Recently I had the pleasure of hanging out with a semi-new friend. (She’s known my fiancé for two decades but she lives out of state, so her and I never really got the chance to hang out).
You know when you meet someone and the conversation just flows? No awkward silences, no chitchatting about the weather, or the local news around town … but instead you dive straight into the raw and ugly, the honest and beautiful twisted story we call life. She’s the type of person you can have these conversations with.
We discussed how sometimes, it takes a tragedy to make us appreciate the true value of those we love.
We talked about domestic violence and why people choose to stay in a bad situation despite being miserable.
We marveled at the significance of our childhoods and upbringings, and the huge role they play in shaping our behaviors, thoughts and lifestyles well into adulthood.
And of course we couldn’t dodge the notorious topics of love and relationships.
At one point I said something along the lines of: “I’m slowly overcoming my fears of not being able to let go. Of not feeling good enough, and continuously having to prove myself worthy. I consciously try to do the right things and I put my all into maintaining the relationship I have, with tenacity and commitment. I’m willing to put in the work; from listening to relationship-advice podcasts, or seeking professional counsel, to studying books about ‘understanding your man’, or trying out the 100-Day-Sex challenge (which supposedly leads to magical transformations, or so I’ve heard). The list goes on and on. Anything to make things better. And if that’s still not enough then I’m okay with that, because at least I know I tried my hardest.”
Satisfied with my little speech I sat back. My friend shot me a doubtful glance and then she said: “Are you? Are you really trying your hardest? Giving it your all?” I nodded vigorously.
She continued, saying: “What about actively working on being the best version of yourself? I don’t see you earning money doing a job you love. I don’t see you following the dreams you say you have. Are you setting goals for yourself? And what will you do to achieve them?”
I stared at her, my mouth opening and closing without finding any words. Then: “You need to do you. Make sure that you have what it takes to love and take care of yourself regardless if you’re in a relationship or not. Do what makes you happy and work on being the most kick-ass version of yourself, and the rest will follow.”
My initial reaction was to go into defense mode. To point out that I was talking about my efforts in relationships and not myself. That this wasn’t about me.
But just as I was getting ready to tell her that, I suddenly realized that she was right. And I was terribly wrong. It is about me.
I’m not trying to be better. Better than who I was yesterday, last week, last year. I chose to hide behind excuses instead. “Circumstances” that made self-growth somehow impossible to achieve. There is a strange and sluggish sense of comfort in staying put. Devoting just enough effort to stop from drowning in your troubles, but not quite enough to help you swim to shore safely.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m constantly thinking of ways to keep my relationship alive, to build emotional intimacy and communication skills. I do want to be better. Just not for the right reasons. I left a very important factor out of the equation. My individuality.
When did I start to identify with merely being a part of someone else? Why did I start drawing margins and borders around me, limiting my growth and happiness to the confines of my relationship? Who was I before I became his?How many times did I recite these quotes to my friends, making it sound so easy? Now it’s me on the receiving end of these little wisdoms, and I realize it’s not all that simple to reclaim control of your happiness, to quit delegating that responsibility to someone else. But then again … it is.
Happiness is a choice, just like loving someone is. If I can devote time and effort into my relationship with someone else and choose to love that someone again and again, then putting the same amount of energy into loving and nurturing myself should come with a natural ease.
My friend gave me a lot to think about and for that I’m grateful. I know that I will grow from this.
You should check out some of her artwork on Instagram. Or should you ever find yourself in the Oklahoma City area and want to get tattooed make sure to check out her shop, Painted Lady Tattoo. Tell her I sent you and that I said hi.
If she asks who, just say a fellow empath.