It’s that time of year. Every year in February we celebrate a day that glorifies the spirit of love. Unfortunately, the way we celebrate it has taken us away from the real essence of its spirit. Too much focus is on making the appropriate gesture and reinforces the fact that some of us might not be in a relationship. Instead of a celebration, it becomes a source of stress.
Collectively we are and have been in many different phases of the relationship cycle. Regardless of what phase we are in, we all have wounds that are preventing us from experiencing deeper levels of intimacy in our lives. Relationships demand trust and risk.
But what holds us back is the fear of again experiencing the pain that we have felt in past relationships. It hurts and we don’t want to experience it again.
So we adopt a strategy that protects us. Most likely we are not even aware of what we are doing. Let me share with you what I did for many years to avoid the possibility of experiencing that pain again.
My favorite approach was to select a partner who was emotionally unavailable. They were hopelessly self-centered, already in a relationship or afraid of intimacy because of the same wounds that I had experienced. Another approach was to select partners who I knew did not fit my picture of the person I wanted to be with. This allowed me to be in control of the relationship. By focusing on their flaws and imperfections I could keep them at a distance.
I kept trying to make these relationships work and played out the drama longer than I should have because I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was alone. Now I realize that feeling alone has nothing to do with whether you are in a relationship. There have been plenty of times when I have felt alone while in a relationship.
There is no doubt that relationships stretch us. We experience a myriad of emotions that we would not have experienced without the relationship, ranging from fear, anger and avoidance to fulfillment, confidence, and passion. We are forced to explore uncharted territory discovering new ways of saying and looking at things. We’re never totally prepared for what needs to be done or said, so quite often we avoid saying what’s on our mind.
Sooner or later what we have been withholding from our partner is reflected in our attitudes and conduct, often leading to feelings of separation and alienation, which defeats the purpose of being in relationship.
Sharing our most intimate feelings is not the easiest thing to do. For various reasons we have not had much practice. So we create a system, albeit not perfect, that works for us. We carefully measure how much we are willing to share about what’s really going on with us. Perhaps we experience more isolation and loneliness than we would like, but we keep our innermost feelings a secret.
So we go on to that next relationship thinking that there is a relationship out there that will eventually fulfill us and make us whole. This time it will be different we think to ourselves.
When I was in my early thirties, I had an enlightening conversation with my good friend Stephen Sawyer, “Stephen, do you think that each relationship gets better and that there is an ultimate relationship?
“Yes, and it’s with yourself,” he responded.
As we know not all relationships work out the way we would like them to. But we know more about ourselves for having been in the relationship.
With each relationship I discovered something new about myself. I was able to bring these new insights into my next relationship. Each relationship brought me closer to where I wanted to be. I experienced a new level of intimacy that affected every relationship that I had. Most importantly I experienced a greater knowing and love of myself. I enjoyed just being in my own presence. The ultimate relationship occurs when you learn to know and love yourself. Until this happens you won’t be able to love another person deeply.
As you keep evolving you become aware of a fundamental truth. You can’t change another person. You can only change yourself.
This version of the Serenity Prayer says it best:
God give me the serenity to accept the people I can’t change,
The courage to change the one I can
And the wisdom to know that it’s me.
So now we have shared some valuable time together. We know where to look and sometimes we don’t like what we see because we are own worse critics.
Sometimes there’s a quote or a poem that resonates with us and makes the biggest difference in our life. It puts everything in perspective. For me, more than anything it was this quote by Anais Nin that inspired me in my quest.
“And the day came when the risk to remain closed in a bud became more painful than the risk to blossom.”
As I expanded my capacity to risk I also increased my ability to trust. I embraced my fears, overcame my barriers to intimacy and became the love I was seeking.
Let’s celebrate this Valentine’s Day in a different way. Let’s celebrate this day as a day of inspiration; an inspiration to open ourselves more to love and loving, love of others and of course ourselves.