Saturday, May 5, 2012

"Good" versus "Good Enough"

It's been a little while since I wrote on the topic of relationships.

Perhaps it's because I allowed the disillusionment and disappointment that has developed over the past three years to shut my heart up, nice and tight.  The wall that comes down little by little when someone works his way into your heart also goes back up little by little, practically unnoticed, with each promise that is unkept, each word that is not followed up with action.

I struggled over the past three years on and off in a relationship with someone who claimed to love me, but couldn't seem to do anything about it.  I've written about him in various posts, often in relation to some life lesson I'd learned.  The lessons were all necessary, because for many years I journeyed through life without being fully present.  My heart was closed off due to the betrayal I'd experienced as a result of divorce.  I turned  to religion and spiritually to protect me from people.  I retreated into my pain and became distrusting of all people, and I came to expect that I would be disappointed if I engaged in meaningful relationships.

Three years ago, this old friend of mine came back into my life and insisted on being a part of it.  I never saw this coming.  I could tell that he was interested in me, much as he had been when we were children, and he was just as persistent as he had been when he would ask me to be his girlfriend every day in the sixth grade.  I wasn't into it back then, but after the last few years of dealing with men who beat around the bush and couldn't commit to even a day, time and place for a date, I came to appreciate the directness with which he asked for my number and made plans to visit.  Through our phone conversations and subsequent dates, I was enjoying myself more and more.  However, I lived in constant anxiety.  We would have great times together, and I would fight it the entire way.  I was enjoying myself and telling myself that I shouldn't have been having so much fun with this person.  I told myself that the next time I saw him would be the last, because it was obvious that he wasn't good enough for me.  He wasn't as Christian as me.  He wasn't thoughtful and didn't buy me gifts.  He liked to drink and party too much. He flirted with other women.  He wore his hair in braids for God's sake!  Here I was, going to church, singing in the choir, working and building my women's leadership program to empower young women, with a Master's degree and planning on obtaining a doctorate, and I was dating an almost middle-aged man with braids?  Who sometimes wore sunglasses indoors?  Was I that desperate for male attention?  Was I settling for less?

My friends would say, "He doesn't deserve you."  "He's not good enough for you."  "He's wasting your time."  My church indoctrinated me to believe that if he wasn't "saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues", then I should not even let him have my phone number, much less go out on a date with him.  My mother made it clear that any man who didn't want to meet her would never be good enough for our family.  Honestly, I wasn't sure I wanted my family to meet him.  Even my little great-niece, not yet four years old when she met him, called him "The Little Boy".  Out of the mouths of babes.

Here's the thing.  He's brilliant.  He's one of the most intelligent people I know.  On top of that, he wasn't threatened by my intelligence; he was just as attracted to my brains as he was to my body.  It was the first time in a long time that I didn't feel objectified by a man.  I felt like a human being, understood and appreciated for something other than my physical appearance.  It was this person who talked about his writing with so much passion that awakened my desire to begin writing again.  It was this person who helped me work on issues that I'd refused to address.  He challenged me to stop acting like a victim and take control of my life.  He encouraged me to be myself and accept myself, the good and the bad.  In accepting myself, I realized that I needed to accept others.  Even him.  I became less judgmental and more forgiving.  I stopped measuring others' relationships with God by how often they went to church or how much they talked about God.  I started opening my eyes and allowing myself to see the world through others' perspectives, and little by little, my heart opened up as well.  I had him to thank for that, and I was grateful; so grateful that I couldn't let him go.

Throughout our entire relationship, it was clear that we were walking two different paths.  Every time I mentioned it, he reminded me that he loved me and that I knew and understood him.  I told him that it was because I knew him so well that I knew he couldn't give me what I wanted most in life - a family.  I told him that it was because I loved him so much that I couldn't ask him to do something he didn't want to do.  He told me that because I was a great woman and he didn't want to lose me, he would think about trying to give me what I wanted.  He told me that he's loved me since we met in the sixth grade, but he needed time to follow his own path before even thinking about including me in his world on a permanent basis.  In other words, he wanted me to wait for him to accomplish his goals before he would even think about the possibility of partnering with me to achieve my dream of having a family.

Eventually, I realized that I needed to let go, not because he wasn't good enough for me, as I'd previously thought, but because he wasn't good for me.  A person who is good for you wants you to achieve your goals.  A person who is good for you doesn't stop you from moving towards your deepest desires.  A person who is good for you will challenge you, yes, but will accept you,  love you, and try to understand you.  A person who is good for you will help you grow and, as a result, your heart will be open to love all people.  A person who is good for you will support you and be happy for you as you move forward, with or without him.

I struggled to let go for so long because I thought I was being guarded and judgmental, thinking he wasn't good enough for me.  For awhile, I was.  Then I realized that there was a difference between someone being  good enough for you and being good for you.  This person, who never says "I can't" when it comes to what he wants and needs, said "I can't" to a commitment with me.  When I heard those two words, I understood. In my life, I never want to partner with someone who doesn't believe he can walk this journey called life with me.  In a sense, he himself doesn't think he's good enough.  And for me, that's just not good.  Period.

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