My boyfriend and I rarely argue and if we do it is almost funny because it is usually an exchange of less than two sentences, and it ends in us looking at each other and laughing. Then it’s over.
When I first met him I had just gone through hell and back and his presence in my life helped me to learn how to live in the moment, something very challenging for me to do, and for a little bit I would forget about all the craziness going on around me.
After a few weeks of spending time together I found out that the first time he ever laid eyes on me I was the speaker for his grade 12 Art class. It was the first presentation I had ever given as an artist and I always joked to people and told them, “If I could go back in time and tell myself that I would fall in love with the kid sitting in the back row of the art class wearing a Slip Knot T-Shirt, I would probably not believe it because that is just crazy!”
In the beginning of our relationship I used to get hung up on the fact that he was seven years younger than me, and with thoughts such as “What could he possibly know about the responsibility I have as a single mother when he is still in his Bar Star phase?” ran through my head constantly.
Recently we had our biggest fight in four years, and again when it comes to fights this too was short and silly, but the end result will change my life forever.
I have been having a lot of self-discovery in my late 30’s, and it appears that as you get older it becomes more and more difficult to hide from the truth. Yesterday the truth about a life pattern I had been living in for more than 20 years bit me in the ass, hard, and I cried for hours as I realized how long I had allowed it to dictate my life. This all came to fruition over dirty dishes.
I am a doer, and I do a lot. Not only do I write, blog, make videos, create art and work with youth, but also homeschool my son every day (which is another blog on its own). I started to get overwhelmed and when I would come home to dirty dishes, or a messy house, I would resent my boyfriend because he wasn’t helping enough.
With the last two boyfriends I had before him, I had taken on the role of their mother and not their partner. I told my current boyfriend the first week we started dating that he had to get one thing straight, I was not his mother. His response was, “Good, I already have a mother thanks!”
So how did I end up in the same situation over and over where my partner never seemed to clue in, or appreciate what I did for them? These questions festered and made my blood boil? Doesn’t he care? Does he not appreciate me? Is this my life forever?
When he came home from work I brought up that I was angry about the dishes. Of course he got defensive because my statements always seem to come out of left field. My response to this action is what unlocked a very complicated puzzle that lay in the depth of my soul, “If you want I can pretend it doesn’t bother me, I am really good at doing that, but trust me, I don’t think you want me to do that!”
There is was, the underlying statement that defined so much of my life. “I can pretend I am okay!”
When we went our separate ways to cool off I lay in bed, my heart pounding through my chest, my anger consuming me; I had still not seen the connection. It was still about the dishes.
Then suddenly I started remembering a few days prior when I was trying to write a blog about forgiveness and forgiving my child’s birth father. I could not write it because I was afraid of what people would think. I was afraid of losing all that I had worked on in creating relationships with his family, and that if the truth got out they would go away. I cried as I stared at his profile picture, not because of what he had (or should I say “hadn’t”) done, but I was upset because I couldn’t bring myself to unfriend him as much as his Facebook friendship hurt me. It was a very confusing moment but made so much more sense after the fight with my boyfriend.
Flashback a month prior and you would find me in my son’s psychologist’s office having a counselling session. I was trying to help my son with his anxiety so I took part in my own therapy.
The therapist looked at me and asked, “How do you feel about your son’s father?”
I smiled and responded, “Disappointed I guess, but I forgive him.”
The therapist stared at me with a grin, “Really?” he asked, “You forgive him?”
“Yeah sure,” I said while taking a sip of water, “Forgiveness sets you free!”
“Wow,” he said with his eyebrows arched in both amazement and humour, “You are such a good actor you even have yourself convinced that is true!” He sat back and crossed his legs, “Let me ask you that one more time Cara. Do you forgive your son’s father?”
All it took was that second question and someone calling me out on my crap, for the tears to fall as I answered, “No! No I don’t!”
This realization was only the beginning.
Forgiveness is important in life, but now I understand it has to be real. It can’t be something you tell yourself in order to cope because then it turns into resentment. Resentment is the opposite of freedom.
Remembering these moments, but not truly understanding the significance to my current situation, I calmed myself down and fell asleep.
The next morning I grabbed a coffee with my friend and we went for a walk in the woods. She asked me, “If you could change anything to make this situation better, but could choose only one thing, what would you change?”
I hated this question because I couldn’t answer it. All that kept raging around and around in my head were all the things my boyfriend was not doing, why he didn’t appreciate me, and how I ended up attracting it over and over. The light went on in my head like a lightning bolt striking land.
“I want him to know that I am not okay with the situation and it needs to change!”
I let out a gasp at my own words. They were simple but I heard it again: I was not okay but I was pretending I was. What the hell!?
I dropped my friend off at her house, sat in my car, and cried. How long have I been pretending to be okay in situations where I clearly was not?
I created comfort and ease for others. I took away difficulty and tried to lead by example, believing that if only they could see how I did it, how I raised above it, they too would follow.
I did it in my previous relationship, never speaking about art and spirituality (two of the biggest things in my life) because it caused conflict, and so I lied and said I was okay with keeping those parts of me to myself. The relationship previous to that one, I smiled, was optimistic, and wore it with pride because if he could see how positive I was he would mirror it, and he would get a job. He would learn about responsibility even if his failure to act didn’t hurt me in the process. In the relationship with my baby’s daddy, I smiled and lied about forgiveness, but I never said how much it hurt, how disappointed I was, how much I struggled to care for his son, and how sending me a birthday card in the mail with nothing in it (and nothing for his son) but happy greetings, was the 1000th paper cut that opened a wound spilling out ten years of fake forgiveness and optimism that could no longer stay captive in my body. I realized that this pattern went on and on for years and years into my past.
I cried out loud questioning, “How did this start?” but the truth was, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I now was aware of it and it needed to stop because this man, my partner now, was the “one.” If I lied to him about being okay, it was not fair to him or to myself because we both deserved the truth, and we both deserved happiness. This moment of clarity was not about being hard on myself and taking responsibility away for each person’s part in the equation (because trust me they were not all innocent). It was about taking responsibility for my own part in creating an environment where this pattern grew, thrived, and became so natural and beautiful that I did not see it for the tangled weeds that were stunting my growth. Facing this truth and learning how to communicate it was authentic freedom.
The difference between my partner now and all the partners I had in the past was that when I conveyed this moment of clarity after our argument he listened intently, grabbed my hand and used the new space I had created to share his own patterns and vulnerabilities. The end result was that our relationship transitioned to a new level, and we developed a new appreciation for each other. He also agreed to do the dishes.
This experience has taught me that I can be an optimistic person, and I can forgive, but in order to do that I need to learn that my feelings are valuable even if they involve anger once in awhile. That repressing the truth to create false comfort does not help anyone in their personal growth, including me. Finally, we all have personal patterns that affect our decisions and choices, and if we are lucky enough to realize them and to temporarily swim in our vulnerability, embarrassing and uncomfortable truth, that in the end, it will set you free. I hope.