“To me being in a relationship with someone means I am choosing to be with you with all of your flaws and insecurities. If you are ashamed of something, I want to know. If you are scared of something, I want you to feel safe enough and loved enough to tell me. The worst thing a person can do to themselves and someone they are in a relationship with is to keep the things that hurt inside hidden. All this leads to is brokenness and unfulfillment in a person’s soul, which means you can never really truly know that person or have a healthy relationship with them. I want more than that out of a partner, and I want to be able to give that to them too.”Me
Over the years I have dated enough men to see a pattern; after a period of time I realize these men weren’t honest with themselves, and therefore were not honest with me, about who they really were. I often felt like most of the time I was getting the edited version of them, the one shared for public consumption but not the one that existed in their head and hearts when they lay down to sleep at night alone. I always wanted to know where they went in their thoughts. I wanted to know what were they afraid of; what made them feel ashamed; where did it hurt; what had been the most painful thing they had been through? I wanted to know, what is that you DON’T want me to know? Because I feel like that is the ultimate question that keeps people from really becoming intimate with their partners. Without that, you never really know the shame they feel or flawed parts of who they are. And if you don’t know that, then perhaps everything else they tell you may feel like a lie to them when they say it or show it, even though it may not be. Shame is a funny thing. Shame is a scary thing. Shame hidden in the deep crevices is a VERY dangerous thing.
Over my years of dating I’ve found I am drawn to men who need something from me, and most of the time I’ve learned that that thing is for me to be a chaperone or a parent. I manage to find the good-looking guy who isn’t quite to the point in his life where he has a career or money to fully pay his bills. I find the guy who hasn’t experienced the loss of a loved one and so hasn’t quite got the gratitude for waking up every day thing going on. Most of all, I’ve found men who have unhealthy coping mechanisms, namely drinking alcohol to excess, that I know are being used to hide and dull the real pain they are feeling, the shame they feel about the unspoken hurts.
The problem with all of the above is a man who isn’t sure about who he is (and by the way this is not to say he needs to have arrived at the place in his life where he is going, just that he has identified where he wants to go and is moving towards that place by doing the work) will never be a safe choice for the person who decides to date them. They will never be able to be a consistent partner. Even if a partner appears to want the same things as you do, you have to keep your eyes and heart open to acknowledge whatever it is that is deep down in the darkness of their psyche will eventually rear its ugly head. And that leads to trouble in the long-run. That leads to the person they love having another bout of a broken heart. Let me expound.
I started dating a man in my late twenties who knew himself, and me really, better than anyone I knew. He was smart AND intelligent. We met and he knew I was home to him and I knew he was a home to me. So he planned to get his MBA, applied for school, decided to move to where I moved to for my own life and we started moving both of our lives in that direction of forever we all yearn for. I was in love more than I had ever been. Then, after I had already fallen in love with him and we had made all of these grand plans, his father was diagnosed with cancer. Then his father got sicker and sicker. And then just before he was due to move here to where I lived and he was due to start school, his father passed. Now this man wasn’t afraid of sadness. He read books and went to the gym and had a close family, but he hadn’t been through a loss like this before. And it really messed him up. And it really messed me up too.
Suddenly my wonderful boyfriend started keeping things from me. Suddenly this loving man with whom I had had the most incredible intimacy of my life was withdrawn and withholding, using intimacy (or the lack thereof) against me. He pulled away and detached in so many ways it made my head spin. I felt like I no longer knew him, and I think in large part that was due to him no longer knowing himself after losing his dad. As he said, he had known all of his life his dad was going to die, he just hadn’t had any idea what he was going to do past the day when he finally did. It rearranged everything in his soul.
When this death happened, we started a spiral downwards that left a searing scar across my heart and life. And some of that was his fault, and some of it was mine. The problem is, when his father died, I was relying on the bond we had built over the months as partners, that level of intimacy we had reached in every other way, and it led to me to believe I could help try to “fix it.” I tried my best to anticipate his needs. I tried to let him have all of the space he needed. I backed off when he wanted to take a break, I welcomed him home when he decided that was what he needed. When his dad’s birthday arrived, the first since his death, I bought a rose and made dinner to be told I didn’t understand that this wasn’t a day he needed support. He screamed at me and spit poisonous and painful words at me. He told me he looked in the mirror every single day and saw his father’s eyes so me trying to support him on his dad’s birthday was stupid and selfish. He closed me out from his tears. He found solace in other places. And then the fighting ramped up and I felt like I was standing in the middle of the desert we had traveled to together but now I was alone, and everything we built up until that point suddenly vanished like a mirage. I wanted to help fix what hurt and he didn’t want me to know what the hurt looked like. And so the battle of the egos and stubbornness of me wanting to help entered, while the relationship we had exited.
What I realized, over the months that followed, was his is not fully knowing who he was before his father’s death was not an issue; this life is a learn on the job thing. The issue was, once his father passed, his not knowing himself through a period of loss meant there was no longer room for me because he didn’t choose for there to be room. He didn’t choose to make any extra space to try to understand when he pulled away and withheld intimacy from me, it felt like he didn’t want it from me, which made me feel like he wanted it from someone else. He didn’t understand keeping his sadness from me meant he was isolating his pain and alienating me from the truth he was holding inside. He didn’t let me have an active role in his life any more, and even though I tried to make space for him in his time of pain, he didn’t want to let me in. It was the beginning of the end of us because I couldn’t help but feel insecure about everything as a result of that isolation. I worried about the girls in his classes. I worried he was seeking comfort from exes. I worried about everyone. Because he wasn’t sharing his hurt with me, I felt like I no longer mattered, and therefore wasn’t safe. The fear and insecurity that developed, or which was magnified really, in me when the person I thought I knew better than anyone put up a wall in front of his truth really threw me for a loop. I wanted to know all of the things that made him hurt but he didn’t want me to. And so it broke.
Then there was another relationship that went south; I still love this man with all of the fibers of my being. I love him despite the rage that emanated from him in our home. I love him despite the holes he punched in the walls. I love him despite the horrible things he said to me. I love him despite the fact that he left me with $5,000 worth of his half of the bills he was supposed to pay. I love him despite the fact that he left without any real repercussions but I was now responsible for all of the bills, our dog and the apartment we had lived in together. I was stuck cleaning up yet another mess. And all of this could have been avoided had I just admitted to myself at the beginning what I already knew: this man didn’t know himself the way a person needs to to be a partner. He didn’t want to explore the reasons for why he had remained unattached in relationships before me. He didn’t want to explore pain from what I might guess developed when his mother acted like a child instead of an adult his entire childhood. He didn’t want to find the source of the pain he poured alcohol onto every single day. He didn’t want to acknowledge something hurt inside because that would mean it existed, that would mean he would actually have to deal with it. He didn’t want to know himself, really.
I venture into this territory of I’m not a doctor and I’m not 100% sure, but when this man’s flaws and unhealthy coping mechanism of drinking every single day (and getting nasty once he had reached his third drink) reared their ugliness I immediately in my gut felt like it came from an unexplored place of shame. I don’t know how to really tell you why I felt it, but something in my soul screamed to me that this guy was keeping a secret about his past from me, and maybe from himself. It was so confusing as a partner because, on the one hand, he was the sweetest and kindest person I had ever met and dated in my life. And then, on the other hand, he swore at me, insulted me, lied to me and neglected to come home after going out and binge drinking with his friends. When it happened the first time I took note. But then the second, third and fifteenth time I was too deep into my love for him that I forgot to put my love for myself first, and so it worsened.
What I began to realize, after several evenings of his drinking escalating to screaming escalating to my upstairs neighbor checking in to make sure I was ok, was that somewhere deep inside of this man there was a giant festering and abscessed wound. I also began to realize he might not even know why that wound existed, how it formed, or what the cause of it was. The way he drank, the way he turned so dark in the blink of an eye, it wasn’t something I even think he knew the reason for. And after months of the drinking getting worse, after I had already left him once before for it, he just let that monster of shame swallow him up. Eight months after moving across the country to be with me my ex went out with a new friend and didn’t bother coming home. In the morning, when he finally did, he begged for my forgiveness and told me how much he loved me. He knew he was hurting me but he didn’t want to come home to me.
I think the truth is, he didn’t want to come home to me because I knew the monster intimately now, and I asked him to try to figure out why it kept coming out. He didn’t want to address the pain that was deep in the folds of his heart. He didn’t want to figure out why he would choose his drinking and destructive behavior over his family. He didn’t want to know the reasons for any of it. And so he left. He left a bombed-out field of debris in his absence.
I think at the end of the day this man loved and loves me more than anyone else has and maybe more than he will ever love anyone else in the world. The problem is, that includes himself. He doesn’t respect or love himself. He wants to keep those deep darks hidden. He doesn’t want to expose them to get clean and healthy in his life. He just keeps pouring more booze on it all to numb himself.
It has been almost four months since this one left me. It has been years before that with other men who I couldn’t make relationships work with. And the truth of all of it is, I’ve realized other people don’t like when you know yourself. They don’t like when you challenge or encourage them to get to the bottom of the bad behavior or weird emotions. They like to hide from themselves. They like to pour another whiskey, to smoke a cigarette, because in the cover of smoke they don’t have to face the real truth of who they are.
If you find your real deal, should you find your north star, make sure they can look into the mirror at themselves and admit the things that hurt them, make them feel shame and have them feeling insecure. If your partner cannot do it for themselves, they will never be able to do it for you.
Do the work. XX, me