Love fosters pride. Union fosters admiration. Until it doesn't anymore.
Long ago, back in the early stages of the thing, I could tell that the magic was fading away. It isn't all that hard, really. Mostly, we just want to live in denial, especially when it's the subtlest signs of discontent we're dealing with.
You marry someone or shack up with them, and there's an unspoken agreement between the two of you. "We're doing this, right?" you ask each other. "I want this, you want this, and we're going for it, yeah?"
That usually occurs in the earlier stages of love. Hell, you might even be able to say it goes down in the ultimate love stage: during the falling in love part. And therefore it stands to reason that because you're way into this person you're digging — this other human who you're throwing all reason and caution to the wind for, despite your heart being busted up in the past — you're proud as hell of them.
You look at them in bed on Sunday morning or as they stroll across the bar to grab a couple more drinks when you're out with friends, and your blood goes neon, your heart beats faster, and you feel proud as f*ck that he or she is the one who chose you over every other pinhead in this world.
There came a time once in one of my long-term relationships, not all that long after we settled into a more domesticated groove, when I began to catch alarming whiffs coming off our togetherness. At first I wasn't sure; maybe I didn't want to believe that the house was actually on fire. But after a while there was a lot more smoke and a lot more heat. Within a few years I think I was beginning to understand that something was terribly wrong.
I was feeling pressured to change. I was feeling as if the person I was, the person who someone else had supposedly fallen for, simply wasn't good enough anymore. That is one hell of strange feeling.
You need to be able to be yourself in a relationship. That's super-obvious, of course. But to what extent?
I was never a rich man. I don't even have a college degree. I was a guitar player in a traveling band. Usually, I made in a year what most people make every few months. And I'm not the greatest looking guy in the world either so I was never ever under any impression that anyone was wanting more for their own because of my pretty face.
But I was ambitious in all the right ways. I chased my dreams and made them work for me. I loved my life, and guess what? I was proud of what I'd accomplished and I was hungry for more. I wanted to play music and write and be creative. Money wasn't my dream. And that's likely where I got us lost in the maze. Because I was also a reactionary who held his emotional cards close.
I didn't want to deal with the possible situation at hand. How could someone love me so hard one day and then not love me as hard anymore at some point down the road? That's how my mind worked.
I wanted to change, but I was appalled that I wanted to. I knew I needed to be more, to be a better earner and calmer spirit and a keener listener and a handsomer son-of-a-bitch, but it was all so overwhelming/everything at once, so I did what I knew how to do: I did basically nothing.
You fell in love with me, godamnit. Why am I not good enough anymore?
How much should we change ourselves when we enter into a relationship? How much should we be expected to change? I still struggle with that kind of thing.
But I'm serious. If you meet someone and you're at one social/economic level in this life, and they are maybe at another, do you owe it to them to pick up your pace and catch up? Or do they owe it to you to accept you as you are?
And what about emotional stuff? What if you're dragging all kinds of mind baggage into the love affair, stuff that goes back to your childhood even, stuff that affects your daily lives together — how do you handle that? Should you work on it even if you've never worked on it before because the thought of addressing it scares the hell out of you? Or should the person you're with simply accept it as part of who you are?
It's tricky. Unless you're Barbie and Ken and it's all good, there will be landslides of drama and hurt and mystery at some point. And how you handle it might say more about why someone would be proud of you than any of us might care to admit.
Let me ask you something: Do you think it's possible to fall truly in love with someone while at the same time imagining/dreaming how much they'll change their ways in the years to come? Or is that utter horsesh*t?
I have no idea what the answer is. But I do know that retrospectively wondering "Was all of this because I wasn't good enough?" is something that attacks parts of your soul and system in very demonic ways.
I've been a long time shaking this feeling; the bounce back move has required some harshly honest conversations with myself. I've learned to hold myself partially accountable to anything and everything that happens in my life, no matter what it is, no matter how much I might wish I played no role in it whatsoever.
Blaming yourself completely sucks, though, believe me. It gets old. You end up just wanting to accept things as they are. No blame. No one's fault.
"We just drifted apart."
"It all began to suck."
"We weren't meant to be."
That much becomes apparent after the first year or so, yet the question remains: What do you do if your partner/husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend starts losing pride in you? What do you do if you find yourself being tagged as less than enough by the one person you really don't want to ever hear that from? And what the hell do you do if you wake up one day and realize that you're smaller in their eyes than you really care to be?
Those are hard questions. They really are. But c'mon. What else can you do?
Love can live through so much. It really can. But it can't typically live through the pride thing. You end up with someone who doesn't feel proud of you anymore, and you've only got two choices.
One, you go. You walk away. You roll out, you learn a lot about who you are and who you want to be, and you do your best to never look back.
Or two, you die a painful death that takes forever to kick in.