The honeymoon goes well. I love to meet new people, to engage and learn about someone new, to hear about their experiences and to compare them with mine as a way to continue to orient myself to the world around me. We need contrast to learn about our world, and I enjoy seeing where there are similarities and differences between me and other women. And I love to hear about what women are doing in the world to make it a better place, and how they are navigating the various hurdles and triumphs involved in making it in business, in organizations and in their personal life. Fairly quickly in a new relationship I find myself sharing about my own hurdles and triumphs in relationships, delighting – with just a little trepidation around being vulnerable – in connecting.
In all of my relationships I am waiting to be abandoned: Every single one.
I love beginning new projects. I am a starter and a fixer – I go into organizations and I start things and I fix things. I enjoy learning about systems and personalities and identifying what I can do to make a positive impact in a situation. Wherever there is a need, I love to fill that gap. Wherever there is a process that needs improvement, I’m all over it. I love to immerse myself in research, development and creative processes. And so I feel a natural fondness for other women who are willing to start things and to fix things. Those brave souls who take on a new job or a new task are kindred spirits, and I love to support them, to help them grow in their own understanding and stand in their own power. I love to hear about creativity and courage and innovation – it’s inspiring and I get vicarious enjoyment from hearing women talk about their new projects. I’ve been a natural cheerleader since childhood, so kindness and support flows naturally toward other women who are daring greatly.
So what happens when the honeymoon ends? I’m not entirely sure, but I do have a sense of how I feel. In all of my relationships I am waiting to be abandoned: Every single one. I am making the most of it, doing my best to be mindful, to be cooperative, to be liked and useful – while I wait for the inevitable end to it all. This is not some Buddhist understanding of the nature of impermanence but a deep-seated dread that I am not a person worthy of a long term relationship. I am not someone others will want to stay with, through thick and thin. I am inherently expendable and unworthy. I am ultimately alone.
This feels so sad. I wonder if other people feel this way, but no-one has ever told me that they feel this way. Sure, we may all have this uncomfortable understanding that we come into the world alone and we leave it alone, but I’m not sure other people also believe that being alone is the status quo and being connected to others is an occasional blip on the radar.
Even when I feel as if I have been rejected, the reality is that I most likely rejected first. Or, maybe I simply never committed fully, never made myself completely trustworthy or reliable, never made a woman feel completely safe working with me.
When I explore the “common humanity” component of self-compassion on a deep level rather than an intellectual or surface emotional level, I find that I don’t fully experience this. I’m not sure what common humanity means. Deep inside, I feel alone, I feel as if my experiences of suffering are not shared by others and I am unable to connect with others fully in shared understandings of suffering. I try, intellectually, to fathom this, to integrate common humanity into my understanding of the world, but it’s like trying to get a brain surgeon to teach a pig how to enjoy rolling in mud – you can’t use the mind to convince the heart especially when the heart sports deep, old wounds.
So, feeling alone, independent and resourceful may serve me well in starting and fixing things in an organization, but feeling alone doesn’t help me nurture long term relationships. In fact it probably helps me to undermine them. If I’m constantly waiting to be abandoned, it prevents me from going certain places with other women. It means I’m holding on to parts of me that I need to protect. It also means that when things start to go sour, I already have one foot out the door and I’m looking to protect myself from the inevitable rejection that I know will follow. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – I expect to be rejected, I pre-emptively reject, and rejection happens. Even when I feel as if I have been rejected, the reality is that I most likely rejected first. Or, maybe I simply never committed fully, never made myself completely trustworthy or reliable at a deep spiritual level, never made a woman feel completely safe working with me.
No-one runs courses that explicitly advertise they focus on developing a visceral understanding of common humanity.
It’s useful and realistic to remind myself that not all my relationships with women in a work environment are like this. When I’m the boss, and the only boss (not sandwiched between my boss and an employee) I am able to commit, to be there for another woman, to support and allow myself to be supported. I can feel whole, and I suspect that part of that wholeness comes from feeling autonomous and independent, knowing that my connection with another women is done joyfully from a place of strength and a desire to commune for its own sake.
The problem with some of my workplace relationships with women is that I’m not the boss – my relationship with a woman is part of a larger machine that I do not have control over; one where things happen despite me, where I am accountable to someone “above” me for the relationship decisions I make because the relationships determine performance outcomes. Assessments of me are made on my ability to relate to other women as we work toward organizational goals. No-one is paying me to nurture relationships for the sake of having relationships – I’m being paid to use relationships as a means to an end. When my deep belief is that I’m marking time in any workplace where I am not the boss – waiting to be abandoned because I am inherently unworthy of being in an organization – this can lead me to get ready to distance myself from a woman who might affect my ability to get approval from my boss (ie someone I’m supervising whose performance is struggling).
So, what do I do? It’s hard to conceive of a way of being that revolves around not feeling alone. No-one runs courses that explicitly advertise they focus on developing a visceral understanding of common humanity. I haven’t found a book that touches this subject. I am left with the uncomfortable, incomplete plan to fumble toward connection with myself and with others: to fumble in relationships with women, to own my cluelessness, to ask for the support of my sisters. Fortunately the women I hang out with in work and in play are amazing. The women in my circles are strong and brave, and I sense that even when I have undermined a relationship with that one foot out the door, relationships are not past reparation. It has happened – women have fallen in love with our relationship, then become disillusioned and pulled away, then have come back to me wiser, wounded, but willing to try again. This gives me some faith that the sisterhood will prevail, will conspire to support me, will hold me in a collective mother’s embrace. Somehow, deep inside, I do believe this. I don’t know why, especially when I can simultaneously feel completely alone. Somehow, community has allowed me to viscerally feel the all-encompassing power of the sisterhood. Or maybe it’s collective female consciousness or an understanding stored in my genes.
Onward, on this sister’s journey…