On Giving Up and Getting What I Always Wanted
There are many different ways to get what you want. I tried almost all of them, and nothing worked.
What I wanted was what many modern, independent women do not publicly admit that they really want more than anything: to have a family, including a loving husband and at least one cute, fat little baby. For the urban working woman, this is often a desire that creeps up during one’s thirties, as the clubs, bars and parties begin to feel less like a freewheeling adventure and more like a desperate routine; as the lines around the eyes or mouth begin to suddenly show up, like a surprise bed guest, after a long night of drinking; as family members begin to express concern over the age of one’s eggs, withering as they languish upon the dusty grocery store shelf of one’s ovaries.
For me, the clincher was a spunky little girl, my boyfriend’s niece, who was my next-door neighbor from her birth until about age three. After she informed me one day that I was her best friend in the whole world, and I realized that she was one of my all-time favorite people as well, I decided that I wanted to have kids after all.
My first step on this seven-year journey was to break my own heart. I had to leave my best friend, this little girl’s uncle (there were too many unsolvable problems there) and set out on my own.
A quick side note here: as you grow older you learn that, contrary to what people tell you, there are some heartbreaks that you never get over. In fact, you never fully get over any of them. They just accumulate in faint layers, like the spreading circles inside an old tree, getting farther from your core but still and always a part of you.
So began my seven years as a single woman in her thirties in Los Angeles, city of actresses and yoga instructors. I dated and had relationships, each one more draining and ultimately soul-crushing than the one before it. I kept picking myself back up and trying again. I went to therapy, read self-improvement books, learned to meditate. I got dressed up in cute outfits and went out with girlfriends to sit in bars and look at drunken hipster guys. I joined all the online dating sites and slogged through thousands of small disappointments that all added up to a gaping, silent nothing.
As my forties began to loom on the horizon like a giant killer tomato, I realized that more drastic measures were necessary. At about the same time, I also realized that my soul had been crushed down to the extent that, like a flattened soda can, it could no longer be pulled back into shape to start dating again.
So I quit. I gave up. I ended an on-and-off relationship that was causing me more pain than joy. I turned off my online dating profiles. I cut ties with a dear friend whose pain and bitterness were seeping in through my skin, overwhelming the pain that was already there. I removed all the rickety supports that had been propping me up, and with them several major outer sources of pain, leaving me alone with all of the inner sources. For the first time, I faced my greatest fear. I dared to be truly alone with my pain. I gave up running from it, and acquiesced to it. Fine, I said. I’ve heard you knocking for decades. Obviously you are not going to just let me be. What is it that you want?
And of course, this wasn’t just the pain of a decade’s worth of failed dating experiences. I’m talking about the accumulation of a lifetime’s worth of pain. I’m talking about childhood abuse, a sense of self that never really formed, deep and untapped wells of pain, anger, shame and loneliness. I took a deep breath and dove down into all of it, way down into the darkness. It was perhaps the scariest thing I’ve ever done, scarier than jumping out of a plane or learning how to fight.
At the bottom of the abyss, I discovered something surprising: I was still alive. The place that I had spent a lifetime avoiding was actually very quiet and still. It actually hurt less to stare straight at it than it did to try to look away. So I stared into it, and a strange thing happened. It began to feel better. Perhaps all along, it had just wanted to be seen.
After a few weeks, I began to float to the surface, having learned that the scariest parts of myself were really just shadows, dark but harmless. It was okay to be alone with them, with myself.
The world that I encountered upon my return to the surface was different. There was no longer anything to lose or to fear. I had become interested in hypnosis, so I signed up for a hypnotherapy training program near San Francisco. It was expensive and time-consuming, and for the first time in many years, I dedicated myself to something other than the relentless pursuit of relationship. I threw myself into an interest and passion that was solely my own.
Those precious seconds were ticking away on the old biological clock, but I decided not to listen anymore. I thought to myself, if I never have a family (which was looking increasingly likely), at least I’ll have myself. A real, whole self. Someone who I actually like being with, someone I can respect.
And then, a truly surprising thing happened. Things began to open up, like flowers opening after an ice age. I discovered wonderful new talents and opportunities, and met truly like-minded people through my hypnotherapy training. I walked through the lush forests of northern California and met wild deer and turkeys, and found hawk feathers, and felt blessed. I reconnected with my ex (the on-and-off one) and for the first time had a surplus of joy to share with him, rather than a surplus of pain. Our relationship bloomed, and one magical evening in April, as we lay in each other’s arms, I felt that anything was possible. A couple of weeks later, I discovered just how true that was: I was pregnant. At 39, with all my scars and flaws, I had been given the most sacred of gifts that I was almost sure I’d never receive.
Now I’m engaged and in love, happy and secure (for the most part, although I’m still myself, the same flawed person I’ve always been). Our baby boy, the magical healer and uniter, will be born any day now. We live in a really nice little house on a peaceful hillside street. At least once a day, we look at each other and melt a little, our eyes shining with incredulity at how lucky we are. I don’t really know why I’m receiving all these gifts, and I guess I can’t say for sure that it’s because of anything I did or didn’t do.
But I guess I just wanted to tell you that these things can happen, that happiness can come just when you’ve given up on it, when you think you can’t stand the pain another moment. That it is quite possible that the best way to conquer whatever you are most afraid of is to sit alone with it and look it straight in the face. And that beyond that test of your courage you will find the greatest reward, that in all of your anxious imaginings you never thought was possible.