Lately, I’ve been reminded of a conversation I had when I was in my early 20s. It’s probably a conversation I had many times over the years, from teens to mid-20s. It went something like, “We may age, but we will never get OLD. We will still be out dancing on tables, seeing shows, staying out til the sun comes up forever. Even when we are 50! Let’s never get lame.” Like every teenager, I was always absolutely convinced I knew it all. That’s a theme that permeates pop culture, both then and now – don’t grow up. Keep the fire of youth burning inside of you forever.
I suppose there’s several reasons I’ve been thinking about that lately, one being that my oldest friend just turned 35. We have been close for over 20 years, that’s a very long time. I had some really amazing times in my teens and early to mid 20s. I saw concerts I’ll never forget; I traveled to Europe for the first time; I made incredible friends and had some pretty amazing experiences. I also worked a lot of shitty jobs; worried a lot about money; drank too much, and wondered what the f*** I was going to do with my life. My boyfriend of a year told me recently about a conversation he had with his 15 year old son. His son asked him, “if you could go back to any age, which age would you choose?” I realized that for myself the answer would be that I would not go back, or if forced is go back only a year or two. It funny how many mistakes you make when you still “know it all.” Truthfully, I look back on those conversations about never getting “old” and “lame” with amusement at our naivety. Why on earth would you want to be at 30 the exact same person you were at 20? Or at 40 the exact same person you were at 30?
How many missed opportunities must you have to have to go through you life without learning, changing, and growing? How much out and out resistance to growing as a person must you have to make it through a decade unchanged?
I have the pleasure of working every day with individuals who – for the most part – have identified that what they have been doing is not working for them and who would like to learn a better way to be. No one gets out of childhood without learning some dysfunctional ways to act and really unhealthy ways of thinking. For some those are relatively small things that don’t impact their lives greatly one way or another, but I think the vast majority of us are walking around with some unhealthy ways of thinking and acting. Especially in our teens and 20s! For some people it takes an incredible amount of bravery to say, “I’m not perfect” but good lord, who is? If you think you are, you likely only have yourself fooled. The rest of the world is probably on to you. Five years ago I was not a very happy person, but I was working on bettering myself and my life. I was about to finally graduate with an undergraduate degree and I wasn’t sure what my life would look like in five years. If you had told me that it would look the way it does today, I would laugh. In a short time, I worked hard and acquired many things that back then fell solidly in the “dream” category. Today, I am lucky that those dreams are my actual life. None of that happened by chance, the vast majority of it was through intention and very hard work.
I realized last night, as I sat in the car outside Baskin Robbins in my pajamas, waiting for the person that I love to bring me my favorite ice cream, that I am content. I am in a state of peaceful happiness in my life. That doesn’t mean there isn’t stress or bad days, but it means that overall there is much more good than bad and I am infinitely thankful for that. A lot of it looks absolutely nothing like I thought that it would look 5, 10, 20 years ago, and I realized that I am perfectly ok with that. I never thought that I would end up with a man, I never thought I’d be living in Mississippi by choice, I don’t know that I really thought I’d be a therapist although it was always something I was interested in. I’ve learned that the secret to having the life that you want is to both work very hard at getting what you want and also to be flexible enough to allow what you want to look differently than what you always imagined. I would have passed on several amazing opportunities had I not been willing to bend like the willow tree.
It used to be very difficult for me to really trust another person 100%. I don’t mean just lovers and partners but also friends. Trust, it seemed to me, was leaving yourself open for hurt. What I’ve learned in the last decade or so is that it is not trust that is the problem, but whom we open ourselves up to with that trust. If you pick the right people, listen to your gut, and never compromise your boundaries then trust is not a scary prospect. I don’t have to accept your bullshit to receive your love, and the same goes for you of me. As I reflect back upon the last year with Jon, at first I honestly can’t believe it’s been a year. It seems both shorter and longer, simultaneously. I suppose the best relationships always do, when you can barely remember life before them because it’s nearly impossible to image life without them. The irony for both of us has always been that it was only through learning and growing into different, better people, that we were able to finally find each other. The people we were five years ago would not have been attracted to each other and rightfully so!
I used to think that being independent was absolutely necessary in the sense that I should not allow anyone to do for me what I could do for myself, especially not a man. Aside from one cranky afternoon where I snapped at Jon, “I can pump my own gas!” I’ve learned that when both people give equally and both take care of each other it’s not an imbalance but a perfect balance. Every other relationship I’ve ever been in, even most of my friendships, one of us has given more and the other taken more. I think givers and takers are attracted to each other, because we fulfill so many unspoken needs in each other. Balance is difficult to find in one’s self, let alone in tandem with another. If I had decided to not grow as a person, I know without a doubt I wouldn’t have this kind of relationship with anyone. It was absolutely imperative that I grow for my own sake, or grow for growing’s sake, with no thought of whatever prize might be waiting beyond being the absolute best person I knew how to be. Now I have the ultimate gift of growing with someone else, and watching them continue to learn and grow as I do too. Jon has taught me so much over the last year, and I know I have taught him a lot as well. Not overt lessons that we set out to teach each other but simple revisions in what we knew to be true about life and love and happiness.
Here is what I know today that I did not when I was 25:
- Time is our most precious commodity. You can make more money, you can get more things, you can even replace people in your life with new ones but you will never ever ever get your time back. For that reason, you must use it mindfully.
- It is possible to be loved for exactly who you are, but who you are may not deserve that love. Try to deserve it.
- No one can love you if you don’t love yourself.
- You cannot ever truly know a person’s thoughts but it is possible to trust them so much that you don’t need to.
- There are mistakes that you can never, ever fix. There are things there is no coming back from.
- It is impossible to have a healthy relationship if you are not healthy first. It’s not possible to have a healthy life while in denial.
- Nothing anyone else thinks about you is your business, so don’t worry about it. You can’t change it anyway.
- You will repeat your patterns until you acknowledge them.
- Nothing is ever just one person’s fault.
- You control nothing and no one except yourself.
- If you cannot be alone with yourself and like what you see, change it.
- We often deserve much more than we accept – and we accept much less than we deserve and try to say that it’s ok to do so because of love. As though love was both tangible and finite.
And lastly, stagnation is worse than death. So dance on tables while you feel the need to, but don’t be afraid of getting older and wiser. If I don’t know more at 40 than I know today I will be vastly disappointed in myself.