|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
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Learning to Love Again
By Mel Krantzler
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1977 Mel Krantzler
All rights reserved.
LEARNING TO LOVE AGAIN
Pat (the woman I married four years ago) and I met at a time when we both felt our lives were at a dead end, believing in the impossibility of improving our relationships with anyone of the opposite sex, yet wanting to do so. It was at a trim-the-tree Christmas party we each almost didn't go to. I had been separated from my first wife for over seven months; after a period of six months or so of frantic, expensive, and ultimately exhausting dating activity, I had begun to look for something more satisfying. I wanted to get close to a woman. Laura, let's call her, I thought was the answer to my dreams. She was roughly my age, divorced like me, a lawyer, and with an interest in literature, music, art, and drama that I had always looked for in a woman. She loved to discuss ideas, a quality I had always liked in women since (as I later learned) it meant we didn't have to deal with the less tidy, more frightening world of feelings. After going out with her for almost a month, I convinced myself that she was the woman for me. Fantasies of having found the right mate, of a future free from loneliness danced in my head—and when she gave me the boot (nicely enough) less than two weeks before Christmas, I was desolated.
Feeling terribly sorry for myself, I spent the next five days holed up at home in the evenings, watching too much television, but also meditating on my patterns of behavior with Laura and with all the other women I had been seeing. Meditating along these lines was something I had never done before. It wasn't something I wanted to do; rather it seemed thrust on me because I was hurting and didn't know how to get rid of my pain. My previous approach to pain was to try to run away from it—get out of the apartment, see a movie, go to the neighborhood bar, meet another woman. But this time I knew from too much past experience that that method was terribly unsatisfying. So how could that method help me now? Listening to myself in the stillness I began to see that if I were ever going to achieve the kind of close relationship with a woman I wanted, I was going to have to do some changing. Not just my approach, but my whole attitude toward other people. I came on too strong, I didn't give Laura space to be herself. In fact, to me she wasn't a separate person at all, only an extension of my need to be taken care of. These weren't pleasant truths, because I was beginning to realize that they were true for my relationships with every woman who was or had been important in my life. They were in one sense reluctant truths: A part of me recognized them as valid, but most of me sought to deny them. I wasn't ready to live out the full meaning of what I had discovered about myself then. All I knew was that I was bored and disgruntled. I was no longer in the divorce crisis; that had passed. All I wanted was to wallow in self-pity. Nobody loved me, and I would be alone during the holidays and probably forever.
Under these circumstances, the invitation from an old friend to come to her trim-the-tree party was an unwelcome intrusion. I wanted her to sympathize with my pain and agree that I had a right to suffer. Instead, she told me there would be a number of interesting single women there, including a nurse she "knew" was just right for me. Here was an opportunity to try something new, to put my self-awareness to some use, and I resented it. My God, I thought, it's just not worth the effort; they will all be boring, unattractive, or attached to someone else. Who needs the agony of being turned down again? I was predicting the future as if it could only be a repetition of my past experience.
Nevertheless, by the afternoon of the party I had worked myself into such a state of exasperated self-disgust that taking the risk of going to the party and being disappointed seemed less unpleasant than continuing to sit at home and stew in my own juice. Not much, but a little. So, believing I knew full well what I would find, I got dressed and went—more out of being bored with boredom than anything else. Once there, I greeted my hostess, took a quick look around the room, and had my fears confirmed: The same bunch of boring people trying to make sophisticated small talk. Not for me, thank you, so I made a beeline for the kitchen, fortified myself with a strong drink, and took a seat away from everybody in the corner of the room next to die Christmas tree, where I could survey the crowd and keep my distance. My eyes landed on an attractive woman sitting on the couch across the room, and I roused myself from my sour reverie long enough to consider talking to her, but then I saw the telltale flash of gold on her left hand, and immediately thought, "Wouldn't you know it, already married. Another one of those boring suburban housewives. Her husband must be in the other room." If she hadn't picked that moment to come over to the tree and ask me to help her hang some ornaments, I probably never would have made any attempt to talk to the woman who was eventually to become my wife.
Joined in the mindless task of putting little gold ornaments on someone else's Christmas tree, I soon found myself talking with her in a livelier manner than I would have thought possible. Her name was Pat, she said, and she had been divorced for a little more than a year after an eighteen-year marriage. This was the first party she had attended since she and her husband had separated; she almost didn't come, but remembered her promise to the hostess to help her with the party arrangements. She also couldn't stand the thought of being alone at Christmas. We talked about how difficult holidays were for divorced people, and she began to tell me a little about her present life. The company she worked for was about to go bankrupt, and she was afraid she would have to go on welfare; she was so far behind in her house payments that the bank was threatening to foreclose on the mortgage; she seemed to spend most of her time in the high school counselor's office trying to find out why her two teen-age daughters kept cutting classes. And to top everything off, her dog was in heat and had so excited the other dogs in the neighborhood that they were tearing her front door loose from its hinges. As she finished her tale of woe, she burst out laughing. I can still remember her laughter, and her saying, "God knows, I might as well laugh. It's better than crying." Yet, while she laughed there were tears streaming down her face. Here was a woman committed to the struggle to survive. It was her pain and her struggle to overcome it that connected with something inside myself, because I was experiencing the very same thing. I had found a person who had hit bottom and learned that she could survive. She was unaffected, open, honest, and I sensed a woman who had gone far beyond the social man-woman games we all play.
Our emotions formed a common bond at that first meeting, not the patter of "Did you see this movie?" or "What did you think of such-and-such a book?" that was my usual get-acquainted gambit. In fact, we didn't once talk that evening about the current intellectual scene nor about the college I assumed she had graduated from—information I always had thought was so important. Without realizing it, I was beginning a relationship on a more satisfying basis. By letting myself respond to her from parts of myself that had long been buried, I was laying the groundwork for the kind of relationship I was really looking for. In spite of my week's meditation, I wasn't aware of any of this at the time. All I knew was that I felt comfortable with her in a way I hadn't experienced with another woman before and I didn't know why.
Letting Go of Old Ways
I would like to report that our first real date, the following week, was successful but it wasn't. When I walked her to her car after the Christmas party, I had gotten her phone number, made some standard sexual overture which she firmly declined, and said goodnight. Later in the week I called and we met for dinner at a restaurant in the building where I had an office. Things went badly from the start. As I steered the conversation to my usual topics—politics, the arts, literature—I discovered with discomfort a woman who had little interest in or knowledge of such matters, who as it happened had gone to college for only one year. During dinner a friend stopped by our table, and I remember feeling acutely ill at ease at being seen with this woman who only a few days earlier I had found so attractive, so real, so much in tune with how I felt. Now, suddenly, I took a good look at her across the table and found her momentarily unattractive. Here she was, engaged in a lively conversation with my friend, telling him about her father's experiences as one of the construction workers who had built the Golden Gate Bridge, while I squirmed with embarrassment at being seen in the company of such an unsophisticated woman. My heart sank as I wondered what in the world she and I could ever have in common. What the hell was I, who called myself an intellectual, doing with a woman like her?
After dinner, things took a turn for the worse, if that was possible. I took her to a local bar famous for its literary clientele; it was a place where I had spent many hours trading intellectual gossip with a small circle of regulars. She was, as I had already realized she would be at some level of my consciousness, completely out of her element. My whispered asides identifying this or that famous novelist or screen writer met with blank stares. I was trying to impress her with a world that was so important to me, and she was completely oblivious to all of it! The emotional connection we had formed at the Christmas party seemed to vanish in the sound of my own voice and her answering silences. We parted company early, in the garage where she had left her car. We both knew things had gone badly; it was Pat, however, who risked broaching the subject She asked me before we parted what kind of a relationship I was interested in, and I told her one that was open, feeling, and down-to-earth. She agreed. But somehow the way we had gotten along that evening seemed to contradict my assertions. What I said I wanted seemed to be an impossible dream and we left each other without discussing meeting again. I drove home in despair, wondering how in the world I was ever going to find a woman I could get close to and questioning whether the effort was worth it. I knew quite clearly what I didn't want; I had learned from my divorce that I had to try to be as authentic a person as I had it in my power to be. I was determined not to play games any more, but that was all I seemed to know how to do. There was a strong thrust within me to rid myself of self-defeating behavior patterns, and yet when it got down to cases I knew no other ways. I had made a connection with Pat based on our common pain and struggle, but in attempting to further that connection I had fallen back into old patterns. I really thought as I drove home depressed that evening that I was destined to lead a solitary life, a life I didn't want but which was all I could expect
As Pat later told me, that first date was a self-confrontation for her as well. "When I left that evening I felt shaky and depressed, as if I had failed some test I knew nothing about. Fifteen minutes after we met in the restaurant, I wondered what I was doing out with you. The warm, understanding man I had met at the party seemed to have turned into an intellectual snob. I remember wishing for just a moment that I could play that game, but then I got angry inside. I was tired of my own past ways of relating, of being the cute little clown, of getting approval by being funny and coming on dumb. There were so many other things inside me struggling to get out. I couldn't waste my time with anyone who wouldn't let them happen. I was attracted to you, and I hoped we might get to know each other, but I just couldn't face a relationship in which I couldn't be myself. I knew what you were thinking of me; that's why I asked you in the garage what you were really after. I wondered on the way home if we'd ever see each other again. But I decided that if we couldn't start from how we had felt at the Christmas party, there was no hope for us. I hadn't gone through all that pain of my divorce just to fit myself into some man's image of what a woman should be. I had to find out who I was."
Proceeding at Your Own Pace
Obviously, we didn't break things off that evening. With more than a few reservations we continued to see each other again—casually and without any sex for the first few months. (I sometimes thought I was going out with a forty-year-old virgin who had - two daughters, and yet there was something magnetizing about her.) As Pat and I look back on those days now, we can both see the half-conscious means we employed to keep each other at an emotional arm's length. Both of us were still hurting from our divorces; neither of us could stand a headlong plunge into intimacy; memories of what past intimacy had come to were still too strong for that. For my part, I continued to date other women, some of whom I went to bed with. I insisted on my complete independence and refused to make any long-term commitments or promises. I simply had to be free to move at my own speed—and I would have run if Pat had shown even the slightest evidence of possessive-ness. Yet I found myself more and more drawn to Pat as we spent evening after evening listening to music, going to restaurants or movies—and talking, talking, talking. Slowly, with one eye constantly cocked on the open door, I was discovering a woman I could be myself with, who in fact would not settle for anything less. I had previously misread and feared her intuitive intelligence, warmth, and aliveness and labeled those qualities "stupid."
In talking over these days later, Pat told me something which I had not known at the time. "I never thought of you as a possible lover at first," she said. "What I saw in you was a friend. I couldn't have taken the intensity of a sexual relationship at the start I had a lot of anger toward all men. I can remember even being incensed when I thought I saw the supermarket clerk giving me the eye. "What would your wife say!" was all I could think. You know, all during that time, even though my divorce was final, I kept the fantasy in my mind that my first husband would come back. I had convinced myself that he was sick and that when he got well we would get back together; that was why I still wore my wedding ring when you first met me. I told myself it was too tight to take off. I think that fantasy protected our growing relationship, because it kept me from getting scared off; I could just think of you as a friend. Then I gradually got used to you and found myself missing you when you didn't call. I can remember, when you would leave after a date, having to bite my tongue not to ask when you would call or when I would see you. Part of me knew that you needed that freedom, and I was still caught in my past But another part of me wanted the completeness of knowing you'd be around. I used to think I was using a typical female ploy—you know, manipulating your man—but-now I think I needed the space and time apart as much or more than you did. Any more closeness than we had at that time would have suffocated me.
Excerpted from Learning to Love Again by Mel Krantzler. Copyright © 1977 Mel Krantzler. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsINTRODUCTION: BEYOND CREATIVE DIVORCE,
LEARNING TO LOVE AGAIN,
Letting Go of Old Ways,
Proceeding at Your Own Pace,
Testing, Testing, Testing,
Learning, Unlearning, Relearning,
Separating the Past from the Present,
INTIMACY REVISITED: NEW PATHWAYS TOWARD NEW RELATIONSHIPS,
"Easy Does it"—Or Does It?,
You Are a Potential in the Present,
Recognizing How You Limit Yourself,
"YES, BUT ...,
Begin at the Beginning,
Your Eleven Lifelines to Learning to Love Again,
Reconnecting with Your Inner Resources,
Identifying the Past in Your Present Behavior,
Taking Off Your Best-Face-Forward Mask,
Melting Your Frozen Love Image,
READINESS TIME: THE FOUR STAGES OF LEARNING TO LOVE AGAIN,
Stage One: The Remembered-Pain Stage,
Stage Two: The Questing-Experimental Stage,
Stage Three: The Selective-Distancing Stage,
Stage Four: The Creative-Commitment Stage,
Transition Movements Between Stages,
Timing Sensitivity: Making Relationships Grow,
Turning "Yes-Buts" into Fresh Starts,
The Changed You and Turnabout Thinking,
Advice from the Firing Line,
THE LIVING-TOGETHER ARRANGEMENT: TESTING GROUND FOR LEARNING TO LOVE AGAIN,
From Rainbow Expectations to Gray Realities,
The Reappearance of Legal Problems,
Making an LTA a Creative Learning Experience,
MOVING TOWARD A CREATIVE COMMITMENT,
From the Frying Pan into the Fire?,
The Why of What Happened,
Mislearning from the Past,
What about Open Marriage?,
Are You Bringing Hidden Agendas to Your Remarriage?,
How Much Do You Really Know about the Person You Are Marrying?,
PRACTICING THE ART OF CREATIVE COMMITMENT,
Two-getherness in Place of Togetherness,
The Fear behind Marital Anger,
Renewing the Relationship through Mutual Understanding,
Sex and Love: Making the Connection,
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?,
Expect the Unexpected,
See the Person in the Stepchild,
The Creative-Commitment Guidelines for Stepparenting,
A NOTE TO THE READER,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,