Tuesday, February 27, 2024 21:45

Remaining Single: Single for the Holidays….Again

December 29th, 2012

I know people think it’s hard to be single at holiday time each year.  Nobody to visit family with or go to holiday parties with, nobody to give gifts to or get gifts from, nobody to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and all the rest of the things couples are ‘supposed to’ do at holiday time.  Pathetic, lonely and sad, right?  Wrong.

More often than not, I have been on my own at holiday time than been with a romantic partner for the holidays.  And at certain times when I was with a romantic partner at holiday time, those were hard holiday times for me, because some of those relationships were not very happy.  Therefore holiday time brought to the surface just how unhappy I was with those people.  I’ve spent enough time with other families and opened enough gifts that were given with no thought to what I like, and seen enough New Year’s Eve midnights in with a less than heartfelt kiss to last a lifetime.

Again, it goes back to the ‘rules’ of our society.  The expectations are that we’ll be with someone on holidays.  There is a line from the film “When Harry Met Sally” where Meg Ryan is telling her friends that she just broke up with her boyfriend of five years and her one friend played by Carrie Fisher says, “You had someone to be with on national holidays!”  Sad that this is how women think.

I certainly had times when I believed those things too.  I used to be in despair in my younger years if I didn’t have plans for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve.  I watched so many people around me through the decades get engaged on Christmas or New Year’s Eve.  The big splash, the story to tell forever.  And always wondering why not me?  Why not with this man or that man?  Today, I know I wasn’t meant to spend forever with any of the men with whom I’ve been romantically involved, for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes spending time with the families of my romantic partners was a signal for me that having to align with this family or that family would not be in my best interest.  In other instances spending time at holidays with a man’s family was the kiss of death for any future relationship we might have had.  I will never forget going to the family home for a holiday dinner and the presents were being opened and the man I was dating at the time was asked by his uncle “Where’s Valerie’s engagement ring?”  From then on until we broke up, that man was determined not to love me or want to ask me to marry him.  All because a member of his family had that expectation and he was a very “you can’t make me” kind of person anyway.  Of course he was ambivalent to begin with, but his uncle asking him that question sent him running from me emotionally.  At that moment, he checked out of the relationship hotel and never checked back in, even though we went through the motions of staying together for quite a long while.

I’m grateful that today my life and my emotional head are in a very different place, one which is far healthier and much more sane.  I don’t have a romantic partner in my life and haven’t for quite some time.  I don’t know if there will ever be another significant romantic partner in my life again, and I don’t need to know.  It would be nice of course, but that can’t be forced or planned.  So the holidays come and go and for me they can be just another day.  I looked forward to Christmas this year because it was a day off from work.  I spent it quietly with some women friends.  The weather was nice, I got outside for a walk in the snow with a friend and her dogs.  Later on my friend and another friend and I went for a movie and something to eat.  It was quiet on the roads, quiet in the restaurant, and the time spent together was enjoyable as it always is.  On New Year’s Eve I will most likely be at home sleeping because I have ski plans for New Year’s Day.  No expectations, no chaos, just choices coming from a place of strength.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I reflect on my life daily rather than annually.  But I am always struck at year’s end by how different my life is from year to year.  Last year I was volunteering at a ski area, so I was working on the slopes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  The time from year to year moves more quickly as I get older.  That’s a fascinating phenomenon to me.  I get an opportunity to reflect on how far I’ve come and how much better my life is from year to year.

In thinking back again on that past romance with the uncle and the engagement ring question, and how badly it hurt when we broke up, I have so much gratitude that I am no longer with that man.  I was unhappy in that romance almost from day one, and yet I stayed with him rather than being alone.  And the irony is we met around holiday time.  And the even bigger irony is I thought I was contented on my own at the time we met.  I had even reached a place of empowerment and acceptance around being 38 years old and “still single.”  But just saying “still single” tells me I wasn’t really committed to acceptance at that time.  This man came along and something inside me – coming from the desperate part of me – allowed this relationship to come into my life and cause me a great deal of heartache for two plus years.

Some holiday years have been sad, others have been happy.  Some sad times have been with a romance in my life, some happy times have been on my own.  The truth is happiness comes from inside me and isn’t about being with someone romantically or not.  Today, I don’t say “still single” any more.  That calls up the old sad and desperate and lonely feelings.  Today I say instead remaining single, which means it’s about a choice.  Do I hope that a lasting romance will find me when the time is right for that to happen.  Definitely.  Do I worry about when?  Not at all.  From time to time I still wonder why not now, why not me.  And then I let it go.  I feel the feelings around that, I honor that process and I keep moving forward.  Thinking about what to do for next year’s holidays?  No way.  Too far ahead to plan and not at all necessary.

Remaining Single: Amends With Acknowledgement is the Greatest Gift

November 9th, 2012

I  don’t know why it’s so hard for people to say something as simple as “I’m sorry” but it seems like for many folks it’s impossible to do.  Even when confronted with something they did wrong, so many times I have heard a grudging and childish “I’m sorry” from certain people.  Why is it so hard to apologize?  You hurt someone with something you say or do, you say I’m sorry.  It’s not rocket science, is it?

Then again, I wonder if saying “I’m sorry” is really enough.  As mentioned above, a grudging “I’m sorry” isn’t really as meaningful as an apology that includes acknowledgment of the situation for which someone owes the apology.  And it comes from a much more mature place.  I think given the choice I’d rather have the apology with acknowledgment of the offense or wrong action.

There are people in my past from whom I know I will never get an apology.  Ex-boyfriends of course are at the top of this list, as are some family of origin members, former bosses, etc.  No doubt I could go on with this list endlessly, right?  I also have a list of those to whom I most likely owe an apology.  In my personal work, I have had the opportunity to make some apologies to some of the folks on my list, and that was a burden lifted, which allowed me to move forward in my emotional life.  For that I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful for apologies I have received from certain significant people in my life which were done with sincerity and depth, and which helped strengthen the relationships with those people.  I was awestruck by these experiences because I had let go of the expectation that these people would ever be able to admit/acknowledge things they had done which hurt me.

Letting go of expectations in certain situations helped the apologies happen for me.  It is hard to let go of expectations – to be sure, if there were an Olympics for grudge-holding, I’d be a gold medalist.  I try make my own amends to myself every day.  That’s the first step in letting go of resentment and the anger that goes along with it.  I can’t always let go without feelings.  Sometimes I let go but there is anger attached.  This means I’m putting distance between myself and the person toward whom I feel the anger.  Sometimes I can let go and be completely neutral.  And sometimes I can let go with love.  I was able to do that with my last romance, and it felt grownup and reasonable.

The concept of living amends works the best whenever possible.  I think about ways to be able to be as amends-based as I can.  That doesn’t mean I walk around apologizing all the time.  The point is more that I consider my words carefully before speaking, and I try to utilize tact and diplomacy.  This is not always executed perfectly, trust me.  I’m human, after all, not a saint.  I grew up in a household where there was frequently anger and unfair mean fighting with very few apologies.  I knew I didn’t want to engage in that as an adult, and I’ve worked hard on developing ways to say what I mean without going to the below the belt unfair yelling where nobody is heard and feelings are not considered at all place.  And that feels so much better for me today.  Now if I get into a disagreement with someone, I take the time to get to resolution.  It still might leave hurt feelings, and not always can resolution be guaranteed, but if the effort is being made, this is part of living amends.

Sometimes people want to do the blame game and not see that every conflict has a 50/50 split.  There are those who would rather explain why it’s entirely my fault that they are angry with me.  I’ve certainly been through that any number of times.  Sometimes it’s not possible to resolve conflict.  Sometimes conflict causes irreparable damage.  It happens.  Sometimes distance or permanent separation is the order of the day.  Each situation is different.  But with relationships that work, and that matter, then the hope is for both people to be willing to connect and to be willing to make amends.  If I’m striving for living amends, then I’m coming from a place of willingness, honesty, and taking responsibility for my side of whatever I need to make the amends for in the first place.  That’s the best I can do.

Remaining Single: Needing to be Noticed

September 20th, 2012

Sometimes I feel completely invisible.  There are times when I go through a day and I feel completely isolated, not able to be seen, as if I don’t exist.  It brings up feelings of lonely and sad, and at times it’s as if these feelings will crush me emotionally, and then I feel very small and very young.

I recognize this goes back to childhood, when I grew up feeling isolated, especially among my peers.  Yes, I had a roof over my head, two parents who stayed married to each other, many things to be grateful for.  Emotionally though, most of my time was spent by myself, in my room alone, reading my favorite books and living in the world of the characters I found there, perhaps because I believed my life was empty.  I so yearned to have friendships with other children but for whatever reason, those friendships eluded me.  And later on when I was older, all I wanted was a boyfriend and that seemed to always elude me too.

I still wonder about friendships.  I recognize I struggle with trust issues when it comes to friendships.  I don’t believe friends will be there for me, especially if I ‘m going through a difficult time . Can my friends understand what I go through and are they willing to stay my friends even when my life isn’t sunshine and butterflies?  I have history behind friendships where when I went through a rough time, the friends dropped me.  That hurts and brings up those thoughts of being invisible.

With romance it is the same.  When I have been in romances, I always wanted someone who will be there for me when things are not going well.  It’s easy to have relationships with people when things are good, but will they be there when things are not?  Again, I have had romances with people who were not capable of being there for me.  I can remember incidents with different men where I felt invisible again, within the romance.  Something went down in my life that was difficult and instead of a hug or emotional support I got the blank stare and/or unwillingness to be there for me.  So hurtful.

All my life I have been wanting that feeling of knowing that there are people who will be there for me.  At no time does this come up for me more strongly than around my birthday.  From childhood and into adulthood I have had this yearning that on at least one day of the year I would be special, thought of, planned around, considered, and that I wouldn’t need to remind people of this.  I want people to come to me and do things for me without my having to say “Oh, by the way, my birthday is coming up.”

Sometimes this happens, with either friendships or romances.  Family members do acknowledge my birthday for which I’m grateful.  But in my mind there is still that doubt, that wonder, that uncertainty.  And when I’m the one who has to remind people or make my own plans for celebrating my birthday, I feel sad, lonely, unloved, not special, invisible.

Off and on I used to have this belief that if only I had a boyfriend or husband, at least then I would be sure of one person who would do for me and make my birthday special.  That hasn’t always been true with past romances, though thankfully at times it has with certain men.  And for that I’m grateful too.  But it goes back to the feeling invisible thing again.  I wish sometimes so hard that I would be with someone consistently or permanently whether a romance or marriage or even a friend, where I could count on that relationship.  There’s a line from the film “Shall We Dance?” with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon where she talks about how being married means someone will be a witness to our lives.  She talks about each spouse in a marriage promises to care about what happens in the other spouse’s life whether it be important or trivial.

Maybe the above idea only exists in movies and can’t ever happen in real life.  I don’t know because I haven’t been married.  But I continue to believe that it would be nice to have someone ask me how my day was.  Truth be told, I do have those people in my life.  None of them is a romantic partner and at times I discount the folks who aren’t romantic partners and think it doesn’t mean as much.  But that’s not true at all.  I have people who I know value me and to whom I matter.  But always inside is that little girl who spent her life reading books about the lives of other people.  And as an adult I spend my life listening to the stories of the lives of other people.  Ironic, isn’t it?

In times before, I have been too wrapped up in friendships and romances with chaotic people.  I seemed to be attracted to chaotic people and needed to do some personal healing work around letting go of connections where chaotic was the order of the day.  That left me exhausted and just as invisible because it was always about them and not about me.  Today I have put distance between myself and chaotic folks as much as possible.  Today much of the wreckage from the chaos is cleared away, and I work harder at keeping my distance from emotional chaos, And now the lonely little girl is coming to the surface because there is finally room for her and her feelings.  I guess I put her needs aside because I wasn’t ready to deal with them or didn’t know how or if I could get those needs met, like that of needing to be noticed.  All I can do is continue to try.

Remaining Single: How I Learned to Stop Craving “Crazy”

August 8th, 2012

I’ve been reflecting on how many times in my life I’ve been drawn into an acquaintance, friendship, colleague situation or romance with a person who eventually turns on me with some kind of raging behavior, whether in person, over the phone, via email or text.  It’s like being hit from behind or being blind sided, and I never see it coming in the moment.  After something like this happened, as I processed the situation and the feelings that went along with it, I was able to step back and see where the red flags were around any of these people in a given situation.  I realized what I needed to work harder on was how to be more aware of those red flags and pay attention to them instead of choosing to ignore them as I must have done so often in the past.  What I took a closer look at was the part I played in attracting such people and being attracted to them.  I needed to take a look at the pattern since it kept happening over and over.  What was my attraction or craving to crazy about and how could I work on getting that to stop?

I have written before about bullies in my life and how they are all over my family of origin, so I’m certain that a piece of the attraction on my part comes from growing up around people who were behaviorally mercurial and inconsistent, not to mention verbally, emotionally and/or physically abusive.  It’s that inconsistency or meanness that fuels the ‘attraction’ I have.  When I get around people who treat me in that inconsistent or abusive way, it feels or seems familiar to me.  And since it seems familiar, I don’t always know how to protect myself from them until I am engaged or involved and have allowed them to get closer to me and to know more about me.  While I have no regret about being open with people, I realize I need to figure out how to recognize more quickly when someone seems ‘familiar’ in what is really a dangerous way.

There are two parts to the process of attraction whether it’s me to them or them to me.   The first part of the process of attraction is that sense of ‘familiar’ which means known but doesn’t necessarily mean safe.  It’s easy to confuse the two.  I’ve often heard people say someone felt ‘comfortable’ to them, or it was as if they’d known them forever.  For me, as I said above, I’m usually pretty open with people and I believe in being integrated with all parts of my life.  That means I want to present as the same person, being consistent in my behavior regardless of the situation.  I tend to believe the best in people and have the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach.  For me this is about believing that others are like me – consistent in their behavior regardless of situation.  I guess I’m also an optimist, considering I grew up with people who were inconsistent.  Yet I continued to believe they could change into consistent and kind people.

This brings up the other part of the attraction on my side.  Even if I was being hurt by someone inconsistent in my life – family of origin members, friendships, boyfriends, work colleagues or supervisors – I used to believe that maybe if I just did this nice thing or that generous gesture, that the behavior of the inconsistent people would change and they would stop being mean or hurtful.  In many instances this was not the case.  So I was continuing to put energy into relationships that I thought I needed to keep trying to ‘fix.’  Somewhere along the way I realized there are certain people I needed to let go of because no matter what I did their behavior was not going to change.  I finally realized I was the one who needed to change, and by that I mean I started figuring out sooner when it was time to walk away and let those relationships go.  Sometimes that meant breaking up with a boyfriend, changing jobs, stepping back from a person who I thought was a friend, or stopping contact with family members.  It was hard to keep making these changes and so hurtful and painful as I was going through them.  But what I found as I went through these situations was a new peace and contentment because I let go of some heavy emotional baggage that was weighing me down and holding me back from better more lasting happiness.

It may sound cold to some folks that I no longer continue effort with certain people.  Perhaps it is.  But here’s the good thing.  I now have relationships with people where there is reciprocity and appreciation, and most of all consistency and kindness on both sides.  Thinking back on how much of my life I spent making the effort toward people who couldn’t be bothered to return that effort, I know how unhappy I used to be.  I wondered what was wrong with me that these people couldn’t or wouldn’t choose to make an effort to be kind and generous toward me as I was toward them.  What was it about me that made people think it was all right to treat me as they were doing?  What it was about me was that I was willing to continue accepting unacceptable behavior.  Perhaps I thought it was all I deserved.  Perhaps I thought this was how it was ‘meant to be.’  It required self esteem building on my part to learn to say ‘no’ more clearly and really mean it.  It required my believing that if I let these people go that there would be other better people to replace them.  That has definitely come true.  Most of all, I needed to understand my attraction to ‘crazy’ and to recognize that it comes from a place in my head where I believe when I am helping or rescuing, I am laying the groundwork for that to be reciprocated.  This was misguided thinking on my part and the relationships that came along with that thinking were proof that I needed to change those beliefs in order to change the behaviors and therefore let go of ‘crazy.’

Today, I know the only life I am responsible for is my own. I still help people but I do it from a stronger place in my own life.  I take care of my own needs first today, whatever those needs might be.  In doing so, I have that much more to give to others in whatever relationships I have , be those work, friendship, family or romance.  And I have been sent people who are consistent, who do appreciate and value me and make that known to me as I make it known to them how much they mean to me.  I still get sidetracked by ‘crazy’ folks from time to time, but today I’m better at recognizing the red flags and walking away more quickly in order to protect myself.  I still get caught up, taken in, and occasionally it’s unavoidable.  But it’s a much quicker process for me to remove myself and start over in a new direction.  I believe change is inevitable and with each change comes new experience and new opportunities to continue the work in progress.

Remaining Single: Reflections on a Moment in Time

July 5th, 2012

This blog is about a recent situation in which I was fully conscious, present, and aware of specific feelings.  This happens frequently for me, because today I choose to live in my truth, but even so, this was so powerful and affected me so deeply that I wanted to share my experience.

I went to a dance I attend regularly, and it’s a close knit community of people who know each other well.  About halfway through the dance, a couple walked in, still dressed in their wedding attire, because they had just come from their own wedding reception.  At the end of the dance, the band played a waltz as they always do and the wedding couple was invited to come on the floor and take the first turn by themselves as the rest of us stood at the edges watching and applauding.  It was such a sweet and romantic moment.

Watching these two glide through the first part of the waltz so beautifully together, I was feeling so many feelings.  First was a thought which is that I’m a romantic and moments in time like this are so precious to me.  The second and even more powerful was a feeling of sadness, lonely and yearning.  I’ve written about these feelings before and doubtless will again.  It’s all part of the whole remaining single thing.  Even though I’m single my entire adult life as in never married, that doesn’t mean I have ever stopped hoping, wishing, wanting and waiting for that special romantic partner to be in my life, to share my life, to witness my life to whom my life would matter.

Thankfully I already have people in my life to whom I matter.  I have people who I know care for me and would do for me if I am ever in need of help.  I have a support network around me to do things with, to hear me, to understand and validate me.  And yet there is still that one relationship that enhances a life in a different way, the romantic partner who is a different kind of witness from the others mentioned here.

What is it that makes me continue to yearn for this one special person?  Hard to say.  Most of the time I like my life the way it is.  I like living by myself, which I’ve been doing since I was 26 years old.  I like my work.  I like coming home from my work day to my own house and not needing to think about who else might be there and what he might be doing.  I like making plans for the weekends based on my schedule only, not needing to include anyone else in that planning process.  I like my alone time, my private time, my quiet time.  All of these years on my own have given me the opportunity to be comfortable and content with myself, to be at peace with the knowledge that it might just be me day in and day out.

And yet when I experienced that moment I realized I was not fully at peace.  When those yearning feelings came up for me, I recognized how much I still wonder about that possibility; that perhaps somewhere there is a romantic someone for me who might still find his way into my life.  I know also it needs to be the right romantic someone.  It’s not just about any man.  And while I don’t have a checklist because I know better than to work that way, I do have the firm belief and commitment to myself that I won’t settle just to be with any someone.  Once again, as I have said many times before and will say many times again, it’s a longer wait when it’s not about settling.  When it’s about the special things I know I need, want, and deserve, it’s going to come whenever that’s meant to happen and I don’t have control over any part of that process.  All I need to remember to do is live my life that I already enjoy.  I choose to be grateful for the opportunity of sharing that moment in time.  I choose to be grateful for the feelings of sadness and loneliness and yearning for that special romance that is like no other.  My life is already full, complete, meaningful and valuable.  I know my worth in the world and the gifts I bring to the time I’m spending here on earth.  And yet, and yet………When I choose to trust the process of believing in a larger plan , then I know more will be revealed.

Remaining Single: Finding the Place Called Home

June 4th, 2012

In the movie “Country Strong,” Gwyneth Paltrow sings a song called “Coming Home.”  The following lyrics from that song resonate with me because they describe my feeling about what home means:

It’s a four letter word, a place you go to heal the hurt.
It’s an alter, it’s a shelter, one place you’re always welcome.
Pink flamingo double wide, one bedroom in a high rise
A mansion on a hill, where the memories always will
keep you company whenever you’re alone.
After all of my running, I’m finally coming home.

I grew up on the East Coast.  Born in Virginia, raised in Pennsylvania in a college town near Philadelphia.  First year of college in North Carolina, left there and came back to Pennsylvania to finish college in Philadelphia at an Ivy League school.  Then off to live in New York for a year, then back to Pennsylvania again, where I lived in various places in and around Philadelphia until February 2011, when I made the move that changed my life irrevocably.

In February 2011, I moved to the Denver Colorado area, and for me, it felt like coming home, just as written in the lyrics above.  I  learned to ski in Colorado in 1997, another lifelong dream fulfilled.  Ever since then I came out West at least once a year for a ski week.  Along with that, I began to spend more time in Western states for other reasons – traveling, speaking at conferences, doing continuing education workshops with some vacation time thrown in.  And every time I had to get back on the plane to go back East, I was increasingly reluctant to go back.  For me, being in the Western states always felt like a better fit.

No matter where I lived, nor whom I was friendly with or romantically involved with, on the East Coast I never felt like I belonged, like I fit in, like I was a part of something.  It’s not just because I got picked on all through school, or because I didn’t have many friends growing up.  It was more than that.  It was a feeling that I couldn’t quite describe and I only began to understand it after moving to Colorado.  When I made the decision to move to Colorado, it was very ‘meant to be’ driven.  I remember I was walking in a state park near my house in Pennsylvania and I was by myself.  It was July of 2010.  I rounded a curve by a cornfield and it was at that moment that I knew it was time to begin the journey that would bring me to Colorado in February 2011.  Simple as that, though I know the decision was much longer in the making, lurking deep beneath the surface of my conscious mind.

Years ago I knew I wanted a career that was portable, something I could do anywhere, and that I wanted to work for myself.  At the time back then, I was still thinking in terms of a romantic partner, a potential husband whose job or residence might be elsewhere and that would be my motivation for moving to another place.  As it turns out, there were discussions of relocation with a couple of my past boyfriends, but I realized a move driven by their aspirations would not be a move for me.  It would be about them, and that didn’t work for me.  Those relationships didn’t work out for good reasons.  I know some of the reasons have to do with me being focused on what I needed for myself, and relocating became something I was meant to do on my own.

It’s the same as the decision I made in 2004 to work for myself.  I was so over having bosses who micro managed, or who were threatened by me, or who were power hungry, or who got their jobs by means other than their merit.  That decision was long in the making underneath the surface but in the moment when it occurred, it was an easy one to make, and the transition happened quickly and fairly smoothly.

With the move to Colorado, from the defining moment on that walk in the state park, the wheels were set in motion, and there was no doubt or fear or indecision.  It became the next right thing for me, and it happened swiftly and unfolded positively.  That’s not to say I didn’t experience some glitches along the way, but that’s expected.  At the end of the day, the boxes arrived, things were unpacked, the house was set up, the office was furnished, the paperwork got completed so I could begin work.  Those things were all basic and uneventful for the most part.

It’s the larger sense of belonging that I found by moving to Colorado that still overwhelms me.  It’s the way in which I was made to feel so welcome, something I had never known before.  It’s the people I have met, each with a story to tell about their own journey to Colorado, since so many folks here are transplants.  That’s one of my favorite things about Colorado by the way.  It’s the way in which I found a voice and a purpose in a number of communities in which I participate, some work focused, others centered around my favorite activities – skiing, hiking, dancing.  To be received with such positive energy and appreciation is something I never knew on the East Coast.  Quite a refreshing change, as you can imagine.

Years ago, I heard therapist and author Ann Smith speak at a continuing education conference.  She told a story about having found a lasting romance after years of looking.  The irony was that the romance came into her life only after she purchased a very large home with more bedrooms than she could ever use as a single woman.  But she felt right about the decision to purchase that large house and not long afterwards met a man who had children living with him.  Guess she was meant to own that house after all.

With making the move to Colorado it was without any thought except being drawn to the place, knowing that to go there would create a positive change in my life.  It wasn’t because I knew anyone in Colorado because I knew nobody there.  I made the journey for myself as I was meant to do, and along the way realized the vision of the home I wanted was becoming known to me.  By coming to Colorado, the vision became the reality, and I am finally home.

Remaining Single: Facing and Embracing My Shadow Self

May 1st, 2012

I come from lots of strong willed people on both sides of my family tree.  There are bullies, bossy folks, opinion givers (especially negative opinions), controllers, and manipulators. Growing up with such influences it’s no wonder that I inherited all of those traits and see them in myself.  I’ve been spending time thinking about this in my professional and personal life and realize the above traits are part of  my ‘shadow self.’  Some people call it a ‘dark side,’ but I think of that as more negative than it needs to be.  To me, a shadow self says the same thing and also indicates acceptance of that part of ourselves.  Let’s face the truth – we can’t always be sweetness and light.  On any given day, the shadow self might come along to remind me that I am allowed not to be all loving, all knowing, all caring.  And I am also reminded that I don’t have to like everyone.  I have no intention of trying to be perfect.  I already know I have flaws.  I’m a work in progress and that continues daily.

Throughout my entire life I have encountered a number of people in my professional and personal life  who display all of the above traits and then some.  As irritating and hurtful as it is to encounter these people, I also see these encounters as helpful because I’m quite sure I’ve done and said the same things with others in my life.  So perhaps I am sent these encounters to remind me to continue my awareness of myself, to continue examining myself and work on correcting the character defects.  As I said, I know I’ll never completely be rid of every flaw in my character and personality, but at least I can be watchful.  I believe the encounters I’ve had with these other folks throughout my life have been reminders to face and embrace my shadow self.

James Arthur Baldwin is quoted as saying “The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.” I did my own work with therapists off and on for many years, and while it was hard to be on the other side of the couch, so to speak, I’m glad to have had those experiences in my past.  I had emotional pain, I went to talk about those feelings with a professional, and that was helpful.  Many times I walked out of the therapist’s office feeling so defeated and sad and worked up.  Looking back now I know this was part of the therapeutic process.  And if ever I come up against an emotional roadblock again which is beyond my scope to figure out on my own, I will not hesitate to find a therapist to work with again.

I am reminded of my own work when patients lash back at me during a session or choose to resist their own changes because change is scary and uncomfortable.  I’m certain I lashed out at most if not all of my prior therapists when I was in my therapeutic process.  How do we become so defended about behaviors which are harmful and which we know are harmful?  It’s because of the shadow selves within each of us and all of us. I am reminded of my own shadow self when I see others doing or saying things that could be more hurtful than they realize.  I keep my observations to myself when these situations occur, but I take them as a cautionary tale, in other words how I don’t want to be toward others.

I know that most of the time the behaviors of my shadow self are indicators that I’m having some feelings that are hard to face – angry, sad, lonely, scared.  If I’m feeling rejected, or unwelcome, or unworthy, or unloved, or outcast, the shadow self can come up.  Sometimes it’s something as simple as not being included in a group, or not being asked along to a certain activity.  I become fearful that I don’t really have any friends when I’m not included in certain activities.  Then I feel all of the other feelings – angry, lonely, sad, abandoned, rejected.  Those feelings really hurt and I know they can cause the acting out behaviors mentioned above that are part of my shadow self.

How can I make sure that I don’t indulge the shadow self behaviors?  By being focused on my feelings and making sure I honor those feelings.  For me this also means having a network of supportive people who I know I can share about these things without being judged.  That support network changes all the time, people are added to it or taken from it, but always I have known how important it is to cultivate those relationships and make sure I reach out to the folks who can help me honor my feelings and work through them.  I can also remember these feelings have their origins and history in the past.  Situations come up over and over to remind me how quickly I can be thrown back into my childhood hurts.  Today I know I can use the tools of feeling my feelings and reaching for my support to honor my feelings, work through them and connect my adult self to the little child inside me.  I can comfort her, help her and remind her that she is capable and worthy of love and respect.  I can then emerge from the shadow self to the actualized adult I am always working toward becoming.   A lifelong commitment one day at a time.

Remaining Single: Beyond the Bullying – From Victim to Victor

April 1st, 2012

Recently I went through an incident in which I was verbally abused by a bully.  It was done in stealth, and with no regard for my feelings, obviously.  I hate when this happens to me because I never understand why it’s necessary for anyone to come at me in this bullying way.  But then I need to remember there are people in the world who have personality disorders and those are usually the people who come at me to try to get rid of me because they are threatened by me.  And they are threatened by me because they know that I know what they are really about from go.  And even if I say nothing about what I know, which I often do, these people just can’t stand to see me.  This has been happening to me throughout my life – in my family of origin, in school with classmates, in job situations, in friendships, in dating circumstances and even in volunteer settings, which is where this most recent situation occurred..

In this recent situation, I had an interesting experience in that I got in touch with some very old emotions.  I found myself so very upset and tearful for almost a whole day following this incident.  While I was surprised at the depth of my emotions, I recognized that somehow this situation triggered so many similar ones in my past and that maybe this was just my opportunity to cry about them all.  I’m not saying this won’t ever happen to me again, but I’ve learned after many years of pushing down my feelings and not acknowledging or accepting or honoring them that today it is much better for me to let them come and to let them be felt.  In this way I’m able to get past the hurt much more quickly and with greater success.

Some people can just let these hurtful encounters roll off like water off a duck’s back.  I’m not one who can do that.  I recognize about myself that I’m sensitive and it gets to me when a bully comes at me.  Unfortunately the bullies can sense my Achilles heel of sensitivity and that’s how they can get to me.  I try to keep that hidden, but not always successfully.  And sometimes I wonder if that’s one of the reasons I’ve been remaining single throughout my life.  Perhaps it’s in order to protect myself from living with anyone who might wind up being this way.  I have dated men frequently who were emotional and verbal bullies, who left me feeling unwanted, unwelcome and unsafe.  Their verbal manipulation was so insidious, always done in stealth and in private, but to the outside world, the public eye, these men seemed nice and appropriate and acceptable.  Behind closed doors?  Different story.  Why did I wind up with so many bullying men?  I realize now it was because they seemed familiar.  And as I’ve said many times before, the word ‘familiar’ doesn’t always equal ‘safe.’  I continue to learn this lesson every time I encounter a bully in my life.

In recent times I have been more successful at seeing bullies coming toward me and have more frequently been able to step away from them, stand my ground with them or avoid them completely.  But sometimes they still surprise me, as with this most recent situation.  In my romantic life, my most recent relationship was with a man who was not a bully at all.  In fact he was just the opposite in that he has a gentle and kind soul.  If anything, I’m sure he would have allowed me to bully him.  But that’s not my style.  And therein lies the lesson.  I have heard that being bullied often leads to turning around and bullying others.  But I believe there is a choice to be made with that.  And I am not the kind of person who wants to bully others, having been hurt so much by bullies myself.  I have a strong personality for sure.  Sometimes people mistake my assertiveness for aggressiveness, but there is a big difference.  And here’s another lesson learned – sometimes bullies don’t come across as aggressive or assertive.  Sometimes they use manipulation and stealth to bring about the bullying.  This is even more insidious and scary because it’s so underhanded.

Regardless of the bullying style, it hurts to be on the receiving end.  Knowing that, I need to continue working on recognizing the signs and symptoms of a potential bully from the start. I’m not always as good at that as I’d like to be, but at least on some points I’m clear.  If I am bullied, then allowing myself to feel the feelings and work through the hurt gets me to the other side much more quickly so I can move on.  I can continue to work on having boundaries to perhaps avoid being bullied in the future.  And I can make sure not to become a bully myself.  In this way, I don’t have to be a victim, but rather can choose to be a victor.

Remaining Single: Surviving Valentine’s Day Single or Not

February 29th, 2012

I can’t do a blog in February without a passing nod to Valentine’s Day, which makes this month so hard for so many people.  I certainly used to be one of those people.  There’s a certain mind set that believes there’s nothing worse than not having a Valentine on Valentine’s Day.  But can we pause for a minute, rewind the tape and just acknowledge what a “Hallmark holiday” Valentine’s Day really is, and to also ask does this holiday benefit anyone?

So many different examples to choose from to illustrate the above.  If a person is single and romantically unattached, Valentine’s Day is a day when the message of “I’m alone and what’s wrong with me?” might be hammered home that much more, along with the feelings of sadness and loneliness rejection and abandonment that go along with it.  The whole question of being on one’s own without a romantic partner can be daunting, and on Valentine’s Day, it just stirs up those troubling emotional waters.

For people who are romantically attached but perhaps unhappily, it is the message of “I have made a mistake being with this person.”  And this can be illustrated or determined by what this romantic partner may or may not do to celebrate this holiday.  For example, there may be many people who are consistently neglectful the other 364 days of the year but on Valentine’s Day they  pull out all the romantic stops – dinner ,flowers, gifts, candles, etc.   But does this make up for the rest of the year’s worth of neglect?  Relationships are living breathing things – you can’t just put them in a corner all year long and expect them to be healthy and alive for one day out of the year.

There are people who may know their partner is wanting a romantic gesture for the holiday, but they refuse for whatever reason to comply with or honor this request.  Even though the road to resentments may be paved with expectations, if the person with the expectations makes them known and the romantic partner is unwilling to comply, that brings a whole set of questions to the integrity and honesty and usefulness of the relationship.  I myself was in relationships like that on more than one occasion.  I made my wants known to my romantic partner and these wants were met with comments like “you can’t make me” or “I don’t have to.”  That’s so very hurtful but it made me see there was no long term future with someone who had those kinds of responses to my wants around Valentine’s Day or anything else.  So I stopped getting involved with men who believed that things had to be their way or no way.  A positive message and change can come from a negative experience.

I think the folks who fare best on Valentine’s Day are the ones who realize that their relationship isn’t based on a forced romantic gesture for one day out of the year.  A simple card, or a special dinner prepared at home, or just time spent together can be wonderful on any day.  But it really comes down to the more important idea of a partnership being like that plant I mentioned earlier.  The best partnerships are the ones where all effort seems effortless, and the reason that happens is because each partner appreciates the efforts of the other, and each partner makes it known to the other that the efforts are appreciated.  A simple “thank you” for doing the dishes without being asked, or making the bed, or taking out the trash or sharing whatever are the routine duties of an adult life, sends the message that the willingness to actively participate in that routine adult life is noted and valued.

Back to those of us who are single and not currently involved romantically.  Yes, it’s all about the hearts and flowers and love and kisses and jewelry on television.  And it’s hard to face that alone sometimes.  I certainly had my days this month around that Valentine’s Day time when I was feeling the yearning for someone to be romantic with.  But for me I know it’s not just any someone.  I say all the time I would rather be on my own and be living my own happy and full life than be with a someone who is not right for me.  The right next romance will come when it’s my time for that to happen.  So I honored those yearnings and another Valentine’s Day came and went, and now it’s past and done for another whole year.  Sigh of relief.


Remaining Single: Changes and Choices in Friendships and Romances

January 27th, 2012

Sometimes certain friendships seem like romances in terms of how much time and head space I allow them to take up. Throughout my life I’ve had friendships like that, and if/when the friendship comes to an end, it hurts just as much as the end of a romance would.

As a child I struggled with making and keeping friendships. Romances eluded me also. Growing up, I always yearned to have friends and boyfriends but somehow making those connections remained mysterious and unattainable. Instead, I was picked on all throughout primary and secondary schools and didn’t have a serious boyfriend until senior year in college.

Included in this emotional history is my relationship with my mother. I remember coming home from school and telling her about my day. Frequently I would be crying because someone had done something mean to me during the school day. I’m sure it was so hurtful for her to listen to my sad stories and to see me cry. She would comfort me and tell me the other kids were ‘just jealous’ of me. When I got older and so wanted to have romances, she would say “you’ll probably have to wait until the boys become mature enough to be with someone as strong as you.” I can look back on this now and appreciate her words. But I understand I was codependently enmeshed with her as well. In essence, if I had my mother to cry to then what did I need friends or boyfriends for?

Turns out there were more complicated issues underneath the surface of that relationship. My mother didn’t keep friendships either and she too had been picked on as a child. However, I recall her describing close friendships in her childhood, something I can’t necessarily echo from my own growing up experience. Plus, my mother had my father for her romantic life partner for 45 years until his death in 2002. So my mother had a helpmate, life partner, romantic best friend, something I’ve also not had yet. I came to realize she couldn’t relate to my ongoing single life. And I also came to realize my mother in essence was ‘molding’ me as a friend to her. But that shouldn’t have been my role. I figured that out along the way and have continued to work on setting emotional boundaries that make sense for me in terms of my relationship with my mother.

In my adult life I see the similarities between the friendships and romances I’ve had. In both situations I’ve been drawn in by the simple act of someone showing interest in me. The problem is often I don’t stop to consider if this person is someone in a healthy enough place for me to have for a friendship or romance, and I tend to jump in with both feet, because I’m so flattered that someone/anyone would show interest. The echoes of a childhood spent mostly on my own and an adolescent and adult life spent more out of romances than in them has left the self doubt scars of not being sure how people feel about me.

Today I make a conscious effort to be comfortable in my own skin, and to own that my life is contented, peaceful, fulfilled and happy regardless of my friendship and/or romance status. When either a friendship or a romance comes into my life I try to give it the attention and time it deserves but not to get overly consumed to the point where it takes up too much of my head space and leaves me devastated emotionally if/when it ends. I don’t always achieve that successfully, but that’s the goal. Along with that is the understanding or belief that when a friendship or romance ended in my life, it ended because there were new, better and healthier friendships and romances yet to come my way. I feel the loss of each friendship or romance, I take the time to mourn that loss and after a while lo and behold something new and even better enters my life. For me it’s best to always remember a door doesn’t close without a window opening somewhere else. One of those helpful life lessons.