I didn’t always believe I deserved a happy, loving relationship.
Exhibit A: a history (albeit brief considering my late-blooming love life) of broken hearts once entrusted to partners who all did the leaving.
Exhibit B: as happy as Zane and I are now, we, too, parted ways at one time with little possibility, at least in my mind, of a reunion.
Which is why I was so struck by my response recently when a friend asked how we were doing. Usually, I reply with a quick, yet truthful “good.” But aware that we tend to share more about our relationships when things aren’t working than when they are, I regaled her, for a few minutes, with some of the actual good: I love that, after almost four years, we still get excited to see each other; that we manage to have fun no matter where we are, even if that’s the grocery store or running errands; that we can be so simultaneously silly and sincere in our affections; and that we strive to be kind to each other — this more than anything a quality both Zane and I deeply value.
When my friend responded that I deserved such a sweet and loving relationship, I responded, “Yes, I do,” which made her even happier to hear. Yet while I believed those words and am grateful every day for the love Zane and I share, my reply still gave me pause. It had rolled off my tongue with such easy confidence that I momentarily marveled at it. Here, the woman who’d surrendered her heart time and again to men who’d shown her, time and again, that they would be careless, and even cruel, with it, had truly allowed herself to have something different.
That feeling of worthiness has stolen into my awareness before, tender and quietly stunning, but I seized it with a new appreciation then, as I’d been thinking a lot about dreams. The ones we conjure and then release, the ones we grasp only to have them slip away, the ones that, forever elusive, still ripple with a yearning hunger in our lives.
Last November, Zane’s parents bought their dream house on Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. They have had much to celebrate in the years I’ve known them but I couldn’t recall any that had made them so happy. For years, they’d imagined owning a lakehouse, longing to live by the water in a place that nurtured their spirits and creativity and marked a transition to spending their days pursuing more of their passions than necessary toil.
The week they shared the news with us, I was thrilled for them. When I actually got to see the house shortly after, however, I was unexpectedly moved walking through its sunlit rooms, watching the play of light on the lake through the trees and later standing on the dock, taking in the late-autumn majesty of the day. This was the house his parents had talked about for years, and they had allowed themselves to have it.
The spaciousness of that word kept echoing in my head, not only that day but in the weeks to come.
I thought of my own dreams, the ones realized and those still unfulfilled, and pondered how, sometimes, despite all of our hoping and planning, so many remain mere specters in our mind.
Sometimes, even when we take steps toward them — like the many I took toward my goal of traveling to Africa to work with kids two years ago — they can still crumble or lose their luster, swept up in our fears and our doubts, or jostling for prominence amid life’s daily routines.
But what if we truly believed we deserved to have the thing for which we most yearned? What if we held fast to our visions, trusting, from a joyful and expansive place, that all of our plotting and dreaming would deliver us to our heart’s desire?
It’s not that I deliberately chose mediocrity in my previous relationships. I wanted to be happy and wildly in love, to feel supported and appreciated by my partner.
But somehow what I claimed to want and what I got never quite lined up. A child of divorce, whose parents had, unbeknownst to her, limped along in their marriage for many years before its final unhinging, I didn’t know I was unconsciously repeating their pattern. That somewhere along the way, I’d decided men always leave, or at the very least, weave in and out of availability with impassioned promises and flimsy hearts that couldn’t contain all they pledged.
It wasn’t until Zane and I collapsed, plunging from the redemptive pedestal I’d placed us on when we fell in love, that I was finally opened to that realization. Devastated yet determinedly introspective, I decided that if I wanted a healthy relationship, then I’d better begin cultivating one with myself. For after all, the only person who would truly never leave me was … well, me.
I still believed in love, still dreamed of having an adoring and supportive partner. But I made a commitment to my own life, to making it a picture of vibrant contentment. The rest, I imagined, would happen as it was meant to. And it did, with Zane reappearing to offer a vulnerable and willing heart, following months of his own contemplative journey.
I didn’t think my next love, whenever and however he arrived, would be the one I’d left behind. But this, too, seems vital to the attainment of our dreams: We plant a vision, we nurture it and then somehow, even as we keep moving toward its fulfillment, we let go of the outcome. We trust in what will be rather than become fixated on how things will look. And if we begin to feel disappointed or thwarted by delays, we have the courage to root out the obstacles: a hidden belief, a feeling of unworthiness, a story we tell ourselves about hardship being the path to achievement or, sometimes, even a fear of actually having our dream come true.
Then, we open our arms, our eyes, keep pliant our expectations and our eager, thirsting hearts.
And when that perfect house arrives in the form of a rancher, we rejoice in its appearance, even if we never envisioned living in a ranch house on the lake — and may have in fact claimed that to be exactly the kind of house we didn’t want.
And if that new relationship comes bearing the unexpectedly familiar, we don’t close the door, hoping for someone else, as if such a gust of joy could blow in on errant wind.
For that is the magic of dreams. They do, and can, come true, often surprising us by gleaming even brighter than any desires we’ve sown.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times