You Can’t Take It With You (But You Will) – Part 3

Something, somehow, forms the base for how we relate to others in a relationship, and what our expectations are in those relationships. They are acquired from experiences – good and bad –  with every relationship that precedes the other, learned from our parents, and perhaps the worst – culled from fictional fantasies.

Disney is culpable at least for my generation’s notion that girls are princesses to be “won” and/or rescued from dreadful circumstances by handsome princes who do everything right. Did I turn those notions into expectations?  If he wasn’t perfect, move on? 
As for my parents, they separated before I was 5.   Neither one of them wants to discuss what went down, even now, 40 years later.  But I have heard.  What did I take away from that – as a very young child?  Both of them remarried, and divorced again.  The stepparents I had loved, would eventually be gone.  Did those losses contribute to how I conducted my relationships?  Did they teach me to bail before I was bailed on?  Did I learn to protect myself, by being aloof?

By the time I first met my husband, I was already shamelessly boy-crazy.  My diaries were filled with tales of this boy and that – how so-and-so was flirting with me, and how I wondered whether what’s-his-name liked me.  But I was shy.  There was nothing aggressive about me – I preferred to be the chased, not the chaser (Cinderella anyone?)  I had crushes on many, many boys – none of whom, I am sure, ever knew.   Even poor Todd didn’t have a clue I was interested until a year later, and only then because a friend of his told him that he’d better ask me out.  Well, obviously we all know what happened after that.  But we broke up, because I wanted to. 

He unknowingly set the precedent for every relationship I would ever seek.  I wanted them to be attentive, loving, smoldering beneath the surface, intelligent, funny, accepting and loving the person I was, making our time together important and necessary without smothering me.  Was all that too much to ask? 

It was always the guys who initiated the relationships. However, it was almost always me who ended them.  I left them because I fell out of love, found someone else, they were too needy, or I just left them before they could hurt me.  Still, in retrospect, I wonder how many of the guys I had truly cared for had actually known it?   There was one boy I crushed on for years – a mutual unrequited love – had reconnected with by accident one night during our early twenties – and shared one amazing, long overdue kiss (at that point in my life, it was).  And it changed … nothing.  Whatever I was to him, I would never be enough.  And really – he wasn’t IT either. 

Maybe I was too aloof with him.  Perhaps that aloofness contributed to many relationship failures.  I was even aloof with my ex-husband, so much so that he really thought I had no interest in him whatsoever (which, in retrospect, would probably have been best).  But there are no accidents, right? Perhaps all of them failed, regardless, simply because they weren’t Todd?

Maybe the handful of guys who walked away from me – or could never quite commit – did so because they were unsure of me.  Or maybe, just maybe, I was attracted to them because deep down I knew they wouldn’t work out.  And I learned to be mistrustful of their behaviors… lack of consideration, little communication, flirtations, cheating, MIA behavior, old girlfriend issues, and lying.  The list goes on. 

I lived with a guy for nearly 4 years, who had the misfortune of being born under the same sign (I should’ve known better) and having no good luck other than landing my attention for way too long.  That was, next to my first marriage, by far the most damaging relationship I was ever in.  He was a lost soul who created this illusion of being a good “Christian” boy, who just went astray and couldn’t catch a break.  I shouldn’t blame him, at least not entirely, for all the pain he caused me.  I blame myself.  Because I should never have been there in the first place.  I allowed him to treat me the way he did.  I allowed it, because I didn’t value myself enough at the time to walk away.  Because I was lost.  And I was living in this bubble just waiting for “the one” to come rescue me from it.  We all know that fairytale.  And we also know that shit ain’t real.

There was the guy who “didn’t have expectations,” because that’s how people get hurt.  Hello! Red flag!   Should’ve known better about him too.   But really – how can we be in any relationship without any expectations?? Did I have them?  Of course I did.  I expected to be treated with respect and caring.  I expected them to value me.  I expected them to keep their hands off other girls.  I expected them to treat me like Todd had.
It wasn’t until Todd and I had reconnected again, that I realized someone I dated (before I was married with kids) on and off for 6 years – whom I broke things off with not once, but three times – was the closest I had ever come to “Todd.”  I was following this map, and I kept going back because it was Todd I was unwittingly seeking.  I realized that this poor guy had so many of Todd’s qualities.  I’ve never liked hurting people. He never did anything wrong, never anything to hurt me, and his only misfortune was knowing me.  Had I been more self-aware, maybe I’d have gone looking for Todd.
In all these experiences I had with dating, I took something away.  I learned what was important to me.  Todd drew me the map when we were just 17.  And then, though I didn’t know it, I spent the next 20 years trying to recreate it – never knowing I was working my way back to the one and only one who could walk that path with me. 

What have I learned? If I could have seen Todd at the road’s end, would it have changed anything?  Probably not.  All of those experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – were lessons I needed to learn.  And Todd couldn’t be there for that.  I don’t have too many regrets.  What good would that do?  I know myself well enough to know I would not be the same person without them.  But I always had the map.

You Can’t Take It With You (But You Will) – Part 2

Todd and I somehow got involved in a conversation about a year ago, and I have no idea what precipitated it or why, but it was one of those somebody-turned-the-light-on-in-the-closet moments.  We’ve known each other a long time, though there were years we spent apart, and now only reunited for roughly 4 years.

A conversation segued into things that are triggers for him, like being accused of lying.  Nobody I have ever known is more honest than he is.  Sometimes he says things perhaps better left unsaid, but one can never accuse him of deceit.  It is simply not in his blood.  He spent a number of years with a woman who didn’t deserve him, who herself needed her own healing – not a punching bag.  I do not know her, but exchanged a few words with her in the past.  He has told me that she could be cold and cruel, accusing and mistrustful.  She carried baggage from a failed marriage, and soon enough would transfer her ex’s misdeeds to Todd.  It seems he would be positioned to answer for “John’s” bad behaviors and she projected this expectation that he would be (or was) the same man.  NOT a nice place to be. 

There was more to his side of the conversation, and it would have made this post so much more profound had I written about it a year ago when it happened.  Therefore, a great deal of his side is lost to memory now.    

Something happened one night over a year ago, while I was working at the restaurant, while Todd was there.  I was bartending.  He was hanging at the bar with me, having some food and wine, chatting with our many friends and guests.  He would of course leave the bar occasionally, for whatever reason. However, at some point I started to notice that one of our waitresses seemed to always be missing at the same time he was. At first it was just one of those, oh – where is Jane?  And eventually became, where is Todd? AND where is Jane?   It was odd because there was this uneasy feeling growing in my gut I knew was wrong but couldn’t shake.  My baggage.

Cheaters and liars.  I’ve had more than my share.  Guys who didn’t mind the (inappropriate) attention from other girls. The guy who collected phone numbers and did a pitifully poor job of hiding them.  The same guy who cheated, both with strangers andwith women I knew (who, btw, had the audacity to face me afterward), and who lied so much I don’t think even he knew the truth.  Guys who couldn’t seem to shake the old girlfriend.  And girls who didn’t respect the boundaries of others’ relationships, or me.

And then – the man who had clearly lost his marbles for a moment and actually slept with a waitress whom I had known a very long time, who was inappropriately touchy-feely with him in my absence.  She had crossed a line, but it was him who did the damage.  Whoever would suspect someone of cheating on their significant other with someone right under their nose?  Because, who in their right mind would do that in her mother’s restaurant?  Right.  And that’s exactlyhow it happened. 

I have never, ever projected mistrustful behavior on anyone I’ve dated.  But I am acutely aware of the behaviors that introduce doubt.  It has always been instinctive for me.  I would stake my entire life on Todd never being that kind of man, because I know he’s not.   
Yesterday morning I asked him what his triggers were. In his words: if someone puts you down, makes derogatory statements, or doubts the ability of their partner. Bad JUJU.  Lacks trust in me… thinks for a second that I would hurt them or do anything intentional to hurt them.  Make me feel like a bad person…. or inconsiderate because I was running later than expected…

The baggage of exes should be left behind, but we can’t help but take it with us. The baggage of simply living will go with us, wherever we go.  The trick is to be grown up enough to recognize it when it’s happening and not allow it to be destructive.  I think sometimes, no matter how much time has passed, those sneaky pieces of carry-on fall out of the overhead compartment.  The triggers are more subtle today.  Consider bad experiences in school – perhaps there were people who didn’t like me, and today I am careful to avoid people who make me uneasy.  Consider being forever interrupted by the grownups, until I stopped talking in large social situations, or seethed every time someone turned their attention away from me.  Consider being criticized for being too verbose, or repetitive, and learning the value (or detriment) of silence.

I should clarify that those triggers don’t come from Todd.  But sometimes I find myself rethinking what I will say or do, based on what my perceived reaction from Todd will be. But again, it is not Todd’s reaction that really elicits this from me.  It is from learned behaviors, from experiences that shaped me, and then I react.  And sometimes it aint pretty.

My son, who is just days away from 14 and a good 5 inches taller than I, raised his voice to me this morning.  I snapped.  I made it clear that he is not to do that, but I went over the top with it because it triggered the splinter in me that had been building since last night, when his reaction to something his sister said was textbook “dad.”  The sins of the fathers.  It is hard for me to see or hear those things.  My daughter can be rude and disrespectful, but more disturbing is her constant interrogation of me – as if I answer to her.   Thatis also a trigger. 

This time, it was Todd who reminded me that it is hard to accept those unwelcome behaviors, because I don’t love the man they come from.  I am still healing from the damage of my first marriage.  But I do love my children, and so I must reconcile those triggers by remembering who they are, knowing I hold some degree of power to forestall what would otherwise become lifelong habits.  That is an ongoing process.

Meanwhile, I am so grateful we have each other, that this is one chapter in a book we can safely close, and go on with life.  I am thankful that after all this time, our expectations match – to love and be loved, to have honesty and trust, to be treated fairly and with respect, to have laughter, consideration, understanding.

You Can’t Take It With You (But You Will) – Part 1

I recently starting following a blogger I stumbled onto via another blogger.  I liked her style, I liked her R-rated posts that seemed to be steeped in a reality that could easily have been my own.  I could relate to her, on many levels.   Apparently I happened upon her at just the right moment – her posts were heating up with her connection to another blogger with whom she developed a “relationship.” It started out innocently enough, with comments on each other’s posts, then turned to private emails, then texting, sexting, and heated long distance phone calls… until they decided to meet face to face.  And thenthings got hotter.  

They both, in their separate blogs – because by association I was now reading his blog – wrote about that wildly hot weekend.  But more than that – they were in love.  Like a Hollywood screenplay, these two star-crossed lovers – victims of circumstances not quite of their own choosing – were in love with each other and were separated not only by miles, but by continents.

I was hooked.  And these two were posting every day.  Suddenly, I felt that old twinge of excitement I used to have, that accompanied the flick of the tv switch to my favorite soap opera.  They wrote about their feelings for each other.  They wrote about the sex (in more detail than a woman whose husband is at work all day should be reading).  They wrote about missing each other. They wrote about how they were going to overcome the distance.  They wrote about how they could work out the need to “keep options open.”  They wrote about the next encounter – his visit to her city and meeting her friends and family. And there was nothing childish or unreasonable about either of them – they were realistically mature about the whole matter.

I was so hooked, that I started feeling that skepticism that is natural for Todd in the face of what is, and what is not, reality.  I told him about the blogs.  I told him that there was every possibility that these two bloggers cooked up this story to pull in more followers.  Because, dammit, I certainly couldn’t wait to hear more.   He nodded his ascension that reality is only what others want you to perceive.

Nevertheless, even the little skeptic in me wondered – with such an epic tale, wasn’t it destined to crash and burn in the face of theirreality?  Unfortunately, I was right, and I didn’t have to wait long to see it happen.  The issues surrounding the distance, as well as her own present need to be free to explore her new world beyond the confines of an unfulfilling marriage, led to a sort of fallout.  You see, they had agreed to be realistic, and therefore open with their relationship… and further agreed to be honest with each other about “encounters” with others.  The trouble is, he really didn’t mean it.  When she was invited to a weekend away with a “friend,” he had a meltdown.  She felt she needed to go.  His sudden revelation (whether misguided or not) that while she did love him – he wasn’t enough for her – was too much.  Cue downward spiral, marinated in alcohol.

She was upset, and hurt. And working through the process that follows.  She questioned things, she got angry, she realized she couldn’t give up what was right for her, so that it could be “right” for him.  He essentially shut down his blog and moved it to another site, to put some more distance between them.  And then he did what so many guys do – I’m done talking about this, I’m logging off for a while, I’m gonna live monk-like and shun television, radio, and all humans until I figure some shit out.  But just as predictable – he didn’t stay gone for more than a couple days.  Then another short and somewhat cryptic post that I dispassionately saw as only weakness and a cry for sympathy that told us nothing.

Meanwhile, she asked her readers for some advice/insight.  My comment: I firmly believe in “there are no accidents.”   Me, the long-winded windbag, left a 1-line comment.  And so she asked me, and I answered further:
Do you believe that everything happens for a reason?
To some extent, yes…. I believe that the people who come into our lives have some purpose, and, to use a tired cliche, if it was meant to be, it will be. Sometimes the reason is to affect you, and sometimes the reason is for you to affect them. I think you and **** really have/had something – but you have to be in the same place (and I don’t mean necessarily literally) in order for it to work. From an outside-looking-in perspective, I think it was you who affected the change in him. Now is a time for growth for him (and, from his most recent blog posts, it sounds like he knows it). And for you – it continues to be a time for healing (from the life you used to live). Perhaps you both will have to come full circle (sorry – another cliche) in order to see if you’ll be standing in the same place. I do hope that happens (everybody loves a happy ending). If it doesn’t, it’ll be okay. What’s really cool about it, is that his reaction to you (what precipitated the whole break down) awakened your spidey senses and reminded you of what’s important in a partner.
I just totally got sucked in by their story, and I feel for both of them.  I’m a die-hard romantic – I want everyone to find love that is passionate and worthwhile and fulfilling.  I found myself invested in their happiness.  I related to her.  I cared about them.  I believedin these two strangers.  I was crushed when I read their separate posts about their demise.  And it got me to thinking about relationships, about my own past relationships, about others’ relationships, how expectations can kill a love affair, and though by the time we get to that age where we should be mature enough to be over the bullshit, we still carry the baggage we claimed on that carousel 20 years ago.
And this was the subject of a revealing conversation Todd and I had nearly a year ago, about the baggage we’ve brought into this relationship.

We’re Not Healthy!

A friend of mine shared an article entitled, “14 Things All Healthy Couples Do.”  I am easily bored and often impatient when reading so I don’t often read articles that don’t just “grab” me.  But this – well, she kinda sorta said some of the stuff grossed her out.  Intrigued, I clicked on the link. You can find the original article here.

I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging on us all the time, but I like to think Todd and I have found the Holy Grail – or – rather less epically stated – I think we’re pretty healthy.  But, I soon learned, we aren’t meeting all the criteria and therefore are not as healthy as we should be!!

  1. “Share the shower.”  I’m sorry, there is nothing enjoyable about one person standing under the showerhead, while the other shivers against the cold shower wall. And I can promise you bravery has NOTHING to do with getting down on my knees to use my expensive body scrub on his feet.  I guess we will have to find a way, if we want to be a “healthy couple.” Clinging to each other under the water stream while simultaneously attempting to get clean, because I can assure you, that’s about all that’s going down in there, is how it’s supposed to be done folks.
  2. “Pop each other’s pimples.”  Todd, I am so disappointed that we have never done this!  Why have you not asked me to pop your pimples?  Oh wait – you never have any.  You never have any!  I don’t know if it counts if you’re the only one picking zits.  How dysfunctional! OMG – what are we going to do?!    
  3. “Make fast-food runs at 2AM.”  I knew it!  I told him we needed to go to McDonald’s that time we were starving in the middle of the night.  It just isn’t good enough to make homemade nachos together – we have to actually drivesomewhere in order to be healthy.
  4. “Binge-watch TV shows.”  Well, now finally we got something right.  If the scandalous and ruthless Frank Underwood didn’t do it, watching the continuous cycle of brutality, death, and violence on Sons of Anarchy has definitely brought us closer together. 
  5. “Watch the same TV show while you’re in different places.  Ok Todd – remember all those nights we spent in separate states, forced to watch House of Cards alone?  Well, we were super healthy then.  Though I love sleeping next to you every night now, you’re just going to have to sleep at your parents’ once in a while – because every TV show we watch in the same house is tearing us apart.
  6. “Occupy certain positions and sides of the bed.”  Whew! Thank GOD we do this already.  I was starting to get really nervous.
  7. “Use the bathroom together.”  I’m sorry Todd, I know I’ve been a little – you know – private about needing to use the bathroom, but I promise, from this day forward, I’m gonna barge right in while you’re brushing your teeth and sit down on that porcelain throne and show you what a Queen I am!  And don’t you hesitate to unleash that that-which-cannot-be-unseen bathroom event while I’m taking a shower.  We’re gonna be soooo healthy!!!
  8. “Snuggle.”  Phew! Check off another one!  We got this. 
  9. “Pick where and what to eat together.”  We’ve got a problem.  Our conversations always start like this: What are you hungry for/where do you want to eat?  I don’t know/I don’t care…where do you want to eat?  Doesn’t matter, whatever you want is fine with me.  Well, I don’t really have a preference.  Why don’t you pick?  Really, you can choose.  Really.  If we can’t decide TOGETHER Todd – we’re doomed.
  10. “Make each other laugh.” Cheesy jokes only we find funny? Our own bad voiceovers for those movies on the SyFy channel? Inventing scenarios where we play practical jokes on others?  Check, check, and check.  We definitely have this one in the bag.
  11. “Change clothes in front of each other.”  Wait – this is healthy too?  Wow – we got another one right and we didn’t even have to try!  Yay!
  12. “Tolerate Aunt Flo.”  A guy in a healthy relationship “always asks if you need something: Do you want chocolate?  Do you have tampons? Compress warm enough?” ???  Todd – you are not doing this for me!!  For the love of Flo, how can we ever be healthy if you’re not concerned about my inventory of feminine supplies?
  13. “Choose good topics for date night.”  Do we have to choose good topics? Why not bad ones?  Why do we have to choose at all?  OMG – I don’t even know what a good topic is!  I thought people in healthy relationships just let conversation flow, and now my anxiety meter is blowing up because we don’t ever decide in advance what we’ll talk about over that dinner we can’t decide on together!! 
  14. “Make pillow talk.”  Not the dirty kind – get your mind out of the gutter!  Healthy couples share the tales of their day and they give a shit about the other’s troubles and triumphs.  “And then you fall asleep in each other’s arms.”  We aren’t falling asleep in each other’s arms often enough, Todd.  You know, the snuggling (the part above that we got right) is only half of healthy – we should be falling asleep with your arm under me, and my face to your neck in an impossible angle.  What do you mean you can’t breathe like that? And your arm is going numb?  So what.  That cramp in my neck will be fine after 600 mg of ibuprofen.  Our relationship is headed to hell in a handbasket – buck up!

All in all – I am worried.  Very worried indeed. We only have 5 out of 14 covered… a mere 36%!!!  We’re not healthy enough!  What marriage can survive such negligence?!  

There’s Something Wrong With My House

Something’s wrong with my house.  I woke up the other morning, and saw it.  My house is infected with something, and I’m not sure what to do!

I keep finding them all over the floors, and what’s worse – they multiply.  It makes no difference how many times I pick one up, there’s always more.  And the truth is, I guess, they’ve always been there.  Though lately, it seems to be spreading.

Some are big, some are small, some in-between.  Most of them are black, but then a few of them have different colors, or dots on them.

But the most maddening part of it? NO ONE else sees them but me.  I’ve seen them in the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the living room, the dining room… I have even found them in my bed!  The only place I haven’t seen them – the one place I would expect to find them – is our hampers. 

I’ve heard tales of other people finding them in hampers, but I don’t recall the last time I saw one in ours.  If other people have them, they don’t talk about it.  Am I the only one?

And then I start to worry, you know, that maybe it’s me.  It could be.  After all, I am the only one that sees them.  Even the dogs don’t see them.  They walk right past them, or step on them, without so much as a sniff.  I’ve seen the cat lying on top of them.  Thankfully, they don’t stick to his fur.

I’m afraid that I will never stop seeing them.  If I stop picking them up, I’m afraid it will get so bad that I won’t be able to have people over.  The weird thing is, my parents were over last weekend and I saw two big black ones on the floor in the living room, but they didn’t even notice!

Then again – if I do stop picking them up – ever – maybe others will start seeing them. Or, at the very least, start looking for them.  Since they won’t be finding them in their dresser drawers.