Wednesday, October 10, 2007

warning - vulnerable melissa ahead

I have struggled to write about this. Actually, I have sat down multiple times and began wondering if I ever really would. Never before have I found a topic so difficult to pen, but this one is. It is not that I am worried about being vulnerable or seeming "less then tough", I think this has just been a subject that I did not want to express to myself. Consider this a mini-therapy, "go someplace that makes you scared" post.

I struggle with weddings. Just typing that statement feels so trivial. It is not weddings themselves, or people that I know and love getting married. I celebrate other peoples' unions wholeheartedly. This is more about roles in life, disappointments and past scars. (Ack!!! the "baggage"!!!)

To start out, let me explain how I was raised. I come from a family where marriage generally happens once, and it endures through times, good, bad and the spectrum in between. My grandparents stayed married, aunts, uncles, cousins and my parents...all married, mates for life. I was also raised with the belief that I should never live my life relying on a man, because every woman needs to be able to stand on her own. I agree with this. I think everyone, man or woman, should be secure enough, especially financially, for survivalism.

Now for more personal info. Marriage was not something I ever pushed for or tried to force, I just happen to have a history of engagements and long term relationships where marriage was discussed. I, however, have never wed.

With my first engagement, we were young but we agreed to being engaged for a long time before we even set a date. Some people in my life disregarded this engagement as "being real" and that hurt. That relationship ended abruptly a few years later. He is a good person, but our lives were very different. I was blessed with a wonderful family and had no major traumas (well, except eggplant...make note to write a blog explaining that), his life was hard and he struggled with drugs and major traumas. He broke up with me, said he made a mistake, got back together a week later, broke up again, he wanted to get back.... I encouraged him to get counseling. It was over. No hard feelings.

The next serious relationship lasted six years. There was talk about marriage, but it never went beyond that. He gave me his word that it was what he wanted, but when his mother offered us her engagement ring and he blew the idea off, I knew that it would not be forever. I did not leave, we dated for quite some time more. Then I got sides-wiped at the end. For the final month, I had been in rehearsal for a show I was doing in the city and did not get to see him much. He kept giving me his word that things would be fine once my performances were over. Needless to say, the day after the last curtain call, the curtain went down on the relationship as well. Insult to injury, actually. I had fallen down a flight of stair and got rushed to the hospital after the last performance. The next day, I heard from a mutual friend that he and I had broken up. This news was confirmed by him in a parking lot.

The last engagement/relationship/fiasco lasted quite a few years, on and off. I went into this relationship not expecting to ever get engaged or married. When he first mentioned getting me a ring, he was really sick so I wrote it off to delirium from his fever. When he was back down to 98.5, he brought up the topic again. Hmmm, maybe he was serious. We got engaged, even had a party with friends and family. But that relationship crashed and burned...several times. After the fact, friends and family openly expressed all the negative things about him and how they figured the relationship would not last anyway.

I realize that I am the common thread through all these relationships. I began seriously questioning what was wrong with me; why was I bring mates into my life that have talked out of both sides of their mouths? Was I just ignoring the red flags? Was I so much of a hopeless romantic that I believed that the storybook ending was possible or was I just hopeless? So what do I do? I put on my happy face, crack some jokes and pretend that I am tough enough to handle anything. And I am relatively good at that. Stuffing down pain, never letting them see you sweat, all that mumbo-jumbo. When a relative attending my brother's wedding insensitively brought up my former engagement party (when I am clearly with a very different, much more wonderful guy) the knife was turned. I cracked a joke, changed the subject and looked for the quickest exit away from said relative. But all this past stuff, the baggage, the wounds, the scars, can work wonders on the psyche.

I sit here now, living with a wonderful man. A man I have known since I was a punk chick teenager and we both were cool enough to produce our own zines. (I should share the story of how we became a "we". It's a strange and wonderful tale.) And I struggle. I struggle with fully healing past hurts so as to not infect this current relationship. I struggle with keeping the anxiety at bay when people inquire, "so when are you two getting married?" I struggle with staying in the here and now, staying out of my head and keeping grounded in what is. I struggle with insecurities and self-imposed expectations. I struggle with keeping up the illusion of a tough woman who can handle it all. I struggle with letting go of outcomes. And I mostly struggle with admitting that, yes, I have been "always the fiance, never the bride" and even admitting that, yes, I want to one day get married.

So here it is, a post that I found hard to write. It took me three sittings to get through it. I debated writing it and deleting it, since it shows the blog-world one of my vulnerabilities. It demonstrates that despite my want to be an independent, strong woman, I still do want to be a wife. I do not know where I started believing "wife" is not synonymous with "strong woman", especially since my mom is an incredibly strong woman and a wife.

I am working on it, all of it, and trying to make myself a better person, mate and strong woman.


Teri said...

Mmmm. Awesome that you wrote and shared this. Courage! A bunch of things occur to me that I will share with you - first disclaiming that it's just my perspective and if it's not useful to you, please ignore. :) (Seriously: what do I know??)

I love the point you raise about strong women and wives, and can you be both. Of course you can, as evidenced by your mom.

And the next question is: how do you define strong? And what function does personal strength serve for you? To cover up or compensate for your (perceived) weaknesses, fears, doubts? You mention having a relatively happy childhood and you are now coupled with a wonderful man, so what is it you're trying to shoulder, lovely one?

What I would really like you to consider is that you are perfect exactly the way you are and the vulnerability, the scars, the past BS all come with the experience of being human. We all have baggage. Also, we have a choice as to how we let our past inform what's happening now, in this moment.

Also, the tough girl thing often works in the moment to deflect hurt and keep you safe, but remember too that there is strength in softness and flexibility, like a willow branch that bends but doesn't break. And there is something very empowering about being honest, really raw and honest, because so few have the courage to go there. I'm just talking about responding accurately to situations and being completely real and brave in your communication with your sweetie.

I kinda feel silly after reading this over - given that you counsel people for a living and seriously - who am I? But I have asked many of the same questions you are asking, and this is some of the stuff I've learned/observed.

Much love to you.

Mercie said...

Marriage seems scarier these days. Like my parents (my adoptive parents I mean) never seem to think about being married, like it's not a choice but just is...I don't know. Maybe we overthink relationships these days.

But I know I'm too young to have a real opinion anyway. I don't want to get married anytime soon. But I wish you well and happiness. You're always nice enough to leave heplful comments for me. Thanks.

Stella said...

I am glad you shared your human-ness. It is what's real and what matters. Thanks for having the guts to show this part of yourself - I tend to think it helps us all be more ourselves with each other. And I hope like crazy that you will get to fulfill the roles in your life that hold meaning for you.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem with your past relationships is that you never found anyone truly deserving of you. (I don' know why you can't see that... it's clear to all of us who care about you!) As I read this blog, I find irony in all the struggles and insecurities you are dealing with, as you are the one who taught me how to be strong and secure in who I am!

Melissa said...

teri - thanks, i very much appreciate your perspective. the points your bring up are completely valid and thought provoking. I think I'll write more about in a future post. thank you, my muse!

mercie - I think there are a lot of things that are scarier these days then 20 or 30 years ago, and yes, marriage is one of them. today's 50% divorce rate is no small number! and you are never too young to have an opinion and a perspective on things.

stella - thank you. i am trying to get back to who i am, and part of that process is by forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

bernadette (may i call you Anonymous?) - perhaps it is the universe fucking with me for joking around that you were going to be the scary Cat Lady with 50 cats and a bad case of allergies. (to those who don't know us, "anonymous" is my best friend for umpteen gazillion years and the first one to get married. I love her!) I also recall avering (around 10th or 11th grade that "I never want to date a boring guy." I should have been more specific! hahaha

Universe - C'mon now! Give me a break!

Rick Hamrick said...

Melissa--just as Teri pointed out (she is clearly one insightful lady!), your strength today is built on the foundation of the hurt you endured in the past. Embrace it! You are so wise to acknowledge past mistakes out in the open, as that is how those mistakes are best leveraged: by embracing them. I love the reference Teri made to the flexibility of the willow. Truly, strength is born of vulnerability, honesty, and open-hearted communication.

You refer to Teri as your muse...I cannot imagine how you would be better served by any other. I can feel that she offers you just what you need, at just the time you need to hear it.

Best to you in your journey, and to Teri.

kathryn said...

When I met my husband and we began dating, I was terrified. I had decided that I was ready for a reciprocal, loving relationship (after a couple decades of the opposite), but when he came into my life I had the hardest time receiving the reality that I was getting what I wanted. I was tempted to bolt right out of there. And I struggled with this for several years.

It didn't help that he was slow to decide that he wanted to marry me (slow according to MY definition), but what kept me around was 1) the fact that he acted toward me as a husband in that he took care of me emotionally, physically, and even financially, 2) that we is a really good man, and 3) that I recognized the opportunity to practice being with not-knowing and trusting.

I did tell him in January of our fifth year together that by the 5th anniversary of our first meeting (October), we needed to be engaged, or that I would leave, because if we couldn't manage to become engaged by then, we probably wouldn't ever. He agreed that it was a fair deadline. By that time I believe he had made his decision to propose anyway. A few months later he got a job offer in CA, and he proposed to me the day of that offer. We moved from TX and 7 months later were married in a simple, private ceremony in our home. It was beautiful and perfect for us.

He did observe after we got married how much more relaxed I became since we married. I told him it's because the actual follow-through MEANT something, but I hadn't been able to convey this beforehand, and he wouldn't have been able to truly understand if I'd tried.

You wrote a courageous post, and I hope the process of writing helped. To want to be someone's wife, particularly wanting to be the wife of a man you love, is a compliment to the object of your affection. It's not weak to want to commit and have that be reciprocated. It's simply human!