Monday, October 3, 2011

Needs



I am afraid of relationships. I’m sure you can appreciate that a tired 40-year-old living in a tiny apartment with two children should be worried about getting into a relationship. Still, I’ve been trying to figure out why my love life has always been on the rocky side. If I can’t identify what the problem is, how can I avoid it?



The answer is so obvious, I already knew it. My breakthrough occurred Wednesday. I was sitting with a friend at a picnic table in the glaring sun as our kids played on the grassy field in the distance. She was describing her outpatient program for alcoholism. We were laughing as she was explaining how annoying it was to have to take responsibility for everything all the time. Then, she segued into a discussion of codependency. Uh oh.



Reluctantly, I googled codependency when I got home. Duh. When I was a teenager, my mother pulled me aside for the talk. She had been doing some work around healing herself as an adult child of an alcoholic. She was concerned she had passed down codependent tendencies to me. I heard the words but shrugged them off.




I never thought about codependency being about playing the martyr role in any relationship, personal or professional.  About four years ago, when I quit the teaching job that had taken over my life for a decade, I began to break the pattern. I started demanding things from my ex in the following year, and it didn’t go so well. I escaped with emotional distance; there was less conflict at home, but I had left the building. It was an overcorrection I was never able to undo.


What I want more than anything is to prevent my daughters from  blindly marching forward for the martyr cause. I see the tendencies in them already. A couple months back, I found Daisy crying in the dirt several feet away from a neighbor kid she adores who had rejected her to play with someone else. The kids in question had just been over to eat our food and were now playing with Daisy’s toys while making mean comments about her. She sat and cried dramatically, unwilling to leave with me. I came unglued.

I loudly instructed Daisy on how she should have handled the situation. Not exactly sure what I said because the fire coming out of my ears made it hard to hear. I know I took our toys back and said the other kids weren’t welcome in our apartment. My reaction was ridiculous, and those neighbor relations have only recently thawed.


There was a point when I felt like I had disappeared in the face of caring for others. I dreaded the little bios you always have to write for work or conferences or whatever; I had nothing to say. It’s been interesting learning to think about my needs, and I’m not great at it. I can be unreasonable, too open, and overemotional, but I’m adjusting. For now, that's enough.

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