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Don’t Ignore the Signs

donWhen it comes to love, my life has been a series of mistakes followed by persistence landing me here; alive, alone and all things considered reasonably optimistic. Recently my sister and I were talking about a conversation we’d had about thirty years ago. She apologized for something I could barely recall. It was about the relationship I’d just begun and her disapproval. She was right.

My preference is not to be alone. I would like a partner of some sort, however all my relationships have ended in some degree of disaster. Looking back at the patterns of my past I can say with certainty that I wasted many years trying to make those relationships work long past their expiration dates. With each one I learned a lesson; the same lesson each time and bit by bit I understood it on a deeper level. Have I finally learned for good?

Maya Angelou wisely said “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”  In retrospect I can identify the moments I saw the red emergency lights flashing but proceeded anyway. How often did I wait for the fortieth time? If you wait that long you may share a house and furniture and friends. You may have a life that is hard to leave. You might even have a child or two. If you wait too long to acknowledge the reality you’ve been denying leaving will be as hard as staying. You will have to run not walk away and may trip and fall because you’re crying so hard you can’t see where you’re going.

Why did I ignore those signs? What was I thinking?

I spent two years in high school with a guy I loved and spent hours doing everything but IT with. He made it clear I was not his girlfriend; he was in love with someone else. We were friends with benefits long before that phrase entered the vernacular but he was the one with the benefits. None of our friends could know about us.

I graduated to college and a guy who was my boyfriend (though he too had a faraway girl he loved). He was an aspiring comedian and when we were out and I told a joke, or made a funny comment would pinch the back of my arm to remind me I was breaking protocol; he was the funny one, not me. We were together almost four years.

With each new lover, I believed it was my last chance at love so I’d compromise and lower my expectations. I’d settle for less. Rationalization is a powerful tool. I made one foolish choice after another and each time I swore I’d do better. I convinced myself I’d learned and I wouldn’t make the same mistake and invariably I did. I chose the same person in a different package. Each time I tried harder, stayed longer and hurt more.

By my late thirties I had resigned myself to a single, celibate life. I’d recently ended another horrible relationship and decided I was done with love. Then I met someone who pursued me and wore down my resolve. We were still in the glow-y days of new love and were lying in bed one night sharing stories about past lovers. I recounted one about someone I was still friends with, and had slept with intermittently over many years. “Maybe I should call him and we can compare notes” was the angry and petulant response to my story. At that moment I had the wherewithal to dress and go home, but the next day I went back and stayed ten years.

Now I am cautious and vulnerable. I am reluctant to try again. It’s not only that I’m drawn to the wrong people; it is that I am a magnet for them. Something in the tone of my voice is the siren song for the narcissist. They sense my warmth and draw near. They hand me their need, their brokenness and their pain and I accept it all gratefully. I wear myself out trying to fix myself so they will love me. It never works because I am not the problem or the solution. What I’ve learned is that they are exactly who they show me they are. They are unfixable.

Maybe after all those failures, after all that pain and heartache, I will finally and literally change my song. I will conjure someone different. I hope I have learned enough and changed enough to attract a kind and caring partner this time. If I can allow it maybe my voice will bring me someone who loves me rather than needs me to save them. Maybe now I will believe it the first time someone shows me who they are and if they aren’t for me I will see it clearly and walk away. Maybe after all those mistakes I’ve learned not to ignore the signs.

This piece was written for round one of Yeah Write’s super challenge. My prompt was lessons learned. I will be moving on to the second of this three part challenge. 


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  • February 10, 2017 - 8:01 am

    Walker Thornton - Nancy, thank you for sharing a story that speaks to many of us. Many of us have had relationships that failed and wondered what went wrong–but don’t feel comfortable admitting it.

    Self-examination is helpful, at least it has been for me. I won’t offer those old platitudes or tell you that it gets easier. But,opening yourself to possibility is a good first step.ReplyCancel

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