MY FAULTY FOUNDATION
Every General Contractor knows it. If the foundation isn’t good, the house will be no good. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually. A bad foundation will not support the home upon which it is built.
The same principle holds true for relationships. If the foundation is bad, the relationship cannot stand–or withstand–the test of time. I think we all know this, intuitively, but the questions remain:
What it is a bad foundation in a relationship?
What might a solid foundation look like?
Let’s start with the bad. Everyone’s probably heard of a “red flag.”
It’s a warning: “Achtung, Baby!” Danger. We meet someone and feel a huge pull. Our gravitational force yanks on theirs, much like the pull of moons toward planets, tugging on each other, as their orbits begin a celestial dance, moving closer and closer until they are practically spooning.
During the ecstatic dance and fireworks phase of the courtship, we leave something behind: OUR BRAINS.
We don’t stop to think–about anything, really, but in particular:
is this person (generally speaking) happy in his or her life?
is this person emotionally mature?
is this person reasonably well-adjusted and healthy?
Obviously, we’re all a little crazy and a little messed up. I’m not speaking of our little idiosyncrasies. I’m talking about red flags which, if we hadn’t previously checked our brains at the door, would give us pause to wonder:
WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING??!!!!
But we conveniently ignore/miss/don’t see/don’t want to see these flags because our bodies are screaming,
“All Systems Go.”
“Ready for take-off.”
“YES! YES! YES!”
And that’s where we get into trouble. We pass the point of no return and “fall in love.” Which is awesome and amazing–except when it’s with the wrong person.
This is exactly what happened to me. She was awesome. But I missed some key red flags. And before I knew it, I was in a committed relationship. Then, we moved in. Each level of real-love commitment was another story built on top of the previous one.
Don’t get me wrong. I was madly in love with this woman. And one of the things I learned in this relationship is that it’s possible to love someone who isn’t really right for you. You can build love on top of a bad foundation. But just like a home, it won’t last. And what do we expect to happen in a year or two or ten? Eventually, the electromagnetic connection starts to fade, gravitational forces begin to wane and we fall out of orbit with each other.
Because the little cracks in the foundation, first hidden from sight, begin to widen until they are eventually exposed. What’s exposed, you ask? The TRUTH. The conveniently ignored truth that would have been apparent if we were paying any attention whatsoever in the beginning of the relationship, which of course we weren’t.
Here’s a good question to ask yourself: early on in your last relationship, do you remember a time when you felt a seed of doubt that something wasn’t quite right? Most of us do. It’s so easy to do when we are lonely, sex-starved or otherwise hungry to be in a relationship.
I believe a worthwhile goal is to pay attention to that feeling in the beginning of your next relationship. Don’t just stuff it down. Notice your desire not to feel the feeling of doubt so that you can go on and experience the bliss of falling in love.
This is probably a useless post. Because I’m talking to your brain which right now is reasonable and actually working; which, of course, will not be the case the very next time you fall for someone.
Unless you really hit the ground hard after your last relationship. Unless you have felt the burn of falling in love with someone that you shouldn’t have been with (by all accounts) and now have to put yourself like Humpty Dumpty back together again.
We’ve all been there and done that. After all, we can only be where we’re at, so there’s certainly no point in beating ourselves up for something that we chose in the past.
But if we’ve truly lived through that experience, and it has shaken our world down to our core, there comes a point when we think to ourselves: I AM NEVER EVER EVER GOING TO GO THROUGH THAT AGAIN.
The following questions remain: how can we remember all of this the next time we fall hard for someone? And how do we recognize these red flags when they appear?
Let’s go back for a moment and tackle our initial question of what a solid foundation would look like. Ultimately, it’s hard to answer because a lot of it depends on ourselves: how much do we **really** love ourselves?
There probably isn’t a more important question that we can ask. And yet it’s a very difficult question to honestly answer.
Because most of us lack context for what it means to love ourselves unless we:
a) had parents who bathed us in love morning and night; or
b) have experienced the pain of selling ourselves out in a dysfunctional relationship.
Ultimately, self-love is about taking care of ourselves. Most of us are like little children, waiting for someone to love us (i.e., take care of us) the way way mommy and daddy failed to do; to love our broken parts–and hearts. And when they fail, which they most certainly will, we take that as a sign that they don’t really love us. Our conception of love is modeled from the love we knew when we were very young. If it was dysfunctional–and it most likely was–we will model those dysfunctional parts in our adult relationships, as well; that is, until we wake up and choose to form a new conception of love based on loving ourselves first.
Self-love is about believing that we are truly deserving of love–without conditions–and perhaps more importantly, being willing to leave any romantic relationship, marriage, business partnership, friendship or even family connection that would compromise our experience of life.
Yes, I know this is a bold statement (literally and figuratively), so allow me to unpack it a bit with a personal example. There was a time when my way of life was not working for my parents. They didn’t agree with how I chose to live my life. I was criticized, it felt, each time we spoke on the phone and on every visit home. At one point, I was so fed up (this had gone on for some time) that I gave my parents an ultimatum: stop criticizing me and putting me down or I’m not visiting or talking to you anymore.
My mom was so upset. HOW DARE YOU… she said. But I didn’t budge. I had drawn my line, and I stuck to it. And, guess what, they changed their behavior towards me. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but they did it. (Incidentally, years later, my dad gave me an ultimatum, causing me to take a look at my own bullshit.)
I had asked them to refrain from criticism, and my request was continuously not honored. Now, some people reading this might be emotionally immature (as I was at the time), and I see the danger of telling someone who is immature that it’s okay to just cut off their family members. That is definitely not what I am saying.
There is a difference between throwing tantrums and standing up for yourself and communicating your boundaries. That gives the other person the choice as to whether they want to continue to play in the proverbial play-box with you–or not. It becomes their choice. You set the ground-rules that you need; if they have their own, they are welcome to define and communicate those to you, as well.
To some people, this will sound selfish; perhaps even to some of you.
And, it is selfish–but in the best way possible. If people who claim to love you won’t respect your boundaries–and you’ve communicated those boundaries to them–then they aren’t practicing love. Yes, they may love you–i.e., they care about your well-being, want you to be happy, etc.–but they are not practicing love.
And I have no patience for anyone who practices not-love with me. That, to me, is loving myself. I am not bothered by people who call it selfish because, frankly, I don’t think these people have a clue what the hell they are talking about.
It’s not always easy, and I’m certainly not perfect at being vulnerable and letting someone else know when a particular encounter with them bothered me. It takes enormous courage, and a lot of baby steps. However, I can tell you this: it’s absolutely worth it!
Immediately after confronting someone you will feel an amazing sensation of liberation. Because that is the exact opposite of how we feel when we let people step all over us; we feel less than; unloved; trapped; stupid. Instead of standing up for our own liberation, we keep it all on the inside, which is like a poison that quite literally begins to kill us.
The more I practice, the more adept I become in realizing what I’m feeling-in-the-moment, and the less I tolerate other people’s shennanighans. It all starts with the courage to have a conversation: “Hey, this is how it made me feel when you said/did X. And I don’t appreciate it. I am asking you to change your way of communicating/behaving around me in the future by not doing X if you would like to continue to be in relationship to me.
They can accept or reject your request. The ball is now in their court, and the choice is clear: respect and adapt or say goodbye.
I know it’s really easy to say those words; that it can be much more difficult in “real life”–being married, having children with someone, being an employee where your job is at stake, etc. I’m not saying this is easy, and I’m also not giving a one-size-fits-all protocol for dealing with the difficult, complex and varied scenarios that you will undoubtedly encounter.
But by becoming more and more aware of when you are experiencing not-love in your life, you can start to take a stand in all of your relationships–romantic or otherwise. I focus on relationships of a romantic kind because they are more likely to bring out our insecurities, and that’s where all the GOLD is.
Ultimately, all of life is just practice. It’s practice so that we can get more and more comfortable being and loving our unique, beautiful selves. But the faster we learn the lessons, the less pain we have to endure and the faster we can add joy, laughter, fun, love and ease into our lives.