you trust me? He would said no.
What is the point here? The point is: life is a series of letting go and starting over. Begin. Begin again. It is also a constant re-evaluation of the trust you have in yourself and your own intuition.
And so. That night in December, after a week of breaking up and a year of wondering if I should, the arguments ended and everything was different.
. . . . . .
A year before that, in a show of great commitment to him, I picked up everything in Oregon to move back to the Quad Cities. I loved the Pacific Northwest, I loved Portland. And I knew the happy chance that landed me there was something not to take for granted. I realized that in leaving it was unlikely I would ever make it back permanently. The move hurt: before, during, after. The physical extraction of Portland from my life was palpable, painful.
If I am guilty of many things, it is my opinion that taking things for granted is not one of them. In fact, the depth to which there is meaning in the ordinary for me is sometimes overwhelming to others, it seems. Do I overwhelm you now? I hope not.
What I'm getting at is that if I wasn't taking Portland for granted, I wasn't taking love for granted, either. It is a gift, after all.
This is how it happened for me.
. . . . . .
Right before he and I met, someone asked me, a stranger in a bar in Seattle, what it was I'm looking for. He asked me to sum up my searching in three words. My words were:
I lived in Colorado, mostly alone, for three years. I had been living in Oregon, mostly alone, for a year. I could see beauty everywhere. There was so much beauty, I'm not even sure, looking back, that I knew where to put it. Sometimes it broke my heart. There was adventure, too, but not so much of it that I was overwhelmed. Is there ever enough, really?
Intimacy was trickier for me. I thought I couldn't create it alone, but it required that I did create it, and I didn't know where to start. There was nothing unhappy in my search for it. I was happy. Not even content-everything-is-going-really-well happy, but like, happy. The-world-is-on-fire and everything is new and fresh and, like the Weepies say and I so enthusiastically agreed, I was "a new chicken clucking open hearts and ears." I've always really loved that.
When he showed up, and everything came into focus momentarily, I questioned my purpose whole-heartedly. If I can create beauty and adventure, why am I not creating intimacy? If my life is filled with pleasure, what is it worth if it's not shared?
It was the whole if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest-and-no-one-is-around-to-hear-it-did-it-really-make-a-sound argument that got me into trouble, you know.
I wanted to ensure there was sound and so he and I embarked on a long-distance romance that turned into a cross-country move to our hometown.
. . . . . .
I'm a big believer in communication. I'm not a proponent of stagnation and I realize that people change, and so I believe that it is an essential reality that two people communicate their desires and the other receives those desires as full truth and intention. I know that people cannot promise that they will always love each other the same forever, but can't they promise to consistently put to the table what they have to offer so there are few surprises?
He will laugh at me for saying this. Didn't I break every promise I made to you?
With that said, I confess that I believe with my whole being that I never miscommunicated my desire to be wild and free, well-traveled and unbound, as much as possible, from the constraints of "normal" life. Did we not dream up all the fantastic places we would go together? The miscommunication, I believe, was not in desire, but in timing. He knew what I wanted, I think he wanted it too, but he hoped I would wait for him. Unfortunately, I'm not very patient. Unfortunately, I found out, neither is he.
. . . . . .
So, on my own, I began again. It's been a crazy year. He took the dog and I took the cat and she and I moved, very painfully, out of the Park Avenue Penthouse Suite and into the Little House on top of the Hill. Nick and I live there together - what was once a halfway house for the broken-hearted is now a home.
My job is incredible. I'm saving money again to make my dreams a reality.
I've fallen back in love with my friends. Is that really my life's best work? You know who you are.
I spend time alone again.
. . . . . .
Recently, in the quiet of the afternoon at a music festival with an old, long-distance friend, under the cover of a shady tree, I admitted the truth after she inquired about my love life: If loving one person means I can't love the whole world, then I can't love one person.
I mean this in a seriously un-promiscuous way. Over time, or all of a sudden, I realized something else that has made this year an important part of my journey:
If fear is not a substitute for love, a relationship isn't a substitute for intimacy.
If I thought all relationships are inherently intimate, I was mistaken.
And if I genuinely believed that I didn't have intimacy before I met him or doubted my capacity for it, I was foolish.
The dark night at the Stardust Gold Meridian on Hawthorne with an old friend, ordering a second bottle of wine and flirting, swapping war stories since the last time we'd met in another strange city, feeling comfortable and safe and wondering where the night would take us. Wasn't that intimacy?
Bundling up and driving out to the beach on a cloudy day with a bottle of vodka and some orange juice and two girlfriends from work, one nursing a broken heart and some wide-open space. I thought briefly at the time that we had such little in common and worried that we only tolerated each other, and now I yearn for another day like that.
What about going thru my own half-hearted break up and accepting an invitation from a stranger to Bagby, naked, listening to old albums and I the sound of his voice saying things I couldn't hear, thinking only, we all heal each other? He asked me that day to be his girlfriend and I told him that I don't date. Ha. Weren't we dating that afternoon, if just for a second?
What about that half-hearted break up with a man I cared about profoundly, tho I could never find the words? Nights drinking more wine and discussing the state of the country and books we were reading, when what we really wanted to talk about was how we felt about each other. Glance. Butterflies. Glance. Butterflies. Ask me something about myself so I can tell you all my secrets.
Or meeting my neighbor, a dark, adventurous sort from Wisconsin, also out in Portland on her own. Spending whole nights on my front stoop, staying up recounting old relationships and conspiracy theorizing. Trying to learn to hula hoop, trying to move forward from the past that, had at times, left us both completely broken. I can hear her laughing right now and it fills me with joy.
What I mean to say is that if I was a new chicken clucking everywhere I went, I could be loved because I needed those people in my life. And I was love because the people I met needed me, too.
There is profound intimacy everywhere if you can see it. Especially with yourself. Didn't I know myself so well then? What is more intimate than that?