It’s eleven degrees and snowing outside on my deck. My fireplace is humming, forcing comforting warm air into my living room. The decorations are down for the year, and the Mannheim Steamroller CDs tucked away until next November. Time to get out the note pad, iPad, whatever.
That’s what I want to address.
This morning, at least once the celebrants have dragged themselves out of bed, administered the appropriate medicines and recovered slightly, many of us write down our goals, resolutions and commitments for the year. Hopefully that’s before football starts, at this house anyway.
Plenty of studies demonstrate that we are better at ticking the goals off our lists when we commit them to paper.
But what have you and I committed to in our hearts?
I can think of few more annoying exercises than lifting the same goals from the previous year onto a fresh sheet of paper, with the weighty sigh of “maybe, finally, this year.”
The exercise of committing ourselves to an outcome (back in 1952, the top resolution was a very vague “be a better person”) is steeped in ancient history. Back in ancient Babylonia, people returned borrowed items (rake, check. Toga, check. Wine flask, check. ) They either recommitted to or crowned a new king (John Elway just sacked the Broncos’ coach). Yesterday Elway made all kinds of promises to the deeply annoyed fans of this storied franchise after two losing seasons. Uneasy lies the head, etcetera. Vance Joseph was in good company; a whole lotta kingpins fell on Black Monday (https://www.foxnews.com/sports/nfl-black-monday-here-are-the-coaches-who-were-fired-after-2018-season).
But I digress.
Traditionally, after the darkest day of the year (which would be Black Monday for those fired coaches), people focused on the coming spring. Renewal. The excitement and promise of a brand new planting season. Not much has changed. Of course not. Hence the term hope springs eternal.
We begin with the store cramming signs of spring (including bathing suits, oh PLEASE). We rush forward in the excitement of Easter and then the coming summer.
Then it’s July, and TJ Maxx is already clearing the shelf of the beach motifs and putting in pumpkins. Shit, we say. Pumpkins? I’m still in my bathing suit (that which I can keep inside the fabric, anyway).
September through November whip by in a rush of MLB and NFL. New coaches are on the hot seat. New rookies impress, fail, rinse and repeat.
Christ. Where did the time go?
Time’s a tough bastard. He etches his passage on our faces and bodies, and is completely unforgiving of an unexamined life. For far too many of us, by the time we’ve realized decades have passed in an orgy of shit-to-do as well as compulsive marathon watches of Game of Thrones, those (supposedly) heartfelt intentions, penned each year after the fog clears, are still left undone. Unattempted. Unfinished.
In this article about this year’s crop of resolutions, you’ll find some old saws, plus some solid advice about how to keep yours :https://www.ajc.com/lifestyles/holiday/meaningful-new-year-resolutions-for-2019-and-how-achieve-them/7tKNhhOtlulaCJw1YBgZmI/
Good. Fine. Have another cup of coffee. Now with respect I’m going to get in your bleary-eyed face, which is simply another way of saying I’m going to get into my own. Because I keep saying I want love in my life. I think it’s a lie.
Getting clear about what we are really willing to do will go a long way towards avoiding the annual (I’ve got the same goals this year as last year, IAMATOTALFAILURE) exercise in futility. How do I change that?
To wit: Many of us sincerely want to exercise more, lose weight, quit smoking, make more money, get a better job, fillintheblank.
Not many of us are serious about those goals. Here’s the difference:
For years I ran my yapper about losing weight, even as I steadily gained. By the time I hit 205, I was putting the cracks in my neighborhood sidewalk at a regular pace. It wasn’t until I had an epiphany at the ripe old age of 31 that I made the fundamental, heartfelt commitment to stop eating shit that makes me suffer that I did indeed replace my poundage with space around my body. Hasn’t been back since, and that was nearly 31 years ago. That’s serious.
For four decades, I sincerely wanted to stop my eating disorders. Long after I had successfully gotten my weight under control I continued to battle this deadly disease. Until eight years ago, in Thailand, in a tiny hotel outside Trat, I simply decided. I was done. Never looked back.
Haven’t slid backwards since. That of course belies the pitch that those-who-benefit-from-our-illnesses would have us believe. Namely, that we are never, ever cured. Bullshit. That may serve your careers, folks, but it doesn’t serve my life outcomes.
You and I have the challenge, particularly on this important First Day of the New Year, to establish those commitments that genuinely speak to our hearts. If not, we won’t do them. It’s a simple as that.
So. About that lie about love in my life. I’ve had a BF for many years who says all the right things about spending time together, but when it comes down to it, what I get are excuses and reasons why he has to be somewhere else. This past year, he wasn’t even present while under my own roof. He was off coding, uncommunicative, always and forever unavailable. He was always and forever elsewhere, even sitting on the couch watching a movie with me. Even walking the dog, during which time he told me not to talk to him, he was working on a coding problem. Right.
Now let’s be very, very clear. I have also chosen to hang out for this guy all this time. That is a statement about me, my choices, and my valuation of myself. Most of that time I spent alone, waiting for him as he traveled for work. At best I got a few hours at at time, a few times a year. Huh?
Not long ago he asked permission to earn my trust. The following January, I said yes. In May, he moved in. It didn’t go well at all, but we were both — at least on the face of it- willing to work on our challenges. Then, of course, while I was out of country, he announced his decision to move. Again.
To this set of behaviors, I get to ask a truly in-your-face question set:
- Am I in love with longing? (ouch)
- Am I in love with the idea of this man, or the man himself? (more ouch)
- Can I let go of a hopeless infatuation and clear the plate for someone else to show up, or am I really serious about having love in my life? (I HATE these questions. But still.) Because this man is nothing but a remote will-o’-the-wisp, wholly and totally unavailable. It’s been ten years. He just now moving to another state-again- because, well, work. Wash, rinse, repeat.
- Am I willing to face the fact that he reflects my own unavailability to be loved? That being attached to the unattainable and unavailable simply supports an inner story about my lack of value? (All right, Sigmund, shut the fuck up already)
- Do I have the courage to start a new decade (he had the entire last one) on my own, do the work to be available, and be grateful for what I draw into my life? I am approaching the ten year anniversary of our meeting on my birthday. We have spent very little time together. Almost none. For someone who is very physical, very affectionate, this has been hell on wheels. But I accepted the conditions. That speaks more to my emotional dynamics than to the BF. (will you kindly put that goddamned mirror down, please)
We leak our truth. Our actions speak to our choices, and they are one hell of a lot more eloquent than promises we make to ourselves and others. My challenge is whether I am willing to make the commitment to myself to have the kind of BF who really does want to spend the time, or whether my choice of an unavailable man speaks to the internal story (read, the lie) that I’m not worth loving.
You and I can change the internal narratives. Promises don’t do it. Actions do. We do not move on those goals that don’t move us in the deepest currents of our existence. What we draw to us, what we choose to do, tends to validate our need to be right about who we are. You and I cannot claim to want love and then choose a completely unavailable man or woman, or long string of same. There is only one truth here, and the claim ain’t it. It’s what we choose to do.
That’s why sitting down at the kitchen table as the dawn breaks over my snowy yard is such hard damned work.
The dynamics that drive our lives deep in the folds of our inner worlds will decimate our attempts to achieve our goals, whatever they may be, unless we unearth our habits. Our habits either support or destroy the efforts we put forth to have the life we say we want. What we actually do, is the life we want.
Man that hurt to write that. Especially looking at the hurt and loneliness I endured the last ten years because of this particular person. That was wholly and completely my doing. He simply is who he is. I can rail all I want about what’s wrong with him. I simply HATE having to ask what in the world is wrong with me that I hang in there year after year, hoping for something different?
But yet. In the cold, hard, brilliant light of the new day, a brand new year, we are gifted with the chance to challenge the obstacles we put in our own life roads. Those reasons and excuses that we construct for why we can’t get this or that done, take this or that chance, give ourselves what we truly believe we want.
We will always get what we need. This BF has been an ongoing lesson in my addiction to unavailable men (set in place by my dad. Family is the headwaters for our emotional life rivers, and until we learn to navigate them with courage, they may always and forever upend the kayaks of our dearest dreams). He has his own rivers to navigate. This Friday we have a talk. It may well be our last, as he is packing up the moving van once again. Ten years ago, that’s precisely how we began our relationship. It may well be, this time, what ends it. Speaking of time, given that this birthday I turn 66, at what point do I make that incredibly important decision that I deserve love, warmth, affection, great sex (YES get over yourself) and excellent company?
We may sincerely want a great many things. Those goals and resolutions may impress us, our friends and family. But we do what we seriously care about. We get what we need. Life obstacles notwithstanding (and there are plenty), we make choices based on who we really are, not who we want to think we are.
This is the truly deep work of the New Year. You and I can barrel into spring thinking we planted roses, but what rose from the earth of our life were radishes. Because the latter is what was really in our pockets. The radishes are our truth. I fucking hate radishes. But radishes are what I sometimes get (when it comes to relationships anyway). That’s called feedback.
That may not be pleasant to accept. However if you and I don’t look at what detours us from what we say we want to have, to accomplish, then we will forever have reasons and excuses. Like the BF. And thank you, let’s be fair, he gives me reasons and excuses for why I don’t have a loving man’s arms around me once in a while.
It’s a two-way street. No blame. No harm. No foul.
Such honesty induces terror, at least in my tender heart. Worse in some ways than any skydive, paraglide, huge horse, large mountain I ever took on. Those were easy by comparison. My god, I’ll take a fighting, feisty horse any day over the potential pain of yet another broken heart. And therein lies my truth.
Beyond these boundaries, there be dragons. This may yet be the year I ride mine.
Happy New Year!