When I asked Jolie why she wanted to share what follows she said to me, "I want to set a standard of living where our outsides match our insides--I think that is more important for our relationships than we realize. I find that my relationships are endlessly enriched when I write about my deepest flaws. Because, inevitably, we find those are the things that make us human, that bind us together. Also, I felt like the giant balloon of self-hate and self-doubt quickly deflated when I shared these things with Sean and other people. There's something about getting your demons out on the table that makes you see them for what they really are, instead of letting them become this giant scary monster."
We suffer, often unknowingly, from wanting to be in two places at once, from wanting to experience more than one person can. This is a form of greed, of wanting everything. Feeling like we're missing something or that we're being left out, we want it all. But being human, we can't have it all. The tension of all this can lead to an insatiable search, where our passion for life is stirred, but never satisfied. When caught in this mindset, no amount of travel is enough, no amount of love is enough, no amount of success is enough... The truth is that one experience taken to heart will satisfy our hunger. | Mark Nepo
Next month I will turn 28. I remember my birthday last year -- in the heat of early June, I watched my baby cautiously run along the cement of an outdoor play area, through the water fountains that were shooting out of the ground, into the air with short, unexpected bursts. I stood with my husband and we smiled while we watched her navigate on her own. The water beaded on her forearms while her soft little eyes watched the bigger children darting in and out with confidence. For now, she was happy to be gently misted under the protection of her sun hat, too nervous to get close to something so unpredictable, so powerful. If she wasn't careful, it could knock her flat in a second. I wrangled her close to smear more sunscreen on her tiny, creamy arms. She was so small.
My heart was broken that day - I had lost two close friends in an ugly way and even though I was happy there, in the dancing sunlight with the two people I loved the most in the world, I felt like I was walking around with a limp, dragging so much around behind me because I didn't know how to take care of it like I was supposed it.
So much of 27 was recovering from that loss -- but also, recovering from a bad understanding of love, in general. In friendships, in motherhood, in marriage. I was like my baby, stumbling around the fountains that kept shooting out of the ground, and getting knocked down with their unexpected, unforgiving force. As I've slowly peeled myself off the pavement, I've gotten up with a little more sense about things, and I've realized I need to get it down. It's hard to be honest, but I'll try.
I have a banner hanging in my living room that says, in all caps, "IT'S OK."
I walk by it a hundred times a day, and I try and let it remind me to take a light breath in and just smile. Because, it's ok. It is all ok.
This past year I spent a lot of time learning how to be honest with myself. I've spent a good portion of my life trying to be the Poster Girl for Everything Always. I can't always pinpoint what it's rooted in, but I have a long history of shaming myself relentlessly when I'm not meeting up to some imaginary but ever-pressing standard of perfection. I think this is partly why I always have a project going. I have to make sure I'm earning my figurative keep. I'm worthy! I'm valuable!
(I'm in recovery.)
This shaming includes (but is not limited to) when I have completely human emotions and reactions to life. Instead of meeting whatever I find with some semblance of kindness and honesty, some, hey this is totally human and normal, I desperately shove it down and berate myself if it has any scent of imperfection. This won't do, put it away, nobody wants to see that. So, I've spent time gathering up the courage to let my outsides match my insides, so to speak, to have loving permission for myself to be whatever mess I need to be in order to feel like I can live with some kind of integrity, wherever I am. For the sake of being genuinely loved. What better thing is there than to be honestly loved for who you honestly are?
I don't mean this in the fake-real sense that's often flaunted around on the internet, like, "Here's what I look like without under-eye concealer! Look how vulnerable I am!" I mean it in a much heavier sense, like, hey I feel like I might be failing at marriage and I'm scared. Because one part of this mess I had been lugging around inside had to do with my marriage. I had taken what were completely normal feelings and pathologized them; I had used them to turn against myself and tell myself I was some kind of failure. I let them fester for so long that if I kept it going, I'd guess it could've destroyed me, or my marriage.
So, this year I found the courage to look my husband in the eye and tell him all of the things I had been feeling but pushing away, or covering up, or talking around, with the unfortunately misled hope that if I ignored them for long enough, or dressed them up enough in the right lighting, I wouldn't have to deal with them. Things like,
Sometimes, I think I got married too young.
Sometimes, I think I squelched concerns about you that I shouldn't have, back when we were dating.
Sometimes, I wonder what my life would be like if I had given myself the chance to explore more relationships.
Sometimes, I want out of the box we've closed ourselves into.
Sometimes, I feel a panicked suffocation at how we are parents now, how we made a life together and how none of this can be un-done.
What I know now is that these are totally normal. These are things one thinks after being with the same person for nearly a decade. I was reading about the seven year itch a few months ago, and how most of these questions come with it, and that people either decide to leave or they process it and take their relationship to a new, fresh place.
Now I know all of this, but upon first feeling these things, I thought for certain I had done something wrong. This isn't what someone in a good marriage feels. This isn't how it's supposed to go. If it's good you don't also want out sometimes. So I tried to privately think them away, but, wherever you go, there you are. Because I didn't air them out, they got darker and perpetuated. They swam around my head at night, making me sweat and toss. They were scary to utter internally, alone, in the quiet, dark space of my heart where they lived, and they were scarier still to see falling off my lips and into the open air in front of my husband, this man who I loved so dearly. For a long time, I held them all gingerly in my hands trying to keep them contained, turning them over and over quietly, because I couldn't make sense of them.
I was so happy, but then I wasn't. How does that work?
Turns out that's kind of just how it works.
It also turns out that it's ok.
Sean is the only man I've ever really been with. We met when I was just shy of 18 - actually, we met ten years ago this Spring - and that was basically it, for me. We married when I was 22. When I was dating Sean, and engaged to Sean, and in my early years of marriage with Sean, people would say things like, "You're so young. He's only your first boyfriend! Don't just marry the first one!" And to be honest, I heard those things with my ears but I didn't internalize them. I didn't know how. For one, I was very Christian, and I honestly couldn't relate to that outlook. I didn't want to explore - that's not what people like me did. And secondly, I think, as Julie so wisely put it in an earlier post, I really just happened to have beginner's luck in the picking a guy thing. I picked a really good one right out of the gate, and in that sense I just lucked out. Like, supremely. So when people said those things to me, I just smiled and shrugged. I loved Sean and he made for a good partner in so many ways, and I didn't understand why people couldn't understand that. Secretly I had the laughable, naive sense that we would never struggle. This was easy! So easy. Anyone who was struggling was doing it wrong.
I coasted on that easy love for a good, long while. Sean is a good man. He is not hard to love.
The thing about being a human, wrapped up in the mystery that makes up brain and heart and spirit, is that we want a lot of things, and we often want them all at once, and inevitably, these wants can't all co-exist. This took me 28 years to understand.
Why is this so hard to swallow?
I want to be lithe, but I also want my chocolate cake.
I want to have nice things, but I also want to have money in the bank.
I want to be a fully attentive mother, but I also want to be a career woman.
I want to live untethered, but I also want the security of a committed, mature love.
When I have one, I am aching for the other that I don't have room for. No matter which path I take, I cast glances at the grass on the other side.
I looked into Sean's face while I tried to somehow put words to the feelings of wanting (but what, even? I don't know, honestly) inside of a happy marriage. How do you tell someone, "I'm so happy but a little part of me is also not?" or "I'm trying to be honest but I'm not even sure what I'm trying to say because it doesn't make sense when I hear it." As the words came tumbling out, I watched the man I love do what he does best. He listened intently, he displayed no signs of being shaken, and he looked into my eyes and said, "I understand." and, "That makes sense." and, "After all, look how young we were." He gently put his hand behind my neck and rubbed my hairline softly. "It's human to wonder. It's human to feel trapped. I feel those things too. But we have a really good thing going here. Don't you think?" Even now, I cry just thinking about it. Is there a better feeling than baring your soul and having a hand reach out to say, "I get it," and, "I'm still here."?
And just like that, I saw how opening that door for him (and myself) gave us a whole new vista to walk toward together. I was mistaken in thinking that finding those questions buried deep in the soil of my heart meant that I was somehow failing. All I was failing was myself by not unearthing them sooner. They just needed a little light and air to be cultivated into something rather beautiful.
It's human to want things that, in reality, can't exist together. Mark Nepo taught me it's a form of greed we have to learn to harness - this ever-present desire to have one eye on what we have, and one eye on what we don't. Sometimes I think it's almost all there is to being human: this struggle to keep our mind stayed on where we are and not where we might have been - and I don't just mean in marriage, but it's true that that's the platform on which I learned the lesson, this time around.
I'm changed when I settle into the story I have going. Because it's a really, really good one. When you get into something as thick and as beautiful as lifelong monogamy, it's going to be unpredictable, it's going to be powerful. It's going to knock you over a few times when you get in close. And that's ok.