“I urge you to try not to get hung up in the mentality that says ‘I hope I don’t lose him (or her),' but foster the attitude that says ‘He should be appreciative of having me in his life.'”
I read these words in the midst of a downward emotional spiral, and they grounded me almost immediately.
I was fifty-three when I read Marie’s words. I was in the eighth year of my relationship with my husband and realized that I had become a shell of the woman I was when I first met him. Amidst all the compromises I'd made to keep my relationship, I had compromised myself away.
By the time I reached forty, I had experienced enough of life to know relationships work best when individuals are authentic. I'm in awe of those who discover this treasure early in life.
And, forty was a turning point for me. My mother had died at forty, my first husband at age twenty-one. So, reaching forty brought with it a dramatic realization. There was a tremendous gift in front of me—time—and I would not waste it.
I devoted an inordinate amount of time and energy in my young adult life to finding for another Mr. Right; so I decided that I would not invest any more in that endeavor. I had raised my son, cultivated a successful career, put myself through college, and had recently bought my own home.
I concluded my life was grand just as it was. I did not need someone else to complete me.
Never did, actually. That frame of mind is society’s conditioning that a single person is half of something: it's an albatross many of us carry until we choose to lighten the load.
I assessed that I was a strong, intelligent, caring, successful individual. I also knew I could be overly sensitive, quick-tempered, and judgmental. I had a pretty good grasp of who I was. If I were to live the rest of my life alone, I would be just fine.
My prayer that included a list of characteristics that I wanted in a mate turned simply to, “If I’m meant to share my life with someone, please bring him in. Otherwise help me let go of the need to have a partner and help me get on with living.”
My prayer worked. I got on with living.
My life was full. I had close friends and activities I loved. The growth spurts were so fast and far-reaching they made me anxious. I was hanging on as tight as I could. It was wondrous.
So, why did I need Marie’s words to ground me a decade later? The answer: All the work I had done discovering and nurturing my sense of self could not have prepared me for the atypical life with a widower who had not let go of his past.
I was no stranger to the emotions associated with grief and guilt. I was keenly aware of the grip they can have on one’s psyche. I understood the concept of individual timetables for processing loss especially when it lays dormant and unacknowledged for any length of time. The ghosts remain among the living until we take the time to walk through our grief and finally say good-bye.
So, in knowing all of this, I was more than willing to make allowances for what would under normal circumstances be considered unacceptable. I minimized hurtful behavior and extremely uncomfortable situations.
There is no timetable for grief, I know that. So, I empathized and compromised at every turn. I could not have imagined the effect my decisions would have on my emotional and psychological health.
Anytime we set boundaries we risk upsetting others; and because I didn't want to upset this new love, I treaded lightly when I expressed my feelings. I backed down when things got rocky. Gee, I hope I don't lose him quietly echoed in my mind.
Then, I thought, No, relationships need to be negotiated. He should appreciate my feelings and appreciate having me in his life. My self-esteem and self-worth was high.
Time passed. I attempted boundaries again and again. Each time I felt his resistance, the strong, self-respecting voice grew softer, until there was nothing life but a screaming, But what if I lose him?
I got my wish. I didn't lose him. I lost myself.
It was years later when I realized I had compromised myself away. My life was all about him: his family, his house, his work, his adult children, their memories, their life choices…them, them, them.
It wasn’t their fault. I was not a victim. I had volunteered. I had made the decision to compromise my needs. I had made the decision to put all of my energy and emphasis on my new family.
I had stopped cultivating my own life and interests. And now there was nothing left of me. There was no longer any interest in me not even from me. How sad.
With help from a support group of women, I was able to make sense of what was happening and incorporate a new way of thinking:
I may understand unacceptable behavior but that does not mean I have to accept it. And it is up to me what qualifies as unacceptable behavior.
Those of us who were taught and grabbed on hook-line-and-sinker to the notion that we need to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others got a bum rap; our self-worth gets tied up in things over which we have no control.
I do think of and consider others. It's when I do so at the expense of my own well being that the price becomes too high.
When is it time to stop taking care of others and take care of ourselves? I like to quote instructions given by airline stewards before take-off: Put your mask on first.
In hindsight, it would have been easier on me emotionally to assert myself upfront instead of acquiescing at every turn. It would have been easier on my husband, as well. The person he got was someone other than who I am. Ultimately, we faced the same issues all over again as I moved from acquiescence to assertiveness.
As I moved forward, those fearful words rang in my mind again, I hope I don’t lose him. But now I was making the conscious decision replace fear with faith.
Do you know your self?
Knowing who you are means you know what qualities your character holds.
I am a loyal friend, sometimes to a fault. I am compassionate, empathetic, insightful, strong, and independent. My character incorporates a loving mother, wife, friend, successful career woman, stylish boomer, and playful grandmother. On occasion I can also morph into the Tasmanian devil.
Are you better with math than you are with composition? I am better with words. I’ve always loved using words. Balancing a checkbook for me is making sure I’m close on the numbers.
What type of music do you like, vacationing, sports? Clothing? I love denim. It's now the greater part of my wardrobe, something I wouldn’t have dared adorn myself in for management meetings years ago when I filled the part of corporate hopeful.
Looking back, I’ll bet my confidence, drive, and ability would have gotten me where I wanted to go even in my denim. I know my self well enough to know that my denim can be just as impressive with me in them.
The common denominator in all of my relationships is me. Marie’s words really brought that home. How can I expect others to treat me with dignity and respect if I don’t treat myself in that manner?
And, treating myself with dignity won’t always equate to other’s seeing my point of view. Being true to my unique self may ultimately lead to losing some people: those who see my life as a means to their own end. More importantly, though it equates to bringing into my life those whom I may share my dreams and my soul.
I implore you, foster the right attitude. Don’t be a non-entity.
Know who you are and take great pride in that person. Set boundaries. Just because you understand why something is unacceptable, that doesn’t mean you are bound to accept it. You are responsible for determining the parameters by which you'll live.