Kids love those “would you rather” questions, at least mine always have. I frustrated the daylights out of my children by answering that I don’t believe in choosing from two unpleasant outcomes, that I would choose neither, and that I would play the game when they put a positive spin on it, you know like “would you rather have a gazillion dollar beach-side villa in Italy, or a body that looks like a Victoria’s Secret model” (I mean unless world peace was an option, then obviously world peace, because to have world peace presupposes inner peace, which presupposes being at peace with one’s body, which for sure means I would indirectly realize my Victoria’s Secret body and solve war, right?). Even with the win win scenarios, which I would agree to play, I still didn’t like the game, because why did I have to choose? That was still somehow an exercise in giving up. I mean I was still a fun mother. I did other fun things. Happy joyful celebratory things where I could imagine having my cake and eating it too, with extra icing, and also a VS bod. Anyhow, a few weeks ago my eldest engaged me in such a ritual and I played along this time. As an act of love. She asked me who I would rather spend my ENTIRE LIFE with from the relationships I had in my youth. So, a lesser of evils if you will. Well I did a quick assessment, and while I guarantee you friends, none of these partnerships were conceived by a merciful god, I chose one.
My review went something like this:
High school boyfriend and first love. I was an A student graduated at 16. He took grade twelve until he was 21. I was terrified of drugs. He sold them from his parents’ basement. He was cruel. I absorbed the cruelty. It’s easy to minimize our young relationships as young. But we feel that shit deeply. I spent four years crying into a tempest. He dragged my ragged heart through his hoodlum streets until I was numb and immune. I could no longer die of the death of love.
But it turns out I could die of betrayal. Which was the next stop on Erin’s love bus. Sweet tousled wholesome blond wool sweater University boy to replace the cruel and brooding leather-souled bad assery of my first rodeo. The good guy everyone friend zoned, BUT me. I heard him singing Abba, and I took a chance on him. Maybe not a match of wits, but a white knight in his own right. I mean all he had to do was NOT test his power by trifling with my emotions. That was enough to sway me. My bar was set low friends. Well that and JUST SAY NO when some sweet talking thing came around but one night he lost his way after a few drinks and tripped over a naked vagina, pity the fool. And while I was getting my PHD in forgiving infidelity while managing POST TRAUMATIC MY WHITE KNIGHT BEDDED A RANDOM CHICK FROM HIS HIGHSCHOOL DISORDER, I accidentally fell in love with my roommate. A swarthy scholar with a 4.0 GPA, and an appetite for sex and mischief. Sadly, in the wise words of Fleetwood Mac, players only love you when they’re playing. And he played me. Like a brass sax.
Well now the ante had been upped and the bar raised the roof, and I was seeking edgy marinated in genius. A man who could stick it to the man while washing down his smug for breakfast with a velvety red and blowing it out in a perfectly executed ring of Export A— filter snapped off. I was looking for Bad Will Hunting.
What I got was the walking dead. Brilliant, tender-hearted and shattered. Sleek haired and square jawed and made of sinew. Snails and puppy tails. Emotionally and physically protecting himself to death. I went in tragic. No more sucker punches, booms, other shoes casually dropping ruin. I was head on. And he didn’t disappoint. He was cruel, with a cutting brilliance; brooding, oozing. Shakespearean without the comic, ferociously dangerously tender. It took me years to scrub the gravel out of the wound and scare his ghosts from the floorboards. Hell, it took years to get him out of my house.
So WHOM did I pick to spend eternity with?
Whom were you rooting for?
Because I’ll tell you. After all of the above, I sorted some shit out.
I dug a hole to the middle of the earth, and I pulled weeds from the roots. Mine, the neighbours, the villagers, the ancestors. I wasn’t going to do that again. I studied the weed. I became the shaman of the weed. I was Noah with a really big ark and it was time for a new, weed free civilization.
I am not calling those boys weeds. I am talking cause. What was going on within me, fertilized by them, that grew into pain and suffering.
I cracked the nut. I cracked it over and over again. Until I could just side eye that acorn and it would shuck off its hard exterior. And friend, when you get really good a cracking a nut, you’re like “Oh, oh, Mr. Cotter, Mr. Cotter” when someone else is struggling with theirs. Nuts. And weeds. Same same.
I’ll give you a hint. I did not choose the nice guy. Now before you gasp let’s take a moment.
None of these men were emotionally healthy. And I would not choose any of them as life partners today. By which I mean that Today Me, would not choose Historical Them. You wouldn’t either. Not unless you were playing a game to entertain your kid, who maybe just wanted to get to know old you a little bit, and then you would pick the one who, if you solved for dysfunction, would have as many of the ingredients you value in a partner as possible, given the pool of options.
What would that relationship look like if you took away the past pain? Can you take the trouble out of the genius? Can you go home again?
I have been asked this question many times of late.
There are all kinds of reasons we are drawn to the past. For starters, we aren’t stupid. Our potential lovers are not wearing devil and angel cloaks for easy reference. Even the hurtiest of the hurtfuls drew us in with their beauty, or their brilliance, or the depth of their capacity to feel. They offered something we needed, wanted. They brought gifts. Even if the gifts were laced with poison, even if we were hungry for that poison because well, for example, we were raised on it and mistook it for happy joy love juice. And when time takes the sting from all of our stinging, well depending on the degree of decompensation, all it takes is a wistful night alone, a waft of nostalgia in the breeze, a swell of the forgiving heart and we may find ourselves tempted to go home again. To pry the nails from the coffin, to raise Johnny Dangerous in the rose garden with a bottle of Ceuvos and hundred singing toads (pop culture reference to Practical Magic here folks).
Should we? When should we? Are we stupid? Dumb and dumber to even go near that thing we got out of and got over already?!!
Well I am never say never kind of gal. You can go home again. You can do it better this time.
WHEN there are enough of those things you need and value in a partner that without the dysfunction you would hands down choose this person today. Not just in your glowing forgiving moments, or your lonely moments, or the moments in which you fear you may never receive the gift of beauty, or kindness or companionship ever again Not just when you feel tired, and are willing to settle for any gifts at all so long a they come with the handy “skip the vulnerability” pass that goes along with returning to terra familiara. Where, at least you already know that s/he was into you once, which is more than you can say for some new person you haven’t even met or kissed.
And then, if you pass TEST ONE, there are rules.
And the rules are thus. You have to know your shit, and be doing some work on it.
And so must they. Maybe they have the lion’s share to do.
Maybe it is you.
The trick is that on account of coping with some shit together, you will have patterns together, and now you will have to detangle and unwind them.
And EVEN if your partner was the one with the work to do, you will need to ALLOW them to show up differently this time. Which means you will need to be open, and vulnerable to them and to your history. Aware, but not on the hunt for red flags, or you will simply never get off the ground.
You will need to be willing.
It can be done. I have seen it done. But there are also times when Johnny’s gonna come back badder, and you’re gonna have to murder him twice.
It’s hard for me to imagine my troubled genius roommate without the trouble. But he engaged my mind and he matched my wit, and I wouldn’t want to see the world the way I did before I saw it through his eyes. I would choose the substance outside my grasp over the kindness inside of it. At the end of the day they all hurt me differently, but equally. My genius playing roommate was the answer to my daughter’s who would you rather. When I left my betraying BF and showed up on his doorstep, “Baby here I am” he was like all “Ya, that’s too much commitment for me.” Which was UNpleasant. He taught me the life skill we call ‘pining’ can actually be an art form, if rendered with sufficient irony and poetry.
I mean there are other things on my list now, that I am not sure he would bring in his satchel if he showed up on my doorstep tomorrow smoking a cigarette. But lesser of evils (by which I definitely mean more appealing of evils), he wins hands down.
You may be feeling some vindication today, table turned on my relationship history for a change. It’s sad that you know too much and I may have to arrange for your trip to Timbuktu, Neverland. What?! JK. If I am not willing to throw myself under the bus with you, what is the point? You can’t lord healing over someone’s head, or heart, or white sofa and get where I plan for us to go.
So if you find yourself this season of harvest hearkening back to a time when Susan’s hair fell across her face just so, or Jimmy made you laugh until your Coke came out your nose, well I offer you this remedy. Take all of the gifts you ever realized or desired in love, and stir them into a cauldron with some invisible happy love juice and three shakes of whateverthehellwasmissing. Allow to steep beneath a full moon, and plant in your rose garden, where the weeds used to be.
Yours, in love.
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