Remember when that teacher just stayed and stayed on you to work through a task feeling like a hot sticky hell only akin to the deep south? And perhaps there was a part of you that just wanted to reject what they were saying for the sake of being a rebellious pain in the ass (and a heaping side of avoidance)? And then you did just that? If this has ever been your experience, this is what regret can feel like. Sometimes I stay stuck in the awkward yoga position until I chew down through all the pieces of the puzzle my brain has not figured out.
And if I have ever had regrets, its in my friendships that suck the most. I find that trying to be a friend can feel like endless attempts at recognizing that I need to be brave and say stuff I am struggling with….and I just don’t. I have come to realize that when I decide I want someone to like me, I will break rules in order to be liked. I will also do the opposite; when I need to NOT forge a relationship and I know it. I will push down many of the signals that are saying ‘there is no glue here, what ARE you doing?’
I have some REALLY incredible friends, ones that love me with a kind of generousity that surpasses any expectation one can verbalize. Occasionally I say to myself that since I have these friends- why would I need more? And truthfully, I don’t. I guess I am an adventurist and want to not shut out the possibility of someone fabulous, but when it doesn’t work out…GAWD! The gremlins are unreal and I hop right down that rabbit hole of ‘who do you think you are, someone who needs 100 fabulous friends? You should be so lucky to have three?’
Once again, I am learning and regret is a fabulous, albeit a taskmaster of a teacher. We have not lived if we have no regrets, but I won’t lie, rumbling around with them is my least favorite part of being an emotionally awake human being.
So here is what I want to live better: I want to take a deep breath and say out loud the struggle I see in front of me without judgement or unkindness and not allow it to build or stuff it down. Brené Brown talks about different ways we can off load hurt- chandeliering can sometimes be a terrible favorite of mine. There are many kinds of ways we can vomit up all the tiny cowardices we did not speak. Each have the potential for devastating consequences in relationships. We wait to long and well, we may have just waited too long. Chandeliering just leads us to hang from the ceiling screaming (I imagine you get the crazy here.) But what if understanding that reality of hurt is just unavailable to us until many? Many. MANY. Moments have passed by? What then? Will that other person be willing to stay present with you and work through that recognition, still owning their part of the story that may have led to the disaster that is before both of you? Unfortunately, my experience is that this does not often happen and makes me terribly sad. If you realize that you have been stuffing and stuffing and attempt to express anger around that- do you deserve to be shunned or turned off? I genuinely would hope not- but there it is, a cranky, invisible demon living inside of you that you had no idea was eating your lunch- like a bully. And now you just got to talk about the pain that has been building, but its like a fire cracker to the other person who may have been sleeping when you let the vomit out.
I believe this is a space where courage beyond grit rests. If we discern that the pain is real and sit through that, even if it still means the end of the relationship, new growth sprouts. When we shut down or shut out the conversation the moment for growth can get lost. And perhaps every relationship is not worth this, but I can say that WE are worth the work. So if I have to be fully honest with myself, the suck lies in knowing that I don’t get to work that all the way out with another person. I am left doing that on my own and at times, can only be left with questions unless I want to make up a confabulated story with more holes in it than the Eiffel Tower.
One of the wonderous places I have the privelege of witnessing this very experience of everyday courage is in the couples I see. Often, the regret is like a sea of green sludge that is above their eye balls, making it feel almost impossible to even witness their partners actual presence. And yet, it is possible to get yourself dirty and sit in the filth that has been mutually created in that relationship. It is possible to wake up to our lives and dig our way out of the mountain of regret. It is painful and so excruciating at times that most will not.
One of the leading researchers in the country on couples,John Gottman, formalizes the threshold of regret and trust that a relationship cannot return from. It is true that some cannot make their way back and so I do not want to apply some false hope that with just enough courage every relationship can return to glory and beauty. I, however, wonder sometimes if the exercise, even if it ends, is not worth the immense growth? I inform couples that if they are not willing to do the work here, they run the risk of simply finger wagging at their partner as the problem and then run to the next relationship. They often believe their problems are all solved because they left that son/daughter of a bitch and now are free from the conflict. What really happens is that we are clumsy and fall into the lap of some chump who has a different name, smiles at us brightly and we start the pattern all over again. Once we realize that…..That is the real Bitch. Or as my beloved Dad would say, ‘Isn’t that a biscuit eater?’
So here’s a potential pattern to chew on. For some of us, we spend an inordinant amount of time trying to undo the patterns of intimate relationship failures of the past. As I have fessed up to before, I come from one very long pattern of marriages and divorce- each three times going back three generations. As you might imagine, I had little thought that I could undo a wicked curse, but so far, 19 years and counting with my partner. However, what I did not realize was that the struggle would ooze over into another area of my life. So, I continue to battle the pain of poor choices in relationships, just in another area of my life. Consider the person who grew up in an alcoholic family that vows to never be nor marry someone who has an addiction to alcohol…..Oops, they wake up one day and realize their partner has an equitable addiction, but perhaps to work, pornography or the internet. The depth of the necessary work to break from patterns is daunting. Discovering this makes me half relieved because I know I can change it and the other half wants to say ‘Fuck It!’ and crawl under some big squishy covers and NEVER come out again!
Whether in an intimate relationship or friendship, when the struggle to maintain connection gets lost, the threshold of trust can detrioriate at such a staggering rate, it cannot return. A relationship is just that- an awkward dance of emotions and one must attempt to stay emotionally aware of both ourselves as well as the other. Lots of toe stamping and perhaps dancing alone on the other side of the room can occur. I imagine myself sometimes a little like Elaine from Seinfield. I want to dance, I want to get things started, but LAWD!- there are not many who will dance to beat of that drum! If we are lucky enough to find life long friends/partners who will, keep them. And know that sometimes, there will be regret, the teacher like no other. May the regret not outlast the courage to try, try, and try again.
LIVE.OUT.LOUD. AGAIN & AGAIN ❤