“Do you want out of this?” He gently asked me this morning.
“What?” I asked as I groggily sat up in bed, eyes crusted with sleep as they opened the first time for the day.
“Do you want out of this with me? Our relationship?” he responded, head hanging low.
This morning, of all mornings… It is Valentine’s Day.
Not that, that particular detail bothered me. I am not a sucker for these types of holidays. I find it even a little frustrating that we choose a social day to display to the person we are with, that we love, care or cherish them. I am of the camp that in a relationship, kindness love and gratitude for that person shouldn’t need to have a dedicated day – but should be experienced almost daily within the relationship.
I understood why he was asking, though. I already knew before he sat down at the edge of the bed to explain further.
Over the past year or so, I have made a few comments – comments about how he will miss me, or this annoying thing I do, if I am gone. I used to make these types of comments in the morbid, we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow kind of way. But lately, they have slightly morphed and are now seasoned with the if I stick around flavors instead.
My guy and I have been together over 3 years. I love him deeply and we have overcome quite a few obstacles. I think he’s one of the coolest people I know. He’s wildly talented, sharp, and hilarious. I love the way his mind works most of the time and am fascinated by his outlook on life. But that fascination and adoration feels to be mostly one-sided. And lately, there has been a growing distance in me towards him that I am unsure how to address properly. Oh, it’s not that I haven’t tried. I have had numerous conversations about it with him. It just seems that I haven’t gotten my message across because nothing’s really changing – other than the fact that the distance keeps getting wider.
The comments I make are not a threat. Far from it. It’s actually a pleading within me. A whisper of foreshadowing to what I truly think may come if something doesn’t shift – I just don’t know how else to say it (since I have said it 1,000 other ways, often much more kind and gentle than those one-off comments seem to accomplish). And I know he hears them as threats, but that misinterpretation also just seems to dig the knife in deeper, giving evidence to the growing gulf between us. People who aren’t connected tend to speak in different languages.
Recently I heard Tim Ferriss’ podcast called Tim vs. Dr. Peter Attia. It was a good one. A great one, rather.
Every once in a while, you hear a line that makes crystal clear all those things you’re feeling and helps summarize in one fell swoop the ache that is in your soul. It was during this podcast that I heard that line.
“The way you treat yourself is ultimately how you will treat those you love most.”
Ouch. Yes. That is a zinger.
Tim and Peter on the show, go on to further illustrate this point:
“…Which is, do you want to be the guy who treats his kids the way you treat yourself? And it had to be put that way for me to think, no. I mean, if I’m gonna be brutally honest, I would not want to watch my kids get treated by another human the way I treat myself. Even though I think it’s good for me to treat myself this way.”
While I don’t have any kids (yuck), I knew this line could be applied to all relationships… So, upon looking at my own life, I do a quick mental inventory – Ash, how do you treat yourself?
If you knew me, or at least knew me well, you would know that I have a near obsessive mission to love well. I have had quite a few dark days in my past, and one of the things that continues to light me up is to genuinely love other people. Not in the feely good kind of way, (but when that comes, I embrace it), but more in the love deeply, honestly, open and raw, even when it’s painful kind of way… So after a few moments of thought to this question as it applies to me, I concluded: While I am not sure I treat myself with 100% love, grace and appreciation, overall, I probably have a more gentle and kind relationship with myself than most people. I have learned this lesson it seems, a thousand times before (and will continue to learn it, I am sure).
But this line, man… this line. I then turned the question around and began looking at how I feel I am treated from others, and of course, my guy was front of mind. And did it ever sum up how I feel on the receiving end in my relationship.
It is twofold – this line. One one end, I am saddened at the treatment I receive from my guy that leads me to think that I am mostly tolerated by him, instead of feeling genuinely appreciated and admired. He often speaks to me condescendingly, but not intentionally. He often assumes comments are made to him as an attack, when it couldn’t be further from the truth… And this is frustrating for me. But on the other end, it is heartbreaking to realize that this is what he is doing to himself. Day-in and Day-out, he talks to himself this way. He doesn’t really like himself. Sure, he takes “care” of himself – he showers, he feeds his body, and he is even hellbent on his viewpoints – but I know, and he knows, he doesn’t really like who he is deep down. And what is the outward display of that? Well, that I feel like he doesn’t really like me deep down. His actions, and his words, although politically correct and superficially have the appearance of kindness, they lack an actionable authenticity. They do not actually show me I am appreciated.
I have tried to tell him that I need him to learn himself, know himself, do the work for himself, and care for himself emotionally. I have explained that the way he can show me the most love is by learning to love himself first. I have had what feels like hundreds of conversations with him on this topic. But I get it, this is completely greek to him. He doesn’t understand it and instead spins his wheels trying to show me love by doing more things for me. Which, I see his efforts as proof of his love and find great compassion in that, but ultimately, It’s not connecting. And so this morning, when he asked me that question, I didn’t give the long winded response I’m normally prone to do. I simply quoted him this line and said, “I remember when I first met you, you were at the peak of your game. You were taking care of yourself – and you ended up taking damn good care of me. I remember when you fought your pornography addiction and you were in recovery, and you took damn good care of yourself – and as a result you took damn good care of me. Babe, you don’t like yourself, and as a result, I get that treatment and I feel like you don’t like me.”
He stopped to think about it for a moment, very seriously. Maybe something finally stuck. Maybe he finally heard me. As his beautiful green eyes met mine, and already late for work, he said, “Okay. I want to continue this conversation when I get home.
I don’t know what the results of our conversation will be tonight. I am unsure. I do know that I love him deeply – so, so deeply. But having love for someone else is just not enough. It requires love for self first (on both sides). And if he actually can finally see the amazing soul that I see within himself, learn to deeply appreciate himself, learn to have grace and compassion for himself when he is met with darkness, and accept that he really is truly worthy of love despite the hangups he has, I will be overly ecstatic to be his biggest cheerleader while he works through this process. But I also know that I love myself for the most part, and I can’t keep feeling this pain in the relationship. So if he decides that he is unworthy of self-love, then I just don’t know how we can continue. Because I need to feel worthy of his love – and right now? His outlook on himself is being doled out to me and I carry the feeling of being unworthy of his love.
Relationships are incredibly challenging. And yet, they are beautiful as well. I think the scariest thing is this lesson – that the strength of a relationship is so utterly dependent on the relationship you have with yourself. The relationship serves as the ultimate mirror. It means that we have to take great care to confront our inner demons, ask ourselves the hardest questions, accepting what lies within, speaking to ourselves kindly, but honestly, and ultimately learning who we are. Sometimes this is best worked through with a close friend, or counselor. But once we are through that hard process and learn the skills to continue the life-long practice of it, we will be much more enabled to richly love others from a deep and authentic place.
So, as of now, I am still completely in it with him. And even still, I run this paradoxical risk, whereby once he does finally come to deeply appreciate himself and love himself, well, will he still want to be with me? But that is a question for another time. And ultimately, it’s for him to decide later down the road. His path is his own, and I will be at peace (although possibly accompanied by a great deal of pain) with whatever he chooses.
Either way, we’re staring at 3 different doors with the door behind us forever sealed. We’re forced to move foward. One, he chooses to continue to avoid self-love and I eventually choose to part our ways. Two, he chooses the path to finding self-love and we experience a deeper and much more profound connection. Or Three, he chooses self-love and ultimately determines that his life with me is not what he wants. Either way, we’re at this point of no return. Change is a-brewin’.
Here’s hoping he chooses door number Two.