Dear Dad

Relationships

Dear Dad,

I’ve spent the last hour silently crying as J sleeps.  I suppose that means it’s time.  It’s time I take the advice of my counselor and others who have urged me to start working through this pain I’ve carried for 19 years.

I was thinking maybe I should talk to you, but someone said I should write instead, so you don’t feel like you’re backed into a corner.  So you can have time to think before you react.  Honestly, though, I don’t know if I am brave enough to give this letter to you.

You’ve been a really good dad.  When my big brother was little, you led his boy scouts troop.  During my big sister’s formative years, you made a special effort to spend time with her…to pay attention to her…because you heard that middle children often feel neglected.  You’ve invested your life into being a good dad and husband for your new family.  And now that your other kids are teenagers, you’ve made a point to support them in their hobbies and extra-curricular activities, even going so far as to drive to another state to watch them compete.  You’re a good man, and you’ve been a good dad. …to all of your kids but me.

Nineteen years ago this month, when I needed you most, you left.  You abandoned me.  You betrayed me.  You lied to me.  My brother was married and my sister was away at college, so that left 13-year-old me to be the adult when mom fell to pieces.  Ever since then, I’ve tried to fill the hole you left in my life by adopting other father figures.  My music director.  My youth group leader.  And countless others over the years: professors, pastors, even my husband.  But as much as I love and admire these amazing men, no one can fill your shoes.

The thing that hurts the most is that I was the one who defended you when my older siblings shut you out of their lives.  How long did my sister avoid you after you chose S and her unborn daughter over us?  And hasn’t it only been in the past couple years that my brother finally started speaking to you again?  But I stuck by you as best as I could.  I fought to maintain a relationship with you and your new family even when I got heat from everyone else.  I finally gave up when I realized you wouldn’t reciprocate the effort.  You don’t call.  You don’t email.  You don’t visit.  When I fly out for a weekend, your weekly small group is a bigger priority for you than me, your daughter who can barely afford to visit once a year.  When I brought O with me last time, you were thrilled to see her, yet you barely even spoke to me.  Did you know that I wept in the car as I drove away that night?

I remember the moment when I realized that your new daughter is now older than I was when you left…that she’s had a dad longer than I ever did.  I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.  I still do.

Why did you check out when I came along?  Why were you there for J and J when they were growing up, but you weren’t there for me?  Why are you so attentive to L and B, but you won’t so much as text me?  Why do you withhold your love from me, when you so freely give it to your other children?

It’s not fair Dad.  I tried so hard to be good enough for you…to earn your love.  But it’s no good, and I can’t do it any more.  Love me or don’t.  I’ve got nothing left.

And yet….  Still…

I love you.

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The Long Lost Art of Letter Writing

Goals, Relationships

I have begun a one-person campaign to bring back the art of letter writing. I have found that the more I immerse myself in social media, the less I actually feel connected to people, so I’m trying something new. This week I have written letters to my grandma, my sister-in-law, and one of the ladies with whom I went to Israel. I’m going to try to come up with more people and addresses in the coming weeks, and I’m hoping eventually people will start writing back. My goal is to write a letter to someone new every week (or maybe a rotation of people when I start to run out of recipients) plus respond to any letters I receive.

It makes me feel so important to receive a hand-written letter. It takes that added bit of effort to write something by hand, as opposed to tapping out an email. And even putting it in an envelope and finding a stamp adds a layer of intentionality. Few people write a real letter on a whim…so when I go to my mailbox and discover a letter, I feel happy because someone felt that I am important enough to warrant their attention long enough to draft and send a note. I’m hoping that when my friends and family get my letters, they’ll realize that I think they’re important, too.

Plus, maybe I’ll feel more connected to people.

Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can kill.

Relationships

I had an epiphany today.  I have my doubts about whether I’ll be able to express my profound thought in a way that sounds profound…but I guess I’m willing to take the risk.  What may be a common sense thought to me may be a ground-breaking realization to you and vice versa.  I know that’s certainly how things tend to be with J and me, anyway.

So, before I tell you my realization, let me give a bit of background information:  I’m very reactionary, and by that I mean I tend to have big reactions to things.  I won’t go so far as to say I’m bipolar, but I do have high highs and low lows.  I feel a wide spectrum of feelings, and it’s downright impossible for me to hide those feelings.  Even if I don’t blurt them out in a flurry of words as I am apt to do, my face tells all.  J says it’s a good thing to be so transparent, but I find it very vulnerable for everyone to know what I feel about something.  For better or for worse — mostly worse — that’s my personality.

And then there’s J who is just about the exact opposite.  He is a man of few words.  He thinks about things before he reacts.  He’s calculating, he’s careful, he’s reserved.  He’s steady and strong and all the things I tend to wish I was.

…but here’s the problem…  In our disagreements, we hurt each other.  A lot.  He takes a risk and expresses a (generally valid) complaint, and I react with my big personality.  My voice gets louder and squeakier with emotion, and he retreats into the safety of his head.  The more I react, the less he communicates, and the less he communicates, the more I try to pull him out…which, of course, causes him to pull back even more.  He hurts me by his failure to engage, and I hurt him by my aggressive approach.

Our counselor urged me to try to not react when he expresses a complaint, but to try to merely say something like “Thank you for telling me how you feel.”  (SHOOT.  I don’t know if I can do it.  I’m going to try, but it’s going to take every ounce of my willpower.)  After the session, I was mulling over the things we had talked about and I arrived at my epiphany.

Both J and I need to learn the same important lesson, but we’ll have to apply it VERY differently.  The lesson?  That our words are powerful.  We must be accountable for the weight of our words.  It’s so very simple, and yet so profound.

I need to recognize how much my reactionary words tear J down on a regular basis.  I need to work on wielding my words with extreme caution so as to not hurt the man I love more than any person on this planet.  And J needs to recognize the power of his words too…  He has the power to encourage and affirm me with his words, but his silence has done tremendous damage to me.  My hope is that he will recognize the weight of his words and use them.  I need to stop speaking death into his life, and my hope is that he will start speaking life into mine.

Words.  Weighty, powerful words.

Love and Loss, or Longing for Long Ago

Relationships

I miss my family. Yes, I miss my family members who are in their own corners of the world, but what I really mean by that statement is that I miss how things used to be when we were a whole family unit. Dad, mom, brother, sister, me: a family.

My brother married the love of his life in 1994. She is a very private person and they retreated into their own lives. I think I’m possibly my brother’s biggest fan, but I have very little contact with him, and I miss having a big brother to watch over me.

Then my dad left us in 1995 for his lover. They started a new family, and he’s a really great dad to his new kids…very involved in their lives. It hurts to see how there he is for them when he wasn’t for me, but they’re fantastic kids and I’m glad they have a present and loving father.

My mom has dementia and is a completely different person than she once was. I still try to see her as often as possible, but it is hard to afford the airfare. …and it hurts so much to see her. So much.

My sister is now my best friend, but she lives far, far away, and I miss her terribly. When I visit, I miss her within minutes of leaving. I call her “my person.” The one person who will always be there. My one person in the world. If I were to do something terrible, she’d be the one to visit me in jail. Even if J and I don’t work out, she’d still be there for me….albeit in another state. Miss her so much….

I miss my family. I miss being in a family. I miss what we used to have. We weren’t perfect, but it was good… Now J and I are our own little family. We love each other, and things are getting better, but it is still very lonely. It’s not the same.

I am so glad I have him, though. So thankful for that.

MWF Seeks Friendship and Confidence

Relationships

Do you ever wonder where you learned a belief that you hold?  I do.  I once read something that really resounded in my psyche.  I can’t remember where I read it or what the exact words were, but it said something like this:

Children are experts in everything; they can sing, they can dance, they can slay the dragon or they can be the beautiful princess…  …until some adult tells them they can’t.

Heart-breaking, no?

I bring this up because I used to think I was a truly fantastic person.  I was awesome.  I was cute.  I was funny and had a magnetic personality.  Most people genuinely liked me and wanted to be my friend.  And then, at some point in the last decade, for some reason I began to suspect this belief to be untrue, and now I find myself believing the opposite.  I’m not attractive.  I don’t have charisma.  People are too busy for me.  No one really wants to be my friend.

I wonder where I heard this message…  And, more importantly, is it true?

This last week I got a text from K asking me what I was doing.  She wanted to hang out with me.  To say I was thrilled would be an understatement.  J had the car, so I told her that I was free and would love to hang out, but that I understood if she didn’t want to come pick me up.  (As I analyze myself now, I’m ashamed by my almost apologetic response.  I completely understand if you don’t want to hang out with me.  …especially since I’m this horrible inconvenience.  Why would I think this?  After all, it was her idea!  She was texting me asking to hang out.  Sheesh, Soph.  Give yourself a little credit, will you?  But I digress.)  When she agreed to come pick me up and take me to a bar I was ecstatic.  Manic, even.  During our evening, I started worrying that I was coming across as too much: laughing too hard, talking too much, being too “me.”  I worried that she’d see how desperate I am to have a friend.  I kept reminding myself to play it cool.  …but I was unsuccessful in that attempt.  To my chagrin, I found myself apologizing for my over-the-top enthusiasm.  She assured me that I was acting just fine, but I still worried.

Clearly I need to get the heck out of my head and just have a little fun.  And yet, I can’t seem to.

I see my own insecurity even in my email interactions with people I don’t know.  I posted a Craigslist ad asking if anyone had any hobbies they’d like to share with me.  (Back-story: My friend, A, was talking about all the random, social things she does ALL THE TIME.  I asked her how she found out about these interesting opportunities, and she said Craigslist.  At her recommendation, I checked out the Community section of my local Craigslist page.  I didn’t see anything that immediately grabbed my attention, so I took a risk and posted an ad.  It felt weird…like I was posting a personal ad, but I’m really glad I did it, because I’ve gotten some really interesting responses…and so far, no crazies as far as I can tell.  Okay, now back to the point.) As I have interacted via email with people who have responded, I find myself believing that they probably don’t actually want to meet me, even though that’s clearly not the case, since they responded to my ad.  I keep saying things like “Let me know if you want to meet up,” rather than things like “Where do you want to meet?”

What on earth is my problem?  Why can’t I accept that I just might be a fun person to be with?  When I spent time with K, why was I so worried that I was laughing too much or acting overly enthused?  Who doesn’t want people to laugh at their jokes and who doesn‘t want to be liked?  When people responded to my ad, why did I still worry that they’d rather hang out with someone else?   I mean, really, if they didn’t want to meet a new friend, they wouldn’t respond to the bloody ad!

Where did I hear the message that I am not worth other people’s time?  Why do I believe I am unlovable?

…and how can I unlearn the lesson?

My Yearning for Meaningful Relationship

Relationships

I’m lonely, and I don’t know how not to be. In theory, I know that to have good friends, one must be a good friend. In real life, though, I’m not sure what I can do differently. I think that I’m a pretty great friend, or, more accurately, I have the potential to be a great friend if only people would make time for me. I’m a great listener. I’m generous. I’m kind. I genuinely care about people and how they’re doing. Why, then, do I not have a best friend who will return my emails, much less call?

I think that part of it is the Seattle Freeze.

But I worry that there may be more to it. When I was in high school there was this girl in my choir class. She was a sweet girl, but she was exhausting to be around because she was so clingy and needy…always seeking affirmation, rather than offering her own wonderful perspective and personality during daily interactions. She was, in a word, desperate. I worry that this is how I’ve become. I worry that people can see my insecurity and my desperation, and that I repulse them. People like confident people. But I am not confident any more. I used to be, but, alas, that part of me – the likable part – is broken.

How does one grow confidence back? How does a person stop being needy and desperate for love? If I don’t think of myself as likable, how can anyone else? But I can’t seem to fix myself no matter how hard I try.

And yet, I can’t be as messed up as I think I am. C and A like playing games with J and me, and M from church told me just today that she wants to hang out with me soon, and H tells me all the time that she adores me and loves working with me, and M from work frequently tells me that I deserve every good thing…

What, then, is my problem? Why don’t I have a “bosom” friend, as Anne of Green Gables would say? I want someone to share life with… Yes, I have J, but a husband isn’t the same as a best friend.

Am I expecting too much?

If wishes were horses, I’d have a whole herd.

Relationships

I’m so tired.

I feel like most of the time that J and I spend together is strained.  Counselor has been telling us that we need to learn to ask for our wants and needs, and so I have been making an effort to do so rather than resent him when he doesn’t read my mind.  It should be simple, right?  It can’t be that hard, can it?  Yep. Very hard.  If the thing I want is an emotionally charged request (“Will you please hold me? I’m lonely”), it’s hard to be vulnerable enough to ask for it, especially knowing that he is allowed to say no.  Counselor says it’s important to say no sometimes.  When someone says yes to every single request, it begins to feel inauthentic.  (I think, in general, this is a female way of thinking.  “I want him to choose to stay home with me because he WANTS to be with me, not because I TELL him.”  Ladies, does that sound familiar to you?)  Well, if every time I ask J for something he says yes then it doesn’t feel like he’s actually choosing to do whatever it is I am asking for.  It feels like he’s going through the motions but doesn’t actually mean the sentiment behind the request.  Theoretically, if he says no from time to time, then when he does say yes, I can trust that he actually wants it…or means it…or whatever.  (Shoot, I have no idea if this makes sense to anyone other than me.  Okay, back to the topic at hand…)

It’s hard for me to ask J for what I need from him.  Because it’s a vulnerable place, right?  And what if he does say no?  And, even worse, what if he says no in one of the nasty, sneaky, confusing ways?  What if he says no by getting defensive, simultaneously making me feel like I’m being unreasonable AND distracting me from my original request by raising a new complaint of his own?  Or what if he says no by verbally saying yes, but not following through on whatever he’s agreeing to?  (*Ahem!* Sex.)  Or what if he says no by saying yes and sort of following through, but not being fully present in the gesture.  (Like I’ll ask him for more physical affection and he’ll put his hand on my knee while browsing on his phone with the other hand.)  All of these ways of effectively saying no without actually saying the word “no” are so much harder to take than a real no.  If he said something like “I’m sorry, Sophie, but <insert reason>,” at least then I’d feel like my request hasn’t been belittled.  At least then I would have a chance to offer an alternative that would meet the need behind the requested gesture.  (“You don’t want to kiss me because you don’t feel close to me?  Okay, well, what if we just held hands for now and see if we can start to feel closer?”)

I’m making J out to be this terrible, villainous character.  He’s not.  He’s a really good man, and I respect him a lot…  He’s not trying to be a jerk.  I don’t think he realizes what he’s doing.

I wish we could unload all the…  All the BADNESS of the past decade and just start fresh.  There’s so much crap between us that we end up defaulting to bad reactions (both of us).  We hear accusation in a tone of voice, even when it’s not there.  I wish it wasn’t like this.  I wish I could ask for my emotional needs to be met, without shame or guilt or fear.  And I wish that he could do the same.

I wish a lot for my marriage.

There has to be away to get past this ugliness in our relationship.  There has to be a future for us.

The Man in My Dreams

Relationships

A few years ago I had a sucker punch of a dream.  I was in my kitchen with C having a conversation while I stirred something on the stove.  J was in the adjacent room with C’s wife having a dialogue of their own.  When I turned back from tending the food I was cooking, C was just inches away, looking down at me with a very vulnerable expression of desire.  Very slowly, he leaned down and kissed me gently, slowly, tenderly, sweetly.  And yet it was a kiss promising something more.  And in my dream, I kissed him back as J stood 20 feet away.

I woke up with a start.  I had just dreamed about a married man, and me, a married woman!  I had never thought of C that way until that moment.  And I was left with my own yearning.  For C, yes, but mostly for the feeling of being wanted.  I don’t remember the last time that J expressed that kind of desire.  It’s humiliating to admit it, but I can’t recall the last time J made love to me.  Not since 2011, that’s for sure.  It’s almost surreal to realize that for the entirety of 2012, my husband didn’t reach for me.

I have a lot of jumbled feelings.  C really does move something in me that I don’t feel for J.  J doesn’t want me.  I must be undesirable.  What man would want me, much less C.  Besides, he’s married.  And oh yes, so am I.  I recognized that the feelings I was experiencing for the man in my dreams could become a real problem.  I had to tell J about it.  And I did.

“Babe, I need you to understand that I am having some very real temptations.  Please.  I need you to have sex with me.  Soon.  And with some regularity, because I desperately don’t want to betray you.”

No dice.  No passion.

“Babe?  I have something to ask you, and I want you to know that whatever your answer is, we’re in this together.  We’ll work through this.  Okay?  Ready?  Alright, here goes: Are you gay?  *pause*  No?  Not gay?  Are you SURE?”

Oh.  Then it must be me.  It’s true.  I’m undesirable as a woman.  My own husband doesn’t want to bed me.

And what about my confusing feelings for C?  I knew it was a bigger problem than I had realized before when I asked myself what I would do if he really did express sexual desire for me.  Would I say no to save my marriage?  Possibly not.  Would I say no to protect his children from the pain I felt when my own dad had an affair?  Oh dear, probably not even then.  Would I say no because I love my God and want to honor the moral code He gave His people?  To my shame, I couldn’t conclusively decide either way.  The only thing, at that moment, that would keep me from giving myself to him (aside from the fact that he probably has no desire for me and would almost assuredly never ask such a thing), is that that he is a pastor of my church – the church I love – and I simply could not be the one to cause such a scandal.

Oh dear, this IS a problem, I realized.

I came clean (again) to J.  Luckily, the event that caused me to spend a lot of time with C passed, and I found that the less time I spent with him, the less sexual tension I felt around him.

Now that I’m not in the middle of a mind/body tug-of-war, I can better analyze how I felt and why.  I realize now, that the sex bit really is only part of it.  I mean, he’s not smashingly handsome, though he does have his own charm.  He’s not very tall (so he wouldn’t have to lean down to kiss me – funny how dreams aren’t so very accurate in some things).  He’s got rather large canines.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s not ugly.  No.  He is attractive in his own way…  His grin is infectious.  And the tattoos that peek out from under his shirt sleeves drive me a little crazy because I want to see what other mysteries his body holds hidden underneath those clothes…  But really, it’s his mind that does me in.  His charisma.  His intelligence.  The way he laughs so very frequently.  The way he makes ME laugh so frequently.  The way he uses big words that I understand and J doesn’t.  The way his face seems to light up when I say “Hey C?”  The way he makes me feel important.

That man is poison to me.  As horrible as it is that my dad betrayed mom and me….  In a way, I’m thankful.  Because I know that the danger is there.  No one is immune.  Anyone can fall.  And because I am able to recognize – in advance – that C is dangerous to me…  Because of THAT, I am able to guard my thoughts, my actions.

There is power in secrets.  By telling J of the dangers C poses to me (to us) without even being aware of his magnetism, there is a degree of safety.  There is a freedom in telling the truth.

Alas, I wish there was a “getting laid” in telling the truth.

The Fallen Hero

Relationships

J and I talked about she-who-must-not-be-named today.  I asked him why it was so easy for him to talk to her…  How he could so easily share the real parts of him that he is so reluctant to reveal to me and to other people in his life.  Why was she different, I wanted to know.  He’s told me multiple times that it’s not just me.  “I have a hard time being authentic with everyone, Sophie, not just you.”  Well, why was it different with her?  How could he let it happen?  And how can I know that it won’t happen again?  In answer, he said that it’s easier to be authentic through the written word.  Something about not being face-to-face with someone makes it easier for him to feel safe, so he feels freer to be authentic.  As to my other questions, he didn’t have a good answer.

I feel like something is irreparably broken in us now.  It’s not bad like it was right after her, but I also know that things will never be how they used to be.  The broken part – the part that I worry will always be with us – is that I can’t look up to him with the same doe-eyed trust.  Regardless of the forgiveness I have given him (and must continue to grant him on a daily basis), the betrayal happened.  It will always be there between us.  I will never be the same, and I expect that he’ll never be the same person to me.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at him like he’s my hero, my protector, my champion, the one upon whom I can depend when everyone else fails…  Not anymore.  Back before the betrayal, it wasn’t a great marriage relationship, but regardless of what the world threw at us, we had each other.  Now?  Now I feel like I have to face the world alone.  J may be there near me, but I can’t rely on him the same way as before.  Now I have to learn to be my own hero.  I wonder if that broken part can be healed.  I think maybe not.  …kind of like when someone you love dies…  Life is never the same again, but you learn to live with a new normal.  Maybe I just have to mourn the loss of that blind adoration and trust, and learn how to live in our new, fractured normal.

It feels a lot like when dad abandoned mom and me.  I became a different person at that moment.  For better or for worse, I’ll never be the same.  Neither will he.  I guess that’s how it is with J and me, too.