I’ve been thinking about posts, one in particular, by Deb, where she talks about her marriage. I don’t think I’m in any position to dispense advice. But thoughts, those I do have.
I don’t know what it’s like to be married a long time and not happy in that relationship. I did, however, watch my parents in that life. And I watch other people’s relationships and marriages. I’m innately curious about how other people live, and especially about the dynamics of love and of family (with the thought that two people can comprise a family).
Is there anything more important than the single person you choose to live your life with? Your partner? It just seems to me that the chosen person holds the key to everything vital. There are those people, who live together, who are married, but effectively go their own ways, and lead lives apart from one another. But most people are powerfully involved with their partner – and more importantly, most people are powerfully affected by their partner.
The other person in your life can build you up, tear you down, add to your happiness, or steal your happiness. They can make you laugh or they can make you despair. They can slowly, gradually, even imperceptibly, change who you are till you become a far greater version of yourself than you might have been alone – or conversely, a shadow of who you once were.
As I say, I’ve no long relationship to bring into the conversation. Still, I speak from my point of view. When I am involved, it is inherently my nature to become deeply invested. I am hyper-aware of the people in my life. I can’t help it. In the past, I have become more invested in some people than warranted. Like, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being little invested and 10 being overwhelming invested, I’d invest 8 where I probably should have invested 5 or 6. That is, the person wasn’t necessarily someone I shouldn’t know or be involved with, but the DEGREE was at issue. I didn’t get that at the time. I had more of a one-size-fits-all approach.
I wasn’t naive – I didn’t let things go too far in that I felt helpless or emotionally dependent to the extent I made irrevocable decisions not in my interest. Ones I would have paid dearly for, ones I’d STILL be paying for had I let them go forward. But I look back, and I see myself trying to pound square pegs into round holes. What a fat waste of time. And really – did I have it to waste? Does anyone?
I have learned. I began, in my relationships, to dial back my investment to more appropriate levels. To look closely at someone and where I truly thought they belonged in my life. I sometimes use the metaphor of a house. That is, you are the house. You decide how far into your house someone should be allowed to come. Some people don’t make it past the front door. Their behavior, demeanor, and attitude make clear this is a person that shouldn’t cross your threshold. Which isn’t to say, they won’t TRY. Others are permitted into the foyer and if they act right there, you might invite them to sit down or enter the living room. And so on as it goes.
Some relationships aren’t meant to go beyond certain levels. And to try to push them, or more importantly I find as a woman, to ALLOW someone else to push them past that point, can be a huge mistake with deep consequences. There are those who ultimately raise families with people they should have stopped seeing after the second date.
The trouble also, is once someone is deeply ensconced in a relationship and simultaneously unhappy, it can be difficult to tell if any subsequent dissatisfaction can be genuinely attributed to the other person. The partner can sometimes be viewed as a scapegoat, i.e., “I’m not happy, therefore it must be your fault.” I know that if I am unhappy in a relationship, I become consumed with that feeling. I mean, it can be hard to tell what is fair, or not fair, to lay at the other person’s feet when you’re in the thick of it.
Increasingly, as I became aware of these things I am writing about, I put them into effect in my relationships. I did not get “swept away” or allow myself to be corralled by someone else’s agenda. I don’t know the extent that other women are susceptible to that but by and large, I’d say women are generally more vulnerable to going along with someone else’s plan than are men. We permit ourselves to be flattered or talked into questionable relationships, and later, to stay in them past the point they either suit or serve us. Not always, but often enough that it is a phenomenon. I see it.
First, as I said, I dialed back my involvement in relationships where over-involvement wasn’t warranted or WASN’T WARRANTED YET. But more importantly, I cleared the decks and my mind in such a way, that I no longer could attribute happiness or lack there of, to anyone but me. This is a scary undertaking and yet, so well worth it, I’ve found. I returned the focus to center. The fact is, I began to treat myself more like the way I always wanted to be treated in relationships. Nothing extravagant, just improved. I found I had a better idea of how to treat me than other people did. Or at least those I’d had relationships with in the past. I effectively stopped waiting on other people, real and imagined.
All blame and all credit is now at my feet. The time and energy I put into other people (where I shouldn’t have or not as much), I took back and put into me. Again – you’d not necessarily be all that impressed with what I’ve managed, but for me, it’s huge. I see so very clearly that I am the best investment I’ve got. I’m the investment that needs to last, to go the distance. And if I’m stingy with myself, I will pay. It’s taken me a very long time so see that. And really believe it. I never used to look at things that way, which is to say, realistically. But I don’t mean realistically in the no-fun-at-all way (“realistically” sounds so dry & boring to my own ears, but that’s not how it feels). Look, if I still thought about things the way I did at 20 or 30 or approached my relationships the same way I did then, that would be a problem!
The things I’m telling you about are ongoing. But the direction seems right. I like it.