Saturday, August 17, 2013

the little jabs hurt the most

I adore my parents and feel I grew up in an incredibly loving home. My dad was a generous, gregarious soul with a quick wit, a heart of gold, and an ability to laugh at himself that was so endearing! He adored my mom and our little family of five and went out of his way to show us that love, often with grand gestures — like taking my mom to Germany on a regular basis to see her family there; he knew it was important to her. My parents met on a cruise ship — yes, the Love Boat — and fell hard for each other from day one. I liked to think of theirs as a storybook romance, and wanted exactly that for myself someday.

For many years, I thought I had one. I was married to a man who said I Love You at least five times a day and always made sure I had freshly cut flowers in the house (from the garden he himself tended). He once had an exquisite cross necklace from Tiffany delivered to me (it was not my birthday or even a holiday) —  a beautiful, meaningful gift neatly wrapped in that little baby blue box every woman dreams of receiving, complete with note that  read, "all my love." He renovated a portion of our garage into a jacuzzi spa room that was to be my oasis from a hard day's work and surprised me with its unveiling on Christmas Eve. All proof positive of an enduring love that would last a lifetime. Really long story short: It wasn't to be.

While all of the wonderful occurances mentioned above — and hundreds more like them — actually happened, my "head-in-clouds" view of love and romance failed to allow for any of the little jabs I may or may not have endured during the course of said relationship and others like it. Like being laughed at for breaking a wine glass while washing dishes, mildly lectured for failing to vacuum ALL of the dust from the floorboards, looked at in a weird way that nonverbally screams "Really? You're going to choose THAT outfit?" And worse: "Because you arranged for your sister to arrive on the very week I scheduled my vacation, I  cancelled the appointment I made for you to get your teeth whitened. Which, by the way, I was going to pay for." For many years, and in more than one serious relationship, I'd chosen to sweep all of these things under the carpet as though they didn't exist. After all, they were really just little things, and you're supposed to forgive, right? Problem is, like all food particles left unattended on the floor, that shit increases in mass and rots and festers and creates anger, not to mention resentment. Eggshell walking becomes a way of life and you get quite used to it. And, if I'm truly forced to remove my blinders here, the exact kind of stuff I witnessed in my parents' "storybook romance" during my formative years. Add a little alcohol and verbal abuse from their backgrounds to the mix and you can begin to see where much of this stuff comes from.

Why did I put up with any of it my own relationships? I'm smart. I took a women's studies course in college. I know why the "caged bird sings"! Yeah, I don't really know the answer, but I'm sure it has a lot to do with my own upbringing. Also, people, men in this case, are not "black and white" in their behavior. Wonderful, fabulous people can say some really mean things (often cleverly disguised as humor, by the way). Let's face it: we're all pretty much the result of our DNA and whatever parenting model we're dealt. Some of us learn by example not to love ourselves, and instead of dealing with that cold, hard fact we project our self-hatred onto anyone who's close enough to reap the fallout. And if we're on the receiving end, we pretty much take every negative sling and arrow thrown our way as God-honest truth. "Why DO I break so many wine glasses? He's right, I must be a total idiot!!!" This stuff runs so deep we don't even know we're doing it. 

But I have learned this and am happy to share it with any young person I know, particularly 17-year-old girls. That shit's not OK. If you are ever made to feel stupid or powerless or that you're not as good as the man in your life, get out — before you've invested so much in it that you can't. This goes for friendships too. Make kindness your credo in your life and your relationships and surround yourself with people who do the same. (Contrary to popular belief, they're out there in abundance!) Master this concept early in your life, because I guarantee you, it's the most important thing you will ever learn. Don't allow for negativity of any kind (including those "innocent" little jabs), and if you see it in yourself, get help and learn to love and forgive yourself. Only then will you be fully able to offer — and receive — the unconditional, kind-hearted love you deserve.

You do deserve it, by the way. 

Postscript: I've finally found the love of my life and have enjoyed more than four of the happiest years  with him. He would never utter an unkind word and directs his anger at his sports teams instead of me. Life is grand.

* Photo by Melissa Mathieson

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