Do you remember the 'Marry/Boff/Kill' game? You list three celebrities or historical figures and figure out who would be most pleasant to spend life with, who you'd most like to “boff” (possibly the world’s best word for sex) and who most deserves killing. Like, say you list Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth, and Weird Al Yankovic....how would you order them? (Obviously you marry Weird Al- how fun would that be?) Anyway, it's a great game to play over family Thanksgiving dinner.
I've been thinking lately- as my husband and I *barely* survived another impossibly hard year- that my desire to marry, boff, or straight up murder him in the face has always rotated; same two people, a million different relationships. This is probably normal among my peers. (IS IT NORMAL!? HOW CAN WE KNOW THESE THINGS?) There are times I find him my biggest comfort, there are times I find him a stranger. There are times I can't get enough of his smell and body against mine and other times his touch burns. Sometimes the same jokes and stories feel like home and other times I cannot believe anyone could be so dumb and annoying. Throughout our nineteen years there have been times I've shopped for apartments, certain it would be best for me to leave. There have been other times when I've set my alarm extra early so after my shower I'd have time to get back in bed to cuddle him more before leaving for work. Sometimes the way he parents our kids is the most precious and tender thing I've ever witnessed and sometimes I want to throw a shoe at him to get him to stop. Sometimes he's what I need when I'm afraid, sometimes the fear seems tied to him.
Yes, there has been joy and abundance, but there have also been a million bruises and disappointments along the way that are at various shades of healing...and I've spent a lot of time feeling bitter. I will never know if staying married this long (we hit nineteen years in the fall) has been an exercise in stubbornness or wisdom. And I have no idea if we'll stay married until one or both of us dies (driving off a mountain in California or getting bitten by twin snakes in the desert in California or drowning in the ocean after being partially eaten by sharks in California. California will kill us. I know this and am fine with it. #worthit #sunshine) but I do know that I'm tired of being bitter and I need to either love him full-heartedly or let him go.
And guess where that full-hearted love shit starts? Yes, on myself. You got it. A while ago, immersed in therapy and healing, I learned that I needed to figure out what I want and need to be the healthiest, truest version of myself, and if he can hang with that, cool. If not, cool because I am sick of being bitter and feeling like I'm drained dry and not being loved well.
The streets in our neighborhood are named after birds and one is the "Bittern," which apparently is a type of heron that "tends to be shorter-necked and more secretive than other members of the family." I AM THE BITTERN. I learned to not ask much of others, to not share my needs or rawest feelings- I thought it was loving to just give and not demand anything for myself. Also, my feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing make me competitive and scrambling to prove my worth in an endless, impossible cycle, and this anger towards myself often morphs into anger at him. I assume he's hating and doubting me just as much as I am...I tell all these stories that aren't real. I think he's done some of that, too.
The phase we're in now is where we both heal and fix our shit individually. Each of us is in therapy (finally) and we're healing ancient stuff and bringing boundaries and clarity to each other. It's a pretty wild new kink.
I am starting to see how we didn't really have fully formed independent selves when we got together and also were encouraged by society's vision of love to fold into each other instead of standing on our own feet. I grew up feeling like I needed to sacrifice all of myself to prove my love and commitment, and so I tried that, and then I held it against him. I was DOING all of these things allegedly for his sake, I was BEING SO NICE MY GOD WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME but in truth, my resentment was loud...like the call of the bittern.
The bitterness comes from feeling overused or improperly loved. I'll never know if it's because he was asking too much and shit at loving me or if it's because I didn't realize I could say no, and I didn't (know or) ask for what I needed. I often felt furious at him for needing me too much because a) Again, I didn't have permission to say no without guilt, b) Whatever he lacked it was up to ME to fix, and c) I couldn't tolerate his hurt or discomfort.
We're both working on getting to a place where we're not so codependent and have healthy boundaries. I aim to be crystal clear for me AND him about what it means to love me well and then to make sure we're both doing that.
It's messy. There's a lot more negotiating- saying out loud the things I used to just stuff down and add to my bitter pile- but it feels genuinely safe and like I'm being seen and understood in ways I haven't, and it seems like a more sustainable, authentic relationship.
I mean, the kids and the money and the world and the toilet paper- there are still a million things that might fuck us up, but if we're each taking care of ourselves and bringing peace, REAL peace (not just silence to avoid conflict) internally and between us, I think we have a chance of marrying and boffing each other for the foreseeable future, with very little killing.