Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us. ~David Richo
Most people think of love as a feeling but love is not so much a feeling as a way of being present. ~David Richo, How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving
The older we get, the more difficult it is to find other people who can give us the love our parents denied us. But the body’s expectations do not slacken with age—quite the contrary! They are merely direct at others … The only way out of this dilemma is to become aware of these mechanisms and to identify the reality of our own childhood by counteracting the processes of repression and denial. In this way we can create in our own selves a person who can satisfy at least some of the needs that have been waiting for fulfillment since birth, if not earlier. Then we can give ourselves the attention, the respect, the understanding for our emotions, to sorely needed protection, and the unconditional love that our parents withheld from us. ~Alice Miller, The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting
Just let it be.
If it’s meant to be,
It will happen.
In the northern hemisphere more than mid way through fall. Fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons, and one of them is it is my birthday season. This is both my season of New Year and the kick off to the traditional Holiday Season.
This time of year has me thinking about a lot of things. Reflecting back on my past year, and years. Considering what has been working for me and what hasn’t. Connecting to the person I want to be and seeing the work I need to do to grow into her.
I’ve been exploring my wants and examining if they are realistic and mature, or if they are problematic and will ultimately cause me harm.
I’ve been tending to what I call my black holes, my attachment wounds. Finding ways to fill them myself, ways to find connection within to my own love, compassion, and acceptance.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about adult relationships, both platonic and otherwise. I’ve been thinking about the ways I’ve looked towards others to fill these black holes of mine. I’ve been thinking about the way we are socialized about romantic relationships and how we are supposed to be the other person’s number one priority and they are supposed to be ours. I’ve been thinking about Hallmark and happily every after and til death do us part and fairy tales in general.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to love someone unconditionally. And how that unconditional love doesn’t automatically give them a permanent place in our lives. I’ve been thinking about unbreakable love and how some people will always have a home in hearts whether or not they have a home in lives.
I’ve been thinking about loving someone and not expecting anything in return. What it means to be in a relationship without expectations or demands or assumptions and still getting (reasonable) needs and wants met.
And just what is a reasonable want or need?
Alice Miller has written that we can never expect unconditional love from anyone who isn’t our parents. That if we didn’t receive that unconditional love from our parents, that we need to do the work of unconditionally loving ourselves. That it is no one else’s job to fill those needs within us. And also, these needs don’t just go away.
We really do need to do the work of filling our own black holes.
We need to acknowledge them first. My guess is most of us have attachment wounds from childhood. Whether we experienced abuse or neglect or if our parents simply didn’t see us or love us in the ways we needed when we were young.
These wounds affect the ways we interact with others, our friends, our lovers, our children. Unchecked these wounds create expectations within us of how others should treat us, how they should know things about us without us sharing them, how they should make us and our relationship with them A, or The, priority. Always.
When we have these expectations, we will inevitably be disappointed. Because we can’t ever be another person’s number one, primary priority 24/7. And I’ve come to believe, not only we can’t be, we absolutely shouldn’t be.
I follow a lot of poetry and relationships accounts on my secret/personal IG profile. I see post after post about how if a person doesn’t make you their number one in all cases every moment of every day then they aren’t worth your time. How if we aren’t showered with attention and promises to stick around no matter what then they aren’t worthy of us. How we need to be treated like queens and kings, put on pedestals, worshiped like gods and goddesses.
These are all such unrealistic expectations. Especially as we grow older and have more and more responsibilities. Kids. Work. Aging parents. Our own mental health.
It is true that we should be respected within all our relationships, both platonic and sexual relationships. We should be appreciated. We should never be abused, physically, psychologically, or emotionally (and we should never do any of that to another). Effort within each relationship should relatively equal, or at least over time effort is equal-ish.
And, we aren’t goddesses or gods or kings or queens. We are each beautifully flawed human beings who are seeking connection. We each have our own wounding that we try to navigate the world with. We each have our own trauma lens that we view our relationships and ourselves through.
We can never expect or rely on another person to make us feel whole. It is not anyone else’s job to help us process our traumas or heal our wounds. This is our job.
And we don’t have to do it alone. Having good friends who can hold space for us helps. Having lovers or romantic partners who are doing their own work and can be supportive while we do our own. But ultimately the work is our own to do with the help of a therapist, coach, priest/pastor, or other person who is actually knowledgeable about how to guide a person through this work.
We can’t be the center of another person’s world. I’ve come to the place of deciding I actually want to be my friends’ and lover’s third priority. First priority is themselves. Second priority is any children they have, and in the case of my platonic relationships, their partner(s)/spouse comes in here too. I want to be a relatively solid third, with the understanding that sometimes in life I can’t even be that – parents age, other friends need attention because they are in crisis, work/careers need to be prioritized for a while, life happens.
I can however expect that I am my number one priority. My mental and physical health. My happiness. My safeness. My own trauma processing and healing of my own attachment wounds.
This doesn’t mean that I am suddenly all cool and collected when it comes to my relationships. It means I am a work in progress. It means I am doing my work to be more aware of the ways my black holes show up in my relationships. It means that when a friend or lover disappoints me or doesn’t meet an expectation I have, that I slow down, allow space for the sadness, and dig deeper into what that disappointment is really triggering in me.
Being an adult in relationships can be challenging. It means being brutally honest with ourselves. It means being mindful of boundaries, our own and those of others. It means checking in with how the behaviors of others are affecting us and deciding moment to moment if we are triggered if it’s because of our own stuff or because the other person is being abusive in some way.
To be clear, abuse isn’t okay. Ever.
And not being another person’s number one priority is part of being in adult relationships. It is an opportunity for us to look within and start making ourselves our own first priority.
This essay was originally published in my newsletter on September 29, 2019. It has been revised and edited for publication here. To receive my most recent writing you can subscribe here.