It is very late and I have an early morning, so this will be as brief as I can possibly make it and still say what's on my mind tonight.
After more than a decade, I think I finally understand.
A very short explanation so that I might be as clear as possible:
For many years I avoided intimacy and close relationships because I did not understand them. And I thought I was fine. I had lots of less close, non-intimate relationships. And I had Darrin who was safe because we were married. It's harder to dissolve a marriage relationship than a friendship.
But then a therapist suggested I needed more authentic interaction with people. And connection-- I needed that, too, apparently. And close ties to more people than Darrin and my children. And because I trusted my therapist, I tried it out. But I still didn't understand any of it.
I didn't understand that people form very close relationships with friends and family and others who fall somewhere in between those two descriptors. And those relationships wax and wane and everyone seems okay with that. Except me. I was never okay with it. And I didn't understand why when you love someone, you don't do everything in your power to work together to keep a healthy, close, fulfilling relationship with one another.
But I think I understand now.
When it comes to intimacy and relationships (excluding sexual intimacy), I am a child. I think and feel as a child does. Holding a hand, cuddling, sharing physical proximity feels very much to me as though I am being protected and loved. There is nothing more to it. And I want that. I did not receive it as a child. As an adult, I wish for it more than ever.
Except, I'm not a child. What I deem innocent and healthy, to another, might be crossing boundaries, unwelcome, and uncomfortable.
I'm not a child. Adults have moved beyond the need to be protected and have learned to protect themselves. And I do protect myself. To the point that I will deny myself of any physical touch at all, lest I want more. I protect myself because someone has to. And I can. But while I'm doing that, I cannot say I don't wish for a moment of intimacy when someone else will protect my heart and my being. Because those are moments when I feel most cherished. And now I'm right back to being a child.
So I understand that I don't see things in the relationship arena as other adults do. I see and feel differently. I learned at a very, very young age to build walls and shut people out. I learned that no one is to be trusted. But I want to let them in. And I want to trust them.
But my adult self understands that boundaries and limits make people feel safe and make relationships healthy. Boundaries are not the same as walls, but for me, they seem the same. When someone shows me a boundary: "I want you in my life, but do not cross this line," or "I want you in my life, but not often or for a prolonged period of time," or "I want you in my life-- except sometimes I don't," that's when I get all muddled. Because I'm not sure what they're really saying. They could be saying one thing when they mean something else. Or they could mean exactly what they are saying.
But either way, suddenly I have to negotiate a boundary I don't understand completely.
"I want you in my life, but do not cross this line." Why? What do you think will happen if I cross it? Do I present a danger or an inconvenience? What is it about me that makes you feel I am a threat? Or is it just that you need a limit so that you can feel safe? Help me understand.
"I want you in my life, but not often or for a prolonged period of time." Why? What will happen if you see me more than once or twice a month? What will happen if we spend hours or even days together? Will you be bored? Will you feel stressed that I'm here? Do I talk too much? What if I shower first? Will that help? Or is it just that spending lots of time with me makes you feel stressed and you need some time in-between to regroup? Help me understand.
"I want you in my life-- except sometimes I don't." Why? What is it about me that makes you not want me in your life? And how do you function having me there sometimes, but then making sure I'm erased and forgotten when you don't want me? What is it about the on-again/off-again friendship that makes you feel happier and more secure? Or is it just that a close relationship with me requires time and work and commitment, and you don't have time to work or be committed right now? Help me understand.
Except I think I finally do understand.
It's not personal. Not really. In an adult world, people seem to function daily with a significant other. That's the daily person. And then there are those who get together with non-significant others on weekends. Sometimes the non-significant others are always the same people. They're a group. They rely on each other for entertainment and companionship. They know who they'll be with, and they're comfortable with that. But those are weekend people. More than a weekend can be too much.
Sometimes the weekend people are different all the time. Then the adults have lots of people for entertainment and companionship. Not knowing who they'll be with each week is part of the fun. They meet new friends and have even more weekend people to choose from . But those are still just weekend people.
And then there are the people who used to be daily people before the significant other became significant. Sometimes they stay in the picture and become weekend people. But other times, they feel a huge loss because they're no longer daily people, and, unable to negotiate the feelings of loss, they drop out of sight. But then sometimes, they'll call or drop in for lunch just to catch up every six months, or even annually. Those aren't daily or weekend people. They're occasional people. But they still care about the person they used to be with daily. It just hurts too much to know they're not daily people anymore even if they understand why.
It seems that most everyone is okay with this. But I couldn't be. Because I'm still a child. I still want to hold a hand sometimes, or cuddle, or have close physical proximity that feels protective and loving. I still want to be important and cherished. I want to be the every day person, not the weekend or occasional person. Even when my adult self explains to my child self that it's okay to be less present, and that adult people show love differently to other adults, and that you can't always be first choice, I still want those things.
So now I understand the why. And when someone puts a wall or a boundary in place, I accept it without argument. Because I'm trying to be an adult about this. But inside there is a very young voice desperately trying to remind the person pushing me back a bit, that they're missing out. That they really do need me and want me, just as I need and want them, but they got distracted by some adult person or thing. And sharing intimate, sweet moments with me more often will be better than whatever or whomever they've found to replace me. And besides, I need them, too.
And then I go wash the dishes, or do real adult-person work, and remind myself that it's healthy for people to have boundaries. It makes them feel safe. It allows them to regroup. And it gives them time needed to build relationships with their significant other, or someone else very important.
But that pesky part of me that didn't grow up just howls indignantly and refuses to be comforted. Understanding rarely solves the real problem. And that is the most adult discovery I have ever made.