A few weeks ago, I started writing about love. I mean, that’s obviously not true if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time. I’ve written a lot about love. And pain. And depression. And self-loathing. Weirdly enough, at some point, all of those things intertwine. If I had to guess, I’d say that in my very early childhood, I somehow learned that achievement was the key to being loved, and it sent me down the shit-strewn pathway that is perfectionism, inevitable failure, chronic procrastination, anxiety, depression, inability to effectively communicate my needs to others, and look, here we are! Woohoo! Awesome, gotta love psychology – here’s a primer on perfectionism and anxiety disorders, if you’re interested.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about love. Or specifically, the second of two lessons that I’ve gleaned in my 36 odd (and I do mean “odd”) years here on Planet Whatsitsname. If you want to see Lesson #1, it’s not here. Go to this other place.
Whew, now that we’re rid of that guy (cheeky bastard, trying to read ahead!), let’s get on with things…
Lesson #2: Autonomy
This one is otherwise known as “Am I my lover’s keeper?” The answer, in case you’re wondering, is a resounding NO.
My friend’s mom has this wonderful saying, and I know that I’ve probably recounted it here before, but I’m going to do it again (#sorrynotsorry). She says that your partner shouldn’t be the meat and potatoes of your life. Instead, they should be the strawberries and cream. In a relationship, it’s our job to make life sweet for our partners, while we learn to be our own “meat and potatoes” – to create a life that sustains and nurtures ourselves.
In other words, your lover can’t be your everything, and you shouldn’t be your lover’s everything. That’s an extremely unhealthy way of living. As good as it may feel to lean on each other, that’s not a sustainable, long term solution. If you’re not leaning equally on each other (which presents its own unique struggle), one of you is weighing the other down. In either of these situations, your structural integrity WILL fail in the end. It’s only a matter of time.
For those of us who love to nurture, who just want to be helpful and kind, it is natural to want to give everything we have to make our loved ones happy, healthy, and whole. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best for those around you. But people who give freely of themselves can lose track, and be taken advantage of by trusted loved ones. When we instinctively give, give, give, we attract people who instinctively accept, accept, accept (and in the most negative situation, those who take, take, take). It’s easy to feel fulfilled by the joy of being a kind person and doing good things for the people we love, but that won’t keep the emotional lights on forever. Codependency might not be malicious. It feels like love. It feels like symbiosis. But it’s not – it’s parasitism, and it makes both of you even weaker. The partner who never learned to take care of their own needs (be they physical, emotional, psychological, etc.) is never going to learn if there’s no impetus to change. Meanwhile, the partner who rejoices in offering too much care is most likely neglecting their own needs and deficiencies.
I know now that the only way forward is to create a language of reciprocal joy with my partner. Of course I want to share in the story of their life. I want to know when the day goes wrong, and when it goes right. I want to be there to lend a hand when I’m needed – that’s what partners do, after all. But I am not there to carry all that weight for the long haul. And it’s not their job to carry mine. It’s my job to be a grown up and learn how to shoulder my burdens when I can, when to graciously accept a little relief, and how to recognize when it’s my turn to take on some extra weight. Mostly, though, it’s about walking side-by-side, enjoying whatever the path brings our way. It’s about bringing sweetness to a difficult day when we can, but also not being daunted when we can’t. In the end, we are not our lovers’ keepers. Which leads me to an unexpected third lesson…
Lesson #3: Love isn’t an external process.
It’s an internal alchemy. It isn’t more valid because you have someone to share it with, will it towards, or spend it on. Love doesn’t require a physical object to exist, and I suspect that once love is sparked, no matter the catalyst, there will always be an ember held safe in your heart, willing itself back into full flame. We can easily be our own sweetness, if we just let ourselves remember how.