“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” — Oscar Wilde
“I fucked up.”
It took me years of looking myself in the mirror to get to this place of acceptance. Of self-awareness. Of learning to love myself. And in learning self-compassion for what I didn’t know back then.
I. Fucked. Up.
Sure, saying it is liberating now. But, that’s only after dozens of psychology classes and nailing a few degrees on the wall along the way.
Even more liberating is that I kept my promises to my dad on his death bed: I would grow up. Wise up. And, become the first doctor in the family and make him proud.
I kept those promises.
But, they didn’t come without personal sacrifices.
I can still hear my mentor telling me over two decades ago that, …”The further along you get, the lonelier it can get.” In his infinite wisdom, he was trying to enlighten me that by choosing my education, some relationships would likely be lost along the way, while others outgrown.
And, in my infinite naivete, I didn’t listen.
Call it good old-fashioned pride, but because resilience has always been a trait with the women in my family, I guess I foolishly believed I was bulletproof from my mentor’s forewarning.
How wrong I was.
In my internal dialogue, I vacillated between heeding his advice and throwing caution to the wind. On one hand he was a seasoned veteran in clinical psychology; on the other hand, shouldn’t I know myself better than anyone?
Part of getting to know ourselves often comes at the expense of learning things through the school of hard knocks, and by way of afterthoughts and hindsight.
We realize what we want, by experiencing what we don’t want. We learn who we are, by experimenting with who we aren’t. We realize what a friend is, after getting burned by what a friend isn’t.
And, we realize how deep our love can go for another human being, only after walking away from what love isn’t.
Reaching these places of self-awareness takes practice. Dedication. And a hellova lot of trial and error. While we all go through those a-ha moments and reach our personal epiphanies, we reach them at different times. Under different circumstances. And, contingent on where we are in our personal growth.
By the time things started falling together for me, I was years into my college classes and had seen some close friendships dwindle to a casual text or call every few months. I figured this was what my mentor had meant about distance and obligations creating emotional space between some friendships, while reducing others to fair-weather ones.
Often mentally drained from my studies and feeling the pressures of juggling work, family and “me” time, the last thing I was looking for or wanting, was a relationship.
Yet, when the Universe chooses you for a lesson in life, you listen.
Unfortunately, relationships don’t come with a rulebook or a blueprint. They don’t come with instructions, or do’s and don’t’s. These are learned along the way through hindsight. Through all the “shoulda”, “coulda”, and “woulda’s”.
I know this now.
But back then, not so much.
I was young and grew up sheltered. I was inexperienced in love and blindsided by the energy between my partner and me. The passion. The spontaneity. The synchronicities. It felt amazing realizing for the first time that someone actually got me. We connected. And as our connection grew, our perspectives shifted from “I” to “we”.
We understood each other. Maybe too much. There was no such thing as physical space between us, or time apart. It was messy, and beautiful, and new and exciting.
I loved every minute of it. And, I fell in love.
It’s said that the best relationships are the ones that awaken you into growth. Every shared experience presents an opportunity to learn a little more about ourselves, and I cashed in on every chance I got.
These are the experiences that nudge us out of our comfort zone, while the insights they bring can sometimes invade our personal headspace.
Because we were both juggling school, work, friends, family, and our relationship, subtle signs started showing up that a breather was needed. Space for refocusing.
Mild annoyances began to overshadow the usual high energy. Positivity became highlighted with subtle indifference. Weekends started feeling monotonous, and lacked the intensity and passion that we grew accustomed to.
At first, I brushed it off. After all, we had a lot on our plates and I figured we were starting to feel the first signs of burnout.
Yet, we didn’t slow down. We kicked it up faster in our multitasking. It was like we were distracting ourselves from the inevitable. If we could only do more, or run faster from these self-awareness moments, we wouldn’t have to face growing up. Emotionally maturing. Or, learning about the deeper nuances regarding intimate relationships.
In time, things started proving too much for us; bickering replaced humor. Demands replaced asking. Being in such close proximity began to wear on us. On me.
“I need space.”
Understandably, these three little words are right up there with “I love you”, “I am sorry”, and “I fucked up.”
Because these four phrases are about self-disclosure and emotional connection, they can trigger vulnerability; self-preservation mode may kick in and we can start backpedaling.
When we hear “I love you”, our guard can go up. When we hear “I am sorry”, we may question the person’s sincerity or their agenda. When we hear “I fucked up”, we may jump right to Final Jeopardy that we got cheated on.
And when we hear “I need space”, we’re probably thinking our relationship is over.
In all fairness, I’ve yet to meet anyone who said they needed space in a relationship when everything was smooth sailing. It’s said during times of stress. Uncertainty. When a partner violates relationship boundaries. Or, when the same argument is on repeat.
The space I needed wasn’t just from a relationship that was deeply important to me. I needed space from life, from childhood pain, from mountains of schoolwork, from feeling unable to breathe, unable to move.
I needed space to become…me.
The irony (or not), is that in my inexperience back then in dealing with matters of the heart and in having only limited self-awareness, I got tongue-tied.
Asking for space didn’t come out right. I mean, does it ever? It sounded angry, overwhelmed, and anxious. And, I spewed it out by telling my partner to move out.
If we’re lucky, the Universe smiles on us and lets us know we passed her lessons with flying colors.
While the goal of all of our relationships is to grow together, it doesn’t always happen this way. And, the Universe doesn’t always smile at the end of the lesson. Sometimes, she asks us what we learned from the experience, ideally so we don’t repeat it. Here is where we learn the “why’s” in what the lesson was, so we can carry it with us.
Other times, her hope is that we learned a little finesse to soften the blow if we find ourselves in a similar situation again.
Could I have handled things differently? Of course. And, they could have, too.
But, the thing is, we can’t know or master these lessons until we’ve experienced them. And, to experience lessons of the heart, they have to hit us in our heartspace. Here is where we learn the “how’s” of the lesson for our own growth.
Try if we may to use reason or logic, it doesn’t work like that.
We need to feel the lesson, for it to become part of us.
We need to feel the awareness and the pain it can bring, that by choosing to keep our promises to some, we may lose others.
We need to experience, and sometimes relive the memories that haunt us. This is where self-compassion is gained.
Sure, I know I fucked up. They did, too. I could have softened the blow in asking for space; they could have stuck around believing that the space I needed was to grow, to mature, to learn self-compassion while becoming a better partner.
Yet, we’re only as capable of insight into our situation and self-reflection as we allow ourselves to be, and based on where we are in our personal growth.
”The further along you get, the lonelier it can get.”
I now understand what my mentor was trying to teach me all those years ago..
This post was previously published on Medium.
You Might Also Like These From The Good Men Project
|Compliments Men Want to Hear More Often||Relationships Aren’t Easy, But They’re Worth It||The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex||..A Man’s Kiss Tells You Everything|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Shutterstock