First published online on May 11, 2010
What is it? Forget about the cliches. Put away the dictionary. Stop racking your brain trying to articulate a definition. What is it about it that sometimes makes us forget all common sense, throw out the rule book we have lived by for so long, turn off all the alarms that seem to be going off in our heads? Why does it capture our psyche in such a way that makes us forget about time, place and life altogether and makes us behave like fish traveling across thousands of miles honing for spawning grounds? Really now, akin to mindless fish? Yes, I am afraid we become like fish. No rhyme, no reason, just the forces of nature at work making us hone in without an apparent will of our own other than to get “there.”
If you have asked yourself why is it that we are attracted to certain people after spending just a few minutes with them and, yet, we go through great lengths with others to convince ourselves that we like them because we think they are a good match for us, then you are a smarter than the average fish. How so? You are subconsciously beginning to ponder whether the seemingly conscious choices we make are truly our unconscious guiding those choices. Got it? Let me try one more time. You are beginning to realize that perhaps our choice of a mate is more unconscious than we think, and that possibility should frighten you. It frightened me.
It frightened me, because I considered myself to be bright, educated, and thoroughly in touch with my emotions and drives. I considered myself emotionally present, fully aware and deliberate in how I feel and act towards others. I considered myself emotionally literate and articulate, but to think that I am no longer deliberate in my choice of a mate is truly frightening to me… as it should be to any of us.
As I began this journey, I also began to study the dynamics of love and relationships. Yes, there is something to the fact that our unconscious mind is guiding our choices. There is a theory of thought that postulates that our unconscious mind is actually seeking to heal the wounds of our childhood, hence we seek out and are attracted to people who are the embodiment of those who cared for us as children and wounded us to begin with, so that we can find the healing we so desperately need. I know it sounds like circular thinking but it is not.
For example, my father was largely absent while I was growing up, and his reasons for doing that are not what is at issue here, but the fact that his family longed for his presence is what created the lasting wounds in my childhood. I spent many evenings wondering where he was, what he was doing, who he was with and fretted much over the thought of him being harmed and that he would rather be with strangers than with us, his family who adored him. There were many nights I saw my mother with a furrowed brow and a tear or two rolling down her cheek. I knew, he was the reason for her sadness. I knew that she had given up college, a college scholarship and a career to marry him. I knew that she worked her fingers to the bone as a seamstress to make sure her children were well fed and lacked nothing. It was during that time when I began to have a strong dislike for being a vulnerable female, hated what it did to my mother and how helpless I felt about the whole situation; and at some point I made the silent vow that I would never need a man like that. I remember losing respect for how she remained faithful to her commitment to this dysfunctional marriage. Her relentless pursuit of her husband’s affections seemed so foolish to me. It defied logic -and- reason to me. Incomprehensible, simply incomprehensible to the logically minded person I was growing up to be, as I did not want to be as “emotional” as I perceived my mother to be.
So, I embarked into adulthood, exchanging love for career, happiness for knowledge, intimacy for safety in solitude. I remember watching the movie “The Fountainhead” with Gary Cooper during my first year in College. They showed the movie because the main character was an Architect who dreamed of building an incredible structure. The one line I remember from the movie was from the female lead. Gary’s character had been pursuing her affections, at some point he asks her point blank “What do you want?” and her response was “I want to need nothing. To need nothing at all.” I almost jumped out of my seat. That was how I wanted to be! Someone who would have no need for anything or anyone, which would keep me from getting hurt. It made so much sense to me! And I added that to my list of vows.
What I found after many years, as fulfilling and exciting as career, knowledge and solo activities have been most of the time, is that at the end of the day they leave me empty and still lonely. Nobody to talk to, nobody to share in my happiness of what I just learned or accomplished, nobody to cheer me on the next day. It is when we interact with others when we face our fears, discover our needs and overcome our shortcomings. Sometimes, it is this constant social interaction or friction that causes those rough edges to soften over time to bring out the best in all of us. I have been fortunate enough to have shared the better part of the last twenty years of my life with my best friend and her daughter who is now a freshman in college. It is this living situation that has softened my rough edges, unraveled many mysteries in my mind and gotten me to appreciate the value of our human connections.
At times it was difficult to explain to my family and extended family the type of relationship we had, but I knew that over time they would realize that there was really absolutely nothing to explain or understand. Plain and simple, we have been best friends, are best friends and will continue to be best friends until the day we die. No more, no less. Perhaps what has been difficult to understand is the fierce loyalty we have for one another. It has been a friendship with all the emotional benefits of a committed relationship that has provided emotional safety, encouraged spiritual growth and personal accountability. It is a friendship that has forced me to deal with my fears, face my shortcomings and learn that the only way to live a full and deliberate life is to step outside of myself and think of how others see the world which I had a such a difficult time understanding because I was so busy trying to protect my feelings. More than anything, it has been a friendship that led me to rediscover the value and significance of my mother’s values and emotional legacy, thus redefining the woman I am which is leading me to embark into a journey of defining the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. It has been the friendship I hoped to have had with my older sister, who passed away when I was barely sixteen years old, and the sister I hoped to be the one to walk me through the difficult moments I faced in life. God had other plans for my dear sister, Ruth, but I am ever so thankful HE gave me a sister from another mother in Linda. She became the sister I lost, and I became the sister she never had. And that needs no further explanation.
As part of the process of understanding myself and the choices of my unconscious mind, I had to look back at my choice of boyfriends. I listed the qualities I admired in them, the things that frustrated me, and as I did this, a pattern began to emerge. I could see that they were largely distant, unavailable, uncommunicative and unable or unwilling to provide the love and affirmation I so desperately craved. It was so frighteningly familiar to the image of one of my primary caretakers, my father. I also realized that the first time I noticed my relationships were not working was when I found myself trying to prove that I was worthy of their love, trying to prove that I was “the one” for them. Trying to convince them that spending time with me was much more fun than spending time with others. I was completely disheveled by the thought that I was a fish honing for that hidden unknown stream of fresh water that called to me, and I had no other choice but to get “there,” whatever this “there” place may be.
I realize, now, that my father’s behavior when I was a child was utterly selfish and unfair. Now, I see that my mother’s anguish was warranted. Now, I realize that my mother’s needs were valid. Now, I -really- see the wisdom of her ways, and I am thankful that she remained the only steady force in my life. It took my dad many years to come to that conclusion, but he is very thankful, as well, that mom was relentless in her love for him as we are certain that he would not be alive if it was not for her. He was fortunate enough to deal with his self-destructive ways head on, and the redeeming power of her unconditional love has done wonders for him. You see, he grew up believing that his mother had died of grief and sorrow caused by his philandering father. To a five year old child that meant she had given up on life and given up on her children altogether. As a man, he believed that women could not be trusted, and should not be depended upon in such a way. He believed that his happiness could not be based on a woman’s affections. He had learned to fill the void his mother left in his heart with shallow distractions which robbed him of the very thing he craved, unconditional love and affection. I realize now, that he was not able to give unconditional love and affection because he so desperately craved it himself. Yes, he craved that life affirming force we all yearn from infancy, yes, that crazy little thing called love.
As I began my forties, I came to appreciate what a testimony of love my mother’s life is. The way she loves is the way I have now learned to love and the way I deliberately want to love the one who would be my friend, my partner, my companion and ultimately my husband. You see, when mom commits to love someone, she loves and loves and loves until you tire of wondering whether her love is real and simply give in to her warm welcoming smile, her sweet embrace, the alluring smells of her wonderful kitchen concoctions and the comforting musical sound of her voice on the telephone. She loves wholeheartedly, unconditionally and never tires of it. She simply lives to love those around her which in itself is my grandmother’s legacy, my great grandmother’s and perhaps the one before that. As for my dad, he has become a love sponge that if you squeeze too hard or too long, begins to leak. What this means is that if I hug him too long or too hard every time I see him, tears begin rolling down his cheeks because he simply melts with the sweet embrace of the child in me who now, willingly and deliberately, loves him wholeheartedly and unconditionally. Yes, I am now becoming just like my mom, a woman who can’t help but love those around her.
I think my initial vow still remains buried deep inside my brain, but I am actively working on changing the emphasis of certain words. Where my initial vow was more along the lines of “I will never need a man like that” my deliberate choice now is “I will never need a man that behaves like that.” As I continue to cast my line, I hold steady onto the hope that I would find the one who would be worthy of my affections. I have a whole village cheering behind me on this effort, and you can be sure they will line up for the final inspection on my catch so as to give the stamp of approval. You see, as I learned to love the way my mother does, my circle of friends which I call my family of choice, expanded, and there is always room for more.
As I learned to love the way women in my family love, I have also learned that it is much more freeing to love without expecting nothing in return. No strings attached, no return on investment, no collecting of any debts at all. This, has made my outlook on relationships rather uncomplicated, if you cannot handle this unconditional crazy little thing called love, it’s okay. It’s just there because it is so much a part of my genetic and emotional imprint, so if it does not work for you, back in the water you go and I cast my line once again. However, as much as I see myself as the one doing the fishing, I am beginning to see that I am a great catch myself. And I know there is one great catch out there who has been in the open sea for some time who is now swimming thousands of miles, and very much just like me, he is headed for the same stream I came from. Headed for the place where our emotional imprint started and is willing to find healing “there,” whatever this “there” place may be.
Oh, to love and be loved in the way my mother loves and the way my grandmother loved. Oh to love the way women in my family love. That would be a nice inscription on my headstone, but I think I would want this one instead:
She lived to love those around her.
In the same way her mother, grandmother, and perhaps
in the same way most of her great ancestors did.
She loved wholeheartedly and unconditionally.
The way Her creator made her to be.
And she did right by them.
She did right by Him.