19 June 2007

Lessons in Knowing Myself

I knew even before sitting down that the writing of this would require a generous glass of wine. So here I sit on my couch with a glass of Rosso sitting on a coaster in my windowsill, ready to be imbibed as I attempt to sort through a massive tangled tumble of thoughts, emotions, and memories from the past fourteen months, attempting to make sense of it all. My neighbor, a musician, is playing his electric guitar next door. It is a melody at once mournful and hopeful –- an appropriate soundtrack for what I am about to write.

This post promises to be a long one –- nearly 2,000 words (even after all the editing I could stand) -– so if you’re brave enough to stick it out, I suggest you choose your poison, get cozy, and settle in for a long read. I don’t know that this will have any benefit beyond my own catharsis, but if you are interested, I invite you to read on.

I am single again. Truth be told, I have seen this moment from a distance for the last several weeks, even months. I suppose it is natural that I avoided it as long as I did, not wanting to acknowledge the unpleasant and difficult (but inevitable) truth. I suppose I hoped that by some miracle, things would change, that my doubts and reservations would evaporate.

To give my reading audience a little context, you should know that Jordan was my first boyfriend. We started dating in April of last year when I was twenty-eight years old. This makes me a bit of an anomaly to have a first boyfriend at that age, I know. I had the odd crushes in high school and college, and even some extended flirtations, but nothing that would be mistaken by anyone (least of all me) for an actual relationship. The years after college looked much the same.

This does not mean I lacked experience where the cultural phenomenon known as “dating” was concerned. I met guys at church, in coffee shops, at the gym, and even subjected myself to being set up a few times. Over the years, I have had more first dates (and not quite as many seconds) than I can count and consequently, could fill a hefty journal with lengthy descriptions of my experiences.

Especially in the years since graduating from college, I became fiercely independent; my Mom will tell you that I have always have been that way. I suppose that the more I matured, the more I grew into myself and became more fully formed as myself. I made decisions on my own, bought my own car, decided where I would live, learned how to balance my work and social lives, managed my finances, traveled, and decided how to spend my time. I hardly found it sad or tragic to go to a coffee shop, a movie, or out to eat on my own. It wasn’t always my preference to fly solo, but if I wanted to do something, I simply did it. I am not the type to avoid going out if there is no one to join me.

It is not that I wasn’t seeking a relationship or that I didn’t want one. However much I enjoyed my life as a single adult, I -– like any woman -– wanted that primary relationship: a potential partner, someone to share a life with. But what few prospects came my way were less than promising (that is a post unto itself).

By the time I met Jordan, I had long since decided that given my dating history, I had better get used to being single. I did not see this as despair or giving up, merely a choice to embrace my reality. There was no reason to avoid living life fully simply because there was not a man in the picture to share it with!

Jordan caught me by surprise. Now I must confess, I am none too adept at picking up on the subtle interplays between men and women, particularly when I am the woman involved. As an employee at the gym where I work out regularly, I thought he was simply being friendly and sociable (as required by his job) when he said hello or wished me a good afternoon. Then at the end of March of last year, he asked me out on a date. This was my first clue that he thought of me as more than a paying member of the gym.

Jordan is a fantastic guy. He was markedly different from anyone I had ever met or been on a date with before. He was completely forthcoming and honest. He was the first guy who had ever maintained eye contact when I answered his questions about my life, my likes, my family, and so on. He extended the standard courtesies most men do on dates (opening the door, paying for dinner, etc.), but offered so much more than that. He was interested in what I had to say and was paying attention to the answers. I was impressed that he was more interested in hearing about me than in talking about himself.

Over the coming months, he would periodically interrupt whatever we were doing or talking about to say, you know what I love about you? The things he would list caught me by surprise: I love your how intelligent you are, I love how much you care about your family, I love how financially responsible you are, I love that you read books and think about them, and so on. I had not met anyone before who seemed to pick up on these things and find them appealing qualities.

Like any relationship, ours had the moments where disagreement or differing points of view would become apparent, sometimes painfully so. We’re both pretty even-tempered people when dealing with these sorts of conflicts, but our backgrounds and upbringings could not have been more different. We adopted a policy of talking about everything, never taking for granted that one would implicitly understand where the other was coming from.

Over the coming months as we began to see and know each other more clearly (the glasses being ever so slightly less rose-colored), things I had previously accepted as extensions of our differences became things I found less able to accept. I learned that the life choices he made and continued to make that I had chosen to accept (or overlook, if you want to be brutally honest) were things that I could not accept as being a part of my life. I had to ask myself: if this is someone I am considering building a life with, can I accept these things as a part of my life?

These were topics we had previously discussed, and thought that I had come to terms with as part of who he was and is. But the more I lived with the choices he was making for himself (choices that impacted me nonetheless), the more I knew these were things that could not, under any circumstances, be a part of my life if I was to be completely satisfied as one partner in this relationship.

These were not my only concerns. As I took inventory of my thoughts and feelings, I found some resentment, some feelings of being taken advantage of, and some regret. In all fairness to him, I did not address these feelings when I had them. I tucked them safely away, hoping that they would suffocate a slow death, deprived of light and air. But instead they begged for my attention all the more loudly.

I also began to see that I never felt supported in the matters that were of greatest importance to me. When it came to sharing my heart with him, trying to discuss things that were vital to me, he was too uncomfortable to sustain the discussion. Over time, I simply stopped trying to share these things with him.

It is not a decision I made explicitly or consciously, it just started to happen that way. I had edited out pieces of myself because I thought it would make our relationship better. It slowly suffocated me (and by extension, our relationship) the more pieces of myself I restrained. What made this most difficult is that I knew beyond a doubt that this was never his intention for me; it is simply a pattern we slipped into. I allowed it as much as he. Once recognized for what it was, I knew this was something that I -- quite literally -- could not live with.

When I finally brought this discussion to the table, he shared similar feelings. He had been feeling a disconnect for some time also. I was able to share my heart openly: that I felt taken advantage of, that it was slowly killing me not to be able to share my true heart with him, and that I did not feel that he was reciprocating the support I had given him. I felt as though I was asking him permission to be my true self.

He was able to tell me that it had been months since he felt like he had a girlfriend. This was more than the giddiness or newness of the relationship fading. There were things vitally important to us as individuals that we were not able to compromise on, but that could not coexist in a relationship without some measure misery for us both. We both realized quite clearly that this wasn’t going to fit.

I bear him no ill will or resentment and wish only the best for him. In spite of all our differences and the way we ignored and then finally and awkwardly fumbled with them, he really is a terrific human being. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for him. I am incredibly thankful that if we had to break up, that it was calm, mutual, and in the best interests of us both. And I am most thankful to have retained his friendship.

As sad as this decision is, I feel incredible relief and joy. Speaking the truth set us both free. Though in the end it was not to our mutual benefit to have stayed together, we both gleaned gifts as a result.

For me, the greatest gift is that I know myself better than ever before.

I know what my boundaries are and that I can and will enforce them. Where I once was tongue-tied, I know how to communicate my deepest and most guarded thoughts and feelings. I know that I want to be with someone who not only accepts who I am, but celebrates it. I know that while opposites may attract, it is vital to have common ground. I can say with confidence that I deserve a partner who complements me, who celebrates me, who supports me, and someone for whom I can do the same with a whole and unedited heart. I’ve heard my friends say the same thing to me, but I never quite believed it. Today, I actually do. I am convinced of it.

I cannot think of this as wasted time. God has used this relationship to reveal me to me; I know myself better than ever before, I know far better now than I did a year ago what I am made of. What a gift it is to be better acquainted with the particular way in which He formed me!

Perhaps this sounds like a bit of idealistic gas, but as crazy as it may sound, this is my true heart. I love and cherish God’s unique blueprint in me and even if there is no particular man in my present (or my future) to appreciate it, it is something I can celebrate.


  1. Kirsten, thanks for a peek into your history. Reading, "When it came to sharing my heart with him, trying to discuss things that were vital to me, he was too uncomfortable to sustain the discussion. Over time, I simply stopped trying to share these things with him," I saw a BIG red flag and could feel the gulf that separated you.

    Seems like this relationship came to a natural end, and ended well with both of you seeing the beauty and discovering new boundaries that have come from intimately sharing your lives.

    And I agree, you deserve a partner who complements you, who celebrates you, who supports you, and someone for whom you can do the same with a whole and unedited heart. I have experienced over 20 years of this, it is the only way to go.


  2. 23 Degrees -- Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I do not think I could have arrived at the conclusions I did had I not had wise & solid people in my life to share insights like you have here. I think it took me as long to see as it did because it was interspersed with so much good. Ultimately though, I knew I had to leave the relationship.

    Thanks again for sharing your heart and your insight. I am heartened by stories like yours!

  3. Here are some thoughts from my favorite relationship expert - Carrie Bradshaw :)

    "Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous"

    "I'm looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each-other love. And I don't think that love is here in this expensive suite in this lovely hotel in Paris."

    "Maybe some women aren't meant to be tamed. Maybe they're supposed to run wild until they find someone -- just as wild -- to run with."

    She is quite an insightful lady and i need to put these into play every day!

  4. Ilse -- LOVE LOVE LOVE those quotes. Carrie Bradshaw does have some good insights ... makes me want to go out & rent the DVDs again!! :o)

  5. Okay, I feel like a dunce because I have absolutely NO IDEA who Carrie Bradshaw is. Can someone enlighten me before I have to Google or Wikipedia it?! :)

    Kirsten, I was blown away by this post and relished reading every second of it, not for the hard things you shared (they were quite painful for me to read on your behalf!) but because of the glorious insights you gained as a result. I'm so, so, so happy for you. I mean this in a rock-solid way. But I'm still sorry you had to endure the losses you felt over this past year (not being truly seen or embraced or celebrated, having to edit yourself without even knowing you were doing it for a while).

    I'm inspired by the person you became in the years before you met Jordan (in other words, the years before we reconnected on this blog!). It was good for me to get a glimpse into that girl's world, and I love what I see! The things you shared of learning and doing in that time as a single girl are the kind of things I embraced during my two years as a single woman before joining my life to Kirk. These are things I'm glad to have experience because of the "kitchen window" syndrome I carried for so many years in my previous marriage. It was good to go out there and establish a sense of self -- celebrating it, and learning it -- during that time. I'm glad you've built that foundation already in life.

    You shared at one point, "I tucked them [your thoughts and reservations] safely away, hoping that they would suffocate a slow death, deprived of light and air." Boy, do I know this feeling and how agonizingly painful it is to carry it around -- and try to squelch it out like a nuisancey fire that won't stamp out. It pained me so much to read this line with regards to your soul.

    Also, "I know that I want to be with someone who not only accepts who I am, but celebrates it. I know that while opposites may attract, it is vital to have common ground. I can say with confidence that I deserve a partner who complements me, who celebrates me, who supports me, and someone for whom I can do the same with a whole and unedited heart. I’ve heard my friends say the same thing to me, but I never quite believed it." AMEN, SISTER!!

    First, those four things are amazing things to have discovered that you deserve and need. And they are absolutely out there, hand-picked from God for your very heart.

  6. Simply put...YAHOO!

    For you both, that is! (:

  7. Thank you for sharing your heart. So very tender.

    It's funny, but some of the ways you described things are ways I have felt in seasons of my marriage. So that I think even when you find someone who is good for you, you will perhaps face these things again. I think it is good to remember this (I am thinking how we are primed by Hollywood as to how our "ever afters" must look... see Charity this week. And I am thinking that true relationship is far more complicated and sometimes far less entrancing than the Hollywood models.)

    Blessings as you go forward. And I'm glad you and Jordan have parted peaceably.

  8. Hello, LL -- Thank you for your thoughts. My parents and other married friends are good to remind me that these are lessons that I will learn & re-learn in any relationship. I've actually been thinking about fairy tales lately (very much in line with Charity's "Hollywood Endings" post) and how those stories set impossible expectations for our lives (e.g., a handsome prince will rescue me, I will be awakened by true love's first kiss, etc.). Being a perfectionist, this is something I need to watch out for when hopes & expectations are formed in my heart & in my mind.

    I wrote here sans specific details, but there was some pretty stark disagreement on some fundamental moral & faith issues between Jordan & I; these things really came to a head over the past month or two. Still -- what a tremendous gift & learning experience it was.

    Thanks for sending me to Charity's ... another blog I'll need to start visiting regularly!!

  9. Christianne -- Your comments always very nearly leave me in tears (in the best way). Thank you for your kind, loving, & tender-hearted comments. You bless me to no end!!

    I am sorry to hear of your own pain and that you experienced similar feelings. I can only imagine how amplified they would be in a marriage.

    I, too, am thankful to have had so much time to experience & learn on my own -- about life, and about myself. This learning is invaluable!!

    Right now, my prayer is that God will fill my heart's every need. I know He created us to desire relationship with each other, but I am convinced that for now, the lesson relies in leaning on him to fill my heart's every need and desire. After all, He can fill it like no human can. It is my prayer that in drawing close, I will be more formed in His likeness and less likely to shortchange myself in the future.

    FYI -- I hope I don't lose any "points" here, but Carrie Bradshaw is the Sarah Jessica Parker character from "Sex & the City". :o) Her lifestyle in the series is obviously not something to be emulated, but sometimes the odd bit of wisdom does manage to find its way off a character's lips!! :o)

  10. Ah, you are sweet to clarify (for you owe me no explanation). In terms of faith, I must say that my husband and I have always held that deeply in common. Perhaps this is what has helped us through the other rough spots (indeed, I know it is).

    I pray you find your own faith deepened in this time. And thanks again for your precious honesty (and patience with curious me).

  11. So glad my words could touch you, Kirsten. You bless me to no end, too.

    I have a couple thoughts that have crept up since yesterday. The first is with regards to the common ground issue, and the complementing. It used to be that I was scared to death of considering differences in a relationship with someone else because it was the differences that Tim and I had in such great measure (with hardly anything in common). I used to hear old married couples say things like, "It's the differences that provide the spark!" and I used to think, "You people are crazy. It's the differences that make my life miserable." I looked around at all my closest friends and saw that what held them together was the sameness between myself and them -- the things that made our hearts almost indistinguishable from one another's because we valued so deeply the very same things. I kept thinking, "If God ever blesses me in a relationship again, I want SAMENESS, not differences."

    Well. What's interesting to me about all this (and which I hope will be helpful for you, longwinded as it is!) is that God did bring Kirk into my life and we are so very, very similar . . . on the CORE level. We have the same values, the same long-term dreams, the same core interests, even a similar temperament. But then we're very different, too. He's a big thinker, whereas God gave me a very analytical mind. He's highly creative, whereas I'm more of a realist. And really, it IS those things that bring about the spark. They are what challenge us to think of things differently, and to grow, and to be more vulnerable.

    I had some other thoughts, but they've completely gone out of my head by this point. Maybe they will return. :) But even if they don't, I say all this to say I've discovered that it's a balance, but you need to fundamental core to be the same. Only then, when that's in place, can you appreciate the need for the other, less fundamental differences.

  12. LL & Christianne -- Thank you again for stopping by & continuing the discussion. It was those common CORE beliefs that were lacking. When we first met, they seemed to be in sync, but time and his behavior revealed that those things were so very different. It's funny, because our personalities and interests were great together (we could talk about politics, art, movies, etc. quite dynamically), but it was those core things that got us at the end. You just can't fake those!

    I learned a lot about this in the Outfitters class at my church (exploring core beliefs, personality type, spiritual giftings, etc.), and we talked a lot about what makes up a person's core, and things like personality type, family history, etc. that are still very important but less central than those core values & deeply held beliefs.

    I'm not explaining this well (I am so tired, in a constant jaw-cracking yawning kind of way) but I understand what you're saying. :o)

  13. Oh Kirsten, my heart both breaks for you and rejoices with you. I am sad because I know that even when it is right and good for a relationship to end there is pain and a grieving that must take place. But I am excited for the ways in which God is growing you.

    I am fascinated with the discussion on differences and likenesses within a relationship. In my vast and narrow experience, I agree that you must agree with one another at the core. I knew Adam was the one for me when I realized that he loved God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength and that he seeks God's will in every aspect and decision of his life. At the same time, we are so very different in our temperments and interests. And our backgrounds couldn't be any more different. The differences have caused me to grow in ways I never could have imagined. While the shared values have glued us together with permanent bonds.

    I cheer you on as you search for someone who not only accepts who you are but celebrates you. You are such an amazing and beautiful creation. And you should be enjoyed like a fine piece of art, layer upon interesting and intricate layer.

    I am excited that you have learned how better to communicate your deep and most precious thoughts and feelings. This is key for any relationship, but I am also excited to see what this will mean for your writing.

    Thank you for sharing your heart so intimately. I am confident that as you say this time is not wasted. Every day is preparation for what comes next.

    Nap time has ended and I must now hurry away without rereading my comments. So please be gracious if things are not said as they should have been.

    I love you, Kirsten.