Why? Is it because I think I’ll give better birthday and Christmas gifts to self….or is it that I’ll never have to worry about getting up in the middle of the night and having to check to see if the toilet seat is down when I go to the bathroom? Ummm….no.
I decided to date me because I suck at interpersonal relationships with the opposite sex. Well, that’s not 100% true. If they’re married or gay I have no innate need to impress them with my intelligence or wit and I can just be me. Eventually, with every male relationship I disappear. While I don’t have the need to hide behind the likes and dislikes of my male friends that are unavailable, at some point I always have this innate need for the attention or approval of a single male friend. I actually become needy and that’s not me. I wish I could view all men as married or gay because then I would not have this need to win their approval like a prize at a carnival game. It would be nice to just quietly be me and have a healthy relationship.
Yesterday I was surprised just how well one of my married male friends knew me and how deeply he cares for me. I met him 12 years ago when we began working together. I supported him and as we worked together we began a friendship that grew out of professional admiration for one another. He knew me when I had cancer, saw me through my lean unemployment years and I have to add was my friend who persistently pestered my previous manager to interview me for an open position that I currently have today. I got to share his life by the stories he’s told me about his wife, his parents aging, kids growing up, kids getting married and now becoming a very young grandfather. More often than not, I just listened. I didn’t feel the need to share because I wasn’t needing his approval or attention. I thought I had quietly slipped under the radar. Little did I know that for the past 12 years, he listened to what I said and didn’t say, and admit was flabbergasted during our conversation about a recent email I sent him.
I emailed him that over the holidays I separated from my second husband. He’s a wonderful man, but I did what I’ve always done from the moment I started dating; I disappeared. I lost my voice to express my likes and dislikes and put his needs far above mine. I spent the last year or so lost in a marriage because I was too afraid to rock the boat and buried any wants, needs or desires away and became a shell of a person. I’ve done this all my life because I was raised in a house where confrontation was non-existent. Although, I was raised and encouraged to get a college education and work, my main purpose in life was to get married and raise a family. It didn’t help watching my mother always cave to my father and wonder what their marriage would have been like if it was a true partnership.
I married my first husband far too young. Eventually, as we grew up, we became very different people and it was easy to say goodbye to him as he wasn’t healthy for me. However, I thought I was smarter when I met and married my second husband. Because my first husband was so vain, and had a temper, when I wanted out of the marriage, I didn’t know how to tell him. Confrontation was not an option for me, so instead I ate my way out of my marriage. I knew his vanity would get the best of him, and eventually he became disgusted with my appearance and I was able to end the relationship without an argument. His vanity made me realize I wanted to be loved for who I was and not what I looked like. I was incredibly overweight when I began dating again (still am), but it was my second husband who adored me as I was. While a wonderful man, I have to ask if he hadn’t adored me as he did, would I have married him?
We’re so different. He loves hunting and fishing and I love the arts and traveling. He’s more of a home body and I enjoy going out with friends. We built a marriage off genuine kindness towards one another and food (I love to cook…and he’s a good cook as well). For him, I think it was enough – or it could be that he loves the person I’ve become in the marriage. For me, I don’t know the person I’ve become in the marriage. I stopped exploring the things I love and accepted a life that I saw myself just going through the motions of daily living. I’ve kept the weight on over the years and have used it as my shield of armor so people wouldn’t notice me; so I could exist under the radar. I’m figuring out that after all these years of trying to be accommodating with his likes and needs that I’ve disappeared and am literally numb. Other things happened in our marriage that have led to our separation, but disappearing into the marriage and losing my voice was a casualty of it.
When I emailed my friend this news, I was apprehensive. He’s a strong married man with deep Catholic convictions. I thought he was going to judge and instead was sympathetic. When I told him I was in therapy to figure out why I keep making the same mistakes, he nailed who I was without me having to explain why I decided to take the time to focus on me. All these years I thought I was listening to him and instead he was quietly observing and listening to me. He told me that he was happy that I was ready to put me first because he watched me for so many years put everyone else above me just not to let others down. His comments were spot on, but I admit how alarmed I was at how well he knew me and how painful his comments resonated with me.
Besides my therapist telling me I need to focus completely on me, I decided to pull the trigger because I noticed a recent close male friendship I have was beginning to fall into my familiar pattern of male relationships. We became close when I didn’t care about his opinion of me, but once I started to care, I recognized I was needing his approval ….and….well, that makes me sad. What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m able to tell my friends the only approval they need is from within themselves and if they need another person’s approval to feel happy than something needs fixing. While I say this and believe it, why I can’t apply it to me? I don’t want to have to crave his approval or attention towards me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy his company and our conversations, but I never want to feel the need to have it. I shouldn’t feel the need to try hard to have his friendship and hate that I’m becoming that round peg trying to fit in a square hole. A great friendship should flow naturally and what’s funny is that we became close friends when I wasn’t looking for his approval proving I’m likeable as I am. It’s just too bad I don’t believe strongly enough in me to think that his first impression of me could be a lasting one.
For the next several months, I’m taking my therapist’s direction to put me first and I’ve decided to date me. What does that mean? Well, for starters, I realize I need to reconnect with things I love to do and make them a priority. I thought a long time about what I wanted for me and drew up a makeshift type contract that would push my focus on having to stretch myself to accomplish what I wanted for me. I sent the contract to my sister and a lifelong childhood friend and asked for their help (something I find incredibly painful to do) to pester me to ensure that I’m living up to the commitments I made to me. At the end of this, I proposed we go out to NYC and celebrate. They’re both in. Both are willing to pester me and remind me just how important this is to me.
What do I hope to gain from this experiment? I hope I’m able to see just how much I’ve neglected me over the years and begin to learn how my needs are just as important as others. I know 3 months won’t change me, but I know it’s a great start……and I plan to blog about my journey along the way.