Where does love go?

A friend of mine asked the other day, “What happens to love when it is over? Where does it go?”

True love used to be something I thought only belonged in fairy tales. Girls like Cinderella, Aurora, Belle and Ariel were the lucky ones. In my broken heart I believed that that kind of love did not exist for me. I’ve really only had 5 intimate love relationships in my life. Not sure is that is average for someone my age, but they all taught me something about love.

My first husband was very charismatic, charming and by all accounts the Price Charming. Tall, dark and handsome. He was my first “real boyfriend” and I loved him with everything my 19 year old heart had. We married quickly. Very soon I realized I had made a mistake. Too young to understand my demons, my needs were overwhelming and it did not take long for either of us to get really frustrated with each other. As the years passed, the resentment grew. It just wasn’t meant to be and although we tried for 10 years, we parted really hating each other. The glass slipper shattered. It was so painful. He did find the love of his life and although I resented her at first I grew to see what an incredible woman she was and much more suited to love and care for him the way he needed. But mostly, she was an amazing step mother to my daughter. I was truly saddened when she passed away a few years ago at a very young age. I can’t help but think as I look at our relationship now and the relationship, or lack thereof, he has with our daughter, that she took the best of him with her. Her death changed him and in my opinion it speaks volumes to the role she played in his life and his heart. I hope he can find that love again.

There was a very short lived relationship with a man that should not have occurred. He gave me comfort and safety at a time I was very lost and alone. I loved him in a way that scared me. I often wonder what would have been if the timing had been different or if the circumstance had not separated us.

I was involved with another man for almost a year after my divorce. The relationship was dark and dangerous and not at all healthy for me. There was a strange sense of peace and safety in the danger. It was a bizarre really mess- with-your-head place to be. I learned a lot about myself and my limits, but I still carry physical scars from the world he took me into. We loved each other but in a way that was just not good for me.

My second husband was the strong, silent type. He wanted to love me and I wanted to be loved, but deep down I knew, despite what others in my life thought, that is wasn’t meant to be. Broken and battered from the end of my first marriage and the relationship that followed, it seemed safe and he seemed sincere in his attempts to want to make a life together. With time, it crumbled. We never connected. He had no idea how to even try to love me and I had no idea how to teach him. Add his family’s resistance to accept us and it was destined for failure. Over the years we shut down completely, his priorities shifted and I was left feeling unwanted, unloved, neglected and alone. Not even close to a fairy tale. I loved him, and still do, but was never in love with him. After I left our marriage, he convinced himself that I was the love of his life, even though he did not care for me that way, and is stuck in what could have been. I know there is a girl out there meant for him.

These 4 relationships (I’ll tell you about the 5th one in a moment) taught me so much about love. But, for me the answer to the question of where love goes is the realization that we have the power to literally kill love.

I’ve learned that:

-Love has a life. It is born, grows and needs as much nurture and care as any living being. It must be cared for on a daily basis, not just when it is convenient or when both parties are free of distractions. In order for love to not just survive, but thrive, both parties MUST be there every day. If not, it will wither and eventually die.

-Love needs respect to grow and flourish. The old cliché that respect is earned is such a bunch of bull. Respect is given as a gift. Each of us has our own demons, old hurts, pains, insecurities. Each of us has our own way of doing things. Different doesn’t equate incorrect. Respecting the differences in each other and learning to accept and love the other, despite those differences makes the love stronger. Each of us play a role in the relationship and respecting that role is essential. Let go of the control and choose to respect your partner’s role even if you might disagree with the method. Power struggles just create resentment, which is poison to love.

-Love is a choice. There are days when loving is very difficult. When the dishes are left in the sink for the 100th time, or when you are fighting for the covers in the middle of the night. The days you are tired, short tempered and the very way your partner breathes sends you to the moon. You know the moments I’m talking about. Taking a breath and CHOOSING to love through those days becomes a habit pushing and shoving those old irritations aside and it becomes easier to be softer to each other in the harder times.

- Love needs time. It is imperative that each partner take some time to nurture each other every day. The small things like running a bath or a foot massage can mean the world to the other after a hard day of battling the world. Turn off the TV, take a walk, push each other on the swings. Watch what happens.

- Love needs communication. Open, honest, in-depth communication. The kind of communication that gets into the dark places that no one likes to talk about but everyone needs to talk about. This kind of communication builds trust, intimacy and forges a connection that can’t be matched.

-Love needs affection. We all have a touch quota that needs to be met each day to feel loved, secure and basically normal. Touch is the most effective way to convey love. Take the time to snuggle, spoon, hug, tickle and even make out. The results are stupendous.

-Love needs a safe place. Create a home that is a sanctuary for all. A safe place to make mistakes, be forgiven, to talk, and just be silly. Keep the fighting to a minimum and just love each other.

- Love needs secrets, a sense of humor and privacy. Love needs to be silly and expressed in goofy ways. Inside jokes, whispers, family secrets are all part of the game of loving each other. Get creative.
Airing disappointment in the other or venting to many is disrespectful and damaging. Share the great stuff with others and once the yucky stuff is resolved, dump it.

- Love needs a third person. Love only gets better when God is in the middle.

My third (and last) marriage is so different from either of the ones before. Different than any other relationship I have ever had. From the beginning we were just what the other needed. Friendship was forged first. We were there for the other, listening, supporting and caring for the other. When we fell in love, it was a natural progression from friendship and I found myself more relaxed and comfortable than ever before. Sure, there are days when strangling him seems like a good option, but those days happen when I forget what I learned about love and let my anger and old hurts get the best of me. He is my true love, and I have never been more grateful for anyone or anything. It is incredible to watch what happens in our home when we work together as a team. Love thrives where we live.

So, as much as we can be responsible for letting love die. We are also responsible to nurture and care for love so it grows into something real, tangible and demonstrative, not the thing of fairy tales.

So, to my Hip-hop samba dancing dude… I love you Mr. Tucker, with all of my heart.

Sometimes you just have to say no.

Those of you who know me well, know that there isn’t much I won’t do for the people I care for. Whatever they need, whenever they may need it. That is just the way it is unless it means my daughter or family will starve. When I have the money I love to buy little things for those I love, because nothing makes me happier than seeing those in my life I care for deeply, smile.

Recently, I have been involved with a project that became very personal and dear to me. As a group, part of my church reached out to help a single mom and her 4 girls all under the age of 10. Immediately I fell in love with those little faces. They were so wanting and needing of love and attention and every kind of nourishment. Physical, emotional and spiritual. They responded to the love I gave them so openly, honestly and fervently. Their mother did too. But, the deeper I got involved, the messier the situation became. It unraveled like a ball of yarn. I have never been so frustrated.

The desire to help fought the reality that all we would be doing is enabling and more than likely make it worse or prolong the situation that was just inevitable. When did helping someone become a bad thing? It broke my heart to leave that apartment last night after trying to go over some options for her to save herself and those girls and watch her stand firm in the decision to go to an even worse situation because of pride. I left having to lean against the wall for a moment to control my tears.

Driving home and discussing the situation with my husband and my dear friend, it really hit me. It is possible to be so lost that you sabotage yourself and cannot be found. I have been there. The situation is so dark you cannot see light so you burrow in and dig deeper, getting into darker places rather than searching for the light because it seems like there is no hope. Your vision becomes narrowed and looking at the long term consequences is impossible and all you can do is go for the easiest and fastest solutions, as ugly as the long term consequences may be.

I can’t help everyone I want to. There are some situations where I have to sit back and just pray. There was a time in my life where I would have been happy to do just that, but not now. I am so blessed with my life and everything in it (with a few exceptions that make life interesting), it is so hard to not go into action. I just keep seeing those little faces and pray that God will take care of them in a way much more effective than I could.

I will not abandon this family, but for now I have to step back and it just breaks my heart.

All for a bubble bath?

It’s funny, the things we take for granted on a daily basis, isn’t it? I was walking to work yesterday thankful for my legs as they carried me down the street. I was thankful for my sunglasses protecting my eyes not from the sun, but the Chicago wind that blasts through the building making my eyes water and my mascara run. I was thankful for my train ride and being able to have time to knit my hubby a scarf (although I spend more time unknitting my mistakes since knitting on the train is not as easy as it sounds!) And I’m thankful for the bath I took Sunday night.

Normally taking a bath is no big thing, right? You fill the tub with hot water, add some bubbles, get in and soak, piece of cake. Not for this girl. Baths were just something I avoided. The thought of sitting in a tub of water, naked, made me nauseous. Until Sunday.

Much of my childhood is missing. There are huge chunks of time that are simply not in my memory. Although there were plenty of great and joyful times, my childhood is also full of trauma. It was very hard to feel safe in the environment I grew up in for a number of reasons. I have chosen not to dwell on the missing memories. They will come when they need to and I do not feel a need to push or to find out the details. I know what happened, have spent time in therapy and worked hard to get past the demons. It is a battle I fight every day. Most days I win in a big way, but every once in a while, so do they. Those days are not pretty.

Baths were not something really associated my past experiences. Thinking about it this weekend, I realized it was the thought of being so vulnerable. I mean think about it. In a tub you are at your most vulnerable. You are naked, usually against a wall, in a seated position. Not exactly a position of power, now is it? There are enough places in my daily life where I’m vulnerable to those sneaky demons that I just never felt the need to voluntarily put myself in that position. I can get just as clean standing in the shower.

When we moved into my husband’s home, my daughter was excited about the whirlpool tub in the master bath. Now for her, life couldn’t get much better. For me? I could have cared less. But then the weather changed, and as I faced my first Midwest winter the thought of submersing myself into a tub of hot water at the end of a long day and train ride suddenly didn’t sound so bad. So I put on my armor and went to battle to beat this demon. All for a bubble bath.

But, I didn’t fight this one alone. My sweet, caring and thoughtful husband stayed beside me the whole way. He cleaned the tub, and together we took it apart the jets and such to ensure it was totally cleaned since it had not been used in a very long time. Then we walked away from it for a while. Even though I tried to not think about it, I could feel the panic of being so vulnerable eating at me. It made for a very uncomfortable day. I was edgy, moody and high strung. Finally, that evening, I stood and just said. “ I’m going to run a bath. “

With the hot water running into the tub, I tried to think of all the things that make a bath relaxing. I dimmed the lights, lit candles, opened the shower curtain all the way and even squirted some bubble bath in the stream of water. My heart was pounding as I stripped off my clothes and stepped in.

I have to admit the water felt pretty good. It had been a very long time since I sat in a tub. Like decades. As I sat there the panic started to set in, so as calmly as I could, I asked my hubby to come and keep my company. He sat down and smiled at me, and the panic dissipated. He sat there and just talked to me, keeping his distance but calmly telling me he loved me, that I was safe and that I could just relax. I believed him.

Although I didn’t completely relax, I forced myself to stay there much longer than I thought I would. We talked about silly stuff and he even knelt down beside me and washed my back. It was an incredible moment for me because I was able to just enjoy it. Enjoy him and enjoy our time together. I didn’t panic, didn’t freak out. All I had to do was look into his eyes and I could see just how safe and loved I was and am. A quiet battle was won.

Taking care of those we love should not be one of the things we take for granted on a daily basis. It should be savored and cherished because it is those little things we do for each other that mean the most.

Maybe this time..

It has been a long time..
While riding the train to work I thought about how much my life has changed in the last year. I stopped writing about all of the amazing things that were happening in my life because of the tremendous judgment and abandonment I felt by those who I once considered my loved ones. But as I settle into my new life and savor all the love, hope and joy that comes with every new day, the bitterness fades away, and I realized it is time to start making note of these moments again.

I woke up yesterday to the sound of my daughter singing in the shower. This is a usual occurrence. She is my child. A love of music, the performing arts, drama and all that goes with it is in her blood. It isn’t the song that indicates how she is feeling. It is the power and volume behind those songs that indicates how she really feels about herself and the world around her. At 6am on a dark, quiet chilly fall morning, I opened my eyes and smiled. I could hear her through her shower door, her bathroom door and our bedroom door belting out songs from Cabaret. I looked at my husband and the two of us just hugged and listened. It was the most wonderful sound in the world.

Change is hard for most people. Small changes are somewhat acceptable, but big changes frighten some people in such a way that the status quo becomes the better alternative. I was ok with small changes. I could be flexible, bend, sway, whatever needed to be done. But, I felt like I couldn’t make the big change.

My reasons for staying in the situation I was in had little to do with fear. I stayed where I was because I thought I was doing the right thing. For me, for her, for God. After a while I felt trapped. Angry at God for making me stay in a marriage where almost none of my needs were met and so it made it near impossible to meet his needs. It was a horrible cycle that left us damaged, bruised and empty.

Then out of the blue, there it was, a path to a different life. A life that I wanted my entire existence, but never had the courage to believe I deserved. I settled for what others thought was good for me. Maybe this time it would be different. Ahead of me, that path (if I took it) was a life I have never known, but wanted so badly it hurt. A life full of support, love, acceptance and understanding, I just had to be brave enough to step on the path and take it all the way to the end. But I wasn’t alone.

Would she ever forgive me? Would she understand? Would she thrive in her new environment? Or were the consequences too great with too much of her life at stake? So despite what others thought, I jumped. We jumped.

In a very short time I changed everything. A complete and total life change. I left my marriage, my job, my parents, my friends, my church, my hometown. I asked her to leave all she has ever known. Her world. We took some familiar things and the dog. I married the man of my dreams and we moved 2000 miles away. A new marriage, new home, new church, new family.

It wasn’t easy in the beginning. We all faced many obstacles from petty accusations, paralyzing fear, old feelings and habits, to almost killing us in a car accident, but every time God showed his face and kept blessing us. During the summer at home, we worked through things in ways I saw in other families, but never my own. We listened to each other, talked things through, communicated, got angry, fought and forgave. We worked as a team. We spoiled each other. Teased and irritated each other. The 3 of us became a real family.

Then, school started. My fear as a parent was pretty fierce. My husband’s fear as a first time step parent just may have been worse. Like our life at home, school started out a little shaky, but her strength, positive attitude, and willingness to adapt to her new environment paid off. We watched her blossom. New friends, football games, dances, double dates, sleepovers, concerts, school play, and even a sweet boyfriend with red hair. None of which she had in our old life. I watch my scared and insecure girl change into a strong, happy, healthy teen. Dedicated to her commitments, and really getting a grasp of who she is and how she fits into the world. I hope someday she will look back and see just how significant her strength was. How her hard work paid off, and by opening her heart a little, letting people see who she is she could find her place, be on the inside and accepted for who she is. A little faith was all she really needed.

Lying in bed that morning hearing her belt out “Maybe this time, I’ll win”, I had to smile at the thought of all of those in my old life who were so certain I was making a big mistake, that we would fail, that she would lose. Not this time. This time, we did win.