You have to listen to that little voice. If it’s not happy now, it never will be, and no one is going to defend it except for you.
There’s a popular blog post that’s been floating around the Internet lately. It’s been popping up every hour or so on my Facebook newsfeed, and as things are slightly strained in my relationship at the moment, I turned to it, hoping that it might bring some clarity to me. It’s titled Marriage Isn’t For You, written by blogger Seth Adam Smith. Go ahead, take a look. I’ll wait.
Done? Good. Thanks for coming back and not wandering off to look at the latest Buzzfeed ode to corgis. (Dammit, I’ve lost you again.)
Smith’s article is very nice. It’s inspiring. It’s sweet. It’s been coated with chocolate and dusted with powered sugar and rolled around in rainbow sprinkles and wrapped delicately in pink cellophane and tied with a glittery purple bow. It’s clean and simple. Nauseatingly so.
Yes, I would argue that this bit of uplifting motivation is a bit TOO saccharine. Reading it, I couldn’t help but hear the overly emphatic voice of the preacher of my childhood evangelical Christian church, pacing the stage with mic in hand, pausing dramatically for applause, smile stretched just a tad too wide across his face (no offense meant here, religion-wise, but I hardly find it a coincidence that Smith is quite outspoken about the fact that he’s Mormon). Sure, Smith makes some excellent points. You have to be selfless in love. You have to want the other person to be happy. You have to put his or her needs first.
But YOU and your happiness in a relationship are equally important. I mean, if Smith was filled with “paralyzing fear” about getting married, that’s kind of an enormous red flag, is it not? It makes me wonder just how long his marriage is going to last - and I say that with all the hope in the world that his relationship lasts for life, that he’s taken his own words to heart and is truly happy right now.
When things in your relationship are going south, people who mean well, like Smith’s father and then Smith in turn, are going to offer their well-intentioned advice about how relationships take work and how you’ll go through ups and downs and how love is worth fighting for and blah blah blah. If that kind of generic fluff was enough to magically cure Smith of his “fears and anxieties,” then I doubt they were really anything to be too concerned about to begin with. If Smith were truly doubting his own happiness, it would have been a problem not so easily dismissed with a few platitudes about love. Because although some may deem it “selfish,” love really is about you, as well.
Like I said, I’m coming at this from a personal place, as love is at the forefront of my mind these days. Or rather, love is not the subject I’m worried about; how to make a relationship that is undeniably overflowing with love work is what I’m really concerned about. Because a relationship can have all the selflessness and care and maturity in the world, and sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes you have to ensure that YOU are happy, too. And no one can make you happy except for you.
Yes, your significant other should be doing everything within his or her power to love you well and make you happy. But that’s never going to be enough - sadly, no matter what he or she does, your partner actually does not even possess the ability to make you happy. That’s all on you.
If you’re not happy in your relationship, that’s a problem. If you are experiencing REAL “paralyzing fear” (as opposed to Smith’s apparently rather tepid nervousness about the act of marriage) in your relationship, that’s a feeling that won’t go away simply by trying to love the other person more. In fact, I would argue that trying to do that will cause you to venture into Dysfunctional Land, which is populated with disappointed and empty souls who feel like all they do is give and give while their hearts remain empty. You can’t fix a relationship just by giving more to the other person. Yes, it may help, particularly if you’re acting like a truly selfish bastard, but you really have to focus on yourself. Once you are happy, you might find that all the other pieces to your fractured relationship fall back into place. Or maybe you’ll realize that it’s not a puzzle you want to put back together at all. Either way, you being happy is the key to viewing your relationship with clarity.
You should be getting as much from a relationship as you put in. And sometimes, even when both parties are giving all the love they can possibly give, it will still not go quite the way you want it to. Real relationships sometimes have problems that have nothing to do with how little or how much you’re actively loving the other person. Sometimes life is just fucking hard, and sometimes pains that run so deep we’re not even consciously aware of them rear their ugly heads, and sometimes, for reasons we can’t even identify, despite your best efforts, you might find yourself simply unhappy.
When that happens, forget all the bullshit advice people will try to give you. Know that they offer their thoughts out of love and concern, but know that anything they say also does not matter. No one can speak to the specifics of a relationship except for the two people in it. If you’re like Smith and all you need is someone to gently slap you on the wrist and say “you’re being totally selfish,” then congratulations - you never really had a problem to begin with. But if that’s not the case, and you are genuinely concerned about the state of your relationship (whether you’re about to get married, have been married for twenty years, or just had your first kiss) then turn inwards. Listen to your heart. Pay attention when your gut starts screaming. Because marriage, and love, is actually about YOU.
Love should make you happy. Love should make you feel safe, and fulfilled, and complete. Love is supposed to be a beautiful and wonderful and precious thing.
If life has twisted and turned in ways that have distorted that love into something confusing and painful, then something much bigger is at stake, and you need to take the time to figure out what you want. Maybe you’ll find you want to keep that love. Maybe you’ll find that your love is no longer what it once was, and is perhaps worth letting go. Either way, it’s okay. The right choice is whatever is going to give you peace, whatever will calm that storm in your heart.
Don’t lose yourself in love. Give as much as you can to it, but also make sure you’re getting everything you need from it in return. Smith makes a couple of lovely points in his article, but fixing a broken love is usually not as simple as just pouring more love into the other person. Don’t worry - you’re not necessarily doing something wrong if you feel like your relationship is crumbling around you. It doesn’t mean you’re not loving the other person well enough. It just means that right now, that love isn’t doing what it should for you, and that’s worth examining.
Because love, marriage, life itself - those are all for YOU. Make sure you’re giving yourself the best.
I moved again recently.
A major move always feels strange; close to but not quite like a death, because the tingle of excitement and hope for the future awaits at the end of it all - at least, in the more copacetic moving scenarios. There is, of course, the possibility for a much sadder scene, one that is indeed as close to a death as we can approach without the actual deed.
Sometimes the moving is the final symbolic act, the closing scene in a tragedy after all the players have had their hearts broken and the land has been burned until only ashes drift across the diminished stage. The moving comes as an involuntary resignation when no other options remain. The house is no longer a home, just a skeleton of misplaced dreams and misguided choices. These evictions, forced, inevitable, or both, lay out all your inadequacies, your inability to protect your love, money, or wisdom.
Those homes haunt you forever, a reminder of part of your life that was unceremoniously lost to the passage of time.
This home, however, was a happy one - not even a legitimate house, just four cramped rooms, a balcony, and a year and a half of memories. We choose to leave it in favor an upgrade that’s closer to my job, but this felt like a betrayal. The apartment still resides in my heart as a treasured relationship that ended abruptly, like someone you lose contact with as the years progress for no intended reason, just the ineluctable elusiveness of a modern disconnected people.
The place in which we dwell imbeds itself into our lives in such a way that our home becomes more than an anthropomorphized family member. It is the setting for endless memories, both good and bad - some that we will keep at the forefront of our minds forever, and some that will never be thought of again. The setting is an integral part of the scene, the scene critical in the formation of our very selves.
Those walls, with their thin, easily scratched ivory paint, witnessed my awe when we first brought home a puppy who is now very much a dog, a little fluff-ball of a creature whose claws make tiny clicking noises on the hard kitchen floor. They saw me when no one else in the world was around, when it was just me and the couch and the patterns on the ceiling and my tears and my heart aching for him to come home. They protected the family of mockingbirds that built a nest in my balcony garden box, the female and male who destroyed my herbs but who gave me the gift of witnessing an avian birth in return (I would gladly sacrifice my rosemary again if I could once more watch them teach the two infants how to not be afraid, how to, quite literally, spread their wings and make the leap into adulthood).
Our home saw all these things and kept our secrets. It answered me in the night, and comforted me in the early dawn, the first streams of sunlight lighting up our living room as I waited for a sleep that wouldn’t come. It became inseparable from those two years of my life - a time that is now gone, another chapter completed, never to be reread.
On the day of our move, as the unit slowly began to empty, box by box, leaving only puffy clusters of dog hair and the occasional overlooked object - a bobby-pin here, a stolen hotel pen there - I was overcome with grief and worry. Would our next home serve us as well as this? Would it prove difficult to remember the period of my life that took place in this home, after I had left it? Was it even a time I truly hope not to forget?
All these trepidations were echoed in my dog, whose breathing became rapid, his ears pressed flat against his head, as the apartment slowly became unrecognizable. He watched woefully as his crate was lifted onto a dolly and carted away. This was the only home he had ever known, and now it was being systematically dismantled and eliminated. I can only marvel at his ability to control his horror.
I closed the front door, not locking it for the first time since we moved in, leaving me with an intangible apprehension, and escorted my dog down the hallway to the elevator, our footsteps the only sound in the mourning building. As we waited for the reliably slow elevator to arrive at our floor, my dog sat and stared down the hallway at our door. He didn’t move until the elevator arrived; even his hairs stood still. I believe he was saying goodbye.
The apartment no longer looks like it ever belonged to me at all. It’s now a stale, empty space available for rent, a one-bedroom for $2200 a month in a prized neighborhood of Los Angeles with close proximity to a park and directly across the street from Trader Joe’s. It has an in-unit washer and dryer, a dishwasher, and central air.
And it once was my home.