Most times, I take these vacations alone. Sometimes, I go with a friend. The friend I most often go with is someone who has been in my life most consistently in the past few years, but I've known him since I was ten years old. Although our reunion almost four years ago originally occurred with the idea of dating and developing a relationship, this did not work out. Blog post upon blog post refers to the story of our relationship, which ends on one level and begins again on another. To put it bluntly, we can't seem to let each other go for good. While the feelings and interactions aren't always the greatest, I've come to understand that there is something we need to learn from one another, and although I sometimes feel weak and, frankly, stupid for continuing this undefined relationship, I trust that I always know when something must end and when God closes a door.
Our last trip was just a few weeks ago. It was a few days after my 41st birthday and I honestly had planned to go away alone to spend time reflecting on another year of life, but in the planning stage of this trip, my friend offered to go with me. I couldn't understand why he wanted to travel with me, since the last time we traveled together I was extremely hateful towards him (see my blog post about that here). His response was that I had "vented" all of my feelings already, so he figured I would be fine. This was kind of true, actually. So we went to Orlando for a few days and I was prepared to be as nice as possible, especially because all of my "venting" the last time I saw him wore me out.
While my expectation was that things would be calm because I was calm, that wasn't necessarily the case. He has a really subdued demeanor so he never really gets out of control, but he's very sarcastic and blunt. In the first few hours of our trip he asked me a couple of sarcastic questions regarding other men, and decided that he was going to point out something he didn't like about me. I ignored these things because I was trying to be peaceable and decided these statements were not worth pursuing. But the next day, when I asked a question as a joke, he sharply told to me to stop asking rhetorical questions and that he really doesn't like when I do that. He was more than irritated. I told him that he should really let it go because it's not that important, and that I wasn't going to spend my time on vacation arguing about something so trivial. But in the back of my mind I understood that his irritation wasn't really about my habit of asking rhetorical, sarcastic questions to be funny. It was "his turn" to be mean to me.
Later that night, we were at dinner and somehow the conversation turned to us spending time together. I asked him, "If you really don't like me as a person, why are you here with me?" He responded that he knows who I really am and he loves who I really am, but that I am always in protection mode because of my past experiences and having been taken advantage of by other men. He urged me to be myself and stop trying to protect myself all the time, because when I'm protecting myself, I am keeping others at arm's length.
I took in this feedback with complete understanding about what he was experiencing with me. However, because part of this conversation referred to my ugly actions during our last trip (which he claimed to have forgiven me for), I began to internalize our entire interaction that day as hurtful. We argued in the car on the way home, and later that night I said, "Let's agree that the next few days we will try to be ourselves and let go of the things we don't like about each other, because these next few days will be the last few days we'll ever spend together." (Italics emphasize where I spoke out of hurt.)
The next day, we went to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival and had a really nice time. The environment was pretty, he had never been there before, and experiencing it with him helped me see things with new eyes. We had tons of food and drinks, took pictures, sat and enjoyed each other's company in a way we hadn't in a very long time. In other words, we kept our agreement.
The next day was our last full day together, and it was kind of somber. It was low-key, and while we were together, we each did our own thing - he was working on his computer and I was reading by the pool for class. We are both writers, and I was reading one of his screenplays about his relationship with his mother. What I read helped me to understand him a lot better, and why our relationship was so difficult. He is always in protection mode because of his past experiences. He does not show who he really is, and he keeps others, including me, at arm's length. The more I point out to him the things I don't like about him, the more he shuts me out. The more he points things out to me what he doesn't like about me, the more I push him away (refer to the italicized statement above).
I share all this at the risk of sharing too much information about myself and this person to illustrate that our relationships - especially the ones we don't necessarily ask for - provide mirrors for self-reflection. After the trip, I sent him a text with a nugget of wisdom I heard from Iyanla Vanzant, a spiritual guide who has a show on the OWN channel. She said, "The deeper you fall in love, the more unloving you will behave." His response? "Yeah that sounds like you." My response? "You too! We are mirrors for each other."
One of the most influential people in my life, a professor in my counselor education program, once told me that we are mirrors for each other. That statement opened my eyes and helped me understand my relationships. We are drawn to those who are like us at the soul level, whether we like it or not. And we are drawn to each other because we need that mirror to show us what we need to change about ourselves.
It is the brave one who can look in the mirror and be completely honest about what needs to change. It is the courageous one who will not behave unlovingly towards the one who serves as a mirror. When we are unloving towards each other, we are unloving towards ourselves. Look at the person who serves as a mirror in your life and say, "Thank you. I love you for showing me, me." And do the work so that the next time you look in the mirror, you absolutely love what you see.