Falling in Love – Part III of Trust in the Process

I wish I had a romantic story about how Dave and I met…but I don’t. We met online, of all places. I’m old enough to still find this slightly embarrassing. I had tried to date right after I separated from the ex, but it was a disaster. I went out with one guy and halfway through the date I had to leave. I felt nauseous. I realized I needed to grieve, and running into some other man’s arms was not going to allow me to do that.

I started to do things for me, things I hadn’t really been able to do when I was married. I went out with friends. I went dancing. I joined a group of other mature students to do an “Artist’s Way” group, which was designed to help people nurture and cultivate their creativity. It was in the process of being in that group of amazing women and working through the daily exercises that I reclaimed myself. The first time I needed to reclaim myself was after my first marriage many moons ago. It took years. I allowed myself to disappear in that relationship to the point that I could barely recognize the pieces I needed to pick up to put myself back together. This time it didn’t take long at all, as I hadn’t let the cherished parts of my self stray too far.

I remember waking up one morning, feeling energized and mischievous. I love the mischievous, playful part of myself and welcomed it. I have noticed that it is one of the first things to go when I am on the wrong path. It is near impossible to be playful when one is anxious or depressed. That part of me gets shoved to the side while the anxious/depressed adult in me wrings her hands. When I start to feel playful again, I know I am in the clear. That morning, something had definitely shifted. I knew that I was ready to go out in the world and find a new adventure. And the playful part of me wanted a love affair.

I did not expect to find my love affair online. I used the dating site I signed up for mostly for ego boosting or procrastination purposes. Most of the men on this particular site were not the “love affair” type. They were more one-night stand material and not what I was looking for.  I expected absolutely nothing from it.

The Artist’s Way group reminded me, however, that when you are attuned to the world around you, when you are connected to the mystery that is life, you can put your dreams out in your hand, and the universe will reach out to you. So it was with my request for a love affair. I was ready, and the universe responded.

I remember coming across Dave’s profile shortly after my brazen announcement to my Artist’s Way ladies that I wanted a love affair.  What struck me most about his profile was that he actually sounded like a normal human being. On this particular site, that was rather shocking. He was in film and had just moved back to Ontario from B.C., where he had lived for the past 13 years. I wrote to him immediately. The title of the email was “I am in exile too!” The small city that I lived in while completing my degree had been quaint at one time, I was told, but I hated it. It was the type of city where people asked where you went to high school. And it mattered to them. When I married and realized that I would likely be there for the next 20 years of my life I went into mourning. If this guy had lived in B.C. for 13 years, I knew he would understand that.

He wrote back that day and we wrote daily to each other for a week.  Then we had our first date. It was one of those dates that go from coffee, to dinner, to drinks, to a movie, to more drinks. I knew the first day that I met him that he was a good man. He had a beautiful, open heart. And for the first time in my life, I could receive openness from a man and return it. He told me later that he fell in love with me the minute we met. I felt the same. I was giddy.

I have always believed that every relationship I have been in was for a purpose. Relationships teach us important lessons if we are open to learning them. If we don’t learn the lesson in one relationship, another will come along. The universe is patient and doesn’t mind if we keep banging our heads against the same wall. I had finally learned my lesson. I was courageous and strong enough to not only love with an open heart, but to be loved in return. I wasn’t afraid of his openness and his love. I was home. Instead of feeling threatened by my accomplishments, my drive, he felt inspired by them. He, in turn, inspired me by his creativity, his ingenuity and his desire to challenge himself. So I did the thing I had never done in my life, the thing that had terrified me for as long as I can remember, the thing I had slowly worked towards in all of my relationships, baby step by baby step. I told him I loved him (before he told me). It was a risk. We hadn’t known each other for long. It broke all of the “rules”. My friends warned me not to. But I trusted my intuition, and told him anyway. I took the leap of faith. He told me he loved me too. We both knew it was ridiculous because we just weren’t supposed to be in love after only knowing each other a few weeks. It felt naughty and delicious. Our secret pact against the world.

I told him all of my dirty secrets: that I couldn’t have children (he didn’t want any so that was fine); that I had been married not once but twice (he laughed, said “that’s awesome!” and kissed my hand); that I would never get married again (he didn’t believe in marriage anyway); and that I was leaving in a few weeks to go to Peru for a month (not the best tactic when starting a new relationship).

The energy we had between us was immediate and palpable. So palpable, in fact, that I started to take notice. It felt like my body was speaking to me. Because I believe that we receive messages from the world around us in many different ways, often mysterious, I listened. What came to me was this: Dave was healing me. Uh oh. (We were having unprotected sex!)

I sat Dave down and explained to him that while I had told him I couldn’t have children, because my tubes were twisted and my fimbriae were gnarled, it wasn’t a complete impossibility. But that medical fact coupled with my advanced age (my eggs, in dog years, were about 160 years old and well past their due date) meant it was virtually an impossibility. “I need you to know this because I think you are healing me” I said seriously. “Okay” he replied. I didn’t really expect him to understand the magnitude of what I was saying.  He didn’t know me well enough to know that every now and then I know things from the deepest part of myself.  Those things always come true. Always. It’s a bit eerie. I’m sure he just thought I was a bit of a flake. Nothing to worry about, mind you. Just a tad flakey. (He must have thought that because we continued to have unprotected sex!)

Five or six weeks after Dave and I met I left for Peru. It was likely the last big trip I would be able to do for a long while and I was very excited about it. I was going with my half brother, who had just separated from his wife too. I had met him a decade ago at his wedding when I flew to New Brunswick to meet my birth mother for the first time. I knew it was a risk to leave for such a long period of time right when Dave and I were getting to know each other. I had travelled before after starting a new relationship filled with promise, returning to discover that the magic had disappeared. I left with my eyes wide open that leaving might change everything. Little did I know how much change I was in for.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

Trust in the Process Part II

It has taken me a long time to trust in the process. It is a lesson I am constantly relearning because, by nature, I want to control things. I want to be in charge of my own life. I have learned the hard way, however, that I am not in charge. And when I try to be, when I try to control things and order them the way I think they should be, my life becomes more and more chaotic and out of control. It is the paradox of humanity.  The more we try to control things to get a certain result, the more certain it is that we will get the exact result we are trying to avoid.

Helicopter parenting is a good example. I’m sure that over involved parents mean well. They want to protect their children from failure, from being hurt, from suffering. But all of these things have value. They are important. In those failures, in that suffering, in that pain, lie wisdom, the ability to endure, and confidence that we can overcome adversity. Small, manageable experiences of pain and suffering help people to build tolerance, immunity if you will, to pain. It allows people to take control of the only thing they actually can control, the meaning and sense they make from suffering.

But when people are shielded from those small, manageable experiences, regardless of how well meaning that protection is, when suffering does find them, and it will, the pain will be unbearable. Having no experience managing small failures, they lack the skills needed to cope and find their way through them. And we cannot avoid pain. We cannot avoid loss. We cannot avoid failure. It will happen with or without our consent. It does not wait for us to be prepared for it.

I have had many, many experiences of loss. The first was when I was born and was taken from my birth mother and given to a new family. Even though they loved me and I felt their love, it was still a loss that took me many years to fully understand. I remember seeing a documentary about the Buddha and learned, for the first time, that the Buddha’s mother died shortly after he was born. I hadn’t known that and it made me so sad. The narrator wondered if this experience of profound loss was pivotal in the Buddha’s later understanding of the nature of suffering, which was foundational for his own enlightenment and his teachings.

I know first hand the results of avoiding the pain of loss. But grief is patient. It waits until you are ready to face it. I tried to control my life in an effort to avoid facing it, but the more I ran from it, the more chaotic my life became. My losses compounded because of my own recklessness, until one day I realized that I needed help. Picking up the phone to ask for it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It required me to surrender. And I am stubborn. I resisted. I felt that surrender would mean certain death or worse, insanity. But paradoxically, the moment I submitted, instead of death, instead of insanity, I was greeted with release. I was liberated.

From that point on, I did my best to stay out of my own way. My philosophy is that there is a path that I am supposed to walk; my purpose or my destiny if you will. But it is my choice to walk that path or not. The more I avoid it, however, the worse my life becomes. Walking the path is often terrifying, but in that fear I also feel a sense of calm from the wisest parts of myself. I trust in the process.

In order to stay on that path, I have learned that I need to pay attention to the parts of me that get anxious, who start to try frantically to control things. I pay attention to the part of me that becomes exhausted, overwhelmed and full of doubt, who would like nothing more than to be left alone, hiding under the covers. I also have to nurture the warrior part of myself, for staying on my path requires a great deal of courage and occasionally fierceness. I have committed to cultivating compassion for how difficult it is to be true to one’s purpose, particularly when one is still not sure exactly what it is. Not knowing what it is requires me to pay close attention to the world around me and to myself; to use not only my senses but my intuition and all of my ways of knowing.

This may all sound very serious, but probably the most important lesson has been to laugh, particularly at myself, to find the lightness in everything. Life can be so heavy! I likely spent a decade dedicated to self-absorption and that, quite frankly, is quite enough. To that effect, I have unilaterally decided that all of my flaws are actually quite endearing. I find myself hysterically funny and often ridiculous, knowing that I am often the only one cracking up. I don’t feel any need to wear makeup. I am the one who will ask the stupid questions. Finding myself endearing, loveable and ridiculous all at the same time as acknowledging my own power and wisdom, has resulted in being much less concerned about what people think of me. I am a contradiction and I like it that way.

It was this commitment to myself, to walking my path that allowed me to move forward after I left my ex-husband. Despite the pain of the lost hopes of that relationship and the agony of being childless, I knew, without reservation, that I would be fine. I would not give my permission for any man to destroy me, to destroy my ability to love without limit, destroy my determination to live an amazing life.

And looking back, it was absolutely necessary for him to break my heart. Because up until that point I had had my priorities completely wrong. When I first met him, the experience was one of intense familiarity, like I had known him for many lifetimes. I had historically been attracted to men who were intellectual, complicated, wounded, and charming. I privileged the head at the expense of the heart. So what if he wasn’t capable of loving with an open heart? I can handle that!

I was convinced that the expansiveness of my love would make him feel safe enough to be able to love back. But it wasn’t. I told him when we were first married that I knew that he hadn’t really opened up his heart to me. He did not deny it. He told me that he didn’t trust anyone. I warned him that the relationship could not work if he didn’t take that chance. But I decided to be patient. I had often thought of love as standing on the edge of a terrifyingly high cliff. The person beside you is telling you to jump. You look at them like they are insane. Clearly, they are insane, because if you jump it will be to your death. But they insist that you must jump. People who truly love take that leap of faith, against all logic, despite their terror, and in leaping into certain death; they realize that they can fly. It made sense to me that he was afraid. Who wouldn’t be?

I learned, in spectacular fashion however, that people who choose not to take that leap, people who remain in fear, are capable of indescribable cruelty. The heart actually matters. A lot. It seems so obvious now. Of course the heart matters Julie! How could you be so obtuse? But in my history, men who had wonderful open hearts were not for me. They were my best friends, but I refused to date them. People told me over and over that I just needed to be with a nice guy. But I refused. And now I realized why. I was too in my own head, too immature, too frightened of myself and what cruelty I was capable of to accept that love. I didn’t love or trust myself. And because of that, there was a very real possibility that I would be the cruel one. It wasn’t until I was subjected to my ex’s cruelty, coupled with the intoxicating knowledge of the power of my own love and compassion for myself that I finally got it.

And that’s when I met Dave.

Part III coming soon!

Trust in the Process – Part I

There are still times I look at Maya and realize, with shock, that she is my daughter. I have a daughter. These moments don’t happen as often as when she was first born, but it hits me every now and then. This is real. And I couldn’t be more pleased.

I didn’t think about having children until I was in my mid 30’s. I was in grad school and out of the blue, some chemical reaction took hold in my brain and all of a sudden I felt an excruciating desire to procreate. I became a crazy person, literally. As I was single at the time, this left me with few options. The only viable option I could conceive of, which I thought was brilliant, was to enter into a co-parenting partnership with a gay friend. If my male gay friends wanted a child, they needed a woman’s assistance. I needed a man’s semen. It was a match made in heaven!

As I looked around me, so many parents who created a family the normal way, meeting, falling in love, getting married and then having children, ended up divorced. I figured if you rid the family of the falling in love/sex part, which seemed to be the catalyst for divorce when either of these faltered, and instead created a partnership based on shared values, whose sole purpose was to have and raise children, what could be more perfect than that? Since you didn’t fall in love to begin with, you couldn’t fall out of love. Infidelity would not exist, for fidelity wouldn’t be part of the deal in the first place. It would be a partnership based on mutual respect, and a shared vision.  My utopian family was equally as valid as any other family, I thought, therefore I was surprised at how many people (including gay people) poo pooed my idea. It couldn’t possibly work, they said. It was doomed for failure. Really? The divorce rate is almost 50% but the traditional family was not similarly doomed for failure? Oh well. It’s not the first time my ideas have been dismissed. I still think it’s a fabulous idea.

Just about that time I met the man of my dreams. He was older and had a teenage daughter of his own, but he could see having another family with me. I swooned. We fell in love almost immediately and it was a whirlwind, intoxicating romance. He was a professor. He spoke three languages and travelled extensively. I did my thesis in Paris, where he was a guest lecturer for a month. On the flight from Romania to Paris he proposed. We had been together for 6 months. I was in heaven. I really should have known that this was all a mirage, because things like that just don’t happen to me. My life is not a fairy tale. And this was a fairy tale.

Prior to us marrying, he became obsessed with this idea that as soon as we married I would change into this horrible bitch of a woman. I assured him that who I was would likely not change. Looking back, I should have known this was projecting. For he was the one who changed into a person I didn’t recognize. A person filled with hate and bitterness and self pity. He drowned it with alcohol, which made the hatefulness worse. I was dumbfounded. How did I get myself into this? By this time I was in my late 30’s. I held on to the hope that his lunacy was work and stress related. I wanted a child. It wasn’t happening. I went to the doctor and we did the tests. His semen was tested and I went under the knife so that we could see whose fault our infertility was. Turned out it was mine. The specialist, after taking a good look at my insides, determined that my fallopian tubes were twisted and contorted and the fimbriae, which should be as graceful as sea anemones, were like the gnarled roots of trees. His semen, on the other hand, was of superb quality. The young resident blushed when she told him the good news. He was brimming with pride.

The specialist told us that our options were few. Spend tens of thousands of dollars for in vitro fertilization treatments, or remain childless. He, intoxicated by the news of his super human sperm, decided that if we could not have children naturally, we would simply not have children at all.  I was stunned. I discovered later that it was at this point that the flirtation he had been having developed into a full blown affair.

I, meanwhile, was devastated. I couldn’t believe that this was true. The last remaining years of hope for a child were slipping away from me and I had no options. I had not realized just how much I wanted a child until I was told I could not have one. It was the most isolating grief I have known. A pain the depth of which I shared with no one. And suddenly it seemed like everyone around me was pregnant. I couldn’t bear to be around them. I was the only one not fighting to hold the baby when they came to work to show them off. 

But there was a part of me, that entire time, which persisted in disbelief. This cannot be. I had trusted in the knowledge that I would one day have a child. I had known this from the bottom of my being. Just one child. This cannot be. This cannot be.

Eventually, my sorrow turned to acceptance. I accepted that there were several other ways to have children in my life. I realized that they didn’t have to be my own. I worked with troubled young people at that time. It was very intense work. Many, many of them needed a mother. Their need was palpable and legitimate. I knew I couldn’t be their mother. But I could love them, have dreams for them until they were brave enough to have dreams for their own lives, believe in them, encourage them and help to heal their wounded spirits.

My husband, for his part, encouraged me to go back to school. I chose a challenging, professional program, which terrified me. He was very supportive and told me that school would take my mind off of having children. In the first two weeks of this petrifying path that I had embarked on, a journey that would ultimately change my life, I found solid evidence of what I had suspected for months. I confronted my husband about the affair. When he finally admitted it, there was a large part of me that felt relief. The other part wanted to throw up. I moved out a month later.

Even though this should have been devastating, it wasn’t. I had already spent the entire previous year grieving the loss of the wonderful man I thought I had married. He had turned into a narcissistic, clichéd disappointment. I knew, without any hesitation, that I would be fine. But what I could not understand is how any of this made sense. When I met him, I was certain that there was a purpose in us being together. I had never felt this more strongly in my life. What was the point of us being together if it ended like this? It made no sense. I was childless and the man of my dreams was an illusion. What was the point? It was chaos. I didn’t understand it. But somehow in this chaos, was order. I had to trust that what I was experiencing was that exact process; creating order out of chaos. I would never, in a million years, have been able to guess what the next few months of my life would bring.

Tune in next week for Part II!