Look for the Blue Marker?

“I see one up ahead. Thank God, we’re not lost. We’re still on the right trail.”

I often use my blue marker metaphor with couples and individuals. You know. Those painted blue lines on random trees that offer relieving reassurance that you are not lost in the middle of the woods. That even though you feel directionless, as if you are walking in circles going nowhere, you indeed are still on the path going forward. Hope remains alive.

Those blue markers can be lifesavers. Particularly, as you walk deeper into the unknown. Whether to create a new marriage, one never ventured, with no specific blueprint. Or, to evolve into a deeper, souped up you. All signs that point to progress and positive change are welcome.

Furthermore, the blue paint might be all we are going to get. Yes, we might wish to be at the end of the journey. Or at least have a guarantee that we will get there in one piece. But, the life we get to live doesn’t offer a known outcome. We are living in the middle of a thick-treed now.

So, give up the end game and keep searching for painted blue signs of momentum and passage. That’s how you will know you are on the right course.

Just Be Willing

Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s Washington DC. But I get many competent professional (and gorgeous) single women in my office trying to navigate and succeed at the dating game. I must say, I am glad to not be in their shoes. It’s a jungle out there.

When asked, or when I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer, I tell them the #1 quality they need look for in a partner – willingness.

Willingness to do what?

A willingness to show up. To own my shit. To work my shit. A willingness to take responsibility for the part I contributed to the failure of my prior relationships. A willingness to “roll up my sleeves” when the relationship gets difficult. A willingness to be generous when being nasty would be more fun and temporarily satisfying. A willingness to not always have things go my way. A willingness to temper my ego and swallow humble pie. A willingness to stretch and grow beyond my comfort zone.

Last night, I witnessed such willingness. On my green couch sat a distressed couple. She tearfully reported yet another incident when her husband failed to show-up for her emotionally. Trying to budge her off her well-weathered victim dime, I questioned if she had asked him for what she needed.

“I no longer consider him to be my go-to person,” she said, understandably protecting herself while justifying her victimhood.

I reminded her that we are working to create a new and different marriage.

I then encouraged her to ask him (admittedly, I was fearful as to how he’d answer) … is he available to be her go-to person?

She bravely took the risk. Right there in my office. Right there on my green couch.

She turned to him and asked, “Are you willing to be my go-to person?”

Without hesitation, he looked at her and said, “I am. I just don’t know how.”

Wow. Silence. A golden moment. It, he, was priceless.

Give me willingness and a secure, sustainable partnership make.

Go find it, ladies … and gentlemen. And more importantly, be it.

We’re All Chocolates in a Box

Humans are like chocolates in a gold shiny Godiva box. There is the outside showing – our appearance in created grandeur. And then there is the inside – whatever lies deep in the middle of our bonbon.

For some, what you see is what you get. Be it plain, delicious or dangerous, you can tell by looking at us what you will bite into. At least the taster is forewarned.

For some, we keep the mystery. Our appearance gives no clue as to our center. We surprise. For our middle is decadent. One bite and the chocolate connoisseur wonders where the hell you’ve been all his or her life. You are a gift waiting to be cherished. And lucky you, someone had the willingness – and the patience – to pick you out of the box and unwrap your treasure. Molten sweetness in the inner recesses, hidden from plain sight.

And then for some, an intricate outside hides dynamite. Just when you thought you chose the pick of the chocolate box, it proved to mask humanity at its worst. Be it empty or toxic (unavailable, affair, abuse or addiction), there was no sign that your chosen chocolate had such capacity. Surprise did not lean in your favor this time. One of life’s most painful falls.

Be it good or not-so-good, every relationship can teach you something. You grow a little wiser. Your taste buds sharpen. You learn when to hold tighter and when to let go. You figure out what works for you and what cannot. You discover the difference between what you must have and what you only want. You become an expert at the range and capacity of human character.

So, dive in, my friends. Chocolates abound. Just keep in mind that what you see is not always what you get. A label they should add to the outside of the candy box.

Are You My Mother?

I am not a big fan of Mother’s Day. Any female can give birth, but not every woman can raise a child.

Mind you, I participate anyways. Hallmark gets my money and my mother is happy to hear from me. But, something seems off about this forced day of recognition and for many, pain. There’s got to be some other way to honor and feel gratitude for those that step up to the plate to care for others.

Because, the reality is that mother is a verb, not a title. We all need mothering and sometimes, the best and most mothering available does not come from our biological mother or even a woman. No matter our age, we all need nurturance. Attention. Affection. Someone to sing us a song. Cook us our favorite meal. Track the details of our life. We all need a rock to stand on when life shatters and we are left with close to nothing. We all need a cheering team. An emotional home. Someone that tells us that we are going to be okay. Someone that never loses hope. Someone to believe in our value and potential more than we do. Someone that has taken the time and energy to become alive and can model how to do the same.

You got that?

If so, take a moment today – in silence or with words – to appreciate your gift. For, it is a gift, not a given. A gift that many don’t have.

If you are one of the unfortunate that haven’t found a mother, make it a point between now and next May, to go get one. Like the children’s book, “Are You My Mother?”, keep searching. Whether a steam shovel or a cow (you gotta read the book), there are loving human beings out there with extra emotional resources to heap on your plate. Fill it up and then sit back and feast. You deserve it.

And if you are one of those giving trees, you don’t have to wait for recognition from Hallmark. Celebrate yourself today. You have been tapped with plenty, an abundance to share. Put your feet up today, for tomorrow, you’re back to loving the world. And that’s one helluva privileged job.

Just Fine

I’ve never been one much for superficiality. Those social niceties and exchanges that are well-intended but only serve to maintain a false pleasant front. In my world, such polished manners create disconnection, not connection. They make and maintain a pretend world where I feel alone in the mess of real life. A “don’t-really-ask-me and I’m-not-really-gonna-tell-you” policy.

My bullshit detector goes into overdrive. I hear myself screaming – on the inside, of course – can someone please talk about what is really going on? How they truly feel about the ugly reality spilt all over the living room floor? Are there any human beings in the room or just robots dressed in their Sunday best? Am I the only one here that is not happy, happy, happy?

One of the most common of such exchanges is the “how are you?” Often, it is asked automatically in haste or as someone is racing past you at high speed. Do you really want to know how I am? Do I really tell you how I am or do I oblige the game and give the pat “I’m fine” response? (What does “fine” mean anyway? That I am surviving? Just making it? One step from jumping off a bridge? Or that I am just vanilla ice cream today? A plain scoop, naked of the splashy rainbow sprinkles?

If we dare color outside the lines and respond with some inkling of honesty, then we often get the other pat response – “I’m sorry.” Or, the face that says – “I just asked to be polite. I didn’t really want you to answer because I DON’T CARE.” Then, why the fuck did you ask? Oh, yes … your mama taught you to be mannerly.

If I am about anything in my life and in my life’s work, it is authenticity. Figure out who you are and be clean and clear about it in your relationships and in the world-at-large. So, I say, to hell with manners. Shoot for relational connection. Although civility is an important value, intimacy grows in the world of feelings and feelings lie beneath manners.

Rather than “thank you,” tell someone that you love and appreciate him or her. Then sit back and watch the connection sky rocket.

If you want to know how someone is, ask them. And then slow down to make the space to receive them – in whatever human state he or she is in at the moment.

If someone asks you how you are, do a quick assessment to see if he or she really wants to know. Then depending on their interest, choose with intention to either play the game or give an honest answer that respects your heart and the relationship.

But, for God’s sake, be conscious about your interactions, rather than yet another human machine that spits out pleasantries that you been trained to say.

Maybe you don’t have time to hear how someone else is. That is perfectly okay. But then, don’t ask. Make a statement instead, such as – “I am really happy to see you.” Or, “I love to see your smile every time I come into Starbucks.” Such an act stops the well-indoctrinated social theater and offers a bite-sized version of genuine human engagement. I’ll take that any day over some scripted gesture that is empty at best and dismissive at worst.

So, really, how are you? I got time and space. And “fine” is not an option.

Stable Misery

“Oh, yeah. That.”

It often comes down to that.

There is a certain kind of couple that finally make it past the door of a therapist’s office. A partnership locked in stable misery. They have a well-grooved path of relating that is wretched but can go on and on and on. Such a couple is long past when they should have sought help. Long past the smiles of the cake-cutting picture. Sometimes years, certainly months, of not touching the other. Feeling lonelier in their togetherness than they would if they were alone. And yet, they are stuck. They can’t split up nor can they move toward a brighter day. They are stably miserable.

As we begin the courageous and painful process of making sense of the cemented mess now on my green couch, I ransack for motivation. What will rouse this hurting pair to get off the dime and do the hard work necessary to create a satisfying, secure marriage that they probably have never had and yet deserve? Or at least to finally raise the white flag and free themselves and the other for a better day?

Money is a big one. Divorce is expensive. And wife here is getting fed up.

Shame and pride – those are there too and often pique interest.

Kids. Yep. Let’s stay together for the kids. Or let’s create a relationship we can model and wish for them to have someday. Yeah, that’s a good one.

There is the non-discriminate asshole. Even if you leave your marriage, you take you with you. And folks at work aren’t too happy with you either.

Commitment. Some folks take their marriage vows seriously. Others, not so much.

I even get hard up enough to pull out my existential card. “Are you your best self in this despairing relationship?” Sadly, most folks in this arrangement don’t care if they are settling. Or emotionally dying.

And then I go nuclear. It’s the last chance I got. I bring up the big “C” word.

“Are you being cherished by your partner?”

That wakes them the hell up.

I get the dumbfounded expression. Like I am speaking a foreign language.

“What do you mean by that?”

I then launch into explanation. I am not talking about being happy. Marriage is not supposed to make you happy. But, does your partner treasure you? Find you the gift that you are? A full messy human being that is held, looked at and treated with awe.

Again, empty eyes stare back at me as if not knowing that such was an offering.

Yep, the floor often shifts in that moment. The depressed folks on my green couch are starting to understand that more can be had in partnership and they have been missing out.

Are you cherished?

It is available. Don’t think for one minute that the good energy of the universe isn’t waiting to pour you deserved love. You’re it. All you. And if some partner isn’t seeing the prize you are across the dinner table, it’s time to up your game. You’re leaving love on the table and that, my friend, is a one damn shame.

Question and Answer

Thank you for the question: How do I figure out what the thing is for me that is holding me back from intimacy and deeper relationships and how to start working on that thing?
Dear Reader – I offer two speculations of what might be holding you back from intimacy and deeper relationships. First, lack of experience and knowledge. Most folks who live in superficial relationships aren’t aware of what they are missing.
I will never forget the first time I gave my baby daughter sugar. She stared at the blue-frosted cupcake sitting atop her high chair, as if some foreign object landed from outer space. With time and encouragement, she dared a small bite. Predictably, she has never looked back. Her love affair with sugar commenced.
The same is true for relational intimacy. If you’ve never experienced deep emotional connection, it remains a theoretical concept by which you have little desire. But one taste of the nectar and you never go back. You now have a higher standard.
Secondly, fear. Something scares you – consciously or unconsciously – about getting close to people. Maybe you will be abandoned, rejected, disliked or unloved. Maybe you will be swallowed up and cease to exist as a separate person. Maybe you will learn to like connection and then it will go away. Or you will want it too much. Maybe you will disappoint me and leave me with unmet expectation and desire. Maybe you will be burdened by another’s feelings and needs and thus, you are left to feel guilty in disappointing another. And so on and so on.
The commonality of these anticipated experiences is pain. Thus, I fear intimacy because I fear feeling pain. I don’t want to feel hurt.
Therefore, my personal window for intimacy is an intersection between avoiding pain while getting connection. It’s an unconscious emotional cost/benefit analysis. How much of the goodies can I get while not getting hurt? A tricky titration, if you ask me.
For some of us, our past unresolved pain plus our fear of not surviving difficult feelings make the window for intimacy very small. I want just enough connection to survive but not so much that I risk getting (or giving) hurt. Sadly, that equation translates into shallow and/or fewer relationships.
To widen that window so that intimate relationships are more possible, one must grow more tolerant of a longer and deeper range of feelings. This is necessary in that intimate relationships involve vulnerability and thus, risk. I am required to let you in and show you a tour of my innermost heart. And, I might get rejected. You might leave. I might feel disappointment.
So, what? They are just feelings. They won’t kill you.
Additionally, one must strengthen one’s emotional core. I.e., work your boundaries and self-esteem so that you can ride the inevitable sea storm of emotional blows that come with relationship without losing your center. This emotional groundedness will give you a trusted platform to reach out to another and survive the rocky waves of forming and sustaining relationship.
Lastly, hold the hope. Remember that, with an available person/partner, the benefits of relationship outweigh the cost. You can courageously take a step toward and achieve life’s pinnacle – being connected intimately with another human being.
Blue cupcake anyone?