Learning about Happy

Tonight I had the rare pleasure of some great adult female conversation.  We sat on the deck, sipping adult beverages, with minimal interruptions of truly important things like "THE BOYS ARE TAKING THEIR SHIRTS OFF!!" and "I NEED MARSHMALLOW MATIES NOW!!" and "No, you can't play Wii (for the 7,365th time.)" 

Somehow, as women's conversation often do, the discussion turned to that of relationships, particularily failed ones.  I was suprised to find that we both, at one time in our lives, had thought, "Go ahead, just hit me and then I can walk."

My friend is an educated woman.  She is extremely well read, intelligent and compassionate. I consider myself the same (except for the book part, most of mine are written by Suess.)  Yet her admission to having this thought did not surprise me in the least.  I told her I knew exactly from where that wish, to be physically harmed, stems.

Many moons ago, I was in a relationship with a guy.  He was a few years older than me.  I spent over 4 years with this individual, most of it being long distance. My first red flag should have been that every summer I returned from college we started to bicker and fight.... mmmm.... Did I love him? Of course. Looking back, was it a healthy relationship? Absolutely not.  I can see that now, but the reality is, I think I always knew it wasn't good.  Sure there was some verbal stuff, and his startling increase in alcohol intake... But it wasn't necessarily bad, I mean, he didn't hit me or anything....

That's the funny thing about relationships, especially when one is young, and still really trying to figure out who oneself is, how can be known what is wanted out of a partner when one don't know what is desired out of oneself?  How can you know who will compliments your strengths, or empower you, when you don't really know yourself?

What I did know is that I was never really all that happy with him.  I wasn't unhappy, but I wasn't happy.  And this is the most tricky thing.  I KNOW that a person doesn't make you happy and happiness comes from within. I knew that then also. However, was my unhappiness enough reason to end it? No. In my mind it wasn't enough of a reason.  Because it's not like he hit me.  I never felt like I was one of those girls who HAD to have a boyfriend, and so I wasn't afraid to be alone, I just didn't really feel like my reasons for ending it would be valid, and worth the pain I knew I would cause him.

After college I moved 5 hours from him to start my first nursing job.  I knew just a handful of people in that city.  I wouldn't trade that move, and that year, for anything.  It was the first time I wasn't Allen's daughter, or Mark, John and Steve's little sister.  I wasn't XXXXX's girlfriend.  I was Diane, RN.  It was a fresh start.  I allowed myself to really observe people's reactions to me. I allowed myself to hear their words, their compliments, their criticisms.  I started to see myself through the eyes of people around me (smart, funny, pretty), and not through my boyfriend's eyes (mediocre looking, not as smart as him,only lovable by him.)  I observed how people treated each other, and the qualities couples with long-lasting relationships possessed.  I learned that varying opinions didn't have to be labeled as "dumb" or "stupid" as I previously had been so used to hearing.  My job in an extremely busy Critical Care unit allowed for a lot of people watching, especially how people interacted in times of high stress.  

It was a time of metamorphosis for me.  I had my first apartment, my first real, very demanding, job. I had a paycheck and bills. I then had a cat.  I spent many evenings those first months renting movies, movies that I wanted to watch (that someone else would say were stupid) with my cat.  Some may view this as depressing or sad.  For me, it was life-saving.  

A few months after my move, I drove the 5 hours home to see him.  I stood in the same room with him, chatting with his family, and he didn't make eye contact with me for 15 minutes.  I had a lightning bolt moment of clarity when I thought, "I would rather be alone, in my apartment, watching movies with my cat, then here right now."  That weekend was filled with fighting, yelling and bickering.  At one point, he was in my face, pushing on my shoulders and I just thought, "Hit me, and then I can just walk."  The relationship ended shortly thereafter.

I really had to come to terms with the fact that me, an educated woman, was wishing for abuse.  Wishing for a physical mark to explain, what I couldn't put into words.  I know that as my wings had grown and my desire to fly, stronger, the more he was trying to shut the cage door.  I can't explain his reasons, for that is his story.  I just know my side. I now know the happiness I wasn't feeling was because of the lack of support, encouragement, and friendship.  It was the lack of feeling respected and equal.  It was the terror of committment that he continually and firmly expressed driving me to wonder why I was wasting my time, and why I wasn't worthy of a committment.

Tonight my friend and I discussed "being happy" in regards to our young daughters.  How do you teach them that someone will not be responsible for their happiness, but not being happy is also a sign of a troubled relationship?  Maybe the key is to teach them all the things that happy, and more so, healthy relationships consist of: support, encouragement, respect (of her ideas, her body, her time, her opinion) friendship and laughter.  Maybe it is teaching her what unhealthy relationships feel like: condescending, one-upping, nasty, manipulative, abusive, negative and dramatic.

Happy is a complicated word.  But ultimately a choice.  I think the more I experienced the qualities (support, encouragement, respect) that nurtured me, in that first job, the more I realized what was lacking from him.  I learned that, regarless of what he said, people would and did like me.  I learned that I really liked me and was happy with me... the me that wasn't with him, the me that was watching movies with my cat. Alone.  And I chose to be happy.