Learn From My Mistakes
It is possible.
As the pinks and oranges known only to Mother Nature’s splendor filled the sky and I marveled, alone, from the deck of the cruise ship (October 2019, pre-Covid) the irony that the sun was also setting on my marriage was not lost on me. Maybe you’ve been there? In a relationship where the person across the bed (or in this case, the lido deck) is just gone. And nothing you can do will bring them back. It’s a terrible kind of rock bottom. Made worse by the fact we were “celebrating” ten years of pretty phenomenal marriage. That last year and a half was a doozy.
As the lights faded, so did my self-pity. Not one to wallow in a problem, I hurled myself head-first down Solution Lane. My setting seemed fitting for a heart-to-heart with the Universe, so I discussed, in detail, what I wanted in my next partner: someone with a connection to the Divine; someone who was as good, if not better than me in Salsa; and oh yeah, could he drink red wine instead of beer (who wants to kiss beer breath?). The list went on and on.
The week we got back from the cruise, I was served the divorce papers (that still hurts to type). Two weeks later, I had my first conversation with a wonderful Salsa dancer who had taken my group classes for years. I would often use him as an example for my other leads, but we’d never really gotten to know each other. Suffice to say, that changed rather rapidly.
Here was my gift from the Universe. He was my age, successful, never married, no kids, fun to dance with, didn’t drink beer, well read, eloquent, and he would read the Bible to me during our 3–4hr nightly phone conversations. (While I don’t agree with everything the Bible says, hearing it from his baritone made me more of a believer.)
He was studied. The way this man spoke of love would bring Shakespeare to his knees. He read C.S. Lewis to me:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Little did I know, he was reading it as a mantra.
Dating him was like a vacation. As soon as my kids were away, we would spend the weekend wrapped in each other’s gaze — dancing, eating, reading, loving (though never in that exact order). He told me I was the first “equal” he had dated. We pondered what that meant about his choices…then made out. (As I read this now, I’m sickened I missed that red flag because I know some of the fantastic women he’s dated.)
He told me he wanted to take me to his hometown to meet his mom and sister. Yet when his mom came to spend Christmas with him, we never even had lunch. He wouldn’t take me to church with him, because he was well known among the parishioners and didn’t want to face the inevitable barrage of questions. I understood. After all, we were still new.
But when he rescinded his invitation to vacation with him in San Francisco over Valentine’s weekend, I was less disillusioned. He was going to be dancing Salsa and didn’t want to be dancing with me. In fact, I broke up with him Valentine’s night. It was fun while it lasted. Good luck and go with God.
A few days later (once he was back in town) he wrote me the most eloquent apology I’ve ever received. I reeled. What am I doing letting this man go?! Trepidatious, we talked as we held each other. About his armor; about my insecurity; about how soothing it was to be in each other’s arms. Not surprisingly, we got back together.
You know that feeling of relief that comes when you can first use a healed limb that’s been broken? You expect pain, but you find freedom because you can use your body as nature intended again. Glorious! Well, this wasn’t that. This was more like a hangnail you keep getting lime juice or salt in. Dammit! Why won’t that heal already? We were both more sensitive after that. Waiting for that next arrow to come flying in from any which direction.
“He doesn’t want to come see me tonight after class? Who does he want to go see?” I would think. “She doesn’t want to spend the weekend with me like we planned, she wants to take a workshop with some West Coast Swing champions. Hmm?” He pondered. And so on and so forth until we were more guarded than vulnerable.
Then it happened: Quarantine. And lo and behold, he was letting a single, attractive, female friend come quarantine with him. Now, I am a fairly confident woman. I am fun to be around in more ways than one. I am also wise enough to know chaining a human will only make him/her more crazed to break free. However, I’m a realist as well — and have a fair share of guy friends who confide in me — so I’m no idiot. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to picture what will transpire if two attractive people are stuck in the same house together.
Of course, he said they were only friends and there was no agenda, but it ripped my hangnail clean off and while I bled out, I called him a coward and hung up on him. Can you believe I felt guilty the next day? (In truth, I shouldn’t have resorted to name calling. That’s juvenile and quite unattractive in one’s 40’s.) So, I apologized.
Months later I discovered he did in fact sleep with her, for a couple months, until he kicked her out. Shocker.
I digress. After that break up, I was devastated. Not so much by the fact we were over as the fact I’d been dropped unceremoniously by not one, but two pretty fantastic men. Neither of them wanted to fight for me. What was wrong with me?
See my mistake? I needed them to love me. To fight for me. The second man even more than the first, because the first admitted he loved me — even as he was divorcing me.
Why didn’t I fight for my damn self? Why couldn’t I love myself? Why did I need validation in the eyes of another? Is it the human condition? Or, perhaps more accurately, the human flaw?
Why couldn’t I recognize this man’s M.O. of dating women for six months, then finding a reason it wouldn’t work. As I said, I knew two of these women. I knew them to be intelligent, kind, strong women. But mistake #2 was letting my ego run rampant. I thought I could love him better. And mistake #3 was believing I was competing against these women. (A lie the patriarchy has poisoned us with that I refuse to believe even one second longer.)
Ladies! We are not each other’s competition! We are each other’s guiding light!! I see that now. And I’m ever so thankful for it.
I read a beautiful post from Jamila White @inspiredjamila:
“Extreme independence IS. A. TRUST. ISSUE…it’s a preemptive strike against heartbreak…it’s a trauma response” and I thought of this guy — and of the younger “down with love” version of me.
I realized there is no woman who can love him enough because he has to learn to love himself. No one can conquer his trust issue but him. He knows where his wounds are. He just has to choose to heal them.
Jamila goes on to say:
“You are worthy of love… You are worthy of having true partnership… You are worthy of having your heart held…You are worthy. Simply because you exist.”
So for those of you reading this fumbling around for love as we tend to do:
- Take your Time.
I’ve never been particularly good at accepting this advice, so I feel you if you’re cringing right now, but I once tore my ACL and it took more than six months to heal. I didn’t even give my heart six weeks to heal from a 13yr relationship?! In hindsight, not my wisest decision. But it was because I thought this man was a gift from the Universe. Which brings me to point #2:
- Don’t think a man is the answer to your prayers. Be your own answer.
Even after I knew my husband was gone, I pleaded and prayed he would come back. Finally, I realized he was never going to ride in on a white horse with a bouquet of apologies. I would have to mount my own horse. (Which actually works for me because I love the wind in my hair!)
Now I’m making strides in my career I doubt I would have made by his side. (Love has a way of making me…content.) But to see my children wonder if I’ll make my dreams come true alone…that’s gasoline.
- Recognize when your ego is having a field day at your experience…and Close the Fucking Field!
With my ex-husband, my ego was deeply wounded that he would leave me. Now, while I’ve become a more whole woman on my own, and I like her, I fear the pain our egos have caused our children. We’re doing well as friends, but I know our kids desperately want us back together. Someday, once I’ve come to terms with it, perhaps I’ll write an article about that.
With the ex-boyfriend, there were all kinds of red flags I was too willing to ignore. He came to me at my weakest point. Glaring red flag! But I so coveted the shoulder to cry on, and the kickstand he propped me back up with when he said, “You’re worth it” I chose to ignore it. Just like I chose to ignore his M.O. I thought I could be enough. He’ll see. This time will be different. I’ll heal him.
Ladies, please, learn from this mistake. When someone’s actions fail to align with their moral beliefs, trouble follows. Don’t walk, sprint the other way. Save yourself. Don’t harpoon yourself trying to be someone else’s savior. I know the nurturer in us is strong, but let’s stop dying on that cross.
Hell, with all the pressure society puts on women, we have enough work healing ourselves. And while we’re on that topic: women, can we stop pressuring other women? Please! The stay-at-home-mom guilt. The working-mom guilt. The you’re-not-a-mom?! guilt. The fat guilt. The too skinny guilt. The “if only…” guilt. It’s sooooo exhausting. We are nurturers. Let’s nurture each other!!
But back to ego, I’ve realized my ego tends to idealize the men I love. Must stop doing that. There’s got to be a line between seeing the best in people and seeing what’s right in front of your face.
When last we spoke, my ex-boyfriend was weighing stepping away from the church and confessed he wants it all. (In full context, he wants to sleep with as many women as he can.) There’s nothing wrong with that. Women are incredibly sexy! I totally get it. The only fault is in lying to these women — pretending to be something he’s not. Which brings me to my next point:
- Be honest.
One thing I’ve learned is: it’s not hard to be honest with each other. It’s hard to be honest with ourselves.
Jamila notes, “The inability to receive support from others is a trauma response. The good news is trauma that is acknowledged is trauma that can be healed.”
I was served. A 22yr old stranger knew I was getting divorced before I did. That stings. In fact, the morning I got the papers, I remember kissing my husband goodbye saying, “We will find a solution that works for everyone.” Told you: Solution Lane.
But I can’t be anyone else’s solution. My ex-husband believes he can’t “get over” two instances that happened in our marriage. (No, infidelity was not one of them.) As long as he believes that, it’ll be true. He could do the work. He could realize he’s not really mad/disappointed with me, but himself. Just as I am truly disappointed in myself for granting the divorce. For failing our children, our family, and friends. For feeling like a failure at all. Surely I could have fought longer.
I couldn’t. My ego wouldn’t let me. Nor did my husband’s.
Then in my next relationship, I was played by a beautiful liar. I was preyed upon. I was treated like all his other women. I found out later, he would sometimes call one of his exes and talk with her for hours after getting off the phone with me. And he would call her Baby. Ouch. Feeling duped, sucks.
There’s my utter honesty. There’s my relationship trauma.
Now, I could use these occurrences to punish myself and the next few men in my life. To believe no man has staying power. All men are liars. I’ll never find love. Totally fair, right?? I love paying for the sins of others. Don’t you? Or…
I can learn to detect whether words and actions align. Ah. Much better.
I can vow to be honest. Not just in an everyday type of way, but I can disclose my pain and fear, as opposed to pretending I’m peachy.
Not being loved by a “great man” was terrifying to me. I had unknowingly attached a large chunk of my worth to a man’s love. To this, I’d just like to say, “Fuck you, patriarchy. Your reign in my life is over.”
No man is more worthy of my love than I am. Which brings me to me final point:
- Start with yourself. Learn to love yourself before you hold another’s heart.
I found the easiest way to do this is to contemplate how your Creator loves you (regardless of your spiritual beliefs). Focus on how magical and life-giving a breath is. Try to wrap your brain around how many astonishing things transpired for you to be the unique individual you are today. It’s absolutely Mind Blowing!
Do things you enjoy doing. Learn. Create. Dream…then make a plan to attain those dreams. It won’t all be roses and rainbows, but it will give you a sense of who you are and help you see why you are worthy. Not that you have to “dance monkey, dance”. It’s just your way, whatever that way may be, of showing gratitude for this gift of Life. The more you do you, the more you can, as Brené Brown so eloquently puts it:
“Stop working your shit out on other people.”
But how? Where’s the line between working on our flaws and loving ourselves for who we are? And who is painting these lines? Can we please give them a bigger brush??
To be honest, for me, it’s a daily challenge. But one I embrace. I relish catching my temper ten seconds after it’s reared its ugly head. (It used to take me days to calm down! Occasionally, it still does. Hey, we’re being honest:) I’ll be beside myself when I can stop it before it bucks. I’ve caught glimpses. It’s very exciting!
But even if I never master my flaws, I’m still worthy of love. As is my ex-husband. As is my ex-boyfriend. As are you. Stop looking for answers outside of the gift that is already you. Release that devilish ego. Revel in honesty. And move from love.
Thanks for reading. Happy learning. And happy loving!