I’ve always been somewhat of a hopeless romantic. I love the idea of a grand gesture for the holiday where someone declares their undying love and affection. This year has been pretty low key but also better than previous years. I spent quality time with my significant other without the hassle of trying to outdo anyone or prove that the actions of one day are an indication of the level of commitment of both partners. I saw a slew of v-day posts on social media and this year I was particularly annoyed with the amount of meaningless advice that attached women posted and addressed directly to “single women.” The “wait and see” approach to finding a significant other is outdated and is rarely ever effective. One thing that I’ve learned is the importance of letting go of comparisons to other relationships. Everyone is different and there’s not a “one size fits all” approach to relationships. It’s important to build your relationship the way that you and your partner want it. Create your own personal definition of fidelity and commitment through discussion with your partner and be ok with the fact that it may look different than other relationships. There’s too much at stake to not be honest with yourself about what you want and what you expect from a partner.
I ran across an article recently and it described many of my thoughts and feelings as I reflect on my life and the past few years specifically. Life can be challenging for empaths and feeling your own emotions plus the emotions of others can be taxing and difficult. On the professional front it took me years to be able to sleep without staying up and worrying about the problems that my clients had. There aren’t many things I read where I find myself agreeing with almost everything the author states and I have to admit that this author shared a fear that I have as well. And maybe fear is the wrong word because it’s not a perception and there is a good chance that it might happen. You can read the article here. There’s a huge opportunity for growth when we are willing to be honest with ourselves and face our fears head on despite not always feeling adequate to do so. It’s not a quick thing but I think that the results are worth the self-work and intentionality that are required.
On a recent 11 hour flight I had the opportunity to catch up on some movies that I did not make an effort to see while they were in theaters and I ran across Nobody’s Fool. The premise of the movie is pretty simple. There’s a successful woman who has a sister released from prison and the sister comes to stay with her. This woman is in a yearlong relationship with a guy she has never met in person. The movie revolves around finding out the truth about the mystery guy and a budding romance between her and a local coffee shop owner. However, the more subtle messages that seem to accompany most of Tyler Perry’s movies were definitely front and center with this one. Most of his movies involves a successful woman who is missing out because she won’t give a guy with a colored background a chance. Or, the heroine is with a good guy already but she wants excitement so she gives it up for someone more attractive and loses everything in the end. In this particular movie, the main character was struggling with being attracted to someone with a felony and history of substance abuse. But he had changed his life and was now a productive member of society. It’s not a secret that everyone is not born with the same opportunities. Mistakes that are made between the ages of 15 and 25 can drastically change the trajectory of someone’s life. While I understand the importance of not judging someone based on their past, it’s also important to take their past into consideration. The movie ended on a happy note with the successful woman professing her love for the changed man in the rain. She had found someone who loved her but she just needed to look past his past. It was a (seemingly) lovely message but the real world tends to be just a bit more complicated. Changed people aren’t always changed and sometimes old habits can die hard.
Lately I have been watching a show called 90 Day Fiancé. It has been so interesting to watch the relational ramifications of a cross continental move where one person has to adjust to a new country, a new person and a new culture. One thing that strikes me is that there is usually a pretty significant age gap between the engaged couple. The show documents the 90 day period before the couple either gets married or one returns back to their country. Another thing that strikes me is the fact that these couples don’t really know each other. They don’t have the history together that would lend itself to an intimate understanding of the other person. Because of this there are a lot of disagreements and conflict as they seek to navigate a life together. The family and friend relationships play a huge role in the couple’s life and understandably so. However, there is usually always some tension as family members adjust to the new person and the relationship. The show is eye opening and also somewhat addictive because there are so many emotions and feelings involved and you can watch the ups and downs of how the couples manage their relationship.
Lately I’ve started to watch a new show that has both intrigued me while simultaneously horrifying me. Usually I try to watch light hearted tv shows because my empath sense is very strong and I work in a helping field. The show that I’ve been watching is called Handmaids and it’s on Hulu. One thing I will say is that it’s definitely not a comedy but if you want a thought provoking and extreme view of what might be the future then it’s a must see. But that’s not what this post is about. One of the main characters said, “you like because, you love despite.” And honestly that’s the truth. I work with couples who have lost so much of their original passion and excitement for each other because things have become so mundane. They’ve taken each other for granted and it has taken a terrible toll on the relationship. The emotional connection is very strained or sometimes nonexistent. I think many times people think that therapy fixes everything but it doesn’t. The truth is that therapy can give you the tools that you need to be successful in your relationship. It takes a lot of effort and intentionality to change the trajectory of a relationship but it definitely can be done if both people want it and are willing to work on it. One person cannot sustainably carry the whole relationship on their back. It can happen for a while but there are always consequences. One thing I really enjoy doing with the couples I work with is doing exercises that help them remember why they fell in like with each other and what made them love the other person. It’s always eye opening and helps to start the process of reconnecting with each other.
I admit that I struggle with the general idea that one has to “qualify” in order to get married. There’s this list of things that single women are given and expected to accomplish before they are ready to get married. We tell our girls that boys will always be there and to get their education first. You’re expected to work on yourself, do fun things, finish school, pay off debt, and get a decent job among other things before you qualify for marriage. Now granted, my story is different in that while I’ve always wanted to get married, I had a feeling that I would be on the road less traveled for a long time. I just didn’t anticipate how long it would be. I was hoping for 25 but now I’m pushing 30 without any actual potential mate on the horizon. I find it frustrating when I’m told that there’s something that I’m doing wrong or just haven’t done yet that makes me unqualified to be married. I see people all day, I’m a good listener, I can hold an emotionally safe place and challenge the perspectives of others in a way that is non-threatening and supportive. I’m the sole provider of my household of one and while I’m not rich, bills do get paid and I travel once in a while. I recently completed the highest educational level one can achieve (PhD) and yet the Universe still apparently sees me as unqualified for a mate. I’m all about doing the work but shit, being alone gets old after a while. I’ve learned how to self soothe and what to do to calm myself down but there are times that I’d sell my soul for a hug and the knowledge that someone has my back. Yes, I’m approached by guys but so far they aren’t ready for anything serious or want me to finance their lives and take care of them. Neither is an option I want to live with. It sounds corny but I want to matter to someone. Really matter. I haven’t found that yet and the older I get the less optimistic I am. It’s just exhausting and tiring doing it alone all the time and while I’ll always do what I have to do, I wish things were different.
I realized that I’ve posted some bad date stories but to be fair and to also (maybe) inspire some sense of optimism in my seemingly string of endless romantic bad luck I’ll write about a good date that I’ve had. I moved to a new place and I updated one of my social media accounts to show my new location. But let me take a few steps back. I’m a big fan of not having public social media pages. I like to be able to choose who sees what I post. There was a guy that I added for the very simple reason that he was cute and what he posted had substance. So for the past few years we didn’t interact but followed each other on social media. Fast forward to me coming to the new place. He commented on my post that he lived nearby and that we should hang out sometime. So a few weeks later we messaged and decided on a time and location. I was excited but had no idea what to expect. It was a public place but honestly you never know when you’re meeting someone in person for the first time. He was a good looking guy but for some reason I imagined that he was shorter than average because of the angles of the pictures he posted. Nothing wrong with that. So I arrived at the restaurant early and proceeded to order food and a drink. I didn’t know if he would decide to show up and I didn’t want to wait forever, plus I was hungry. But I picked a seat that faced the door so I would see him if he decided to come through. I’m enjoying my food and I see him walk past the windows and into the front door. Up to this point I had only swooned over a guy twice or so. Once when I walked past Brian McKnight in college and once when I was in Paris. This was the third time. I saw him and felt the air leave my lungs. I immediately felt my ears getting warm and I think my jaw literally dropped. Dude was fine. Not regularly fine where you can glance, smile, and keep it moving. The kind where you stop in your tracks and and stare while trying to decide if it’s worth it to take a picture to document the moment. He spotted me and came over to say hi and give me a hug before we moved to a different part of the restaurant. He ordered drinks and we started chatting. Great conversation that didn’t have those awkward silences. Found out that we had some things in common. I’m also mentally checking off things on my unofficial checklist of what I’d ideally like. Dude is passing with FLYING colors. Corporate with a twinge of bad boy? Check. Well read and well spoken? Check. Has a passport and travels? Check. Goals and ambition? Check. So I’m just enjoying the moment and focusing on the present. Another unaccompanied woman comes into the restaurant and sits close to us. She orders a complicated drink and frustrates the already swamped bartender. Then she starts to low key flirt with my guy. I’ll admit that I started to feel some twinges of annoyance and possessiveness but he shuts her down effortlessly. Bonus points for him. It was a good evening. We chatted for about 5 hours about anything and everything under the sun. It was never officially stated as a date and I was fully prepared to pay for my food and drinks and as the evening went on he started ordering drinks as we continued to talk. The bill came and he paid for it without complaint despite me half heartedly offering to pay for my portion. I’ve heard that if a guy pays than it should be considered a date. The bill was close to $200 bucks so I guess it officially counted as a date. He walked me to my car and walked on the outside curb. Great guy, good time, no complaints.
Relationships can be tricky things. There isn’t a “one size fits all” formula that will work everyone. People want someone who will complement them because opposites tend to attract and it’s hard to have a good discussion when someone agrees with you ALL the time. But sometimes a relationship can develop into something like a hostage situation. You’ve seen it. There’s the couple who are always fighting and are constantly breaking up and getting back together again. One partner is always trying to distance themselves but they can’t stay away. The other person knows exactly what buttons to push and what to say in order to have the other partner cave in and stay with them as an emotional hostage. It’s a cycle of dysfunction that has become comfortable. While some people can end a relationship and remain friends, the best way to end an emotional hostage type of relationship is to stop having any contact with the person. Change your number, find a new hobby, move somewhere else, etc. It can absolutely be done but it takes effort, determination, and action to move on with your life and leave the dysfunction behind.
This past week I had a chance to do one of my favorite things in the world–vacation. I honestly don’t know how people live life without taking a break from everything and recharging. There’s nothing like it in the world and as someone who tends to internalize everything, it’s good to take a break. For the first time in my life I took a cruise and it was amazing. There’s absolutely nothing that compares to sleeping to the rocking of the ship and the sounds of the waves from your open balcony. From the unlimited drinks to the cute guy I met, to swimming with dolphins, to snorkeling for the first time, the trip was a raging success. I’ll definitely be cruising somewhere again soon. I don’t usually post pictures but I’ll make an exception. Best trip of 2016!
Getting to know someone takes time. It’s not something that happens overnight or without some sort of effort. As a hopeless romantic of sorts,I love the idea of a whirlwind romance. But as a therapist, I’ve worked with couples who got together without taking the time to get to know each other. Relationships aren’t always easy to maintain and I think that distance tends to make them more complicated. Of course with modern technology you can communicate and see the other person on a frequent basis but it’s not the same as having the person be physically present. It takes a lot of time and energy to be in a relationship with someone that you don’t see often. I remember reading an article somewhere that said long distance relationships can work when they are for a specified period of time. They become harder to maintain when the time apart (weeks or months) is undetermined. I think that it’s especially hard if the relationship started online because you don’t have the experience of the initial chemistry in person and the process of building trust with someone you’ve never seen in real life is difficult. It’s not hard to feel alone in a long distance relationship and find yourself seeking out companionship that lives locally. I read a quote that said,”if you aren’t with the one you love, you’ll end up loving the one you’re with.” I think that’s a great example of how some relationships meet their demise. Absence can make the heart grow fonder but it doesn’t happen all the time.