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Why Do You Love Me

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He used to ask me this all the time. Every time he asked, I was pulled up short.

I’ve been a number of relationships in my decades on this giant ball of crazy we call Earth. Never once has anyone asked me that. Perhaps because being the empath that I am, I’m usually bubbling over with effusive praise. Whatever I said clearly never answered the question though, because he’d ask it again and again, much to my surprise (which quickly gave way to annoyance).

The truth is, I didn’t really have a good answer. I told him often that I loved him but I wasn’t in love with him. I was not what I wanted for him, so I held part of myself back. But it’s an undeniable fact that I cared deeply for him. In love or not, I could never explain why, what it was about him that I had come to love.

In retrospect, nearly everything about our relationship and who he represented himself to be was a lie, so maybe that’s why it was such a hard question for me to answer. I’d probably find that easier to swallow if my gut hadn’t been screaming at me the whole time. For all his calling me naive and gullible, I wasn’t fooled. I’m just a firm believer that once you know you’re dealing with a snake, you’re under no obligation to declare that fact. I did miscalculate on a grand scale about the nature and severity of his issues, but I never bought all his BS.

And yet, the whole rationale behind the ridiculous affair was the spark of something special I imagined I saw in him.

Perhaps being unable to describe it adequately should have been the wake up call that might have saved us both a giant headache.

But I ignored the fallout and shrouded myself in the comforting blanket of fantasy.

It’s A Sad Sad Situation

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Whether or not you’re a fan of Dennis Prager, I once heard him compare relationships to bank accounts. Something along the lines of some people are savers, and they will make deposit after deposit but rarely make a withdrawal. Some people will put just enough in to open an account and establish some credit and then will bleed you dry until you finally drop the hammer on them. He made the comment that those people were the definition of being “morally bankrupt”.

As helpful as that was, I’ve used the concept of triage in relationships, particularly friendships, especially those where there is an element of mentoring going on.

It’s not just about pouring resources into someone or something. The person or situation has to actually be ready, willing and able to benefit from those resources. By my way of thinking, if I continue to use resources for someone who isn’t ultimately benefitting from them, I’m actively stealing from others who may well be able to use what I have to offer.

As an empath, knowing when to call it quits has never been my strong suit. Having some kind of metric to help me make these decisions about gifts and help and relationships has been incredibly helpful. My instinct is never to say no to a wounded soul, knowing that sometimes it’s the person who says yes that makes the difference. I can’t say this metric has stopped me from making that first attempt, rarely is someone so far gone that I know they are beyond my help. It has taught me to be more measured in my approach, and more watchful for the ensuing response.

I’ll admit, I still struggle with this conceptually. On some level it feels heartless to be that… calculating about the welfare of others. But I have extremely limited resources, and as far as I can tell, the people who are pulled back from the brink usually turn into healthy givers when they get their own house in order. So the most efficient and effective plan is to give to those you know can be returned to solid ground. Thinking about the long term chain reaction helps soothe my empath soul a little bit, and keeps me focused on the long game.

But walking away is never going to be easy or natural for me. It’s at best a well-practiced skill.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

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I remember the day my sister was born like it was yesterday.

I had just moved in with my Dad and Stepmom. Theoretically she was supposed to have been born before I moved in, but school was in progress, and she was making her entrance when she darn well felt like it (if you know my sister, you know that getting her to do what she doesn’t want to do is nigh on impossible).

So a day after I moved in, I sat on the floor at Mama’s feet, trying not to cry. I failed. Miserably. I wasn’t always the best at showing it, but I loved Mama dearly and seeing her in pain (no matter how skillfully or gracefully she bore it) was too much to bear.

For a kid who once asked Santa for a younger brother, having a baby sister wasn’t exactly all I’d wished for. She cried. A lot. Life got louder, the house got more chaotic. There was a lot less playing with cute baby than I thought, and when I did get to, it was less playing and more, yuck.

I was an utter ingrate as older sisters go.

Still I was utterly enamored.

Mama and our Dad divorced and we were not in contact again until my sister was 16. I was the married mother of a toddler, and even then, I was awestruck by her. In many ways, she was more mature than I was, and certainly had herself more together than I had yet managed.

As I’ve navigated my way through the complexities in life, particularly in the last 5 years, she has been my role model. Always reminding me what it means to be fierce, something she got in spades from her Mother. I don’t know that I’ll ever have the strength or resilience either of them have. I know I don’t have the drive, although it’s a skill I’m trying to learn, and they are my most dependable examples. I completely lack her confidence, or self-esteem. I often joke she’s the belle of the ball, and I’d swear on a stack of bibles she knows everyone in her town.

I’m still a work in progress, and she’s one of my main sources of inspiration.

As I look back over the last year, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I owe more of that to her than I’ll ever have words for.

My Christmas Dreaming

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Christmas has always been a treasured holiday for me. It hasn’t always been a happy one. My parent’s split on Christmas, my Mom and I almost never celebrated it, but I love it all the same.

I was a choir girl; and for choir kids, Christmas starts in the fall, in preparation for winter concerts. So I love the music, but also the baking, the lights, the magic, the pageantry. It fills that part of my heart that longs for dreams, romance and beauty.

As an adult, I’ve often hopped in the car to drive while listening to music. Singing at the top of my lungs as the dark road stretches ahead does me a world of good. It’s therapeutic. Cathartic. There is little that cheers me more than a travel mug full of something steamy, a container full of homemade Christmas cookies, and a collection of my favorite holiday music. It’s something that became a family tradition (one that sadly waned when we lived on our farm).

So when my first son was due on Christmas eve, I couldn’t be more excited. I felt like he was the most precious gift I’d ever receive (turns out he was one of three of the most precious gifts ever).

I spent many weeks before his birth driving around while listening to music and looking at lights, dreaming of the day I’d finally hold him in my arms, feeling a certain kindred spirit with Mary. I battled fear and confusion and insecurity my whole pregnancy, knowing that learning to be a good parent would be an uphill battle for me. Those drives brought me peace, and gave me a measure of courage to face what lay ahead.

And they provided enough inspiration to help me dive into the whole parenting experience.

Whenever I go on these holiday drives now, there’s always a part of me that remembers the joy, the intense love, the overwhelming protectiveness…I look back fondly, and  smile with immense pride at the young man that wee babe has become.

He exceeded my wildest dreams so effortlessly.

How A Young Heart Really Feels

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We used to hang out at lunch, a whole huge group of us. I was introduced by my best friend.

It took him a while to talk to me, but pretty soon we spent most of every lunch sitting together.

It never occurred to me he might be interested. My best friend had kind of a thing for him, and she was everything I wasn’t, beautiful, smart, a good student, Catholic. They went to the same church, they had known each other for years. In my mind, they were perfect for each other and he in no way deserved the mess that was me.

Whether he deserved it or not, he wanted me to be his.

I said no. For months. Partly some girl code kind of thing. Partly feeling unworthy. Partly fear.

I finally told him he had to let her know he wasn’t interested, and then yes, I’d go out with him.

He wrote me letters literally every day. The three of us went to dances, we all went to summer school and spent a lot of time together. When he didn’t have to work he’d walk me home, hang out after, until he had to leave (or bolted out the back door the times my Stepdad came home early).

One night someone crashed their car into my house. He walked over after a long day at work to comfort me. I often couldn’t sleep because of the whole crazy Night Stalker thing going on at the time. He wrote more notes, lent me tapes of our favorite music to listen to while I fell asleep.

I never, ever, deserved anyone who treated me as well as he did. I’ve joked a time or two that he dodged a bullet, and he snarks back that he was a naive idiot. And yet in some ways he’s the model of what I hope to find someday. That’s really the only thing that would make a relationship worth it again for me. I give too much. I don’t hold back. I don’t know how. And I have a full life that I love, so compromising isn’t remotely interesting. On some level, I’m not sure I believe in love like that anymore. Or maybe I just don’t believe I can have it again.

Nevermind These Are Hurried Times

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People have such a hard time simply being present with someone else’s pain.There are a multitude of socioeconomic reasons for this. Essentially, we avoid pain, and we have been avoiding it as long as humans have existed. Avoidance of pain is a biological imperative, sure. An unavoidable survival instinct. But we humans overcome many instincts in order to participate efficiently and effectively in modern life. So why do we struggle so when it comes to experiencing or witnessing pain?

There’s nothing like experiencing pain (first or secondhand) to trigger a massive bout of cognitive dissonance. We “move past”  hurts and injuries; illnesses and loss. We do as we are told and put them behind us. Leaving the past where it belongs. There’s some wisdom to that, but it’s only part of the equation. If we don’t first learn whatever we can from those moments, they are wasted. We have failed to take from that experience the power to help ourselves and others in a time of crisis.

But there are no classes and precious few books that really tell us how to help someone actually heal. There is pop psychology and there are platitudes and the things we think we should say because they seem to make sense at the time, but which may in fact be horrifically invalidating or in other ways harmful.

So people fall back on the simplistic and the trite and they run for the nearest exit. They rationalize away the impact of their reaction because they aren’t sure what else to do or how to handle things differently, so they just put it out of their minds. Just as previous experiences with pain have taught them to do.

But all that pressure to say the right thing is usually misguided. Often just saying to someone “I wish I knew what to say but I don’t, no words seem equal to the magnitude of what you’re experiencing, but I’m going to stay right here with you and be present with you and take care of you in whatever way you need until you tell me it’s time to go” (or some truly meant variation on that) is more than enough. Often it’s the thing that can actually bring a moment of peace, comfort, and feeling loved and nurtured. Sometimes those are exactly the wrong feelings and the offer will be rejected. And that’s ok, the person is not rejecting you, they are asking for what they need. So you simply offer “please, reach out, ask for what you need, and I’ll be on my way now” and then you leave.

Really, most of us didn’t have great examples of how to handle our own pain, let alone someone else’s. So why don’t we talk about this more? Why don’t we have these discussions? Why don’t we share and problem solve and tweet tips and tricks on how to be a loving and supportive human the way we share financial tips or makeup tutorials or game walkthroughs?

This issue is the key to solving all the greatest ills we need to solve in our world.  Empathy is truly the force that makes the world go round.

Falling In Love Is So Hard On The Knees

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If you’ve ever fallen in love with a narcissist, you are intimately familiar with that rush, the relentless yet skilled release of love bombs finding their target. It’s an emotional blitzkrieg; boom, boom, boom, as you fall back under the force of an unyielding assault. When the action pauses just enough for you to gather your senses and survey the new landscape, you realize you’ve fallen hard. And you really can’t see much beyond that. It’s a heady feeling, but like any mind-altering drug, there is always a hangover waiting in the wings.

One would think that the hangover would be enough to create a narc-proof barrier. But like alcohol, love bombing is designed to prey on our weaknesses while simultaneously soothing our wounds. It’s that double-edged sword of injury by association and nurturing that makes love bombing so nightmarishly effective. Just as there are few people who can look back on their life and claim only one hangover, one emotional eating binge, few can claim only one relationship with a narcissist.

The sad truth is, if you’ve had multiple romantic entanglements with their kind, you’re probably an empath. And as an empath, your reward for being exceptionally loving, giving, nurturing and compassionate is to be surrounded by more narcissists than your average Joe.

Most people who have worked in the child welfare arena have heard the term “broken picker” casually thrown around. I once used to nod knowingly, but now I hear the term and it makes me cringe. I don’t know why people tend to want to blame the victim, but we see this in so many areas of life. We laud bullies while blaming the bullied. We don’t hold the narcissist accountable, we blame the loving and kind person who fell for their onslaught of lies and manipulations. Empaths aren’t any less able to detect malevolence than the average person. In fact, a skilled narcissist will fool nearly everyone in their orbit, at least initially. Empaths aren’t targeted because of their ignorance, they are targeted because they don’t give up on people, and thus will endure behavior that other people who are more self-focused will not tolerate.

Narcissists need an endless supply of fuel to simply exist. Without it they will collapse; a most pathetic sight to behold. So they will put on whatever mask their empath du jour most wishes to see.

Is it any wonder the empath falls so quickly and so hard?

I Say A Little Prayer For You

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I think one of the reasons some passengers have such an impact on me is because I love differently than some people.

I was never one of those people who knew what career I wanted to pursue. I’m not sure I had any concept of myself as someone who had choices in that realm. But I loved science and became fascinated with heritability when a high school psychology teacher sparked an interest in Psychology Today.

Eventually a family friend who is a physician made the old joke about “What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? About $75/hr!”. I started to research medical school and the more I learned, the more enamored I became.

One fear I had was that admonition about not getting attached. I wasn’t sure that was something I could pull off. Another family friend was a nurse, and she wasn’t someone who embraced the “don’t get attached” advice. Patients often became a part of her non-work life. And as patients sometimes do, they would occasionally exit the mortal world.

I asked her once, how did she get through that? She said she went to the chapel and she cried and prayed and grieved, and then new patients came in needing care. They needed her to care for them just as openly, with just as much concern.

That helped me make peace with the idea of working in a clinical setting and dealing with the losses that every physician faces. While I never got to put the idea to the test, it definitely impacted how I approached being a foster parent. The one thing I was very clear about, is each child deserved to belong, to be fully loved, to have a parent (in the day to day sense). No qualifiers. Their experience should not be impacted by my fear of losing someone I had come to love. So I put my heart on the line with every child, and when they left I prayed for the best, did my best to demonstrate confidence in the plan the state had developed for their future, and sent them off with a wish for a wonderful future. I cried, and I grieved, and then more kids came needing love and someone to embrace them (and at times, their parents).

I think some of that shapes my experience with some passengers. When I sense that someone needs a compassionate ear, I’m not afraid to offer whatever they may need, to open up my heart. I know that separation is nothing to fear, and I hope to model, even for a brief time, a depth of connection not everyone has experienced. I’m not a platitudes and superficial smile kind of person.

Recently I saw a Facebook post from Glennon Doyle about her “love letter“, in a somewhat non traditional sense. I had to laugh because it was exactly how I conceptualized this blog. These were my “love letters” to the passengers I connected with, shared surprisingly intimate moments with, and came to care for in a shockingly small amount of time. I felt those connections deserved to be honored in some way, and my wish for a wonderful future for people I so admired needed to be set free to come to fruition somehow. As always, for me, the way to breathe life into those visions for the future and resolution of the past is through the written word. It’s how I so often process the complexities of life.

If in the process I could inform, entertain, or inspire others… well, even better

You’ve Got To Get Up And Try

About a week after my marriage ended, a new singles group sprouted in our community. The timing was in many ways a lifesaver for me, I was barely among the living, and I’ve met so many truly amazing people and had so many wonderful experiences. Some I almost wish I could skip, and yet, I needed them to remember what living even is. What can I say, every cherry has a pit. You just need to pay attention to the reality, not avoid the experience entirely.

Being a romantic at heart/incurable empath, I love watching new couples happen. It fills my heart to see love blossoming, and gives me hope that good things are still real, still possible.

But it’s not an uncomplicated road, not even during the best of circumstances. I remember meeting some friends at a happy hour, being my typically oblivious self, and I happened to notice two friends, who share a passion that completely informs their very clear vision for their future. I noticed him squaring up to her, his arm protectively around the back of her chair, and the unmistakeable look of admiration on his face, and I thought, wow, how often do two people who want so many of the same things in life even meet? Clearly he’s interested.

So I in my one-drink (Denver strong) addled state tried in my never subtle way to throw them together. And she, being badass and perceptive and as blunt as I am ripped me a new one the next morning. I told her what my thinking was. Unbeknownst to me, she had already expressed an interest in him, but she had every reason in the world not to trust love. We talked a bit and a few weeks later I learned they were a couple. My heart soared. Falling in love with someone who is that kind of kindred spirit doesn’t happen every day. Few people get to experience it.

Sometimes I worry that the realities of life and the world around them with destroy something so incredibly precious and beautiful. I hope not. Because love is nothing but growth opportunities interspersed with reality and occasional moments of unspeakable bliss.

This weekend I’ve been helping a new friend of mine navigate the heartache of missed opportunities with an old friend of mine. This new friend knows mistakes were made, and they are sincerely regretted. But sometimes you’ve gone too far and you can’t rebuild what’s lost.

So today I’ve been sobbing my way through one hell of an emotional hangover, because he fills a need for her that ordinary never will, and she inspires him to new heights. But we live in a world where if it doesn’t work we throw it away and move on. And I’m surrounded now by so many people who want love, but chase everything else.

My heart is breaking.

Sometimes I just want to grab people by the shoulders and make them face  what they keep choosing to turn away from.

Lately I’m Foolish, I Don’t Do This

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That first week was a whirlwind of texts and dates, and spending our first night together.

I’m generally someone who operates at turtle speed, but he had this way of getting under my skin. We talked and texted endlessly, and it was all so easy. The fun, flirty banter, the drives, the long, intense conversations in my car, the kissing… It all felt so natural and right. There were moments, little blips on the radar, but they were almost reassuring in a way. The conflicts, oh so fleeting, were the only signs of normalcy amid the dreamlike clouds of fantasy.

Or so I thought.

They weren’t signs of normalcy, they were warning shots across the bow.

Not that I saw that at the time, they lulled me into a false sense of security. It was only when I was finally ready to look at the situation as a whole, when I finally reread the novella written over the months we spent together that I recognized them for what they were. They were the tests that I passed; before the ones I “failed”.

At the time I was just happy. Not just to be embarking on this journey, but because I knew that healing hearts was what I did well. I thought I had something to offer him, something that would help him find a happiness I knew we couldn’t share. I could never give him all the things I wished for him. But I thought we could share a moment in time and both come out the other side ready to take on the future, healthier, happier, and stronger.

The problem is, what he wanted from me was not what I was ready or willing to give him. If we both had been clear about the realities, we could have saved each other a whole lot of time and trouble. Maybe. Maybe the trouble is exactly what he needed to get what he really wanted. I hate to think that, it’s too nightmarish to contemplate.

It’s a reality with ample precedent.

At the time, I was too lost in the fantasy to see the entirety of the truth. My gut was yelling endlessly. I didn’t ignore it, but I wasn’t willing to walk away from someone so special without some evidence. Evidence was not what he was selling at the time. What he was selling was fairy tales. Potent ones.

Resistance in the face of his relentless onslaught was laughably futile. I could barely catch my breath and he knew it. He planned it. He capitalized on the confusion he created.

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