“…Do not join his world. First, see what he is willing to do for you…”
This was the last bit of sage advice that a dear friend had for me before I fully committed to the relationship I was in. I had learned so much in the last three years. I knew myself so well now. So what did I do? Completely the opposite. I would discover, personal growth isn’t entirely about understanding my motivations. It is also about learning to recognize the motivations of others.
I packed my bags and set off for the other side of the country. I was being brave. We had a plan. I would arrive, get a job, an apartment, then move the rest of my family out. We would then take the time to introduce our families to each other; him, as a single father, me, as a single mother.
Once our two families were comfortable with each other, we would find a beautiful piece of property so that we could design and build a home together that would reflect our values and beliefs. We would teach our children about the cycle of life by planting herb an butterfly gardens. We would contribute to our planet starting with bee keeping. Our children would learn about sustainability through our efforts to be ecologically aware by using solar power, recycled rainwater, recycling in general, composting, and other “Earth friendly” techniques. We talked of introducing them to culture through music, fine arts, TED Talks, and other socially conscious publications. We would raise independent children who would learn to trust themselves, be aware of how to protect their own values and beliefs, and be confident individuals able to withstand social pressures that might otherwise ask them to compromise themselves.
Within 72 hours of my arrival in this new land, the tangibility of that dream dissolved into elusive vapors. I had no hope of grasping the delusional wisps of what was left to pull them back into reality. I had left my world to join his. The most important concept is that it was his world, not ours. Suddenly, I found myself confronted by a man who controlled not out of malice, of which I was so accustomed, but out of fear that we could not be happy unless circumstance and environment fit his exact picture of what “happy” looks like. In the spirit of everyone’s best interest, I was to conform a bit at a time, to integrate into his vision.
This is the trouble with pre-conceived ideas that we build our “happiness” around. We get the idea of what love, family, success, and relationships should look like to meet our definition of happy. This is a vulnerable state of mind to build and make life choices from. It brings to mind the movie ‘Under The Tuscan Sun’. The lead character had a preconceived idea of what happiness looked like but within the first 15mn, the cornerstone of creating that happiness was dissolved. Her ex-husband married another woman, bought the house from the first marriage, and had a baby with his new wife in that home. It took our heroin the entire movie to let go of her original vision of happiness and have gratitude for the unusual way that her dreams and desires were met.
One of the biggest challenges for victims, survivors, or anyone with prefabricated ideas of what their life should look like is, to let go of those expectations. Those ideas can be exploitable or even binding to unhealthy relationships. We want so much to have that home to raise our family in. Many of us want so much to have that partner to raise our family with. Those concepts tend to be reinforced by a society that has a general feeling that one’s family is not complete or happy without these components.
The challenge for all of us is discovering that we can have fulfillment in being a single parent. We are capable of acquiring that home to raise our family in. Family doesn’t always mean children. Our “partner” may come in the form of friends and family who support us in our journey as individuals. True, it is more difficult to thrive as a single parent and find balance between nurturing our family and being the sole provider, but it’s worth it.
As proven through life experience, literature, and film, one finds a happier existence, more confidence in one’s self, and deeper meaning in being true to who we are. When we sacrifice ourselves to live in another person’s paradigm of happiness, when we change ourselves to fit a dream instead of changing the dream to fit who we are, the result is often hollow. What is the point of living when you give your life to someone else to live?
Healthy relationships should resemble the symbol of a Master Card. They should represent two healthy individuals who’s values, beliefs, and dreams overlap in mutual respect for each other. Too often, sometimes out of exploiting malice, sometimes out of insecurity, we allow our significant other to slowly enmesh us out of the fear that we cannot realize our dreams any other way. With that concept in mind, I said my goodbyes, and let go.
It would be wonderful if I come across that person who will enjoy sharing their dream of happiness with respect for my dream. I couldn’t be happier to find the mutual overlap of our world. Until then, I will accept happiness, family, and success as it presents itself, not conforming to what I think it should look like. Love yourself first.