The other day, I had a conversation about dating someone with a significant illness. About what life looks like when you commit to someone whose health is at the forefront of any sort of consideration you make. What it must be like to live with someone going through all of that on the regular. The stress, financial strain, lack of freedom in certain areas, lack of spontaneity… things like that.
In addition, a (sober) friend of mine is dating someone who recently relapsed. The question there is, can you continue to date that person? Is active addiction something you can transcend? Would you, if you could? Should you? (“Should.” Nothing more subjective than THAT. Whose opinion counts or matters, in that scenario, other than your own?)
I know a lot of people who’ve made concessions in order to make relationships work. Sometimes, those concessions seem to me like way too much of a compromise, bordering on settling. But then I have to realize, what works for one person and is okay with one person isn’t going to be the same for everyone. And “settling” vs. “compromise” is a matter of perception anyway, right? Easy for you to say, one way or the other, but you never really know until you’re in it yourself. Rendering judgements on the choices and relationships of others is… well, I think it’s a global pastime, whether it’s fair or realistic or reasonable or not.
In the past, I’ve certainly done whatever I could to make things work with people; in hindsight, I probably did too much. I don’t regret it, though. Being all-in, and living and loving with my whole heart, is who I am, you know? Making better choices in friends and lovers is the key. And I am such a romantic, such an optimist at heart, I tend to operate under the guise that love can, and should, transcend all of these things. That if it matters enough, you can get through it. That regardless of someone’s health struggles, once you make the decision to be with them and to stay with them, you figure out how to make the rest of it work. And sure, you might be taking on a lot, a life of hardship and struggle, but you’ve got someone to do that with. Even if it’s just for 5 years, or 10, or 20 – or with no guarantees of time at all, other than the present moment.
It’s such a Pollyanna view of life, isn’t it? Even when I know the truth, that sometimes (most times?) love just isn’t enough.
Upon reflection, though, I actually have deal breakers, too. And despite coming at life from a “love shall overcome” mentality, I also lived life in a world of black and white for a long time, out of a need for security and safety and consistency (hint: it doesn’t really work like that). Like: I’m okay with this (and this and that and that, too), but I am absolutely NOT okay with that, nope not never. This is good, THAT is bad and wrong, and that’s all there is to it. Etc.
Of course, there is value in determining what it is I actually am okay with and what I’m not, rather than trying to force something to work for the sake of of making it work. And what I’m okay/not okay with can be fluid and change, depending on where I’m at in life. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, this forever, etc. Determining that I’m not okay with something doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, or closed-minded, either; it just means that I have limits, and the desire to protect myself from harm, emotional or otherwise.
However, even that can go overboard and you find that you’ve protected yourself so much, no one else will ever have any room to be let in. More than anything, I fear closing up and shutting down and never giving someone else the opportunity to know me (someone who deserves and wants to be there, of course). It’s important to me to be sure I’m not “protecting myself” from a place of fear, insecurity, “what if”, or anxiety that has no basis in reality or present moment. Holding people accountable for the past actions of others or fear of the future isn’t fair, nor is it the way to build new and better relationships.
As an aside (and somewhat related), I just got an email from my mom, telling me she is planning to leave her church to attend another one because of a woman who drives her crazy. This one person has the power to drive my mother out of a place where she has found happiness and acceptance. Apparently, Mom has reached HER limit and has determined it is more worth it to her to find another church (and let this woman drive her away) than try to find a way to get along and make that situation work. I have opinions on this, of course, based in 40+ years of personal experience, but then, it’s not up to me to decide where someone else’s breaking point is.
Anyway. A lot of times, it would be easy to claim one side or the other in a hypothetical situation. It’s not until you find yourself in the situation for real that you see what’s what. What’s real, what’s realistic, what you’re made of. Sometimes, you figure out that you’re actually okay with certain things you may have otherwise thought not. Sometimes, too, you’re confronted with a situation where something you thought you’d be okay with is met with a resounding HELL NO from the depths of your core. So it’s real life experience that guides you through these things. You can talk about it, write about it, or read about it, you can watch a movie and try to figure out what you’d do differently… but the only way to really know is to be in it.
Over the last 20+ years, I’ve amassed a wealth of experience with what I’m NOT okay with. It’s pretty basic and reasonable: I am not okay with dishonesty, lying, or manipulation. I am absolutely not okay with passive-aggressive behavior. I am not okay with unfaithfulness or cheating. I am not okay with abuse, whether emotional, physical, or verbal.
And yet, even a few of those deal breakers have some subtle nuances, in certain situations, where other things would need to be taken into account. There is a part of me that screams, “HELL NO” when I contemplate being in a relationship with an active addict/alcoholic, but that is the same part of me that struggled my way through relationships like that in the past. But at this point in my life, I could see the possibility of finding myself in that situation and figuring out how to navigate through it together, if at all possible. And sometimes, a person who is being passive-aggressive simply needs to learn a different way of communicating, and you can figure that out together. Lying, or being manipulative… that’s something else. I’m not entirely sure you can overcome that behavior. Those are usually indicative of bigger problems on the part of the other person, and not likely to change anytime soon.
So, yeah. Living life in black and white, or trying to make sense of things, trying to compartmentalize and label… it’s all an effort to feel safe and secure in the world, right? To know our place amid the fundamental ambiguity of being human. I’m still pretty open to learning, to questioning those beliefs, to expanding my comfort zone without actually breaking anything, or feeling as though I’m settling. Basically, checking in on things and picking my battles. Sacrificing a battle to win the war. Giving up on my need to be right all the time, and instead opening up to bigger pictures.
I don’t know. It almost seems like I’m trying to get at something deeper than just figuring out if I’m okay with someone lying or cheating or having an illness or relapsing, though, you know? Because there are no right or wrong answers; it’s all up to the individual person to determine what works and what doesn’t, what’s okay and what’s not. I just think it’s important to question this stuff and revisit from time to time, so that I know whether or not I’m living the best life as my best self. If what I’m doing, or if the person with whom I’m spending time, or the friendships I have, or the job I’m working, go against what I’ve deemed important and/or necessary and/or in keeping with who I want to be and the life I want to live, then it’s up to me to make that change, to do something different. I am the only one who can decide whether or not it’s okay – and it is the same for everyone else, too.
Related: WORRY ABOUT YOURSELF.
In other/old news, I started reading the anxiety management book; one of the first things it said was how people struggling with anxiety believe that if they can just trace it back to the source, they can fix it. (AHEM.) But the truth is, your brain has developed pathways and sometimes the neurotransmitters are operating on overdrive, so it’s not just a matter of figuring out where it’s coming from; it’s also a matter of retraining your brain (CBT). And this morning, the wonder-therapist said that it can take 400 times of repetition before you retrain your brain, unless you somehow incorporate fun and/or novelty into it – then it only takes 12. So, you know. In response to anxiety and all the crap it brings with it, when it crops up again I’ve been tasked with figuring out ways to respond and correct and all that in fun and/or novel ways, in order to get back to my core self, not the anxious self. I appreciate a challenge.
In the meantime, this weekend is all about reflection and self-care. I’m focusing on eating well and juicing, making sure my body gets all the nutrients it needs and not much of anything else; spending time with friends (as well as doing some things on my own); tending to things at home and crossing them off the list; and doing my best to disconnect from being online so much. It’s too easy to find what you’re looking for sometimes, you know?
So… yeah. I’m once again choosing which wolves to feed. It feels good to live (and love, and BE) with intention. <3