I have this bottle of wine. It’s a pinot noir I bought for $40 a few years back when a friend and I were wine tasting in Napa. It’s the most I’ve ever spent on a bottle of wine, which is probably what wineries count on during wine tastings. It’s been in the dark and on its side since I got it. I’ve always had this idea that I’d open it to share with someone special to me: a special lover or boyfriend. Someone who loved me and whom I loved. I bought it after the breakup of a relationship that, though my boyfriend was emotionally abusive and psychologically manipulative, was still devastating. And right before I met a new man, whom I fell for almost immediately but who kept a strange distance from me, even, later, admitting that he was troubled by his own ambivalence about us. The bottle stayed in storage during that relationship. During all the internal drama about whether or not he felt the same towards me as I felt towards him and whether I should stay or go, it didn’t seem right to bring out this special bottle. This was my “Fuck you, Ambivalence” bottle. And if there’s one thing I learned about ambivalence in that relationship, is that ambivalence begets ambivalence. I didn’t bring out the bottle because hell, if he was ambivalent, why should I risk myself?
Ambivalence, by its very nature, sits in the middle, unwilling to make a choice. To the Buddhists, the Middle Path is the place to be, something to aspire to, which I can understand. Strong opinions make for strong emotions. But ambivalence is also about not really caring which road you take. And after decades of ambivalent romantic relationships, I’m so over ambivalence. I want to have a strong opinion about my relationships, about my path. I want to want to be there. If I’m ambivalent in a situation – if I’d just as soon be painting my toenails, or my kitchen cabinets, as be somewhere – then that’s a sign to me that I need to either move along or rethink how I approach that situation. Ambivalence, in some ways and counter-intuitively, can be exhausting. Haven’t you spent time being bored, and later felt tired out by the experience? Ambivalence, for me, is like that, as if it takes more energy to stay where I am than to move forward. Ambivalence is also lazy. When we’re ambivalent about something, when we really could go either way, we’re settling for ‘comfortable’ over ‘vulnerable.’
Not that I’m never ambivalent; I’m as prone to it as the next person. But lately, the things that I’m ambivalent about have lost their charm, as if I’m just tired of hanging on – to situations, to people – that are there as a backup, in case I need solace. It’s not fair to those people, and it’s certainly not fair to myself. And it’s not that I want to get rid of the people or things that I’m ambivalent about, I just want to be less ambivalent about them. I want to know why I have certain situations in my life, what they give me and what I can offer in return. It’s not ambivalence if you choose, each and every day, to see someone, to get up and go to that job, to do that thing you do, and you choose it mindfully and with purpose. I want a mindful and purposeful existence, not one where anything that washes up on my shores gets to be in my life.
And as for those who are ambivalent about me, well, there are two ways to go: 1) walk away or 2) choose to stay in the situation for a specific reason, whether because I feel I can offer something valuable, or because I take away something valuable. I want to decide, for each of these situations, whether what’s in it for me outweighs the negatives of knowing someone could take me or leave me. It’s never fun to be the one someone’s ambivalent about. But if I know which category to put that situation in, then I won’t expect more than ambivalence from it, at the same time I can be clear about why I’m there.
In a couple of weeks, I’m going up to Portland to be near someone I feel anything but ambivalent about. Whether wisely or not, I’ve developed strong feelings — the opposite of ambivalence — for him. I’ll travel during the holidays and spend too much money on plane fare in order to be with my sweetie on New Year’s Eve. And it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, which is the thing about having strong feelings. There’s no equivocation. I’m not ambivalent about this trip, or about this person, and I’m bringing my bottle of pinot because it’s time to say fuck you to ambivalence.
I’ve been thinking about this term, heartbreak, recently, as I struggle with the knowledge that a dear, tender, special and much-hoped-for relationship is not working out the way I would have chosen. I’ve been heartbroken often in my life, because I’ve chosen, over and over again, to open my heart to people [...]
I’ve been thinking about this term, heartbreak, recently, as I struggle with the knowledge that a dear, tender, special and much-hoped-for relationship is not working out the way I would have chosen. I’ve been heartbroken often in my life, because I’ve chosen, over and over again, to open my heart to people I see as potential intimate partners. Even though the pain of disconnection is excruciating to me, more painful than is probably healthy, I keep opening because I have no other choice. This is who I am. For the same reason I write about my inner experience on blogs, I keep opening, sharing, being authentic, even though I’ve consistently gotten the message that I’m too open, too authentic, too needy, and too emotional. I keep opening, changing my tactics in response to lessons learned, tactics which may or may not get the response I’d wished for, then when the hurt comes, I retreat to lick my wounds and to think about what just happened. Then, inevitably, even despite myself, I find myself opening again. And again. And again. I’m either very brave or very foolish.
Right now, as I feel waves of sadness, love, confusion, anger, self-pity, loss, and grief, I wonder about the word ‘heartbreak.’ What does it mean?
- Heartbreak means we must let go of expecting someone else to give us the sweet, tender caresses that carried us through many a night.
- Heartbreak means being tossed out of a comfortable nest. Perhaps, hopefully, helping us learn to fly.
- Heartbreak means the heart breaks open, wide, wider than it was when we were grasping at the beloved. In my life, heartbreak has often led to amazing moments of connection with the wider world, and the humans around me, most of whom have felt the searing pain of this experience.
- Heartbreak means that our future plans and hopes must fade away, as the castles in air that they always were.
- Heartbreak means facing the inevitability that everything we love will someday be gone from us.
- Heartbreak means letting go of habits and rituals that we shared with the beloved, and being open to new habits, new rituals.
- Heartbreak means letting the other person’s happiness lead our actions, rather than grasping at what we’ve lost.
- Heartbreak means sitting with the waves of pain and not letting them derail us or send us down into darkness, but striving towards the light the way a surfacing deep-sea diver swims towards the sun.
- Heartbreak means continually going back to the mantra “I send you all my love” to the one who is gone, even when every fiber in our being wants to beg to be let back into that tender and comfortable embrace, or rages in anger and disappointment at the beloved, for making the choice to let us go.
- Heartbreak means taking care of ourselves, letting ourselves cry, letting ourselves rage, letting ourselves reason and rationalize, and, in the end, knowing that none of it is true, it’s all fleeting emotions that will shift through the coming days and weeks. Heartbreak means being patient, knowing that we will need to be brave during this time.
- Sometimes heartbreak means falling to the floor in tears, begging the universe for some comfort, any comfort, even if only numbness. And sometimes, heartbreak means the universe answers with a presence wrapping us in warmth and unconditional love. I’ve been lucky (if that’s the right word) enough to have this happen twice in my life, and it’s magical.
- Heartbreak means reaching out to others, even while the instinct to hole up and isolate is overwhelming. It means using the pain as an impetus to open to the other love that’s in our communities.
- Heartbreak means questioning ourselves, deciding what was right about how we acted and what might not have been as skillful.
- And heartbreak means accepting ourselves fully, even the parts that we wish hadn’t surfaced or we’re told shouldn’t have surfaced, knowing we did our best, as did our partner.
In this situation, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be authentic. For my next post, I’ll discuss that. I’d love to hear from others about what you think it means to be authentic. I’ll post that on this blog in the coming days.
By Melissa Kirk
Is it okay for you to take up space, physically, energetically, psychologically, or emotionally? For myself, sometimes the answer is ‘No.’ I’m a very accommodating, flexible, and eager-to-please person. I sometimes I have to consciously hold myself back from doing too much for other people, especially if they [...]
By Melissa Kirk
Is it okay for you to take up space, physically, energetically, psychologically, or emotionally? For myself, sometimes the answer is ‘No.’ I’m a very accommodating, flexible, and eager-to-please person. I sometimes I have to consciously hold myself back from doing too much for other people, especially if they are people I want to keep close to me. There’s a little voice inside my head that tells me if I say no to those people, they won’t want to be around me anymore. I can also be absentminded and scattered, temporarily losing things such as glasses, keys or event tickets, because I’m juggling so many things at one time that, literally, one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing.
Last night, I had a ticket to an event that myself and a group of friends were attending. I didn’t want to carry my purse, so I put the ticket, along with my cash and ID, in a travel pouch that I stuffed in my boot. When we got to the venue, amidst the joking about “Does everyone have their ticket?” I looked at my ticket and realized I had brought the ticket for another event. This filled me with such absolute shame, that I just wanted to crawl under a rock. I felt like I had single-handedly inconvenienced everyone else, especially my friend who had to drive me back to his house to get the correct ticket. Everything worked out in the end; we got the ticket and the show wasn’t even close to starting by the time we got to the venue. But throughout the evening I had a horrid, empty feeling, like I was about to be rejected because of my absentmindedness about the ticket. My thinking was that, by inconveniencing my friend, that my worth in his eyes had declined.
As the night went on and I thought about why I was feeling so disturbed by an incident that, after all, wasn’t so uncommon, I had a sudden insight that my feelings were linked to a deepseated sense that it’s not okay for me to take up any energetic space in the world. I saw that my anticipation of abandonment was connected to my feelings that making mistakes and being human automatically meant that I was unworthy of love. By inconveniencing someone — by making any kind of ripple in the world, in other words — I was risking rejection, and rejection would mean that I was worthless. This is also connected to my desire to be seen as accommodating and nonjudgmental, and my difficulty saying ‘no.’ By not taking up space, by not asking for anything that might cost someone else some time or energy, by not inconveniencing anyone and by not making anyone uncomfortable, I try to make myself worthy of love.
This was a powerful insight, one that I’m still pondering. In my personal experience, the people that I respond to are the ones who do take up energetic space, but not in an aggressive or selfish way. The people who are kind but also have strong boundaries, the ones who don’ t hesitate when making a decision or stating an opinion, but who don’t feel the need to use their decisions or opinions to steamroll others. I’ve heard public-speaking coaches say that, in order to be heard on stage, the speaker will need to speak louder and stronger than he or she thinks is necessary. Even when we may feel like we’re shouting, we’re usually actually speaking in a normal voice. I think this is true, energetically, also, especially of people like me who feel uncomfortable taking up a lot of energetic space. To take up even a normal level of space, we need to push past our comfort zones, to the point where we feel like we’re way over the boundary of what’s acceptable. For me, that means speaking a little bit more loudly than is comfortable (because I tend to speak quietly), stating my opinions just a little bit more confidently than I actually feel, not apologizing so much, and acting as if it’s okay to make mistakes, even when, inside, I’m cowering in shame.
How about you? Do you feel it’s okay to take up space in your life? How do you see this issue operating in your life?
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