When I was a little girl, I read lots of stories about princesses and princes and they usually ended up as a couple living ‘happily ever after’ and that set me a picture, an ideal and a fantasy of how life and love could or should be.
How true is that?
How true is our love in all our relationships?
When I was an adult I carried on the fantasy by reading romantic stories where the man and the woman would have some difficulties at first, i.e. perhaps it wasn’t always love at first sight, but eventually they would realise they did love each other and the book would end on a happy note with the couple pledging their eternal love to each other.
It gave me a sense of completion, of satisfaction, but only for a moment. Reality would soon kick in as I realised that real life wasn’t like that.
Looking back I realise most of my life I have felt unloved. I wasn’t abused in any way but something was always missing, and it was only in my 60s that I discovered the missing ingredient was… me. I didn’t love me, so how could anyone else?
For whatever reason very early on in life I decided that showing my true self to the world wasn’t a great idea, and that it was more important to try to be what I thought other people wanted me to be. So I never brought my full self to any relationship, whether to my parents, my sisters, my friends, my boyfriends or my husband, my bosses, or my clients. For everyone I came into contact with I played a role, projecting an image of a happy, efficient, busy, jolly person, when all the while there was a deep underlying sadness, because nobody knew who I truly was. I didn’t know myself.
What I am learning now, in a different country, in a new relationship, is first of all to observe what I am feeling at any moment in time. In the past I dulled my feelings with food but since changing my diet to a more nourishing one, I am living more lightly and find that I am able to recognise subtle feelings that in the past I would have dismissed.
Secondly I am learning to express how I feel honestly and openly, with no apology but with the absolute truth of what I feel in my body. Feelings are fleeting experiences that, if we ignore them or bury them, can build into a tension that causes illness and disease further down the track. For me not expressing how I feel has caused anger and resentment in me, and that feels awful in my body. When I simply say how I feel, my whole body relaxes.
Thirdly I am learning to let go of the need to control anybody else, learning to express what I feel and to not have any expectations of an outcome. I have learned that loving another means giving them space to come to things in their own time. Loving is not controlling – this goes for parenting our children, partnerships, friends, everywhere in life.
On a practical level I have learned that true love does not have a fairy-tale ending, because our relationships are full of challenges and they don’t stop. These challenges create a constant tension that we can choose to be overwhelmed by and want to run away from, or we can see them as beautiful reflections for us to learn from and evolve. Gently exploring these reflections gives us the opportunity to deepen our understanding of each other and thereby deepening our love.
Most important of all when it comes to love in relationships, I have learned that our first relationship is with ourselves, appreciating the qualities we bring to the world, honouring everything we feel, and expressing our truth as much as we feel we can. Only then can we bring ourselves in full to life, only then can we be the love that we truly are in all our relationships.