Thursday, December 13, 2007

the hardest part of kicking a habit is wanting to kick it

Years ago, my sister gave me some marriage advice. “Before you get married,” she said, “make a list of all the character traits, habits, and mannerisms that you dislike about your fiancé. List everything that annoys you, even slightly, or that you wish wasn’t there. Be honest. And then, when you have that list, read every item out loud, and then say to yourself, ‘Self, I know that my sweetheart does all these things that I don’t like. I will not try to change him. I will take him as he is. I will not get mad at him later when he does these things because I married him knowing this about him already, and I make the choice willingly, and I will take the bad with the good.’ And then, later, when you’re married, and the little things that you thought you could live with become big things that you think maybe you don’t want to live with, remember that list. Remember how you knew there would be things you hated, but that you had already made the decision about whether or not you would tolerate the annoyances, and you are going to tolerate them.”

I will never forget her advice, and I use it sometimes when I’m feeling annoyed. No one is perfect. No one is kind, or affectionate, or happy, or patient all the time, especially with people we see every day. Staying in a relationship is hard. Making it work is hard. It’s work.

This is kind of leading, at least in my head, to a friend I’ve been thinking about a lot, and a quote from Grey’s Anatomy tonight. “The thing about addiction is, it never ends well. Because eventually, whatever it is that was getting us high, stops feeling good, and starts to hurt. Still, they say you don't kick the habit until you hit rock bottom. But how do you know when you are there? Because no matter how badly a thing is hurting us, sometimes, letting it go hurts even worse.”

I think we have all had our share of bad relationships, and, sadly, some of us made it out of them with more scars than others. I know what it is like to look at my life, and the person who is supposed to love me, and feel anger and hurt and disappointment, but then not walk away because I think that I can take this kind of hurt because when things are good they are really good. I know all about making bad decisions and compromises in the name of “making the relationship stronger”, when somewhere not-so-deep inside I just feel broken and incomplete. I hate who I was then and the choices I made. So, what makes us stay? Worry that if we don’t take this one that there will never be another? Confusion about what love really feels like? Concern that this is the best we could get?

My friend, she is a good person. The kind of good person that I’m quite sure I will never be. She is smart, and talented, and funny, and beautiful, and works hard, and lives right, and just wants the kind of happiness that the young women’s program promised. For several years she has been dating this boy who, apparently, will never decide to marry her. And she has put her whole heart into this relationship, into making him happy, into fixing his problems, into somehow making this work, and now, now when there isn’t even a façade of working, she is falling apart. She doesn’t think she is strong enough to leave him, because, as she says, she is addicted to him. She is addicted to the high that comes when you feel loved, and she is ravaged by the hurt that comes with the lows of compromise and unfulfilled expectations. And sometimes, now, when I talk to her, I am surprised by her fear and her doubt. Sometimes she speaks like a person that I don’t know. He has stripped her confidence and optimism. She feels weak and alone, and my heart aches for her because I know, I KNOW, what that feels like. I know it isn’t easy. And I know it won’t ever get easy. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, or that you can’t do it.

I just want to shake her. “Oh my lands, leave right now!” But how do I help her with that? I can’t be there to take the phone when he calls, or to distract her when she is lonely, or to put my arm around her when she hurts.

So, Friend, this is me, reaching out to you across thousands of miles, putting my arms around you, and saying, “You are better than this. You are strong enough to walk away. If you can’t see any other light in the darkness, see this one: I love you. You are strong enough to walk away.”

Did any of these stories come together? I guess my point is that you go into marriage knowing that the person you love isn’t going to be perfect, and isn’t going to please you every moment, and is probably going to occasionally do things that make you angry. And before you get married you should know that, and accept it. But you shouldn’t get married if the things that make you unhappy far outweigh the things that you love. You shouldn’t get married if, after your dates, you cry. You should not continue to date and then marry someone who points out your flaws and says that they won’t be really happy until you change them all. You shouldn’t stay in a relationship that damages your self-worth. Those things are not habits or annoyances. Those things are unacceptable. Don’t let that relationship become a marriage. If you stay in that relationship you are going to hit rock bottom, and it is going to hurt. Yes, leaving will hurt. Being alone will hurt. Building a new life will be hard, and it will be hard for a long time. But staying? That will hurt forever. So leave. Now. Don’t even wait until tomorrow. You deserve better. You are strong enough to walk away.


chloe elizabeth said...

So true. It is so hard to walk away...but it is not nearly as hard as staying. And you should never cry more than you laugh...or even half as much.

Janssen said...

Jennifer, you are one of the best writers I know. And this post is so gorgeous and so absolutely true.

Any one who knows you is lucky to have you as a friend.

Fish said...

Wow. You have nailed relationships on the head. And I mean NAILED! What a good woman you are. And what great advice...I'm printing this case I'm ever in a relationship. My life really is EASY. WAHOO!!