“How do you want to feel with your future partner?” a friend asked me last night. The premise was: from this, I would know what to look for.
It was a very simple question, yet one that took me by surprise. Even more surprising — I had absolutely no idea. I hadn’t thought about it.
Sure, I had a list of traits I wanted. That’s the easy part: funny, smart, generous and kind. But her question involved emotions, and these were slightly murkier. I did not even know if I had a good answer (beyond the superficial “happy” or “trusted” bullshit). But we all have to start somewhere. So, I decided to start by examining what I had looked for in past relationships, and why. Then I asked myself: why was this never enough?
Security. That was the first thing that popped into my mind, after a minute of silence. Upon further reflection, I realised that would be the adjective I chose first, because I grew up in an emotionally tumultuous household. My mother was verbally and emotionally abusive towards me all through to young adulthood. My parents were consistently fighting. Of course, my father tried to compensate for all of it, but over time, nothing he could have done would have halted, or erased the damage. Raised voices, slamming doors, guttural cries, threats of divorce, greater threats of death and suicide — these were background tracks that played as my life ran on in technicolor. Worse, I was the only child. I had no one to turn to save for inanimate stuffed objects and the family pets. There is something preferable to being trapped in an oppressive and unhappy family — having absolutely no family at all.
Loved, unconditionally, was another. And of course, this is because I was never loved unconditionally. I was loved when I obeyed; did her bidding. I was loved when I was polite. I was loved when I sided her, over my father. And I was told to obey because she was the source of my lunch money. I was told to obey because I lived in her house; under her roof. I was told to obey because Christian children are supposed to “honor thy father and mother” (of course, she never learnt the continuation of that verse; Ephesians 6:4). If I did not obey, I would lose all these privileges and face the wrath of God. I married young and wrong, in part, to escape her and that unhappy house. Now that I am divorced, older, and arguably wiser, I know God was only used as a tool for her emotional manipulation, and instead of running, I needed to learn to love in defense.
Dependent. This, I am more ashamed to admit, but it must be done. After all, the only way to fight demons of the heart is with bravery, foolish or otherwise. The reason for this is simple: if my partner is dependent on me, then the likelihood I would get hurt, that the person would walk away from me, abandon me, is smaller. My partner would never be able to do to me what my mother had done.
All this; this is who I am. These are all gnarled parts shaped by my past. That’s why I’ve always wanted to feel emotionally secure, loved unconditionally, and like I have the upper hand. And it seems I have sought what I’ve never had throughout my life. That’s typical, isn’t it? We either seek out the familiar, or we seek out the complete opposite.
And the coward in me; she could continue to seek this out in future. But it has never been enough, and it is folly to believe it ever will be. Why?
I suspect it is because I know if I seek for others (and vice versa) from a place of lack, I will always emerge with a lack. I am more than what my past has shaped me to be. There is a part of me who knows she must strive for more, to be better, to do better.
For one, I’d like to be the source of my own emotional security. I want to draw from my own never-ending well of love and forgiveness that exists somewhere inside; in a place that has not be scourged by my past. I want to draw from it, and find the strength to wash my own wounds each time they weep.
I would try to love unconditionally. No matter how many times people fail us throughout our lives, we still have expectations of them. And when they let us down, we find it hard to forgive, and find ourselves trapped in a cycle of resentment and unforgiveness. But there is something greater to be learnt from being let down — acceptance of and compassion for the human condition, in the spirit of unconditional love. With this, forgiveness and the process of moving on (whether together or separately) becomes easier. With my mother, this involves loving her from a distance, in spite of what she has done, and without obligation.
I don’t want to be the center of someone’s world. I don’t want to beat anyone into submission. I want a strong individual, I want a challenge, I want a cause for pause of thought, I want a differing viewpoint. I want all this, because improvement and growth is far more important to me than the pain and suffering that may ensue if it did not work out.
I want to be self-sustainable. I don’t say this from a place of self pride. I say this from a place of self-worth.
There’s so much more I want to be. There’s so much more I want to give.
And now, I realise that my choice of future partner cannot start with how I want to feel with someone else, because that is where it ends. It starts with how I feel about myself and how the other person feels about themself. Both separate, yet whole entities. The rest, I am hoping, will come naturally. (Also because I still do not have a good answer to her question.)
So, at this point, while I continue work on myself, I will say to the future instead: I want someone who feels emotionally secure. I want someone who feels whole alone. I want someone who feels love in spite of human imperfections. I want someone who feels compassion for the human condition. I want someone who feels like I am an equal — someone to learn and grow with. I want someone who feels as I do, and has come to the same conclusions I have.
Someone else said to me recently, “We were not made to be alone.” For the first time in my life, I think he may be right. But first, two people need to cherish being just that: alone.