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Reflections on Love from a Serial Monogamist

I am one of those people who has minimal experience being single. I had my first serious boyfriend my freshman year of high school. We proceeded to date for the next 6 years.

By the time that we broke up, I was a sophomore in college. The next several years of my life I had a string of boyfriends one after the other. I never challenged myself to be single for long periods of time, two months here and there. I missed the boat of singlehood.

This past weekend I spoke with another serial monogamist. He said, “when you are in a relationship, that person will tell you things no one else is willing to.” Upon reflection, I find this true.

The benefit that I have found to dating a lot of people is my deep inquiry into what love is.

For many years I sought love through another person.

Now after a decade of meditation, I can say that trying to find love in another person is like trying to find God in a cathedral: I may get an approximation. I may find temporary relief from the monotony of being myself. But in the end I am still myself. And if I don’t love me any more than before, the relationship is a distraction.

After all this time, I have found dating causes me to take on the habits of the other person. Some things I willingly take on. Other things repulse me and I do my best not to take on a habit. But in the end, I take on the habit of consuming precious mental energy by worrying about the other person’s choices.

Some time ago, I was in a long relationship with a cigarette smoker. He smoked a pack a day. I hated this habit so much that I blocked it out of my mind. I tried my best to pretend like it wasn’t happening. I tried not to get mad that the person I had chosen to be with was spending so much time, money, energy and potentially good health doing something that was tearing him apart.

Over the course of that four year relationship, I may have taken 4-10 puffs off a cigarette. I did this as an effort to be less judgmental. It didn’t help a whole lot. It may have contributed to a brief sense of camaraderie.

Historically the way that I “love” (if I can call my human attempts such a thing) happens as an initial merging with the other. It is as if I am diving into their soul and our two souls become one. From there I take into myself the pain, pleasure and worldview of the other person.

Once we have become so intertwined, it then becomes very apparent that we must again become two separate beings. So, usually in a heart wrenching sort of way, a separation begins to happen. Sometimes the relationship survives the personality separation and sometimes it doesn’t.

The merging that happens is often very complete. This isn’t a conscious choice. It is a deep programming that stems from the desire to be as transparent as possible.

For as long as I can remember truth-telling has been at the top of my hierarchy of values. Because I didn’t have access to objective truth, the closest that I could arrive at was my subjective vulnerability.

Total merging with another person is dangerous, especially if I don’t have a good sense of self-worth. Low self-worth means I am going to be attracted to another person with low self-worth. This means after we get together not only do I have to deal with my own issues, I have also internalized the issues of the other person. This has been the case for 95% of my relationships.

I am above all relieved to say that this is not the case with my fiance now. I was already thirty before he and I came together. Though thirty is not old, it certainly beats the angst of the twenties.

After fifteen years of feeling around in the dark for something that might be love, I found myself with someone who valued himself. The result of our merging was that I internalized self-value.

This meant that I became “Super Brynn.” My whole life prior I had to learn how to be relatively high functioning on my own. Then when I dated guys who didn’t value themselves, I still had to be high functioning. So when I actually dated someone with high self-esteem, it was like getting on a freaking rocket and blasting into outer space.

Michael and I’s initial union occurred two years ago. Enough time has passed for us to merge and then begin the process of separation within the merge. When he and I began the process of distinction, my rocket ship settled into orbit.

My speed slowed and my pace became consistent. Our initial merging and subsequent redefining of boundaries has impacted me in such a way that my self-esteem will remain stable. However, I am no longer conquering life at light speed.

In the beginning, middle and end, I come to the realization wherever I go, there I am. There is no person that is going to save me from myself. Yet this union supports the unfolding of my best.

We no longer have pep talks each morning about how we are going to kick the day’s butt. Instead we both diligently begin the day’s work on our individual and collective projects.

Michael teaches me new things often and inspires me to new heights. For example, he is coaching me how to tone my arms using the weight of my body so that I can have A+ arms on our wedding day.

He has also inspired me through example to devote 30 minutes a day to writing. As soon as he made this commitment, I did the same thing. Amazingly, a flood gate of creativity has opened.

You might see us from the outside and think we are joined at the hip. (We kind of are.) And we find ourselves in the rich and sometimes painful process of drawing the outlines of ourselves as individuals and defining how that is best fulfilled in relationship.

Love (or at least my human attempts at it) is such a messy thing. I have done so many things carelessly: I have thrown my heart around in the name of truth when it was really fear. I have needlessly defended my own hurtful actions. I have trampled on other people because I couldn’t fathom what I actually wanted. I have projected my insecurities onto the other person again and again. And I have laid everything on the line.

It brings me peace to say I wouldn’t go back and do things differently. I like the person that I am. I appreciate the lessons I have learned. I forgive myself for the mistakes I have made. And I am grateful for the privilege to express love in the world, no matter how small it is.

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