Night before last I watched a beautiful movie, "The Exotic Marigold Hotel."
One of the main characters is a widow who was married 40 years and after her husband's death discovers debt that he kept a secret from her. This discovery makes it necessary for her to sell her home and find a job. She finds a job, as well as herself in the process, but for much of the movie she is quietly processing the way "you never really know anyone."
The turning point in the movie is when one of the male characters, a retired judge, goes to look for the man he has been in love with for decades but hasn't seen since youth. The judge finds the man, now married, who confesses in front of his wife that he also has loved the judge all these years.
The widow has to know: did the man's wife know this secret before the moment she heard her husband confess it to the judge? She can't imagine how or why the wife just stood there. She finds the wife and asks her questions. She finds out the wife DID know her husband was in love with another man, and that she'd known this since before they were married.
The widow says to her friend, incredulously, "His wife knew all along. They had no secrets from one another." She paused and asked, quietly and with pain in her voice, "That's how it's meant to be, isn't it?"
Like the widow in the movie I have learned that I want to have relationships in which I need not hide my true self and in which the other person's true self is not hidden from me. To be known fully and know fully and for there to be love, connection and a shared life built on that foundation ... Oh my god ... That IS heaven to my way of thinking.
Intimacy for me is hiding nothing. I am in a constant state of curiosity about, and uncovering and understanding of, myself and the other person.
In fact, I think relationships are the place or the "platform" on which knowing and showing my true self occurs. It is the soil in which self-awareness grows. And it is when we process, examine, put into words and bare our true selves WITH others that we are truly known and therefore can feel, coming and going, loving and being lived, for real.
And yet, over and over, I hide my true self from those whose love I desire or those whose love I'm afraid of losing. It is a habit birthed in childhood and it is totally fear-based. I show a version of myself I think the other person will approve of, even when that's not my intention.
The cost is high: the moment I feel the other person's love for me or their desire of relationship with that "version" of me I've shown them is the moment I begin to feel rejection and the moment in which the relationship has become doomed. If they don't know the real me but say/feel they love me, my heart sinks and I ultimately end up leaving the relationship or unconsciously throwing a bomb in it.
It's not that I tell lies about myself, leave out pieces of my story or stuff my bra. I am actually really super honest about who I am. Sometimes, I've been told, to a fault.
No, the showing of a version of myself only happens slowly, subtly and usually without my knowing ...
-It happens when I do something I didn't really want to do but failed to object to because I didn't want to offend or frustrate the other person.
-It happens when I don't say something that is from my heart because I'm afraid of hurting, scaring off or in some way negatively impacting the other person's happiness in a relationship with me.
-It happens when I feel hurt and I decide not to say that I am hurt but instead make up a story that takes the other person off the hook for being rude, mean, or unkind to me.
-It happens when I don't listen to myself enough to hear that I don't trust the other person but then I share myself with them anyway.
It happens in hundreds of different ways. And I'm working on the ones I'm aware of. But they are drops in the bucket compared to the ways I do this, and/or the other person does it, totally UNconsciously.
That's a new piece of the puzzle for me: the understanding that no matter how badly I want and work toward total nakedness and fearless authenticity, it's impossible to achieve completely. Impossible. I KNOW that this means the possibility of forging an authentic connection between myself and another person, or/and the POSSIBILITY of unconditional love or sustainability of the connection is very slim.
Actually, chances are great I'm going to fuck up every intimate relationship I take part in. And most people will equally fail at revealing their true selves to me. But I can't stop wanting to succeed. I can't stop wanting authentic connection in spite of the odds being way against me.
There are maybe two or three people with whom I'm close to absolutely fearless about showing my true self and for whom I don't edit myself. They are all women. And I value those relationships. It is those that teach me that I can be authentic. They help me know I'm capable of fearless connection.
Why are these relationships different? I have really been asking myself to look beyond the surface, past even the "I'm able to be myself" part. Or the "they're women" dynamic.
I think this is the major difference in these fearless connections I do have:
-There's a wanting and trying to be known more than I'm wanting and trying to be approved of.
-There's a wanting on the part of the other person to be known by me more than they want approval from me.
-There's a mutual enjoyment of knowing and being known and even a feeling of understanding ourselves better by knowing the other person's messy, complicated, beautiful selves.
-There is a give and take of "taking off of our clothes."
-There is a back and forth of telling the stories we are proudest of, most ashamed of and that hurt us most.
-There is the dropping of guard and the talks that end with, "I've never told anyone that," or, "I thought I was the only one who felt like that," or, "You make me feel normal!"
-There's the mutually risky chance-taking of telling the truth about ourselves that we are most afraid of anyone knowing and finding that, incredibly, the telling made us more human and validated the experience of the other person.
- There's hearing that my telling my truth gave the other person more courage and have less fear about showing their true selves.
Is it possible to have such a connection with someone of the opposite sex? I think it is highly unlikely ... but possible.
But is it possible to have that kind of connection after I've had sex with them? My experience says no, it's not possible. That the nature of "romantic" relationships is that 99% of the time those are the connections I'm MOST afraid of being myself in and in which I am MOST hiding, even if I don't want to be.
And yet. I want both.
I can see the reality of the severe unlikelihood of having both a fearless/mutually knowing the other person and wanting to be known AND a sexual-romantic relationship. But I can't NOT see that I'm never going to be sustainably happy in a romantic-sexual relationship that doesn't involve a mutual desire for authenticity and knowing/being known.
I'm not sure what to do with the knowing of that other than know it. That feels pretty good, though. It feels like relief to admit to myself that I am not going to be happy in connections in which I'm not able to be myself and/or the other person isn't equally wanting that. It feels good to say that I'm not able to want that enough for two people; my wanting it is not enough and I am not going to be able to "teach" someone who doesn't already have an internal motivation of this kind, to have it. It feels like a relief to say, "This is really rare and you are very likely not going to experience it, but knowing that is better than trying to make yourself be ok with less than what you really want."
Other than that, the only thing I know to do is what a friend said last week. He said, "I just know I need to do things differently than I've done them." That looks like different things for different people but for me it means becoming more conscious of what I have been doing and about what I do each day. I have just a few practical steps for myself that I'm trying and will hopefully continue to find more. For now here's what I'm going to do differently:
-Not going to trade my peace/positive energy for human interaction. What that means is that when I'm lonely and attention-starved I'm not going to spend time and energy with people who don't want to know/be known. It's not worth it; the cost is too high.
- I'm going to keep showing my true self/speaking my truth to those I spend time with, knowing that it's worth it to me to do so, even if it leads to the other person rejecting me.
-I'm going to resist the urge to try to coax or teach someone to show me their true self. I'm going to take them at their word. If they aren't internally motivated to know/be known, I'm not going to judge them but I'm not going to try to fix or help them, either.
-I'm going to be cautious about showing/sharing too much of me before I know whether or not the other person is interested in mutual knowing/being known.
"If you want something you've never had, then you have to do something you've never done."