FIRST, my new book is coming before the end of the month - Your Soul is Talking; Are you Listening? is a user-friendly guidebook for people who want to unleash their soul's hidden agenda by learning the language of the unconscious. STAY TUNED.
Now, back to the topic of this post:
I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while – the odd and onerous expectation that you must find that magical other person with whom to spend the rest of your life.
What if you don’t? What if you don’t want to? There surely is something wrong with you.
Watching the recently released Netflix romantic comedy Good on Paper, starring comedian Liza Schlesinger, pushed me over the edge. The description of deadpan, raunchy, and irreverent indicated to me that it would be honest.
In the film, the thirty-something female stand-up comic meets a random nice guy. He falls for her hard and fast. She doesn’t feel that way about him, but she enjoys his company. He has patience though.
One night, she gives in to drunk sex, and in the morning decides, “I’ll be your girlfriend.” Along the way, her intuition reveals red flag after red flag, but her friends suggest she might be standing in her own way. He’s so nice, after all.
Turns out this guy is a total liar. His insecurity and grievance that he doesn’t have a chance with women like her unless he lies justifies his manipulation of her. Whoa! So, it’s her fault. Hmm. In a way, he wears her down. She questions and talks herself into feeling something that she doesn’t really feel.
Has a gentler version of this happened to you?
The Cost of Settling
This entertaining and exaggerated story brings something to life that is real – the damage done when one succumbs to man-made convention over a higher sense of right and wrong.
Even if you have shed the conventional idea of marriage, or you have successfully rebelled against the shame of divorce projected onto you by those who arrogantly proclaim to know God’s opinion on the matter, do you still find yourself attached to the idea of finding the one?
Have you ever thought about why you need to find the one? Some call that perfect someone a soulmate. What does that even mean? That you’re perfect together? That you slide through life smoothly because you’re on the same page?
If you don’t feel the need to find the one, do you get pushback by your family and friends? “Just wait . . . You’ll see,” your divorced uncle says. It’s like he doesn’t want you to figure something out that he couldn’t. “Look at us . . .” your grandparents say as they brag about getting to that fifty-year anniversary mark. “They don’t even like each other,” I’ve heard many people say about their grandparents. What an odd thing to celebrate – a number representing sheer will power. Or maybe it’s laziness. Or fear.
There are those rare couples, of course. There is an ebb and flow to their relationship, reflecting respect for each other and for the relationship. When one has a growth spurt, the other is inspired to grow too. They take responsibility for meeting their own psychological needs. They don’t need each other. They're witnesses to each other's journey of life.
The exception seems to prove the rule that one person and one relationship cannot possibly meet the psychological and spiritual needs of a person. Why do we demand it be so?
Every Relationship is a Life Class
We project an awful lot onto that magical one. Even in the 21st Century, many college-aged women seek to project their financial independence onto men. A few years later, when the children are off to school, they will wonder why their husbands might be intrigued by professional women. Men who project onto women everything having to do with family, will wonder why their wives no longer want to have sex with them.
If everyone else wasn’t so opinionated about your life, maybe you wouldn’t end up projecting so much onto the person with whom who you enjoy spending time. “When are you getting married? Have kids?” Ah!
How many of us ended up settling for someone out of fear that someone better might not come along? Maybe it wasn’t even conscious. Maybe you even loved that person. “I knew the day we got married . . .” more than one person has admitted to me. That’s so unfair to the person you settled for. Or how many of us pass up relationship experiences because we're waiting for the perfect one?
Why not simply enjoy the eternal that exists in the moments when you resist expectation? What if it's not about finding the one, but finding the one - for now. And in that mixing with another human being for a while, you are forced to grow, and that growth prepares you for your next experience with the one - for a little while or maybe for a longer while.
We relate through projection. You cannot avoid it, but you can try to be aware that projection is always going on when you are relating with people. We are attracted to people who represent pieces of us that wish to come out and play. If you refuse to indulge these sub-personalities – our dark and light sides – and instead force your partner to carry that burden, eventually you both might come to resent the differences that initially attracted you to each other. You have missed the opportunity to grow.
And that’s okay.
Relationships can be seen to offer a curriculum for growth, and I have come to see that projecting onto relationships the burden of permanency does not make sense. Even spiritually, God seems to want us to grow through finding truth for ourselves, and this collides with a rather arrogant human need to control what happens in relationship or to assume that relationships are supposed to last a lifetime.
My twenty-four-year marriage presented me with a bottomless pit of growth experiences, but to keep growing, the relationship had to end. Something a professor said in a class got me thinking differently about my marriage. It hadn't failed. It had pushed me to gain new insights about myself. We all laughed when the professor suggested that first marriages were about working out parental complexes. She was sitting next to her second husband, who was guest lecturing.
Have you found how a version of your parents’ relationship exists below the surface of your own? Did you have that moment when you realized you married your mother or your father? Many people become aware of this dynamic after divorce. Those people who never become aware are the ones who keep repeating the dysfunction.
What has been the hidden purpose of your marriage? What are you projecting onto your partner? What role does your partner expect you to play in the relationship?
In a moment of weakness or surrender, your unconscious will force the issue. Once it was clear my marriage was ending, my unconscious, my soul, unleashed all the things I had sought to be protected from during my marriage – the wounds related to my sexuality and spirituality.
Only now can I appreciate the complexity of coming of age in the 1980s. It was a time of great progress in many ways. But the price of admission to the cold professional world was being detached from any sense of feminine or focus on relationship. The excitement of new possibilities was matched by an almost equal amount of intense anger towards women who challenged direction, anger that found righteous validation in political movements couched in religious belief.
The impact on women of being constantly demonized as family wreckers and sexual deviants cannot be overstated, especially when the chorus included and still includes other women.
Real Soul Making
The six months following my divorce was filled with new life lessons that had little to do with finding a life partner. Rather, every one of the kind men I dated facilitated coming into healthier relationship with my body and sexuality.
My experience with them seemed to prepare me for a more serious relationship, this one bringing me closer to my inner being and the Divine. As a newbie depth psychologist, I sensed the transcendent force that mysteriously directed my first post-divorce relationship with a younger man, which facilitated the healing of my sexual and spiritual wounds.
To demand that this relationship be permanent seems selfish and arrogant. It had to end, but that man will always have a special place in my heart.
I now understand that soulmates are not so much about being perfect partners. Soul mates are about soul making, which means finding truth for yourself. And this process of finding truth requires you to go against those who take the easier route and allow others to think for them.
I believe relationships, intimate and otherwise, are the most powerful source of self-reflection and growth.
What assumptions about relationships do you need to let go of? Here are lots of reflection questions you can use to explore your relationship with relationships.
Reflect about your past relationships. What did you project onto the person? Did you eventually develop that part of you that was being mirrored back? What did they project onto you? Did you end up identifying with the role they needed you to play? When the relationship ended, did you find your contribution to the breakdown? Why you stayed as long as you did? What you got out of the dysfunction?
Reflect about your current relationship. How is this one different? How did your past relationships prepare you for this one? Did you end up playing the same depleting role? Even though you thought the person was completely different? Did you spot it earlier this time? Do you have a new level of honesty in this relationship? With yourself? With your partner? Do you feel the need to make this one work no matter what, because of a fear of a second failure?
Reflect about relationships that haven't happened yet. Are you nervous about dating after divorce or ending a long-term relationship? Are you a woman in your early thirties that feels the pressure of the ticking clock? Try this experiment: have zero expectations and do what feels right. If that means not going on a second date, then don't. If that means enjoying a mutual sense of friendship that has emerged, then do that. Your body knows better than your mind, so listen to it. If you're not attracted to someone, don't talk yourself into having coffee.
Relationships seem to have a hidden agenda, one that you are likely not to see until months or even years have gone by. Just knowing that there is higher purpose to your encounter, a purpose that may not reflect others' ideas about relationship, can take the pressure off. Don't be so hard on yourself. You don't have to get it right this time, or next time. Growth should be your goal.
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