I’ve had one of those fractured days with multiple clients where I have to dump my work conversations on the table before I can be present with my wife. We’re sitting at a window counter in a new hamburger joint with a view of a pretty neighborhood.
“I had to wear a scarf today,” she says.
I look at her. “I’ll bet. That’s some shirt.”
“I had it buttoned all the way up at work. This is just for you.”
It isn’t, of course; we’re in a restaurant after all, but I see what she means. She means that she considers my preferences when she gets ready. She considers how much I hate lipstick and how much I love mascara. She considers that I prefer glasses to contacts. That I like her hair up better than down.
Over the years, she has figured out what appeals to me and then explained why it appeals to me. “You’re just saying that because I’m wearing mascara.”
“I put on mascara before I pick you up. And you always say something about my eyes. I’ve tricked you.”
But it isn’t a trick. It’s prowess.
The trick is to be in a relationship with somebody who tells you they deserve grace and forgiveness and then continues to do the same shitty things to you over and over. If you love me, you’ll forgive me. If you love me, you’ll work with me while I change. If you love me, you’ll see the best in me despite my behavior. It’s not a train wreck, it’s a marriage! Help me love you better!
Mary rests one finger on my knee and zap! A charge kicks through me. The chemistry is that simple. We tell ourselves stories about love. About the ways we want to be treated, and the behavior we’ll accept in our relationships. We draw our lines and expect them to hold. Nobody who loves me will keep pushing at my boundaries, right?
But I don’t think it works like that. I think people do push at our boundaries. Even people who love us. Maybe those people most of all. And we have to decide if that boundary must hold to keep us safe, or if it was a place marker for intimacy. I drew a line there because that’s as close as anyone’s getting or I drew a line there because that’s the point where I want to reevaluate.
You get your lines. You get your boundaries. You get to say no whenever you need to say no. And you can love in spite of everything. That’s how you know the line is most important. Because you love your person enough to demand she honors that line. That line that keeps you safe. That line that’s just for you.
4 thoughts on “Electric!”
*especially people who love us… they push at our boundaries all day long.
(especially my three year old, lol. “No. you will take a nap now. Me needing you to take a nap does not make me a bad mommy.”)
This is abuse, what you are describing: “The trick is to be in a relationship with somebody who tells you they deserve grace and forgiveness and then continues to do the same shitty things to you over and over.”
I wish I had known that in my twenties!
I wish I had known, too. Before I understood, my grace was used against me, and it felt like a sword. Every day I practice letting things happen without meaning. I enjoy my life more. Practice is good for me. I recognize beauty without struggling as hard against its impermanence.
I agree – it was too easy to let others manipulate me, because I didn’t know how to identify my intimacy needs, let alone meet them!
I think for me, I didn’t understand that it was okay to separate “the behavior” from “the person.”
By this, I mean, “I don’t like this behavior” but “as a person, I still hold the theological stance that you are filled with dignity, worth and value. I too have dignity, worth and value, and my integrity won’t let you treat me this way. So you can change your behavior, or I can walk.”
It was while I was teaching toddlers (while going to therapy in my late twenties to recover from child sexual abuse) that I really understood this.
You can love someone, and affirm their dignity and value, and still refuse to be treated badly… When one person starts to get healthy, the whole dynamic changes! (I know that to be true, in a deep deep way!)
Beauty has a tricky way of being impermanent.
I look for moments of joy – sometimes they feel like stolen moments – I notice them when the hubs is tickling the kid and we are all together, laughing laughing. That the moment passes doesn’t make it any less real or beautiful or happy. 🙂
Buddhism has great teachings on impermanence.