But I've already told you that story.
Sometime between my birthday and Thanksgiving I passed a very different sort of milestone. It's not something most people would note, and with everything that was going on, I almost didn't remember it myself, until one night, seeking a little bit of quiet, I went for a short drive alone to sort out my thoughts. Then it just kind of hit me sideways, like a little flashing light, just out of my line of vision, not that big a deal, but something I needed to remember.
The middle of November marked my 10th year of voluntary celibacy.
I undertook this journey when, at the end of my relationship with my daughter's father, I began to question why I kept getting into relationships that were pre-destined to end badly. I constantly chose wildly inappropriate men, and ignored glaring red flags. I was tired of my own behavior, and wanted to take a closer look at myself. I also wanted to know what kind of relationships I would have, and how would they develop, if I removed sex from the equation. It was to be, for me, a grand experiment in reshaping the way I viewed relationships, as well as my expectations regarding them.
Oh, the things you learn about yourself, when you remove all of your normal distractions! It's important to note here that, for me, sex was a huge distraction. It kept me from focusing on what I felt were my inadequacies, fed my mistaken notion that it was an equalizer between me and the "pretty" girls, and slowed down my eventual realization that relying solely on sex was no way to create, or maintain, a relationship. Hard lesson to learn, but it's always better to figure that out sooner rather than later.
Some of what I learned I've touched on in other posts. I finally figured out that I was jumping into relationships due to acute insecurity about my looks, or perceived lack thereof. I realized that desperation attracts all the worst personality types, and any relationship with someone every bit as desperate and needy as you are is doomed to fail. The most important takeaway from my strictly enforced vacation from relations, was that I started asking myself relevant questions about myself and my relationships: where did I want to go, what did I want to do and how do I relate to others? It was only later that I found out that these are the kinds of question that relationship experts wish all people would ask themselves before entering into relationships and/or marriages. Yeah, it would probably put them out of business, but a lot of heartache could be eliminated by a minimal amount of self examination beforehand.
1) Who am I, really?
Very few people know enough about themselves to really answer this question. To be honest, though, most people will always be a work in progress, as the older we get, and the more we learn, we hopefully gain insight and wisdom, and become a little more refined in our behavior and approach to life. But a little self-knowledge goes a long way. I know that I am a rock and roll loving, Center-left, feminist, Christian introvert, with a serious tendency towards over helpfulness, that I channel into customer serviced based careers. Knowing that about myself, why would I want to get involved with someone who hated rock music, was hard right politically, and really didn't like people who were different than themselves, just because he was good-looking, or had money, or a nice car? This is just the situation that all of us, men and women get ourselves into, then cannot extricate ourselves from after we realize that we have gotten involved with the wrong person for the wrong reason.
2) What do I want/need/expect?
If you have no idea what you want in a relationship, it's a lead pipe cinch you probably aren't going to get it. You would think that was common sense, but this simple truth misses most people by a wide margin. When I talk about wants, needs, and expectations, I am not talking about physical traits. Everybody has their own specific set of features that works for them, so hey: Whatever Blows You Hair Back. But once you have your person with your physical features of choice, then what? Making sure that you know that you want someone who is kind to others, need someone with a sense of humor that is at least somewhat similar to yours, and expect to be treated with a certain amount of respect is merely scratching the surface of finding out what internal qualities are important to you. In the end, it's those internal qualities that are going to determine whether of not what you have is a short fling, or the romance that will last until...
3) What really matters?
I've noted before that the older I became (and frankly the longer this experiment has gone on), the more philosophical I became. I came to the conclusion that if I couldn't make better choices in romantic partners than the messy people I kept attracting, then it was just better all around for me to simply not be in any relationship at all. The focus was then on getting my life to the point where I was content no matter what happened, rather than pinning all of my hopes on my happiness coming from the outside, being provided by someone else. Making peace with yourself, ( quirks, flaws, odd dents, and needed improvements), is the best possible thing you can do for yourself, and eventually for whomever you decide to bring into your life.
Or not. In my 43 rotations around the sun, I have known many, many people whose primary goal in life was to get married. For a while, I was one of them. As I got older, had children, struggled, renewed my faith, and simply kept living, it finally occurred to me that I was content with the basic parts of my life, whether I found a romantic partner or not. I had achieved a certain peace, and that was all that really mattered.
This path of celibacy is not for everyone, nor is it a cure-all for relational ills. I knew what my weakness was, and I removed it. That's not to say it's been an easy spiritual walk. I am a complete hedonist, and I know it. While I was getting my head together I used food to soothe my emotions, and subsequently gained a lot of weight that I now have to lose. These things happen.
What's most important to me, is that I am not where I was ten years ago. What I hope, is that I now know enough about myself to make better relationship choices, even if that choice is not to be involved in a relationship. As far as I've come, to my own mind, I still have a long way to go.
Here's hoping the next journey will be every bit as interesting as this one.