“What would it be like for you to be able to put something down?”
This was the question posed by one of my dearest friends a few weeks ago after my partner Zane’s recent bout with depression sent me into an emotional tailspin. And it is one I have been carrying, along with others whose answers I trust will come in time, ever since.
I admit, when she asked me, with the gentle but penetrating kind of wisdom I have come to expect from her, I wasn’t sure where I would be steered. She knows I’ve spent a lifetime coping with the unpredictable and alienating moods of the men I’ve loved, both in my family and in my romantic partnerships. And so, of course, I thought of my weariness dealing with Zane’s depression, of how his latest episode struck such a raw place in me, I’ve been forced to contemplate our future with a clear-eyed pragmatism rather than the tender optimism that’s reigned over such struggles in the past.
If there were something I could put down, I thought, it would be this sense of chronic disappointment. For years, it seems, I have been waiting: for the breakthrough that heals or transforms, the potential that once seized inspires a path toward fulfillment, the life that comes together on a foundation sturdy and strong. Whether it was with my dad or my partners, past and present, I’ve been holding out for that missing piece in their lives that would slide into place.
In that moment a few weeks ago, where I no longer had the energy to storm the gates locking Zane away from me, it felt like every disappointment that had attended such expectations rushed forward to fill me with their ache. And so in the face of my friend’s question, I said I would lay this to rest: the weight of so many letdowns seemingly setting me up for more.
I’ve since realized she was directing me toward a more interior landscape. What I was being asked to consider was not how I feel when Zane’s depression surfaces, though those emotions are valid, too, but what I bring to the relationship that I would no longer need to carry in a true and equal match. And that I am still pondering, knowing it’s likely different for everyone.
We all have those pieces we walk with: the defenses we’ve built, the stories we’ve turned into personal truth, the things and parts of ourselves we won’t surrender or hold too precious to share. Yet what if hanging tight to any of those is the source of tension in our relationships? What if such rigidity and reservation primes us for the fights and the failures and keeps us from having what we truly want?
I know Zane and I are being called to examine more than the intricacies of our relationship at this time. Our individual healing and growth are as much at stake as the five years we’ve spent building what we always believed would endure. While I’ve delved into such excavation with an open heart and mind, I also know I may emerge from these shadowlands to choose my freedom. Only time and action will tell whether Zane can construct a new framework for managing his depression that also makes for a sustainable future. With that outcome beyond my control, I would be waiting once again, and though I believe he’s worth it and long, at last, for a triumph, moving forward may still be a solitary step.
All I can do in the meantime is look at those pieces I’ve brought to our relationship, the insidious patterns, the parts clamoring for attention and salve. Where I’ve abandoned myself to please others or tend to their longings, I hope to reclaim a greater commitment to self. And as I confront that portrait of unstinting buoyancy and fortitude I’ve learned to present to the world, I’m realizing how exhausting it is — and even painful sometimes — to be such a bearer of light.
Yes, I am a naturally joyful person, whose resilience lies in part in an ability to find the beauty and good in each day. But sometimes, I think my strength and positivity are what others use to deflect, rather than mine, their darkness to discover a sun of their own. I wonder what it would be like to have that reflected back to me, to have a strong and emotionally grounded partner who has stepped into his own place of light, who would not only catch me when I fall but soar beside me, too.
My wise friend spoke of finding the freedom to inhabit the softer, lighter parts of herself when she realized she could trust her husband with the responsibility of fierce financial independence she’d brought to their marriage. She found the permission to relax her take-charge grip in such matters because he could meet her where she was, in a place of equal strength.
Maybe what I could put down is the mantle of keeping it all together, the notion I must guard my vulnerability, patch each crack that would let loose a secret and yearning self.
That, to me, is one of the gifts of true partnership, the dance we do, the give-and-take that allows us to freely and fully express every part of ourselves.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times