I am sitting, cross-legged at the edge of my bed, still wearing the light vest and shorts that I fell asleep in last night, with my dusty pink kimono thrown over my shoulders. It’s 4pm and there are snotty, rolled up pieces of toilet paper all around me. I have a typical head cold and I’m feeling frustrated and sorry for myself. I’m sick again. I’ve never been sick as often as I have been since I moved to Mexico almost a year ago.
I fell asleep for a few hours and wake up to a ravishing hunger that I filled with a banana and a plain bowl of pasta, and a message asking about my favourite topic: love, from one of my favourite people, the most elegant and beautiful Laura. I have been wanting to write these words for a while now, but perhaps they needed a quiet space to come from, which I feel this afternoon.
A few months ago, I entered a new relationship. I mentioned it, briefly, but then became silent about it, because it didn’t hold the magical, romantic, enchanting love-spell that I thought necessary. It felt hard and confronting and filled with challenges right from the beginning. Instead of being in the first sweet, syrupy stage of infatuation, it skipped that essential stage of intimate relationships entirely and went directly to the second stage: the conflict and power struggle.
I’ve not written these words before because I am terrified that he will read them and take them personally and make them about himself and further confirm his subconscious belief that he is unlovable. One that he doesn’t know he has, one that so many of us walk around with, colouring our lives and having us seeking verification of our beliefs by unwittingly choosing experiences that confirm it.
For those of you who are new to this concept, it’s known as the reticular activating system. The RAS seeks information that validates your beliefs. It filters the world through the parameters you give it, and your beliefs shape those parameters kind of like a Facebook algorithm that keeps showing you the same kind of content.
Let me begin at the beginning of this story for both the love of storytelling and for context.
It was on April 10th that we first met. My friend was celebrating her 35th birthday and we all dressed up and drank tequila and danced by the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Another friend told me that she wanted to go visit her best friend who had recently opened a bar and was going through a breakup, would I come with her? I smiled ready when you are and we hitched a ride into town with another guest who was heading home. Inside the bar, she introduced me to her best friend Graham and his business partner. We spoke briefly, politely, and then found a table to sit around. I ordered mescal on the rocks and got up to dance when the music was good.
Every now and then Graham came past and we chatted about our lives, and what brought us to this part of Mexico and what we believed in. I am an emphatic and emotional oversharer, especially with strangers. I have no filter, especially when I feel safe to be myself, which I do, always, when I am around strangers. It is more that after some time of knowing them I start to clamp down, and dull the words from my heart because I learn that they are no longer safe for some.
Like Cinderella at midnight, I french exit, only to find Graham manning the door to his bar which is at capacity. He asks why I am leaving and I tell him I like to leave on a high note. I’m tipsy, I’ve had a lot of fun, and a good dance. It’s the perfect time to leave. We go to kiss goodbye as is common in Mexico, on the left cheek, and I momentarily find his lips on mine. I wonder if I have had more to drink than I thought, if my spacial judgement was that inaccurate, as I skip out into the street and glide into an Uber home.
The following weeks were a thrilling game of chase… I wasn’t interested but was enjoying the attention. This game is one of my favourite parts of life and relationships. Puerto Vallarta is a small town with a big gossip wheel and I was often stopped in the street with questions about what was going on. I always replied the same way, I was just getting to know him and at this point, there was no chemistry.
Then things started to get confusing. Freshly out of a relationship he was suddenly in many of the places I was, and while I refused to go on a date with him we often found ourselves in date-like situations. It was fun and playful and light and I wanted to keep it that way. In those meetings, I start to actually get to know him and am fascinated. He seems to have a lot of similar values that I do, has created a job that has the potential to be location independent and is smart, really smart, and interesting. And there’s a sweetness, a gentleness about him. I like that about him.
I concede and we go on two dates. We sleep together on the first one. He’s disappointed when I don’t invite him home on the second. Then I leave for almost a month for a wedding and a work trip to the UK. During this time we speak on the phone almost daily, sometimes for hours. Two things happen concurrently: my heart softens and opens to him and I begin to wonder… could this be my guy?.. and I start to recount the red flags when I see them in my journal. I’ve had enough relationships and breakups to be done with “another lesson”. I want the real thing or I want nothing at all.
He makes a romantic gesture and meets me at LAX airport as I make my way back to Mexico. We hire a car and he drives us to San Diego where I get to catch up with one of my best friends on the planet Emily, and then cross the border in Tijuana to catch a flight back to Puerto Vallarta together. In those short days, in his haste to be together, we make it “official” and label ourselves as girlfriend and boyfriend. Labels mean so little to me as I experience the world as energy and feel what things feel like and while I felt we were moving in a certain direction I also didn’t want to move too fast. Concurrently I wanted him to feel happy and confident. If those labels gave him that, so be it. They mean little to me.
That first month is full of highs and lows. The highs of getting to know each other more intimately and the lows of getting to know our differences more intimately. Freedom is my highest value and my spiritual practices and beliefs precede everything else. I always come back to my 10-day meditation vipassana courses and Goenka teaching us that pure love is a one-way street.
I want more space and time, he wants to spend every moment together. He has expectations on how I should meet him in a relationship and I shatter those expectations over and over again leaving him reeling with a sense of rejection. I constantly feel triggered because, for some reason, he reminds me so much of my step-father who I had a difficult relationship with. I’ve never dated a man older than 30 until now (and he just turned 40) and, well… it’s a whole new world for me. I am compelled to do so much work around healing those parts of myself that were still hurting and broken without me knowing it. Parts of myself that I had been avoiding and ignoring for a long time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to go there now.
It all feels very, very different. We’ve already had so many of the big and important conversations, conversations I’ve never had with a man before and it’s both wonderful and terrifying. As my very wise friend Keri advised me, it’s tricky when we are wanting to undo old relationship patterns because the new, healthier ones can feel kind of off and our nervous system responds with alarm bells.
This man is consistently truly available and a beautiful person… and I feel like I’m navigating a new landscape of my own heart. But at the same time, there are things that don’t sit right with me. He means well but he is still stuck in a weird place in the traditional old paradigms of gender roles where he thinks he wants an independent, self-assured woman but doesn’t think to offer to do the dishes once. He is easily hurt and doesn’t know how to take responsibility for his emotions. When I tell him I’m selfish and I mean it in the healthy, spiritual sense he throws it back at me when I don’t meet his needs. Evoking emotional manipulation such as guilt and shame come naturally to him. It’s the way he’s been raised and while I can simply observe them and not respond, they make me want to run. Run away, as fast as I can.
I don’t always feel safe. I often feel confused.
Amongst all of this, he makes another incredibly endearing and romantic gesture. He takes us for a hike through the jungle to a beautiful private beach club where he has rented a gorgeous villa for the night. He has plans for us to get drunk that night — alcohol lubricates his heart to speak the words that lay on it — but a terrifying monsoon storm rolls in and I’m not a big drinker and just want to go to bed. Amongst the lightning and thunder tearing at the curtains hung around the glassless windows of our pretty villa he whispers that he brought me here to tell me one thing: I love you. I am relieved as I have felt those words bounce about inside my body for weeks now, but did not speak them because they mean something different to him than they do to me. Now, I get to say them when I feel to.
I have moments when I am wrapped in his arms feeling such tenderness and love for him and moments where I wonder why I am still here. The polarity of my emotions is exhausting at times and I know it can’t be any easier for him. This relationship is hard work.
Last week I sit myself down and have a long, hard talk to myself. You always have a choice, Vienda, I tell myself. You can surrender to this relationship as an opportunity to practice love, and heal and grow and see where it takes you. Or you can give it up and learn those lessons another way. I believe in personal responsibility and that how we feel is always our own choice. Feeling good is my own choice as hard is it can be to own and admit that. And with that those thoughts should I stay or should I go bouncing around my mind stills and I come into a place of peace with it all.
I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped. — Fritz Perls, “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim”, 1969
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