He licked his lips. “Well, if you want my opinion-”
“I don’t,” she said. “I have my own.” — Toni Morrison, Beloved
What is your difficulty?
I don’t know if it’s because I’m a firstborn (pleaser), or if it’s because I am a Gemini (multiple personality traits). Maybe neither is significant.
But somehow I have always had a chameleon-like ability to effortlessly change my personality. I can turn from a sweet, charming, polite, All-American gal, into someone who can put a string of swear words together like I was born for the job. I can be the cheerleader and the cherub, or I can be the cat sharpening her claws. Meeoowww
In fact, I can change my personality to be whatever someone wants me to be. This comes in handy when you really, really want someone to like you. And you are a pleaser by nature.
How does your difficulty affect you?
It’s not so handy, though, when everything backfires. You can only be the ultimate pleaser for so long before the real you, whoever that is, comes bursting out at every seam, and you aren’t sure if, at any given moment, you might explode, or implode, with the pressure you have put on yourself to be someone you aren’t.
After years of this treasonous behavior towards myself, after one failed marriage, after one long-term failed relationship, I knew it was time to find the real me and be the real me, no matter whom I pleased or displeased.
This is a lot harder than it sounds. Remember the part about when you really, really want someone to like you? And you are a pleaser by nature?
So there’s the rub.
What are you learning?
In my previous relationships, I had sacrificed myself at the altar of pleasing my partners. I had led my first husband to believe that I was okay with doing ALL the work in our marriage…physical, emotional and bread-winning. In fact, I wasn’t okay with any of those things, and eventually, my betrayal of myself contributed to the downfall of our marriage.
In the one serious relationship I had after my divorce, I led my partner to believed that I shared his juvenile sense of humor, that his jokes were funny, that I enjoyed his old car hobby, that I shared his passion for certain sexual behaviors. None of these feelings were real. But I wanted to be his perfect woman. Maybe I was, but I lost myself in the process. When I couldn’t keep up the façade anymore, our relationship blew up. Of course, he never quite knew that it was because our whole history was based on a lie, a lie that I initiated and perpetuated.
After lots of heartache and soul-searching, I decided I needed to devote myself to finding myself and being true to that self.
I started dating the man I would eventually marry. I pulled no punches in our relationship. I tried hard to be honest about who I think I am: a mixture of wonderful and not so wonderful, of confidence and anxiety, of adventurous and scared…in other words a fairly normal person. But…that’s me. And I swore to be true to that “me.”
After over three years of dating, Ben and I got married. I had a 16-year-old son, Jake. Ben had never been married and had never had any children.
This new dynamic of the three of us living together was an eye-opener for all.
Ben, who had seemed to get along fine with Jake before our marriage, was now super critical of his every move.
Jake didn’t rake the leaves right, he didn’t clean out the garage thoroughly enough, he didn’t do enough around the house to help, he wasn’t social enough, his bed wasn’t neatly made, he didn’t have enough friends. You get the picture.
I waffled between defending my son, a typical teenager, and defending my husband; after all, he was right sometimes about Jake’s laziness, and a fear of losing my belief in all of us.
Ben accused me of being a bad mother because I hadn’t taught my son all the things HE (Ben) would have taught him. Is there a deeper cut than for a woman to be called a “bad mother”?
That wound was profound, and it kept being reopened, and I bled. Every time.
We argued; we fought, he packed his bags; then unpacked them. We became distant…until the next war of words.
This was my second marriage. I blamed myself for the failure of my first marriage, and I was resolute in my determination not to let this relationship fall apart.
What is your part or participation in the difficulty?
I desperately wanted to please Ben, to do whatever he wanted me to, to be whatever he wanted me to be. But that would mean going backward into that Gemini/firstborn pattern.
It would also mean dishonoring my son, whom I believed in just as much as I knew I needed to own my belief in myself. If it came down to it, I would have certainly chosen my son over Ben.
What can you shift in your feelings or thinking?
But I didn’t want to choose; I didn’t think I should have to choose: where was the kind-hearted man I had married? I felt lost and alone, and the person I counted on to be my rock seemed to have turned against me.
I didn’t confide in anyone about this except our therapist. I wondered if I were a failure, my judgment horribly flawed, my decision-making capability gone down in flames. Amidst all these fears of my failings, though, I knew on a cellular level that I wasn’t wrong, that I knew what I knew and that I had to hang on to that knowledge. I knew that I was a good mother, I knew that my son would mature into a wonderful man, I knew that the man I loved and married had somehow been trapped in a stranger’s body.
Eventually, after thinking about divorcing me (I didn’t know this at the time), and after mentally toying with various ways to commit suicide (also a secret from me), Ben sought help.
After working with our therapist, he discovered that our marriage had unleashed a whirlwind of feelings about his own childhood, and his own (very dysfunctional) family that he had managed to bury for many years.
Our work was cut out for us…and work we did.
Fast forward to our 18 year anniversary at the end of this month. Jake is 34 and married. He and Ben have long ago put away that ugly time of 17 years ago.
I wonder what would have happened had I changed myself to be the person and the mother Ben wanted me to be. No doubt I would have damaged my relationship with my son, with myself, and ultimately with Ben.
How did you choose to work with your difficulty?
So, I hung in there. I fought for my marriage as well as for the necessity to own myself, my beliefs, my feelings, my needs, and my relationship with my son. To this day, I am proud that I was true to myself.
How can you use what you’re learning in the future?
Over the years, Ben and I have learned to communicate much better than we did 18 years ago.
We still have arguments, of course. But they are tempered now with kindness as well as with the knowledge that we are unique individuals with differing needs, beliefs, and backgrounds. We have learned to try to walk in the other’s shoes, to view experiences through the other’s eyes and to feel with the other’s heart.
Most importantly, we have learned to respect the other person’s “me-ness” with all its perfectly flawed imperfections.
And, so we have come through to the other side. And I am confident that we will grow and nourish each other’s bodies and souls as we continue our journey together.
Lizzie. The United States.