Strange how things happen – yesterday a friend suggested a writing practice topic for me: “anniversary”. Which is strange because it’s exactly a year since I met my ex. And it’s probably a good time to look back on a year of intense learning and experience, and how it has changed me.
It’s strange the way the anniversary of the beginning revives the memories of how things were when we first met – and of the person he presented himself as. I was so happy at that time – the sheer delight of meeting someone who I could relate to on so many levels – from swapping crazy ideas to talking about deeply serious personal issues. An amazing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual partnership, that seemed to make us both equally happy and amazed at how well we were matched. It was such an intense time – we seemed to know each other incredibly well within days – and the first three months were so blissful as to go beyond what I had dreamed possible in a relationship.
I still don’t know whether the person he presented himself as then was real. Was it always a pretence, that the personal development course stopped him maintaining, or was that the real person that the personal development course destroyed? Or was it all in my mind? I don’t know. I always knew there were un-resolved issues, because they showed themselves in occasionally strange behaviour. But the good things that I saw outweighed the strangeness.
For three intense and beautiful months we were happy together, a source of wonder, discovery and joy for each other. And then suddenly, before I knew what was happening, it was all over, messily and painfully.
The immediate trigger was his participation in a week’s “personal development” course, that rather than deepening his ability to interact, plunged him into a chaos distorted by weird teachings about energy and interaction. I suddenly found myself dealing with someone who was falling apart, and taking it out on me. Being hurtful and judgemental in the name of honesty. I foundered in a sustained flow of personal criticism from someone I trusted when I should have realised he was in too much of a mess himself to have any real insight into who I was. Listening to him, I came to believe things about myself that were fundamentally wrong. Eventually his reactions became so extreme and irrational that it made clear to me that his “insights” had a lot more to do with his own fears and projections.
Somewhere in the darkness and heartache of such a profoundly personal and painful rejection I found a sense of myself and what I am like that is stronger than anything I had had before. I had always had the habit of taking other people’s criticisms very seriously – taking them deep down into myself, considering them seriously, checking that I wasn’t blocking them just because they were bad news, trying to live up to other people’s standards, and only slowly rejecting other people’s opinions. Reading that makes it sound like a huge vulnerability, but in fact it came from a strange mix of openness, confidence and perfectionism. Much of the time I managed to live up to a lot of the standards I took into myself, and found enough satisfaction in my ability to do this to be generally confident and strong. But there were vulnerabilities in the structure of my confidence…. which left me wide open to friendly-sounding criticism from someone I trusted, particularly when what he said coincided with my fears.
Ironically some of the things he said – that I wasn’t being open or honest, that I didn’t trust him – were exactly the things I was doing too much of. I was far too open to him, sharing far more than it was safe for me to be honest about in his state, and trusted what he said far too much. Far from being defensive and closed, I had let him completely inside my defences, and abandoned the sense that should have protected me from being hurt as badly as I was. It was only after we had broken up that I learnt to say, no, I’m not like that. I know I’m not needy or dependent – indeed I’ve spent most of my life learning how to take the risk of asking others for help and suppor, learning how to be interdependent rather than always having to be self-sufficient. And my desire to keep talking was not a sign of dependence, but a sign of strength – of willingness to communicate, to confront difficult issues and to do all I could to maintain a connection that I valued.
It’s hard to describe the change. It’s not that I know things about myself that I didn’t know before. But it’s as if it all came into focus. Rather than knowing myself to be a lovable and beautiful person for assorted reasons, I had a sense of my own worth and lovableness that needed no proving. And so there was no need to continue taking seriously things that people said that contradicted that fundamental feeling. I could listen, be open – but I stopped assuming that I was automatically wrong.
The way my ex treated me was pretty extreme – I still can’t believe how suddenly I went from perfect to unbearable in his eyes (three weeks), without fundamentally changing at all from my side. But precisely because it hurt so much it gave me what I needed. By exploiting my weaknesses and vulnerabilities it did more than any gentler experience could have done to create a new strength.
This time last year I was ready for a relationship – there were so many aspects of myself I wanted to explore and discover, and so much that I wanted to learn. In a year, I have come a very long way, and learnt a lot about myself and about relationships. I feel I’m ready now for a very deep and lasting relationship. And I know the lessons of the last year will be crucial in laying the foundation for a connection even deeper – and if less intense, more stable – than the one I knew last year.