Last night, Brian got home from an overnight climbing trip. He slept in a cave and had wonderful views of the stars. He climbed an eight-pitch rock face. He hiked down that mountain and then seven miles back to the trailhead and the car. Except for the stars, none of this interests me in the least. But he is happy, and that makes me happy. Especially when he comes home safely afterward.
After we got Jack to bed last night, Brian and I watched the first episode of Season 3 of Once Upon a Time. Possibly my favorite TV show ever. I was so excited to watch it, I was almost trembling. After it was over, I said aloud, “That was the best thing ever. Ever!” Brian said that he liked it, and that he enjoyed watching something with me, but it was obvious that he wasn’t as into it as I was.
I felt a bit deflated when he didn’t share my enthusiasm. It brought back all kinds of memories of my father shutting me down or out when I got really excited about something. I’d come to him, bubbling over with happiness, or boiling over with tears — really, any strong emotion — and he would say or do something so dramatic that I would feel as though someone had literally struck me. My dad never struck me, except for the rare spanking. But he could shut me down, shoot me down, slam a door in my face emotionally. It was always devastating. And it always left me feeling that I was wrong to feel happy or sad or scared.
I realize now that he responded that way because strong emotions terrified him. That’s one reason he drank so much. He himself was such a deeply feeling person, that when I came to him with my joy, my heartbreak, my fear, it resonated with him. He didn’t want to feel it, so he made it a crime for me to feel it, too. It became wrong and dangerous. I became “too much.”
So when Brian reacted to the show with less excitement than I had, I had a moment of transference, as though my father stood before me, shaming me for my enthusiasm. It’s true that sometimes Brian delivers a similar blow. And Jack does it a lot. I come to him to tickle or cuddle or play with him, and he shouts or pushes me away. I realize with Jack, and possibly Brian, too, that their brains are so overloaded with circuits, my coming at them can literally overwhelm those circuits. But that realization doesn’t keep my feelings from being hurt. And it doesn’t keep me from wondering why I fall in love with men who push me away. All of the men in my life, at one point or another, for one reason or another, shut me down or shut me out.
On one hand, I want to rebel. The words to the song “Defying Gravity” from Wicked came into my head last night. No one should tell me I can’t feel what I feel. I don’t want to let someone else’s fear limit what I do and say. Then when I talked to Brian, I saw an important difference between his (and Jack’s) reaction to me and what I experienced with my father. With my dad, he tried to keep *me* from feeling it. With Brian, it’s more clear that *he* doesn’t feel the same way. During our conversation, Brian said, “I like your enthusiasm. And if I ever shut you down, I don’t mean to.”
So on the other hand, I have to ask myself if something deeper in me has a purpose in drawing into my life people who are harder to reach. Maybe with my enthusiasm, I can help draw them out of themselves. And that’s possible. But more than trying to change them, I have to ask what I have to learn, here.
Maybe my lesson is to accept imperfect love from imperfect people. To understand that someone’s reaction to me has more to do with them and less (or nothing) to do with me and my worthiness. To define my worth and happiness from within, instead of constantly watching for outside validation. To honor my enthusiasm as a gift, regardless of how others may respond to it.
Here, I’m remembering a boyfriend in high school, who used to restrain me every time a Sprite commercial came on the television. It was the 80s, the era of “I like the sprite in you.” I loved to get up and twirl around and jump and dance to this jingle. But it was either too much for him, or he got tired of it, and it became a game, his trying to hold me down as I wriggled and jumped.
That boyfriend is still in my life. He and his wife are both dear friends of ours. Both of them participated in our wedding. I know now, long after the fact, that he delighted in my exuberance. And Brian does, too. Maybe because it’s so different from how they would each react. I’m not sure.
Just as I have no intention of climbing an eight-pitch rock face but love being married to a man who totally digs it. Maybe we draw to ourselves what we don’t already have. Maybe we love the sprite in each other, even if it can challenge us sometimes. Maybe that’s how we grow.