On Dating : Then and Now

On Dating : Then and Now

April, 2020. Early Covid Cont’d.

Maddy and I have been here together in my apartment in San Diego for over a month. She was getting anxious that I was getting sick of her and would eventually ask her to leave. She said it made her want to leave first to avoid the mess of it. 

I told her I was having moments of antsiness given the magnitude of our quarantine life together but that ultimately it’s been so much better with her here. 

We’ve been doing this online course on happiness. Yale released it for free to help people cope with pandemic life. The woman talks about something called Hedonic Adaptation. The idea that new experiences – new love, a promotion, traveling – can cause an uptick in our level of happiness but, ultimately, we will always return to our baseline. Which, for me, has always been particularly low. But the more I practice seeing good things, and appreciating all the subtleties outside of a big trip to Paris, the more I’ve been able to bump up my baseline. 

The course also talked about Savoring. Taking eight minutes at the end of the day to recount the meaningful parts. When I’m in bed I can remember how the sun came through the trees or the smell of someone cutting their lawn. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is.

I get the urge to call many of my ex’s and apologize. I have a hard time looking back at some of my relationships and not feeling embarrassed. I want them to see me now. Would they roll their eyes and say something to Maddy like, Just wait, sweetheart,? 

Can any of the adjustments I’m making be real? Is it as simple as learning from my mistakes and growing as a person with every relationship or has something shifted internally and allowed me to see better?

It used to be that when one of my negative/depressive cycles hit I would blame the person I was with for forcing me to be something other than what I was. That the relationship was too burdensome and carrying their shit along with mine was too much. We would get into a blowout about it. I would say they weren’t good enough or interesting enough. I would leave or they would leave. Then we would find a way back to each other and it would be deeply passionate sex following by 3-10 days of peace as I had satisfied the dysfunction I harbored emotionally. 

I tried not to do that as much with Alexis. Although I wasn’t very successful. But I was thinking about it. Even though I spent part of our honeymoon in Paris telling her I thought getting married was a mistake and that I lost the freedom I had worked so hard to achieve. I didn’t want to picture us together forever because that would make me stop working on myself. I thought it all reasonable at the time. Because I was partially insane in those moments, the intensity of my feelings justified my behavior. Because I didn’t realize the negative impact it would have on her psychologically to think I was always halfway gone. I thought I was being honest about who I was and what I needed. In reality, I was just being self-absorbed and scared.

As with all my past relationships, Alexis and I would make up after an argument and we would be fine for a while. I felt momentarily relieved that I had spoken about something difficult. It wasn’t until we met Mark, an EFT therapist, that I saw how far away from the truth I was. 

I didn’t want to be alone. I wasn’t some great soloist who was burdened by the love of another person. I simply didn’t think love was a safe and realistic place for me. The closer I grew to another person, the more they saw how unbelievably depressed I could get, how I wasn’t perfectly strong and clear in my actions all the time, how I changed my opinion and often acted like a hypocrite, how all of that would be too much.

It was too much for me. I hated those things about myself. The grip of my judgment left no room for error. And how could I be in a relationship – a thing that is fundamentally built on patience and compassion – when I was ready to crush myself for a simple misstep? 

Mark started to chip away at the reasons I might be talking to myself like this. And why I might be making it impossible for Alexis to get close to me. Fear, I suppose. Fear of all the bad things that could happen. I had to calculate and plan for the worst so as to not get caught off guard. There was no room for fluidity and no trust that my partner would still be there when they saw it all.

If Alexis saw me with Maddy today I wonder what she would think. How is it possible that I am communicating with such clarity and patience? Why am I not ruining the entire day because she was five minutes late to the car? And how am I taking so much accountability for my own feelings and not projecting them onto her? I think she would’ve wished I could’ve given that to her. I wish that too. That’s what makes life so brutal and so beautiful.

I think as soon as I saw clearly how my own behavior was responsible for my life and how my thoughts contributed to my emotions it was hard to go back to being the old way. I didn’t want to feel shitty. But I kept letting it happen. I didn’t want to blame other people for my moods. But I kept doing it anyway. But if I continue to blame my partners for my own unhappiness then I become a person I can no longer respect because I know it is utter bullshit.

I have to act differently because I know better now. I didn’t before. I felt justified in all the anger. I had a right to be closed off because the person I was with couldn’t take all my problems away.

I made progress with Alexis. We never stayed mad at each other. I always told her she was the only person I’d ever been with that made me feel nice in my heart. Even though it wasn’t always in the way she needed, I went to great lengths to make sure she was safe and taken care of. When she had a new hobby or interest I would get her all the things she needed to pursue it. Like my father, it often came in the form of gifts. It was an easier language for me and for him. 

Then it would get sour. The kindness that I was harboring seemed like a front for the storm that was always simmering. One wrong move and I could go off inside. I wouldn’t always show her, and for context, it was never about screaming or throwing things or making anyone feel unsafe, it was about going cold and becoming short and no longer being on the other end to receive her nods for affection or for partnership. I left the room, though not physically, and wanted her to know she was alone because I couldn’t risk being there with her. 

All of Mark’s tools helped us. But that was secondary to the amount he was helping me personally. All the revelations went off in my mind like fireworks. I saw another future for myself. One where I would be rewarded for vulnerability. I realized that being afraid bound us all together and the more I acknowledged that for myself the better I could be in a relationship. 

When I have something to bring up with Maddy I tell her how I’m feeling. I try not to judge her behavior or put the burden on her. I ask if it’s possible that she dries the toothbrush after she uses it so the handle isn’t wet when I grab it. I thank her for even considering it and acknowledge that my OCD can be a lot to handle sometimes but if she is willing to work with me then she will see it can also make me hilarious. 

We lay in bed at night and list the things from the day we are grateful for. We talk about the moments that we will hopefully always remember, giving them a second life to breathe into our memories. She thanks me for cooking and I thank her for doing the dishes. We help each other make the bed and we take walks while I practice Spanish and she practices French. It sounds fake, but it isn’t. I wouldn’t have believed it before, but that’s because I wasn’t ready to be happy. It feels easy, but that’s because we are both willing to put in some work.

Lying in bed and telling another person why you are grateful doesn’t come naturally to me. And probably not to a lot of people. In the past, my partner has been the one who took on the role of Absorber of Shit. I withheld my joy and my smiles and instead carried an energy of a burdened man who was too stressed and too busy to be gentle. A kiss on the lips and an off-handed I love you before falling asleep was all I could offer. 

Maddy and I have made these moments come alive. Admittedly, I’m afraid it’s because it is new and all new worlds are created with perfect intentions. Over the months it has become harder to motivate and do these things every night. A voice in my head tells me it’s fake or that we are some religious cult couple giving our minds away to an unknown god. Then we do it and then we are connected. I remember to move forward and not to dwell.

It used to be drama and pain. A big fight. An accusation. Blaming my partner for everything that was mine. That is what I did to regain control and to make them feel close. I caused them to suffer so I could feel relief. Now I am trying a different way. And the lightness it has created feels like what I’ve been missing all along. 

I can’t think of anything I want more than to open up to someone else and have them do it back.

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