The Way We Were(n't)
“Your girl is lovely Hubbell”
~ Katie to Hubbell in the closing moments of The Way We Were
Katie’s words sting with bittersweet recognition of a romantic love that was never meant to last - a love built on a house of cards.
They say that we teach what we need to learn. No wonder then, I have chosen to be a love and relationship coach. Recently I found myself with my own house of cards relationship - its foundation built from an imaginary deck with invisible walls and fragile, untimely connections.
He was my love, but not my lover, my friend, but not my forever, my soulmate, but not my "Soul Equal." It was illusory romantic love at its best.
Often, we can’t see the actual forest for our own fanciful trees.
I was seduced by sweetness, attraction, admiration and praise that came to me through the artificial means of technology. An online, instant message relationship at first, that had its fair share of warning signs. But as is the nature with this type of connection, we project our fantasy onto the screen and I certainly plastered him with projection.
We had talk, lots of it, but without testimony, emoticons instead of evidence, banter without backbone, vulnerability without vows. I ignored his confessed emotional shortcomings and readiness for anything solid. I turned a lustful cheek to his reality and instead focused on the one I was steadily creating in my mind. Egotism is incredibly seductive.
It was love in a fragmented way. It was desire for the glamorized (yet truthfully still unknown) parts, with faith firmly planted in potential for the rest. It was a pumped up, hyped up, steroid version of reality that had me regularly feasting on dangling carrots.
And for f**ks sake, I ignored everything in me that knew better!
At a certain point we all get the deal about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but when it comes to love, all bets are off.
I ask myself why I so wanted/needed to see it differently - and the hard core truth is this: In my version, he validated me with his decision to choose me. In my version, I am lovable, desirable, special and worthy of his attention. In my version, I am everything I want to believe about myself, yet still, at times, struggle to give to myself.
I thought I had outgrown this stuff and risen above my self worth demons. But the lessons hang around until they are no longer needed. And so, we will keep choosing others to be the salt we rub into our unhealed wounds.
Clearly I was not yet ready for deep intimacy in a stable, healthy, mature partnership.
When love unfolds but then doesn’t go as planned, we have one of two choices: either to accept and work with that actuality, or to struggle against it.
When we choose the latter, we cling, we hope, we fantasize, we believe, we wish, we wonder, we dream, we do all kinds of things to stave off reality. It’s an all too common “style” of relationship, a very bad habit for many of us, and a game with no actual winners.
Why do so many of us choose this? Why do we kid ourselves? Why do we invest so deeply in an “us” that doesn’t exist?
Because to see it as it really is, is to drop our resistance to pain and we are programmed to avoid pain, at all costs.
At some point in our younger days, certain choices (that had their basis in fear) began to disguise themselves as the safer — and therefore better — option. These choices collaborate with our ego and convince us that they are sympathetic, soothing, comforting and effective in relieving our stress and anxiety.
Choices, for example, like over-eating, excessive computer time, television and pornography are all ways we choose to numb and escape. Delusion, is simply one more escape hatch.
If we don’t like what we believe to be the truth of things, we default into habitual stories, patterns and beliefs that we sell ourselves to make our world feel more manageable.
We wish, hope, pretend, believe and embrace these concepts that focus on scarcity or lack, rather than what is real in the moment.
And as an added aperitif, our ego will concoct an enormous web of excuses and justifications for either the actual experience or the non-experience as the case may be.
Denying the truth gets us into all kinds of trouble; this sh*t gets really messy.
These fear based states garner their power from our attachment to the past and future, as well as our strong desire, particularly in relationships, to control things. Relationships are challenging terrain for the perfectionist; we really dig control.
But there is nothing controllable or solid about delusion. It’s like polluted air poisoning our lungs and limiting our capacity to breathe. And ultimately, we suffer way more by struggling with what is.
On some level we know when we are kidding ourselves. The truth is always buried somewhere longing to be set free. It’s like a ball and chain we drag around with us that will manifest eventually as anxiety and stress. This in turn causes our egos to perpetuate the delusion even further.
We end up overcompensating, stripping ourselves of our personal power and literally morphing into a total misrepresentation of self. This is the complete opposite of authentic living.
If not caught with awareness, these tendencies become our version of normal living and completely take us away from love, not towards it. When we deny the truth of what is — and therefore the broad spectrum of feelings associated with it — we shut ourselves off from living fully.
The truth is, for sure, an often bitter pill to swallow. But by learning to at least taste it, no matter the flavor, we begin the process back to wholeness.
We need to train ourselves in seeing and feeling what is happening without turning away or layering it up with stories.
The acceptance of truth opens us up to power, confidence, clarity and love. In fact, inner strength is most cultivated by this type of tolerance.
At this point, I’ve become a serious collector of grist for my mill. I’ve got massive piles of the stuff. It’s all good, it’s all necessary and it’s all grace.
I consider myself to be a fairly knowledgeable seeker. I am aware that all of the love I seek from the outside is not only available to me, but is also way better served from within. The notion that no one can make us feel loved if we don’t know how to give it to ourselves first, is not a flippant cliché.
But it’s often a far too esoteric message to absorb and live by. Transcending pain from the past is not easy work. It’s our most challenging work and equally most important if we are to have a strong foundation for fulfillment.
Ultimately, illusory relationships will come to a messy end; the further we are from the truth, the more pain and confusion will surround their demise. But eventually, truth will find its way to the surface and when it does we can make a choice.
We can choose to just be with what is and allow ourselves to experience the uncomfortable stuff. We can choose to not judge, numb, deflect or suppress it. We can choose to ask ourselves new and better questions in order to experience a shift from our old self defeating habits. And we can choose (in this way) to keep opening up to even higher levels of self awareness.
I confess I’ve made myself a little crazy trying to understand exactly why things didn’t work out in my illusory love affair. But the truth is, we don’t always get to know this for sure because often those reasons are just stories themselves, and, each of us will have our own version.
There is no blaming to be done here and definitely no regrets. I have only recognition and awareness — another notch on my life’s wisdom belt. Relationships will always be our most fertile ground for growth as well as the most direct path into our own heart. Each one teaches us how to love again and again.
There is one thing that I do believe to be truth: that in the end, we are all simply catalysts for each other’s healing on the spectacular journey home.
Originally published on Elephant Journal