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The Love Project

Learning how to love myself. One huge mistake at a time.

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Adventures in Vulnerability

Traveler looks at landscape

 

A funny thing happens to me when I start to write about my life.

 

I stop. Promptly.

 

As soon as I start to find the courage to expose my belly, something swoops in and slaps on some familiar armor. I strap it on and shut down the sharing. Real quick.

 

I was on a hike this morning with some girlfriends, talking about this thing that happens to me. Trying to make sense of my need to share and my habit of shutting down as soon as I start to open up. “That’s what you need to write about then,” says my friend. And at the risk of sounding whiney or pitiful, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

 

Renowned shame expert Brene Brown was on NPR this week talking about her new book, which explores the topic of vulnerability. I’ve heard her TED talk and listened to a few of her audiobooks and have become a huge fan. Pop psychology has become so focused on thinking a certain way to change your life (I’ve read all of those books, too), and it seems to me that she’s bypassed all of that and gone right to the core of why so many of us struggle to make real changes in our lives.

 

At our most basic level, we are all afraid we’re not ok. And no one wants to admit it. Because admitting it touches that fear and makes it feel true.

 

But the real work in transformation is not in changing the way we think about ourselves, repeating mantras or creating alternate beliefs, but in going deeper into those fears and opening up to it.

 

Opening all the way up.

 

I am afraid I’m not ok. That I’m not the best parent I could be. That I’m not the best friend or lover that I should be. That I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, fill-in-the-blank enough to be worthy of love. Admitting these things makes me weak in the knees. And not in a good way.

 

But according to Brown, that’s what we’re all feeling.

 

She also claims that the greatest measure of strength is one’s willingness to be vulnerable. That it’s the only true path to living a wholehearted life. What’s remarkable about this is that it’s probably the opposite of what we believe. If I tell someone I’m afraid, I will seem weak. If I confess my feelings of inadequacy, it will confirm that I’m not good enough. But she’s telling a different story. She’s saying we need to acknowledge this rawness. See it, feel it, taste it – and let others see it, as well.

 

My favorite quote from the interview with Brown is this:

 

“Vulnerability is the true measure of courage.”

 

Even as I write this, my armpits are sweating, and I’m just hoping I’m not the only one who feels this way. Because I think the point is that by pushing through the discomfort, we shed the stories of doubt we’ve been telling ourselves. That inner strength is maybe something we don’t acquire, but reveal. So right now, I’m choosing to believe that pit sweat equals courage.

 

I am in awe of people who live from their vulnerability, and I’m so grateful when I witness it. Admittedly, I don’t know anyone who does it all the time. But when I see it in a friend, a writer, a family member, my child – it brings me to my knees. In a good way.

 

I’m choosing to see the path of vulnerability as an adventure, a thick jungle through which there is no clear path. I have no idea what’s on the other side of it, but I believe the only way out is through.

 

And maybe I could have a little fun with it along the way.

Stuck in the Middle with Me

I have an enviable life. I live at the beach and have no real financial concerns. I don’t even have to work to pay my bills. I can watch the sunset over the ocean every night from my patio. I have a gorgeous boyfriend who loves me, and sweet kid who is happy and healthy and a car that always starts when I turn the key.

 

And yet… I am miserable.

 

The worst part about having no real problems is that you are forced to confront the real issue, which is the deeper, tender, rawest parts of you. The parts that refuse to be happy, refuse to feel the love that is all around you, refuse to see the glory in the sun setting over the Pacific.

 

I have had this enviable life for a few years now, since my husband and I separated. He very generously supports me financially and in general makes my life as easy as possible. I am lucky in ways that almost no one is lucky, and still I struggle to feel the peace and comfort and joy that should come along with that. With no actual dramas, there is no story to absorb all the uncomfortable feelings I have, which makes them harder to feel.

 

When I can step to the side of my discomfort for a bit, it’s interesting to notice how much of a habit unhappiness is. I don’t have a job, but I still feel light and free on Fridays and Saturdays and watch a tide of heaviness roll in on Sunday evenings in anticipation of a long work week that does not exist for me. Every Monday morning I feel anxious, a well-worn groove in my mind from many years ago when I did have a job. An emotional ebb and flow generated by some part of my brain that stores memories and doesn’t perceive reality.

 

The cool thing about this perspective is that it’s easy to see how our feelings aren’t necessarily a by-product of some real thing that’s happening, but energies that simply have patterns and a life of their own. And just like emotion, inertia has a momentum as well. With no real demands on my time, I don’t have an automatic sense of purpose. The spaciousness of a life without some obligation can very easily create more of the same. The emptiness, for me, has given birth to laziness and apathy – some days depression is straight-up knocking at my door.

 

These are some of the things that occur to me when people tell me how lucky I am to live where I live without having to work. Lucky maybe because I get a perspective into myself that others don’t have, but it can feel painful and lonely. Lucky also, perhaps, because I have the choice to do some deep work that I might not otherwise do.

Sole Mate

I’ve started down the path of Internet dating. I created a profile on one of these “Meet Your Soul Mate” type websites, and I even started looking for possible soul mates. There’s just one teeny, tiny problem. I do not want a soul mate. I am a loner, and I like it that way. (I think.) I want companionship, but I do not want a burden. I like to be alone – a lot. But I also want companionship (you realize that’s just code for “sex,” right?).

Is that weird?

I want really, really good sex and maybe that entails a soul connection, but the whole “mate” thing implies I’m interested in intertwining my life with someone else. And I’m solidly not interested in that. But I seem to be alone: all of the guys I would potentially be interested in (based on the completely superficial details of their profile…like, whether or not they’re hot) have as a part of their profile: Looking for a Relationship.

Really?

How do they know they want a relationship? And, for that matter, how do I know that I don’t? Just because I was married to someone who I wasn’t passionately in love with doesn’t mean that the next guy I meet won’t complete me in the way my husband never did. But still, when I read that someone is Looking for a Relationship (capital “L,” capital “R”) I hear: “I have this massive void in my life, and I’m ready for YOU, yes YOU, the one reading this right now, to fill that wasteland of loneliness.”  And then I just slam my laptop shut and run away screaming.

I have always felt a little claustrophobic in my relationships, like I never had enough freedom. Not to be bad, but to be myself. Does that mean that I am someone who fundamentally should not be in a long-term, committed relationship? Or have I just not found that perfect complement to myself? Is it possible to find your soul mate…even if you want to be the sole character of your life?

Honestly

The honesty thing. Why is it so hard? One minute, I feel like I’m on track, taking care of myself, doing the things I want and need to do to feel good and productive, aligning my actions with my priorities and all that good stuff Oprah and Dr. Phil are always talking about. The next minute, I’m off the track, sometimes drunk and confused, dirty dishes are piling up in the sink, my bills are overdue, and I’m feeling angry at the world. Oh. So. Angry.

Why am I only able to be honest about what I want and how I want to spend my time when there’s no one else around to be honest to? In other words, why do I have so much trouble actually being honest. Because being honest when you’re avoiding the world isn’t being honest. Honesty doesn’t work in a vacuum. It’s all fine and well to say, “I just want to sit down and read a book. I don’t care that it’s Friday night,” when there’s no one around to hear it. But when someone I’m dating is here or my well-meaning, potentially alcoholic friends are texting me about hanging out, I cave and do what they want to do.

Why?

Because I’m afraid they won’t love me anymore if I’m honest about what I really want when what I really want goes against what they want. And then I cave and drink too much and smoke cigarettes when I so desperately want to NOT smoke cigarettes and then I’m too tired to do the dishes or pay the bills. And then I’m so angry at my friends or the guy I’m dating for leading me down a path I didn’t want to go down when the person I’m really mad at is…wait for it…me.

How can I be expected to ever have an honest relationship with anyone else when I can’t be honest with myself? Agreeing to go along with what others want to do so that I’ll have a social life is a colossal lie. It lurks deep, deep, deep so that you don’t even really know the lie is in control. But it’s there, guiding your behavior. That shadow lie we all tell ourselves is: “I am unlovable if I’m not doing what others want me to do.”

And that’s the honest truth.

Love Actually

Yesterday I was not in love.  I was decidedly in thorough dislike.  This, after being in love the weekend before and also at some point before that.  Now, I am back in love.  And I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all.

I met someone quite accidentally.  Though I realize that’s how most people meet.  (Online dating sites aside.)  It was an accident because I was really not supposed to meet him.  I was supposed to be single for the next year or so and – as the name of this blog promises – learn how to love myself.  I have been married for 14 years and am getting divorced.  I have a five-year-old daughter.  I hadn’t had sex in (gulp) years.  I felt (feel) worthless in general and terrified about the future.  Really, all I could cling to was this idea that I could be alone and figure out what love means.

And then I met a boy.  I started participating in a beach volleyball clinic and he is one of the coaches.  He’s not chiseled and dripping sex like one might imagine in this scenario.  (Go ahead and imagine that if you want to though.  Hell, I might stop for a minute and imagine it.)  He chased me up the street after the first practice and asked me if I was going home to take a hot shower.  Not in a “I’ll be imagining you naked and wet” sort of way, but more of a “I can’t think of anything else to say and you’re covered in sand” sort of way.  I stopped to talk to him and we stood on the corner barefoot and sandy, grinning, with our sunglasses on top of our head as the sun went down behind us.

That was about two months ago.  Since then we have been dating.  (Is it considered dating if we just watch movies at each other’s houses?)  And I’ve run the gamut of emotions, mostly because my very unrealistic expectations for a fling have only been partially met.  And by partially I mean, this isn’t so much a fling as it is a full-blown relationship.  But the hardest part for me is that we seemed to have skipped the all-important hummingbird phase where we just buzz around each other, wanting to have sex constantly and whisper in each other’s ears about the sex we’re going to have and the sex we just had.

I brought this up stealthily the other night around 2 AM after we had been drinking and he admitted he didn’t have butterflies (or hummingbirds) with me, but something better.  He had never been so comfortable with a girl as he was with me.  That every time he sees me, he falls deeper for me, his heart grows.  (I’d prefer his nether region grow when he sees me.)  So, all the while he’s settling in to spooning while we watch Marvel comic book movies, I’m back and forth with frustration, then lust when he decides to take off my pants during said Marvel comic book movie, then back to frustration when he doesn’t want to do a play-by-play of the sex, complimenting my every gesture and impactful groan.

Comfortable.

Of all the things I would want a guy to feel for me, this is not one of them.  I feel hurt and angry that he doesn’t buzz into a hard-on when I walk into the room.  The sex is great, don’t get me wrong.  (But after five years, honestly, it could be super average and I wouldn’t know the difference.)  And he’s into me in the moment, but… I want that impossible vibrating in your belly that makes you high and then angry later when it fades and you want it back.  I want the roller coaster, the obsessing, the jealousy, the “that ass belongs to me” …

Don’t I?

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