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The Love Project

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

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dating

My mother, my daughter

I saw it in her face. It was the first time I saw that look, but it was as familiar to me as the sound of my own voice. She felt unloved, irrelevant, afraid that she didn’t matter to me. It was twisting up behind her eyes as they filled with tears. I asked her what was wrong and she tried to say something, but it caught in her throat. She choked on the words. She’s learning to swallow her pain, hold it back, keep it to herself because she won’t get what she needs if she asks for it. It was the first time I truly saw myself in my daughter.

I’m trying to figure out how to be a single-parent. I’ve been doing it for almost a year, but it still feels entirely new and I feel like a constant failure. (To be honest, I felt like this a lot when I wasn’t a single-parent, but now there just seems to be more weight on my short-comings.) I’ve had a boyfriend for the last six months, and it’s been tough to integrate him into my life with her. Not because of him. He’s a dad to three boys and incredibly easy-going and understanding. He’s a better parent than I am in his ability to be present with his kids.

What’s tough is watching her react to me with him. We aren’t overly affectionate in front of her, though we do kiss a little and hug. He never spends the night with her here (he barely spends the night when she’s not here, but that’s because I have deeply rooted intimacy issues, which I’ll tackle in another post). She talks about her dad a lot to him and clamors for my attention more, inserting herself right between us. She climbs in my lap when we’re eating, insists on sitting between us on the couch, and interrupts us constantly. Usually to talk about her dad.

It’s always an awkward dance between the three of us, and one that leaves me feeling drained and guilt-ridden. But this week things got raw. She pushed harder to get between us, which made me push back. She woke up in the middle of the night, climbed into bed with me and touched and poked me all night. I was so fed up with being harassed, I got in her bed to sleep. She just followed me into her room. By the end of the week, I was screaming at her in the kitchen at 6:00 AM because she wouldn’t fucking leave me alone. Every time I turn around, she’s there. I was feeling insane from exhaustion (emotional and physical) and trapped in this hell of just wanting a little something for myself and have that be ok with this little person who I have given everything to. Including staying in a marriage with her dad years beyond its expiration date.

What I saw in her face this week shook me to my core. It was me. It was 5-year-old me in my mother’s way as she was trying to find some freedom from the oppression of being a single mom. I can still taste that realization that I was an immovable obstacle to her happiness. By the time I was my daughter’s age, I knew so many things I shouldn’t have known. I knew I was a burden. I knew I was unsafe. I saw that creeping across her teary eyes this week when she kept pushing to get closer to me, looking for some spaces in me that still belonged to her. In that moment, I was both my mom and my daughter. I lived and relived all of that in the time it took me to wipe the tears off her cheek.

I saw my guru this week. (She’s trained as an energy psychologist, but she is also an intuitive who provides spiritual guidance, as well as practical advice for how to deal with this human condition. She has changed my life.) She told me that I was, in fact, avoiding spending focused time with my daughter because that’s what I had learned as a child. Somehow I already knew that, but when she told me, I came undone. She explained that’s why she is pushing back so hard, getting into bed with me, sitting between me and the boyfriend on the sofa. She gave me a plan of action, which includes regimented time with her at set times of the day (15 minutes right after day camp and a hour of play before dinner, bath, bed), as well as scheduled time that we are doing our own thing separately from each other.

Having time to yourself as a single-parent with one child, in particular, is a coveted experience, one we might cling to desperately and protect fiercely as the pressures of our obligations squeeze us. But my guru explained, and it’s really common sense, that kids can and should learn to play alone and respect boundaries. This is what will allow them to create their own as adults. And if she’s got all of me for designated times every day, she’ll be able to feel safety and comfort in her moments of scheduled solitude. And so will I.

I know there’s no formula for success with this stuff. Single-parent or otherwise. I felt grateful for having some guidance this week when I was experiencing so much pain about it. I think creating a plan is the best we can do and all we should expect for ourselves. And then we make mistakes and modify. And we can forgive ourselves. And our parents.

The Pitfall of Being in Love

The pursuit of love is really, truly the point of why we’re here. I’m not saying it should be the point, but I believe it is. The kind of love I’m talking about is romantic love. Sexy love. The kind of love that makes you look in the mirror and think “Holy shit, I DO matter.” It’s not the love from your children that does that. It’s not the love from your parents, your best friends, your dog. (The love from your dog probably comes the closest, but it’s still a distant second.) The love we’re all subtly or openly searching for is that kind that makes us warm in our crotches, makes our heart skip a beat, makes us see the profound beauty in ourselves, that for some flipping reason, we can’t see any other way.

I am in love. Deeply, madly, mind-erasingly in love. It happened quite by accident, in a way that would make you roll your eyes and throw up in your mouth a little if I told you. I would probably use the phrase “love at first sight.” And it would be entirely true. I don’t know where he came from or how we found each other, but he’s that person who…wait for it…completes me. I know: ACK! Take a deep breath and let’s keep going.

A few months in, I was aware of being happy in way I hadn’t been in a long time, if ever. Not happy giddy, but happy peaceful. Happy in my cells. Content and more in touch with myself. Then at some point, a little demon came out and tapped me on the shoulder. She whispered things in my ear that made me feel crazy. She said it wouldn’t last. I became jealous for no reason, insecure over absolutely nothing. Even as I was overwhelmed with these feelings, a part of me knew there was no substance to it. When I dug a little deeper, I realized the driving thoughts were all around the fear of losing this special love. This love that crawled in and curled up in my empty spaces. This love that picked up my broken pieces and lovingly put them back in place. And here, right in the middle of fully having this special love, I felt like it was already gone.

It is well-documented that romantic love floods your brain with dopamine. The feeling of being in love is literally addicting. The same way cocaine and caffeine and sugar are addicting. And how do we feel when someone takes away our coffee and our biscotti? God, I love biscotti, by the way. It’s just the right amount of crunch and sweetness. We know that drugs and sugar are bad for us (mmm, I love biscotti), but … how do we reconcile this with love?  Anthropologist and love expert Helen Fisher has given a few TED talks about love. Here is one that goes into detail about what’s happening in our pitiful little brains when we’re stupid in love:

Stem cell biologist Bruce Lipton also explored this topic in The Honeymoon Effect, where he not only examines the physics and biology of love, but tells a very powerful love story of his own that illustrates the science behind love. It’s a fascinating book even though he uses exclamation points.

So, back to me…

I’m about six months into this love thing. It’s real love, I’m telling you. I love this man from the furthest corners of my being. We are deeply connected and getting closer all the time. Yet, when he leaves, I am always empty. It’s as if he takes his love with him. Sure enough, I get texts from him soon after he’s left telling me how beautiful I am, how much he loves me, etc, etc. etc. (I know, I know. Ack.) The point is that my level of security and assurance in the relationship go up and down irrationally. When he goes away, so does my dopamine. Somehow, this man, who has soothed my most chaotic places, is also stirring up entirely new chaos in my heart. He has both set me right-side-up and thrown me sideways.

So, how do we negotiate between the most powerful drive on the planet and the fact that it is designed to make us crazy with the fear of losing it? How are we supposed to behave lovingly towards someone we love when our primal architecture is an agenda of madness? How can we receive the genuine love someone shows when we are also afraid of losing it?

Let me know if you’ve figured it out. Please.

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?

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