Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sometimes a breakdown = a breakthrough

Relationships. Not a huge word, but huge subject.

You could write a book about it. Wait, lots of people have, and we don't seem to any smarter about them, well, I'm sure not.

In theory it doesn't seem like it should be as hard as we make it. Boy meets girl, they have a spark, they like each other, hopefully it grows to more, and everyone lives happily ever after. Ends up, that really is a fairy tale.There's a lot of false starts, broken hearts, misunderstandings and fights along the way.

In this week alone we've watched Kate Winslet split from Sam Mendes and ever more surprisingly, had to watch the public humiliation of Sandra Bullock dealing with the alleged infidelity of her husband, Jesse James. Why is it so hard to love and be loved?

I've spent a lot of time on a lot of couches trying to figure this out. Therapists couches, folks, get your minds out of the gutter. And after reading book after book, every woman's magazine on the planet, interviewing experts and waging my own unsuccessful experiments, I'm no closer to the answer.

I've been reading the book, "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin and happened this week to be reading about love. And I came up with a theory of my own.

In the book she describes a week where she is just nice to her husband all the time. She doesn't question him when he wants to go the the gym when she's really looking for some help with the kids, packs his lunch, does errands for him and is just an all around super nice partner. Sounds great, right?

I believe that you treat people how you wish to be treated. So, I'm nice. I try to be thoughtful, caring, considerate and undemanding. I cut people a pretty wide berth. I have worked hard to learn to respond and not react, I take responsibility for myself and try to not blame others for whatever my lot seems to be.

But there's a downside to this I've discovered. By being so nice all the time and seeing the other person's point of view, being patient and understanding, it's easy to forget your own needs. When that little voice pops up in my head telling me I don't like something, I tend to rationalize it away and find a way to on the surface be okay, but underneath it all, not so much.

I've been told I'm sweet, (which I believe is the female equivalent of being a "nice guy" and we all know how well that usually turns out) and I'm thinking maybe being sweet isn't always such a good thing. There's a reason why books like "Why Men Love Bitches" become best sellers.

In the span of less than three years I lost both of my parents, and almost lost my oldest son, twice to drug overdoses. These events profoundly changed me. What used to seem important isn't anymore - if someone is late, hey, I'm glad they are alive and well. Small, irritating things really don't seem important.

But what I've found is that in trying to be so Zen-like about the things that really do bother and hurt me, I kind of lost myself. And here I was thinking, rather ironically, I'd really found myself, and the perfect way to be in a relationship. The thing was though, I still had the same needs I always did - to be appreciated, heard, respected, valued and loved, but I was so busy putting others' needs ahead of my own I kind of forgot to ask for that. Perhaps after having lost so much I've erred on the side of wanting to please, lest I lose more.

So my new theory is that yes, you can be nice, be kind and loving, and do all the things you truly love to do for others, but you have to be just as nice to yourself and ask for what you need too. That's a stretch for us nice girls, we're not always very good at that, but I do truly think that's the answer.

It's not rocket science, but who knows, it's simple enough that it might just work.