The Love Riddle

Having a conversation about past relationships recently served up the usual questions.

“You love them, sure. But were you ever ‘in love’ with this person? As soon as I asked, memories of my own past relationships popped up in my head.

Sometimes the answers are never as simple as the questions – and only leave us asking more.

“Well, this brings up the age-old question.” He replied. “What’s the difference between being in love and loving someone?” A thought designed for debate.

We exchanged smiles across the room assuring one another that neither one of us was up for such philosophical archaeology over morning coffee. The subject was changed and we tossed up ideas on how to spend our day.

Days later, his question was still on my mind.

“So.” I thought. “What is the difference between being in love and loving someone?” I mean, sure I’ve felt love. But with such a poor track record of my own, was I even qualified to know?

A brilliant therapist said to me once: “If you cut off the heads of the men from your past and switched them around, you’ll see they are interchangeable.” I knew what she meant and loved the decapitation analogy. “The pattern is in your choices.” She continued.

Nodding with that look of “holy-shit” glazed over me, I pulled up my jaw from the floor and agreed. The biggest take-away from that session was in the knowledge that I had more control than I thought (we all do).

When we navigate the ghosts of our relationship’s past, it’s safe to say we come to a universal conclusion: our answers have more to do with us – and almost nothing to do with them.

Where we are in life, who we are as people and where we want to be – these all play a major role in who we chose for our partners.  And as we evolve, so does our love-barometer. This is why it’s natural for couples to ‘grow apart’ or have their relationships ‘run their course.’ Relationships ending aren’t so much failures as they are successes of moving forward.

“Once they cross a boundary with me, I’m done.” He explained calmly. “There is never going back.” I envied his conviction.

Why does it take some of us so long to leave the toxic hamster wheel of past relationships? The answer is simple. We weren’t ready to learn the lessons.

“I know what you mean.” I agreed. “It just took me longer to get there.” As soon as I said those words I was filled with a feeling I forgot existed – I was happy and whole.

If you define yourself by your relationship and allow yourself to be disrespected but stay anyway, chances are you aren’t in love. You are in love with the idea of being in love. A hard pill to swallow but once you do, amazing things can happen.

An unbalanced partnership, one dragging the other down – or two people who lift each other up and support the other’s dreams. Staying because it’s comfortable or leaving to find someone who challenges you and helps you grow. Living without passion or connecting with someone with the same desires – being in love is another way of loving yourself enough to know the difference. And never settling for anything less.

Christine Macdonald

Journaling From my Past

Photo: My view from Gwithian Towans Beach ~ May 1, 2019

I still can’t believe I’m here. With him. After thirty years apart.

Allow me to paint the back story.

Me and The Dude met in our home town of Hawaii back in the late 80s as twenty-somethings with no fear and a taste for freedom. Our chemistry was instant and palpable, taking us on adventures off and on the island. We’ve met up in Mexico, Los Angeles, and later pedaled our bikes on cobblestone streets though Europe by way of Eurail passes and youth hostels.

I always held a special place tucked under the vest for The Dude. This was a young man who was fearless and fascinating, generous and loving as well as a pain in my ass – trying my nerves almost as much as I did his. Because of him my thirst for the unknown was quenched and a desire to expand my life beyond the restraints of living on an island became my focus.

The Dude was around for my early days working as a dancer in the strip clubs of Waikiki. He respected my work schedule but liked to pop his head in for a show every now and again. He watched me as the adoring boyfriend he was as I weaved my hips on stage, the same way I would snap photos with joy, watching him carve his surfboard through countless waves.

He was romantic in unordinary ways and complimented my humor, which is what I remember most about this man who was my first boyfriend.

Then as with every young couple, our relationship began to fade in the rear-view mirror of time as we moved forward on our journeys through life.

My stripping career moved on and my choices stayed reckless. Between my heavy drug use and continued self-sabotage, my downward spiral of darkness was turning me into the person I have now spent decades learning from by way of her mistakes.

I had no idea what was to be made of The Dude.

Then one day this changed thanks to the internet and her helpful ways of reconnecting people from our past.

Hearing his voice on the telephone for the first time in years threw me. He was now a grown man with an accent, a result of living outside the U.S. for three decades. I struggled to find the person I remembered in his voice until we laughed – then it felt like home.

When opportunities bubble up through the surface of success, we should always take them. At fifty, I am able to afford, both emotionally and financially, to take myself on vacation. After our communications grew stronger, so did my desire to visit.

One very long plane ride and drive to his town later, we are physically reunited and I was terrifed and excited, nervous and impatient.

Would he still see the nineteen year old on stage? After several more surgeries on my facial scars to help remedy the scarring I suffered as a teenager from cycstic acne, would I expect him to notice? Am I going to recognize him?

I was about to find out.

~ ~ ~

Some of my personal journal during my stay:

Journal Entry 1 –

Today is Tuesday and it feels like Thursday. Makes me happy to know I will be here two more days.

The time is going by, and although it never changes speed it makes me crazy when I stop to think about how slow it can feel; like when you are waiting for the doctor to phone with tests results or sitting in a dentist chair. And yet when we are on holiday or even just hanging out having a laugh, we find ourselves looking at the clock in wonder at how it could already be 2:00 am.

Today – on this journey of visiting my past, time for me is my friend. She knows it’s been over thirty years since The Dude and me have laid eyes on one another. I have so many words percolating, but for now, I can only say ‘it’s a trip’.

Journal Entry 2 –

We are older. Our bodies have changed with age, but are even more beautiful now as they have withstood painstaking circumstances. From his being run over by a car and nearly losing his leg, to my cancer battle and brain aneurysm diagnosis, our gratitude has flourished. We appreciate the little things because we’ve survived the big.

We are still surviving.

Journal Entry 3 –

Sitting in a local pub enjoying a pint and chatting, I listen to another of his unbelievable stories from the past 30 years.

His sparkling blue eyes haven’t changed at all and his blond locks are now weaved with hints of age. My fingers find their home rubbing the nape of his neck as we drive along the Cornwall coast. The waves provide a mesmerizing show as the local surfers try to show Dude how it’s done (he knows).

The lines on our faces serve up stories of living and loving; patchwork pieces of life of which we have lived three decades apart. We’re grownups now with big people problems but when we laugh those two kids from Hawaii who shacked up in a van in Mexico are all I can see.

Hanging with a loved one from our formative years is amazing but the real treasure is in the gift we receive from ourselves as a result. When we are able to lift the veil of our past, forgive ourselves and celebrate our naivety instead of replaying the ‘should’s on a loop of regret, we relax. We take joy sharing memories only we would know and marvel in the ones we share that the other does not remember at all.

~ ~ ~

The days flew by and I’m back on my long journey home across the Atlantic.

Tears trace the curve of my smile and I am not at all bothered by the woman sitting across me in the opposite row. I don’t need a tissue, I feel like saying. Although I miss him already, I am actually happy. I know I will see The Dude again – this beautiful friend of mine who will always have my heart. But this next time, it won’t take as long.

Christine Macdonald

True Living: Saying Goodbye to Denial

I was once asked a simple question by a therapist: How do you handle disappointment? I took pause with the topic, tripping on my ego. My assumptions being, I was always as cool as they come.

“I’m great with disappointment!” Even I wasn’t buying it.

I was delivered a knowing smile; the type of look that says so much by saying nothing. You wanna try that again, sister? 

“Well, I mean…I kinda just suck it up.” I qualified.

Shit. Do I? 

“How so?” She volleyed back.

Here we go.

I hate it when therapists guide us to the well, only to make us carry the bucket (we pay them for it, but still).

The remainder of our session was spent exploring my personal inventory of how I deal with things that suck. I don’t remember much of my drive home that evening. I was in some sort of enlightenment-trance, marinating in the realization that I was a bona-fide card-carrying member of the denial posse.

When it comes to life’s land mines and pit falls, we have limited options to choose from in terms of handling them: deal, or deny.

If we choose to face our disappointments (ranging from minor inconveniences to major life traumas), the work is excruciating; only the strong survive. But survive, we do. There’s a reason clichés ring true – and “that which does not kill you, makes you stronger” is no exception. It’s just getting there that’s the hard part.

Denial, on the other hand, can be easy – except it’s not. We may think we’ve out-smarted life by sweeping issues under the rug, but the universe has other plans. The problem with ignoring anything difficult in life is two-fold; our issues don’t magically evaporate and what’s worse, they metastasize, bleeding into all areas of our life.

So how do we deal over deny, when faced with insurmountable events? For starters, it helps to get real. Be honest with yourself (if no one else), in truly recognizing what you’re dealing with. If in a toxic relationship, start looking at your life through a lens that’s not so blurry with illusions that things are different. The longer you deny the realities that you are selling yourself short, the harder it will be to leave.

For some of us, this is easier said than done. When its is all we know, leveling in to discomfort is the norm. But there’s a reason why something doesn’t feel right. Which is a sure-fire sign of denial. We ignore our instincts and mask our turmoil in creative ways. But no amount of booze, sex, money, food or drugs will help – trust me, I’ve tried.

I was sharing with a friend recently of a past break-up after years of toxic push and pull (my co-dependent to his narcissist). I shared how in the beginning after he left, I struggled with the detox of drama. My phone was quiet, my house was still and the self-doubting, fear-based negative dialogue in my head was dissipating. It was eerie and unfamiliar.

After a few weeks I came to learn that what I was experiencing for the first time in – maybe ever – was peace. I learned the absence of drama isn’t filled with more noise, it’s surrounded with a blissful energy that comes when you realize you are worth more.

No matter what our story, change is scary. How we navigate life is up to us and surprisingly, we have more power than we think. Whether moving to a new town, switching careers, finding the courage to speak up for ourselves – or leave a poisonous relationship – the choice is always ours. And the faster we deal, rather than deny – the less time it will take to get to our next chapter.

Christine Macdonald