This will be a very odd post, which means, of course, that I've been doing therapy stuff. This particular thing has been hanging around for years. I've been kicking it back, avoiding it--probably because I know what it reveals about me and I don't like it. But not liking something doesn't mean it's not real.
I've noticed that when things in my life become stressful, I'm more inclined to look honestly at myself, which makes me more likely to finish tasks from therapy. I sometimes think I should wait until I'm feeling better, but that never happens. When I feel level and happy, I'm more likely to just accept whatever is amiss inside me. It's not bothering me, so why expend effort trying to figure out what it means? So I've been working a great deal lately, on things that Therapist and I have discussed for the past ten years.
Therapist used to tell me, "The only relationship in your life that REALLY matters is the one you have with your spouse."
In my head, this is how that translated:
People come and go. Some stay longer than others. But it doesn't really matter because in the end, the only one you're really tied to is your spouse. No matter how much you try to foster any other relationship, it will end. Your children will leave you to find spouses of their own. Your friends will leave or die. Your progeny will eventually regard you as the laughable old woman who, at dinnertime, rolls food around in her mouth because she can't chew it, then puts it back on her plate, sits in her chair, and mutters. Only your spouse remains with you and remembers who you really are.
My interpretation of that translation: Relationships are sort of pointless. Except spousal ones, of course.
Therapist says this is not what he meant at all. Therapist's translation:
Your spouse is your major source of love and support. You've made covenants with one another that you will never leave, you'll work on always building the relationship, you'll forgive and move forward, you'll be best friends and lovers, and each will always come first in the other's life. Other relationships are not built to be as close or resilient. Children leave parents to make their own lives and families--but they remain in their parents' lives, just not as present. Friendships wax and wane because they have their own families and spouses which must, of necessity, come first. But no one really forgets their friends, and when time permits, they rejoin and spend limited time together. However, your spouse is a constant and should always be given priority over any other person.
Therapist's interpretation of this: All relationships are valuable, but emphasis must always be placed on those that are spousal.
Therapist is correct. I've always known that. And I don't disagree, necessarily. But I have always had difficulty maintaining relationships--always. Therapist traces this to the breakdown of the childhood relationship I had with my parents who were largely unreliable and unavailable, emotionally, and who discouraged any closeness or intimacy I might initiate. When you're a little girl and you really need a hug, you go to your mom or dad, I think. I was too afraid of my mother. My dad would hug me briefly, then move away. My little girl impression of the act was that touching me was embarrassing to him.
Little girls form friendships quickly and deeply. Holding hands and cuddling are part of that--at least they were when I was a child. Perhaps in today's world, where homosexuality is a hypertopic and people are highly sensitive to how their acts with another person are interpreted, little girls are encouraged to touch less. I don't really know. I'm hypothesizing. I hope I'm wrong. Such touch, for me, was the only real affection I received between the ages of six through twelve.
As I grew up, I had no interest in dating boys--but they seemed interested in dating me. So I did. And I had boyfriends. And I let them cuddle and kiss because I really, really wanted that. However, it seemed to affect them more deeply than it did me, and after awhile I was finished with that. I wanted nothing more than to be held and loved. The boyfriends definitely weren't satisfied with only that.
Darrin, alone, seemed to understand my need to be touched without strings attached. Granted, he was the first person I told of the sexual and physical abuse in my life, so he understood my background, but it was clear to me that he would allow me to call the shots when it came to our physical interaction--which is one of many reasons that I married him.
And for a long time, Darrin WAS all I needed. He was my most important relationship--my only important relationship. After my children were born, I experienced new levels of relationship depth. Other people came and went. I enjoyed them but had no desire to work to make secure friendships with them. That desire has never been paramount for me. And when they left, I felt a tiny shock of loneliness, then turned immediately to Darrin to appease it.
No doubt about it. And I was lonely. I ignored the loneliness and filled my life with other things, other temporary people, other books to read or music to play. I learned new skills and got new jobs and refused to think about loneliness or friends or anything that caused me discomfort. After all, in the end, I had Darrin, and that was all that mattered.
Ten years ago I began to face the things that haunt me. I went to a therapist (or two...or three...or four...and then finally found a good fit in Therapist). I stopped running. I decided to look at the things that scare me. At the top of my list were "People". I told Therapist I was going to learn to have real relationships outside of Darrin and my kids. He looked alarmed and immediately told me that those were my most important relationships. I knew that. I just wanted to see if I could have more--other relationships with other people--relationships that could last longer than a few months or a year.
So I did. And I wrote about it in my blogs. A lot.
Maintaining longterm contact with people was difficult for me, and very stressful. There were many times when I just wanted to cut everyone loose and never see them again. Sometimes I would hide for a week while I collected myself, gathered strength, and decided to keep trying.
I don't expect anyone to understand this. I know of many people who maintain their relationships with no problem or conflict or stress. I'm not one of them. It's hard for me. I'm afraid of people.
In spite of everything, I've had quite a few friendshps that have endured nearly 8 years now. That's a very long time. And I think I can truly say that I did it--we did it. I'm not eternally damaged by abuse and rape and I can be as human as the next person. But what I've noticed in the past year is that my drive to maintain my relationships is waning. I don't love the people less. I still want them. I just don't feel that, should the relationships become less important to all parties concerned, it doesn't say anything about me or my ability to interact with people. And at this point, all of us have spouses--and our spousal relationships are supposed to be the most important.
I guess I'm just feeling that after all is said and done, as close as we've been, as important as I might be (which isn't hugely important, I admit), I'm not really irreplaceable, and should I no longer be in the picture (for whatever reason), everyone still has their spouses, and that's what matters. But Therapist says it's not a black-and-white issue, even though that's what he said at first. And he says part of the reason he feels that way is because in the last decade I've convinced him otherwise. While he still believes that spousal relationships are parmount, there are equally important relationships that serve different purposes which should be nurtured and cherished. And he says I'm really not replaceable.
I don't know that I believe him. I often feel that I'm a convenient diversion. I don't object to being that. But sometimes I would like to feel that I make people's lives better and that they seek me out because I provide something they want and need.
My parents hug me now. It's awkward and I don't like it. They do it because they understood, too late, how hurt I was growing up and they DO love me, and they want to make things right, somehow. They can't--but I let them hug me anyway because it seems to make them feel better. It doesn't make me feel better, but it doesn't hurt me either. I guess that's what I don't want my relationships with other people to become--something they allow to happen because, even if they don't really like it, it doesn't hurt them and it seems to help me. That, in my mind, is not honest or healthy. I want more.
And maybe that's the entire problem expressed in three words. I want more. But maybe "more" is a figment of my imagination. Therapist says it's not, but he also says he was wrong about the importance of non-spousal relationships, and quite frankly, I don't think he knows any more than I do.
Last night I questioned a number of people who are currently present in my life about this topic. They all think I'm delving too deeply and I just need to let life happen and enjoy it. Maybe they're right--but it also illustrates how little they know me.
Okay. I'm done. Time to go to the gym.