Love & Narcissism

I’ve touched before on my dissatisfaction with our cultural ideas around romantic love, in posts such as Being in Love. Considering my personal experiences of attachment issues, loneliness, abusive relationships, and being stalked, I’ve done a lot of thinking about love in my life. It’s certainly clear to me that we get confused about love and obsession and often tangle the two together – one doesn’t have to watch a lot of romantic comedies (or kid’s movies!) to find examples of that. This confusion has certainly cost me dearly at times, when I thought that I was rewarding persistence, or that if the other person felt so strongly about me then maybe they were seeing some possibility for us that I’d missed.

Narcissism is another quality that we get confused with love, and tangle into our romantic relationships. I’ve been dating Rose for over a year now, and it’s wonderful and life changing and unforgettable and sometimes damn hard work. (for both of us, not that she’s hard work, but that our relationship is hard work) Considering that I’m a multiple, that we each have trauma histories, and that we’re gay (ie vulnerable to issues such as prejudice, judgement, and ignorance from our communities), this is entirely to be expected. Sometimes I find it helps to remind myself of a truth it’s easy to forget: that Rose was not put here on this earth to become my perfect partner.

She is in fact an entirely separate person, with her own journey. That her path and mine have crossed is joyful and wonderful. That she has tremendous skills in supporting and loving another fierce, dark, vulnerable person is something I’m grateful for. That she has wonderful qualities of compassion, loyalty, and honesty is something I admire. But when I’m scared for us and how vulnerable our little family is (on so many levels, financially, socially) or how vulnerable I feel at times when the skills she lacks (or we both lack, like budgeting), or her choices are not what I’d have chosen in my perfect partner, it can be hard to remember that that is not actually her role in life. It is also a liberating realisation, because it likewise frees me from trying to fit or be fitted to an idea she has in her head about her perfect partner. We each of us are free to be who we are, and then to engage compassionately with the ways in which that can be hard or painful at times, and to rejoice in the unexpected blessings that a partnership between equals who are different and who are free can bring. Sometimes I think one of the greatest challenges in life is learning how to afford others the freedoms we so deeply crave for ourselves.

So we live alongside these ghosts, these dreams of idealised partners. We learn skills and take responsibility for the times we hurt each other. We build a relationship together that’s deeply passionate and loving, and also values freedom and authenticity. We celebrate not only our similarities but also our differences. We work to be good partners, a good team, to bring wonderful things to each other’s lives. But we breathe beyond that role and we live outside of that relationship also. Our lives remain our own. Love is not the key that locks the trap. There’s something frightening, but also profoundly exciting about not writing our partners into our own life story as supporting characters and trying to make them into our best version of them, but respecting and honouring that they star in their own story, that they are separate, and that for a time we are privileged to share their life and know their love.

Good food and discussions about the future

Today I slept, panicked, worked on finishing all the preparation I need to have done to offer henna art at a gig for the first time on Friday, panicked some more, and had Rose and my sister over for dinner. I’m now back to panicking and henna prep again. It’s been a long day. Dinner was lovely. We made prawn rolls.

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Yum! Rose and I are still eating lots of salads and I’m loving that. Some days lately when my anxiety is so high it’s the only meal I have. It was so nice to sit at the table and share and talk about the future. The three of us are making exciting plans for next year together with housing and plans for babies. I’m so thrilled and so anxious too, there’s a raw feeling when I talk about dreams and ideas about family and community and the future. I dropped my sister home and on the drive back, alone in the night, found myself shaking and weeping. I don’t want to be homeless again. I don’t ever want to be on the run from a violent relationship again. I don’t want to feel trapped again, to be sharing a bed with someone who frightens me or makes me feel deeply alone. I’m pro equal marriage rights but terrified of the prospect of being a wife again. Reading Centrelink documents that explained that if Rose and I share a place – even as flatmates with separate bedrooms, we will be considered by the government to be in a ‘marriage like relationship’ made me break down in uncontrollable sobbing.

I’m also in love, with a beautiful, devoted, loving woman who I hate being apart from so often, hate having to drive back to my own unit at the end of the night, want to be able to support when she’s ill, help cook for, share what I have with. I hate that the government will not allow us to live together but maintain separate finances. It feels deeply creepy to me, state-sponsored prostitution, that I can live with anyone as long as I don’t sleep with them, and sleep with anyone as long I don’t live with them. Weirdly the financial penalties are reversed when children are in the picture, as single parents are penalised where partnered parents are not. I don’t like the enforced dependence, the forcing of what we have into something it is not, into ‘marriage like’ when what we have is built on friendship, is platonic and romantic, is built on freedom and a deep care for our mutual vulnerability and limits.

Hope and fear, dreams, desires, longing and loss. Good food with people I love. Another shoe eaten by the dog, another day at work that leaves me frozen with anxiety. Life is challenging.

Letting it go

I’m sad tonight. There’s been pain in some of my friendships lately. Relationships with other people who’ve come through trauma, or other multiples, can be deeply rewarding, but they can also be more troubled and under greater strain. Sometimes the risks I take don’t work out the way I’d hoped. The last two friends I grew close enough to to tell them I loved them are no longer speaking to me. My heart mourns. So many hopes about the future come tumbling down, the sadness is unbearable at times, and the gnawing fear. It’s hard to make sense of. Life suddenly takes a different path. Parts of me are distraught, other parts have more perspective. Tonight, it’s lonely in my unit. I can feel dreams flying away from me, like balloons with cut strings. It hurts and I let it hurt.

In the sadness I find two things; that all things change. That nothing at all takes away from the good memories, from the hope and care and growth and fun we had, the safe spaces we made for each other. I find it strange that our culture only deems those relationships that last until death parts them to be significant. What we had counted, and what we did mattered, maybe not to anyone else in the world, but for each other, it mattered. We will never be as if we had not met. We take it all with us.

And the other thing? That if you love something, you set it free.

Today I went to a second hand shop and I bought two beautiful baby wraps. They are the first baby items I have ever bought for myself. A long time ago, before I was diagnosed with DID, when I was very sick, a long term relationship ended and I found myself often stuck in the baby aisle of a shopping centre, with a hole punched in my chest so large I couldn’t breathe around it. The grief of the children I did not have stayed with me.

Now Rose and I are talking about children of our own. When things in my life I’d hoped would last much longer and be much stronger fade away like they have this year, having a child seems like madness. I don’t consider it because I believe my life and relationships are stable and unchanging. I am confronting my incapacity to work full time and support a family. I have no idea where I will be in 5 years time or what my life will look like. Life changes, takes wing beneath you, turns on a dime. Both opportunities and tragedy await, and only some can be predicted. I can consider this because I know I can survive my world breaking. Because I understand that life changes. And because I believe that some things do not change, and that I can continue to make choices guided by love and compassion. It’s all we can do.

A year with Rose

On this day last year, my girlfriend Rose became part of my life. We first met online and started dating shortly after meeting in person. She’s a beautiful, generous, complex person I feel very privileged to know and love.

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Photo courtesy of Marja Flick-Buijs http://www.rgbstock.com/gallery/Zela

We’ve dealt with a lot over the year. We’ve both had health troubles. We’ve found ways to support and care for each other, to navigate the challenges of having two trauma histories and find joy in each other. I found myself reflecting upon a quote today:

Mama used to say, you have to know someone a thousand days before you can glimpse her soul.

Shannon Hale, Book of a Thousand Days

365 days today. I’ve glimpsed a little and what I’ve seen moves me.

Dating as a multiple is… interesting. Different parts have different relationships with Rose. Some date, some are friends, some more like colleagues, or little sisters. Each takes time and effort to cultivate, each brings something different to the relationship. Where one is tender and nurturing, another is mischievous and energetic. There’s a lot of adapting, and a lot of talking things through. It takes an extra special effort to be honest and authentic. Friendship is the foundation.

We’ve been talking about moving in together for a while now. It’s exciting but also stressful. For both of us, we risk losing our secure housing in a gamble on our relationship lasting – or at least our friendship lasting. As we’ve both been homeless, it’s a very raw area. One thing adds a sense of urgency to our plans, which is that we both want children. Considering the challenges of conception in a woman/woman relationship, health concerns, and our desire to have settled into living together long before we start trying, there’s a certain keenness.

When I met Rose, she had been trying for a baby as a single woman. She’s been pregnant and suffered losses before, a grief that is still very fresh for her. I, on the hand, as a sick single woman approaching 30, had all but given up on my own dream of children. Last year I started reading books on grieving infertility. To my surprise, I was given a clean bill of fertility earlier this year. With Rose’s deep love for children, and my sister back in the country, my own health limitations no longer seem such an impediment. I visit my delightful goddaughter Sophie almost every week and fall more deeply in love with her. We’ll keep dreaming and talking, trying to find a balance between pragmatism and optimism.

Falling in love with Rose has been amazing, maddening, glorious, exhausting, healing, and deeply satisfying. She’s the first woman I’ve fallen in love with, and she’s been a gentle and caring partner, laying to rest my anxieties that perhaps I was mistaken in thinking I was attracted to women. I’m now very settled in my identity as bisexual, or queer. I’ve ended many years of choosing to be single, which was the right choice for me at the time. Being in this relationship has given me so many opportunities to grow and learn, and unlearn, to share and celebrate life. It’s been eye opening to realise how much difference it makes to have such support, little things like watering the garden when I’m ill, big things like supporting my efforts in business. We’ve made the most beautiful memories, that I’ll always treasure. I’m grateful and I feel blessed.

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