I am willing to make mistakes.
Life is a process of growth, which requires doing things you’ve never done before, things that push up against the boundaries of what you don’t know, which can lead to results that come to be labeled as “mistakes” but, in fact, are the exact lessons needed to grow and evolve. *
Take love relationships as an example. My parents didn’t give me a lot of clues as to what a loving partnership looks like. They were married, and got along in some ways, but were sadly mismatched in other ways. So I had no way to know that being in love didn’t involve sulking, shouting, swearing, slamming doors, hurling accusations, throwing down ultimatums, criticizing, insulting, stalking off in disgust, turning a cold shoulder, and other forms of what I now consider bad behavior. And by bad, I don’t mean something to feel shamed by; I mean something that is unproductive in creating and maintaining a loving and respectful partnership.
In finding my way in relationships I made dramatic missteps, and I did not like to take responsibility for them. I simply could not see my role in my own downfall.
I would like to say to those men in my past: I am deeply sorry for the times I lied, I controlled, I manipulated, I pleaded, I blamed, I used my sexuality, I was rage-filled, I was a coward, I was a doormat (ridiculously sweet and accommodating), I was mean, I didn’t communicate what I needed, I was stubborn, I was a chameleon and never showed the real me, I expected you to be a mind-reader, I had a distorted perspective, I was massively triggered by minor transgressions, and I made you feel crazy because my feelings and emotions were out of control. I recognize that the main thing I had going for me was a desperation to be loved that made me wildly passionate and committed in relationships. I offered loyalty whether it was deserved or not. I hope my devotion and commitment made up for some of my shortcomings. The movie title Truly, Madly, Deeply perfectly describes how I fell in love.
In my love life, I had no idea of how to exercise a selection process, or how to slow the pace of a relationship and get to know the man, or how to date a variety of men as a process for finding my best fit. My pattern over many years was to emerge from a period of profound loneliness, connect with a man based on intense chemistry, immediately fall deeply in love, then painfully lose that love and spiral into grief and hopelessness. My enormous shortcomings either attracted someone equally deficient in relationship skills, or drove away any man that understood what a healthy relationship looked like. Despite the gaping holes in my relationship skills, I always blamed the man for the ruinous outcome. My pattern led to a pretty rapid turnover. I needed the practice.
I would like to say to some (though certainly not all) of the men in my past, now I can recognize the quality of the love you offered. I could not see it at the time, and I had no capacity to receive it. It was my thing to push men away, and then cast myself in the role of victim because they left me. Those men must have been bewildered when I created drama to end the relationship and then blamed them. Over time I built up a wall of cynicism, bitterness and victimhood no one could break through. Looking back, I’m deeply saddened by what I threw away.
When we know better we do better – that’s a true statement (thank you Maya Angelou). Through all the relationships I did work hard and try my best. I look back in sorrow at that young woman. How ill equipped she was to hold up her end of a mature and well-functioning relationship.
I like to think of myself as a good person, but if I’m being honest, I’ve done bad things.
I don’t like to lay out my mistakes in explicit detail. I don’t have the strength of heart to own up to everything. Suffice it to say, don’t break up with men on their birthday, if you’re fighting and driving, don’t slam on the brakes in a random location and tell them to get out, don’t fall in love without knowing the first thing about who they are, don’t get involved with a married man even if he says it’s all over but the divorce paperwork, don’t act like it is OK if he shows up late 100 times, then end it on the 101st time without a word of explanation. Don’t expect him not be who he has explicitly told you he is. Don’t make changing him your project. If you move out while he is out of town, don’t leave a couple crappy pair of shoes you don’t want to bother packing up on the shoe rack in the entryway, because when he sees them he will think you are still there (I didn’t do this, a friend of mine did, I just helped with the move). Don’t think men are impervious to pain. They are not. They feel things deeply. Relationships are nuanced and multi-layered so don’t paint them as black-and-white. Don’t stand on your second floor deck and throw full cans of beer down onto his car as he is trying to drive away – there is no dignity in that (it wasn’t me that did that, but seeing it made me want to do it). Don’t pretend things are OK when they are not; that never works. Better to face things head on. Stand for your truth, but be honest in the kindest possible way; don’t hurt someone needlessly. Say the hard things face-to-face, not by leaving a nasty note on his windshield when you find his car parked at another woman’s house overnight. Don’t intentionally push his buttons just because you like to add anger and danger into the emotional blender along with love.
Now that I’ve been in a good relationship for 25 years people like to tell me I’m lucky. Which annoys me because maybe there was good fortune involved, but I think my luck relates to the fact that I dated for two and a half decades and ever so slowly learned what I needed to learn. I even had a practice marriage – tough, but necessary. Every relationship was an opportunity to learn what worked for me and what didn’t. I made every mistake there is to make, but I didn’t make the same mistake over and over, so I evolved. My advice is to accept that you’ll make the mistake you need to make to learn what you need to learn. I acknowledge this approach can lead to a painful journey, but we’re not meant to stand still in life.
In the end I had a list of 26 items that defined the man and the relationship I wanted, and ultimately the man I chose to partner with had 24 (he wasn’t a musician, and there is one other thing I can’t remember so it must not have been super important). That’s being willing to take a hard look at what needs to change in myself. That’s doing the work to make it happen. That’s learning the lessons. That’s learning to ask for help and listen to someone farther down the path than you are (I was in therapy for about a decade). That’s staying in the game and not giving up on the dream. If I hadn’t been willing to make mistakes, my dream of finding my right partner would never have come true. What’s the saying, fall down seven times, get up eight. Do that.
As a footnote, I took time from writing this to watch the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, and was deeply moved by a line in the poem recited by Amanda Gorman. It sums up for us collectively in this time what I held to individually on my personal journey all those years ago.
“…if nothing else, say this is true, that even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped.”
* In my journal I found this written with no attribution. I’m not sure if I read it, or heard it, or if it came from inside my head. Normally I note the source when I jot down an idea from someone else in my journal. So I’m not sure if this is a random thought of my own, or something someone shared. If anyone knows who said this (if someone other than me said it first), please let me know.
© Carol Merwin 2021