My three-year anniversary with Heather came and went without fanfare or ceremony (or even notice, on my part). Our time together went by in a blink; being chronically single for me, and trapped in an abusive relationship for her, made the three years prior to that feel like an eternity by comparison for each of us. It was only halfway through that I realized part of me was keeping her at a significant distance.
When we first started spending time together, I was drawn most to her innocence. The way she viewed the world with an open mind1 made me feel comfortable in a way I immediately found attractive. I could tell her calm demeanour belied a darkness though; she knew a tremendous amount of pain in her short life, and that made her the same kind of old soul as me. Still, I never dared imagine things may work out between us, cause my previous lover was completely unexpected in both the coming and going, and the experience left me raw. Somewhat conversely, I was also too numb to believe anything was real. It was only a couple weeks after Heather entered my life that I tried to hang myself, and surviving meant everything felt posthumous.
My love for her grew when she gradually took over my responsibilities, giving me the chance to start dealing with the emotional baggage I’ve been carrying for too long. In that time and ever since, she never made me feel like a burden. She never needed anything in return to be happy, and was nothing but pleased to have the chance to take care of me.
I was finally able to let my guard down…to a certain degree. But that also meant I could be hurt more deeply, and I soon grew uneasy with how close we’d gotten. Her absence was painful enough when she was just down the street buying groceries; losing her in some freak accident would have left me unable to cope, and I never wanted to be so completely dependent on a single person. I couldn’t understand how most people functioned with that kind of threat always looming in their relationships.
It was only in therapy that I learned how emotionally healthy people gain a sense of stability from an early age. One of many parental responsibilities involves making sure a child is safe and strong enough to venture into the world, so they can make their own decisions and mistakes. Equanimity in the face of adversity comes from having a solid emotional foundation.
Except I never had that foundation, and was also coming into the relationship with many years of depression. When Heather entered my life, she became that foundation rather suddenly, and on a certain level, it was terrifying for someone to have that kind of power over me. As soon as I realized the fear was preventing me from having a deeper relationship with her, I knew the only way to get over that fear was to take bigger risks by putting more trust in people.
The downside of bigger risks is bigger potential losses, and when one of my most significant relationships fell apart last year — despite everything I learned and practiced about cultivating better connections — the pain I experienced was unlike anything I’d known. This woman dismissed me from her life with complete callousness at a time I was making active steps to get closer to her, and it created a crisis that became a crucible for my relationship with Heather. I was left so devastated that she decided to take time off work to console me2, seeing as how I couldn’t manage to eat or sleep; the shock alone was too much for me to process.
While I can’t say I’m glad to have gone through such a heartbreaking and difficult experience, at least it was one that created the opportunity for Heather to prove — on a profound level — that I was her biggest priority. For days, I cried and cried and cried, and she met my sorrow with utmost attention and tenderness, as she sat by my side and dabbed the tears from my face. It was no longer old scars she was tending to; these were fresh wounds, deep enough that I couldn’t hope to mend them myself. For the first time in my life, someone was exactly who I needed them to be at exactly the right moment, and she was even happy to fulfil that role.
My capacity to love expanded far beyond what I knew was possible, while my understanding of it grew deeper. No longer was love simply about attraction, intimacy, and compatibility; I learned that loyalty, responsibility, compassion, and trust could also be significant factors in the way bonds form between people. When I eventually started to recover from the breakup, it was a tremendous relief to truly know I wasn’t alone. Dealing with my trauma means I still have to remind myself every day that it’s okay to depend on her, that I can lose myself in this relationship without worrying she’ll betray me. Fortunately, it’s getting easier with every step I take, cause she’s always been there to help me up when I fall (and nowadays, the ground feels quite familiar).
My goal is to be strong enough to be independent, but I’m at a point where I need to be the exact opposite, and depend on Heather without any trepidation to achieve that. It’s like we’re two trees, with roots beginning to grow intertwined as we help each other heal from our respective damage. She’s become an integral part of me, and at this moment, I wouldn’t survive if we were torn apart. But being together makes us stronger than if we were alone, and eventually our foundation will be solid enough that we can branch out on our own, if heart or circumstance ever take us that direction.
Even though I took a chance on the wrong person and it backfired spectacularly, I’m not quite as afraid of being hurt anymore; I took an even bigger risk by trusting Heather in the aftermath, and the fact that she didn’t let me down means we’ve grown far closer as a result. It doesn’t make emotional risks easy now, but they’re easier when I know I’m not making them by myself. That’s something I can be grateful for and take comfort in, regardless of the pain I may be going through.
- I relate it to the concept of an “uncarved block” or “pu” in Taoism: a state of receptiveness, before the taint of experience, that gives one the potential to see things without judgment or prejudice. [↩]
- Not even my parents, who often made me feel like any illness was an inconvenience or embarrassment, ever showed me that kind of empathy. I wasn’t “allowed” to be sick enough to miss school, and any gesture of support came with a condition that I work harder or make up for the help in some way. [↩]