Just say "Yes."
I'm reminded of something my uncle Tom told me after his brother died.
It was the winter of 2002, and on Christmas Eve, he shared with the family the last conversation he had with his brother, James.
He said, “As Jim was dying, we started talking about regrets. He told me that the one big regret he had was not marrying this girl he dated back in the 60's. He wanted to marry her, but we were Protestant, and she was Catholic. Our parents wouldn't have stood for that.”
He fell silent after that, and didn't say more. I could see by the look on his face that he was disappointed for his brother, but not at him. James died without ever marrying, or having children. He lived alone, and worked as a environmental scientist. He once wrote a scholarly work on the history and uses of the soybean. For vegetarians that might be considered pornography. For the rest of us it's far from Fifty Shades of Tofu.
James was a physically fit, intelligent, and had a great career. Yet, he died alone. If it wasn't for me writing this down, the world might never know he existed. I didn't know Jim. Or, if I met him, it must have only been once or twice during one of cousin Stephanie's many weddings. Perhaps I honor the dead by mentioned him here. I'm a gentile that just performed a mitzvah for a stranger. There's my good deed for the day.
I've been thinking recently about all the strange reasons people say, “no,” to love.
I think fear of getting hurt is the main reason. We've all been somebody's ex at some time. For every kiss we've shared with a partner, we know their lips touched someone else before us. We know we've shared our respective bodies with a partner before. We've shared secrets, and our thoughts and feelings. We perform these acts of love and vulnerability, only to have them either cherished, or disrespected. We want to believe that the other person would never hurt us. What happens when they do hurt us? How deep is the hurt? How willful was the hurt?
Our minds run through a whole litany of reasons why they may have hurt us. Is it my fault? What did I say or do? What's wrong? Will they tell me what's wrong?
I think few of us want to go through that again, so we sometimes build barricades. Maybe we peek over the parapet for a moment or two, just to see who's approaching. But we have a difficult time letting the drawbridge down. We don't want another Trojan Horse in the courtyard.
Sometimes the reasons are cultural, just as my uncle pointed out.
A Catholic might not marry a Jewish person because one speaks Latin on Sunday, the other speaks Hebrew. One may convert, even in name only, to the other person's faith. A Mormon won't marry a non-Mormon, because they are told they can't be “equally yolked” in Heaven. One partner will go to the cheap economy section of the afterlife, and the other will go to first class. A Catholic might not marry a Protestant because of...well, I don't have the space to get into it here. If my last name is any indication, I'm well aware of the enmity that traditionally surrounded both sides of religious aisle, and Emerald Isle. That's another discussion entirely. But it is one of the many bogus reasons people shut out a potential partner.
There's also the prejudice against ethnicity, LGBT people, and the list goes on. Unfortunately cultural pressures do play a large factor in why some people say, “no.”
The factors that I've been thinking of are more personal, rather than universal. Fear of getting hurt is a big one. Fear of rejection is another. What if this person finds out something about me that I don't like? Will it be a put off if they find out I'm on medication? Will a history of mental illness bar them from loving me?
I've never been on medication. However, I do have a history of depression (which I was successfully treated for) and anxiety. I had a mild form of OCD at one time. I also have occasional panic attacks, racing thoughts, and insomnia. I come from a background of an abusive childhood. I witnessed domestic violence as a child as well. I hate being angry, because I don't like how it makes me feel. So I don't always express anger, even when I should. I also don't always say what I feel immediately. I sometimes like to think it through first. Sometimes I wait too long to say something. Though I try to be more assertive these days.
Are these attributes that bar me from being loved? If a woman finds out I have those “negative” aspects, will she run for the hills? I think I've dated a few women that did run for the hills because of these things. I've never judged anyone else for having them. When I find someone that has experienced these things, it somehow makes them more relatible to me. However, being anxious or depressed are not prerequisites for me to be attracted to someone. I don't see them as “negative” attributes either. I just see them as being part of the person. They may be parts the don't like about themselves, but I accept them. As Jessica, my first therapist used to say, “All parts of you are welcome.” I mean that.
Sometimes people are afraid to love because...the other person seems to good to be true. How many times have you been with someone who seems madly in love with you, only to find out they hate your guts? Or, they hate so many things about you, they try to change you?
I once dated a girl that literally yelled at me for wearing a plaid shirt. I don't know why she yelled at me, but she really hated plaid. Maybe she dated a lumberjack, and it ended badly? Oddly enough, I gave the same shirt to a woman I dated in 2015. She admired it, and wanted something with my scent on it. She also became my ex soon after. Since then I've not worn plaid. I think the message is loud and clear, unless it's a kilt, don't bother. Flannel be damned as well!
Fault finding is something that can destroy any relationship. Yes, we all have our faults. The question then becomes, “How great are the faults?” Is it worth breaking up with someone over plaid? Do they have annoying habits? The answer to that is always, “Yes, they do.” We all have bad habits. Not putting the toilet seat down is minor, compared to coming home drunk, and putting your fist through the wall. Consider yourself lucky if your partner has lame bad habits, and not life-threatening ones.
Therapists John and Julie Gottman talk about this sort of thing extensively in their work. You can love someone, and still accept their foibles. No partner is perfect. But no partner should ever make you feel less than human on any occasion. You should lift each other up, and not tear each other down. If you do accidentally wound one another, work on fixing it. I may take time, but it can be done...if both parties want to commit themselves to the work.
I think what I'm talking about here is lack of acceptance, and the desire to control. Let a partner support you emotionally, but never let them control you. Love isn't about control. Possession about control. The two are not the same thing.
So where does this lead us to?
I think, despite all the examples I've given, it all boils down to one thing: fear. We fear judgment of the other person. We fear losing them. We fear they will leave us for someone better, or more stable, or more wealthy, or better looking, etc. We fear rejection for the parts we don't like about ourselves. We fear rejection over our own bad habits, and how the other may perceive them. Ultimately , we crave the praise and love of the other...but we fear their judgment.
The solution to all of this is unconditional love.
I don't expect you to be perfect.
I don't expect you to always please me.
I don't expect you to agree with me on everything.
I don't expect you to never misunderstand me.
I don't expect you to never disappoint me.
What I do expect are the following...
I expect you to be fully you.
I expect you to forgive, and be forgiven.
I expect you to be honest, even when it is difficult.
I expect you to work with me to make things right.
I expect you to just be.
What I want from someone I love is for them to tell me anything, everything. Even if they think it'll scare me. I want them to feel the freedom to be themselves, and to be open. I want them to know I won't reject them for who they are. I won't hurt them, or run away. I won't see them as damaged goods. I will see them as human. I will see them as imperfect, and yet striving to be better. They will practice, but not become perfect. They will try, and they will succeed and fail at different times. But most of all, I just want them to be present in the moment, and always.
Say, “yes,” to these things, and trust me.
Copyright Riley Joyce 2016
Elliot Smith. The title of this track lent itself to the title of this blog entry.