For years, I specialized in superficial relationships– friends from work or school “knew” me well enough, but I made it sure it stayed light. I was scared of conflict, and I had a bucket-full of secrets about the weird way I ate oranges or how I had to exercise on weekend mornings. I kept other people at an arm’s length, because I was terrified of their feelings and my own. Keep that shit away from me, please, because I don’t know what to do when the ca-ca hits the fan. (And it always hits the fan.)
And that life strategy worked until it stopped working, and I realized
because I’m smart with the help of lots of therapy that my loneliness and depression might be connected to the quality of my relationships.
Eventually, I learned to handle conflict better and now lots of people (Jeff, Sadie and Simon) know how weird I am about eating oranges and I am more comfortable with lots of feelings being expressed in my presence. I may not be an intimacy pro, but I have some muscles built up that at least makes it possible for me to allow people to get close to me.
But the terror is still there.
Like last night, for example. Sadie was having lots of big emotions, which were manifested in crying, defiance, being a wee bit too rough with Simon, and then throwing couch pillows on the floor and refusing to go to bed. I think we can all agree that’s fairly standard for a three-year old who’s been cooped up for almost 2 straight weeks with her parents and brother.
In response to Sadie’s big emotions, I had my own reactions. Mostly, I felt that old squeamishness creep in that still shows up whenever anyone else around me is having lots of feelings. Intellectually, I know that I want my kids to be free to safely show emotions (throwing pillow couches: fine; smacking Simon’s head: not fine), but everything inside of me can’t wait until it’s over.
Because it scares me. I feel out of control– I certainly can’t control her, and I can’t control my reactions either. I feel rage when Sadie won’t just come sit down and have delicious Costco rotisserie chicken with us. We. Are. Eating. As. A Family. Damnit.
Then, as we limped through bathtime, I was enraged all over again when she wouldn’t pull the drain stopper out. Why can’t she just do that for me? My back is killing me and I really need her to just do this one thing.
So it was one of those nights. Sadie was acting age appropriately, and I was flailing around alternating between rage and shame for feeling so much rage about a three-year old’s antics.
Once I was alone on my bed at the end of the night, I remembered a peculiar guy named Peter I used see at recovery meetings. He anachronistically wore a tie-dyed hat with a pin that said, “Suffer Intimacy”. While I was scared to death of colorfully-clad Peter, I loved to stare at this pin.
Because being intimate feels like suffering to me. Having an intimate relationship with Sadie is going to be extremely painful: we will hurt each other (we actually already do). We will disappoint each other, we will say the wrong things, we will have bad habits, and we will see each other’s ugly parts. Some of it will suck a big one.
I let myself visualize what it would be like to have a distant, superficial relationship with Sadie– would it be easier? Would we clash less? Would it be like the difference between flirting with a guy at the bar whose morning breath (or anything else) you will never know and marrying your co-worker whose morning breath (and open heart) greets you every morning?
Of course, I want close relationships, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you how scary it feels and how sometimes (like last night) I wonder if I am capable.
Can I suffer intimacy?