Chapter 5: Face The Storm (Know Your Needs)
I have been helping others write since high school. It’s a passion of mine; I love mentoring others and helping them grow as writers. Soon after I moved to Seattle, I received an email from someone around my age who had found my website.
I want to create a website and help people commit to healthy relationships, he wrote me. I was a pick-up artist before I developed health issues and it got better after I learned to break down my own emotional barriers. I’ve self-analyzed and taken therapy, and now I want to help others do the same.
The articles he wrote focused on being in healthy, happy relationships, and how we can talk to our partners with our emotions and feelings on the table.
It was hard for me to get through at first. I was still stuck in the mindset of I’m a strong Irish woman! And the way that Kyle constantly verbalized his appreciation for my help confused me. My first reaction was, of course I’m going to help; you’re a paying client.
But he was the first client I had who made sure I knew that he was following my guidance, and he took me seriously as a mentor. I quickly found myself appreciating him not only as a client, but as a friend as well; he was someone who guided me through his articles and personal emails as I continued my journey to love others. And the more I appreciated him as a person, the more I began to relate to his writing.
In his writing, he explained that speaking about your emotional needs is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. I’ve been fired from jobs because I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help; the biggest arguments in my marriage have stemmed from my inability to talk about if I’m feeling hurt or defensive. His articles forced me to ask questions about myself — how do I gain my self-worth? How do my experiences shape who I am today? – that were changing my actions and making a difference in the relationships around me.
I learned to self-analyze and to navigate the map of my past emotional experiences and how Future Me affected Present Me. (For example, my mother never talked about her feelings because she had a traumatizing childhood. She had to stand strong and take care of her eight younger siblings. That’s why it’s so hard for me to talk about mine — I was told people don’t need to see your weak side.)
I learned that my romantic roadmap revolved around sex while my husband’s revolved around actions, and I learned to adjust accordingly.
The more I talked to Kyle and mentored him as a writer, the more I realized why so many bridges were burned back home. I realized that I would always shut down instead of talk about how I felt, because my feelings felt invalidated.
His honesty and vulnerability eventually began to change my perspective. I had thought all of these years that if I showed vulnerability to others, I would seem weak and get hurt; but he was using open expression to grow himself as a person. He took therapy for his own issues, researched, and spoke
of his own experiences so others could understand what their own expectations are during a relationship, and where those expectations came from.
As I taught him to strengthen his sentence structure and alliteration, his appreciation and drive strengthened my spirit.
Do you know what’s interesting? The more comfortable I felt opening up to him, the easier it got to open up to others. As I broke down my walls, brick by brick, I became more resilient to the storm swirling outside.
The last time I caught myself building walls was a few months ago, when I found out an old friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. When I found out, I told my husband and then changed the subject. He realized this, and asked me about it a few days later.
You seem distracted, he said. And you haven’t really talked about this. Are you okay?
When he put his hands on my shoulders I began to giggle, like I always do when I’m anxious. I shrugged his hands off.
I’m fine, I said.
He had been about to make us a drink in the kitchen, and I pulled the bottle of vodka towards us and filled two shotglasses. When I did that, he gently took my hands and asked me again.
Seriously. Are you okay?
I laughed at him. I remember thinking the concern on his face was comical. I was deflecting. I playfully pushed him backwards, then handed him his shotglass.
To friendship, I said.
When I said that, I was thinking about my friend. I was thinking, he’s going to die before he’s 35.
I knew I wasn’t okay. He knew it too. But I was his strong little Irish wife, and I thought I was too strong to break. I didn’t realize until later that I had brushed off the question.
Two days later, he was trying to help me find a parking spot downtown. It was rush hour, traffic was picking up, and I hated parallel parking. He kept pointing out spots… there’s one… there’s one… why don’t you park there? But I kept driving. I was gripping the steering wheel. I was driving in circles. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t pull over. I finally managed to park in the middle of two spaces, put the car in park. I immediately began to sob.
Is this really about the parking? He asked.
That was the moment I realized that I might not be as strong as I thought.
After that day, I noticed that every time anyone tried to ask how I was feeling about something serious, I would immediately brush off the question. I saw that when I started to feel strongly for someone, I couldn’t tell them. Looking back, the right thing to do would be to communicate; to look at my own emotions and decide what I needed out of the relationship to feel emotionally satisfied. I should have asked them if that was something that they wanted. But half the time, I couldn’t even communicate with my husband. Every six months or so he would tell me he needed me to talk to him. To tell him how I was doing emotionally. He would say I need you to open up to me, and I wouldn’t understand what he was asking me to do.
When we began our poly journey and I started to feel something real for a playmate or a friend I was intimate with, I would fold those feelings into a neat little square and I would stuff them in my back pocket. I would try and forget about that little square, but I could feel it every time I took a step forward. I would move around in an effort to forget. I would try and distract myself, but it never worked.
Eventually, my heart would start to prickle. When I couldn’t stand it anymore I would grasp at straws until I found a tiny reason to burn another bridge.
And then I would run.
Running away felt better than potentially getting hurt. I liked getting the last word; but in the process, I lost so many people that I really, truly cared for.
Kyle was more than the average therapist; he found a way to connect.
He did more than just ask questions. He laid his insecurities and weaknesses out on the table, and he explained that it was hard for him to become vulnerable because he feared asserting his needs in a relationship would make him needy. The more I read about his journey, the more I began to realize that I directly affiliated weakness to feeling emotions.
We hold ourselves to the standards we grow up around. I never saw my parents argue. I never saw them struggle emotionally. They would have their discussions behind closed doors. The bedroom door would close quietly, and when it opened, my mother would always hold the upper hand.
My husband had the opposite environment. His mother was from New Jersey, and he had two older sisters; yelling was the only thing that worked. That created the biggest divide between us; if he yelled at me, I would shut down and avoid eye contact. When I avoided eye contact, he would feel wasn’t getting through to me because I wasn’t responding…so he would yell some more.
It took us seven years to get through that one problem, because I didn’t think to explain I wasn’t ignoring him; I simply couldn’t communicate when he raised his voice at me.
Deciding to have multiple romantic relationships isn’t easy.
It’s fucking hard. My situation is in constant flux.
Between every chapter I’ve written of my journey, I’ve been in a different place, and it gives me constant anxiety. My new girlfriend just told me she loved me last week for the first time, and I felt anxiety when I said it back. Someone I was dating moved back across the state for school last weekend, and I felt anxiety that she would forget about me. I left someone for good last month when I thought we were getting back together, and I cried because I would miss him. I just apologized to an old friend who I burnt years ago, and I have anxiety about re-gaining his trust.
But through my anxiety, I was able to stand strong through all of this, because I’m able to not only communicate with others, but with myself as well. I know my needs, my standards, and what I’m looking for on this journey.
I knew my first reaction was to run from my girlfriend, because emotions scare me. But I also knew I loved her back.
I knew I didn’t want a long-distance relationship with the one who moved for school.
I knew I had to walk away from my ex, because having space made me realize he was emotionally abusive.
If you decide this lifestyle might be for you, self-analyze and understand why. If you decide you’re more of the monogamous type, self-analyze and understand why. Find a peaceful environment and ask yourself the important questions.
Where do you gain your self-worth?
How have you past experiences shaped who you are as a person today?
How has your present situation affected your past, and how will it affect your future?
My biggest struggle as a person is when I piled vulnerability and emotion together. Since learning more about myself, I’ve re-built bridges. I’ve forced myself to go back and apologize to multiple people. I told them how I felt about them, how they affected me as a person, and why I disappeared. I communicated. I opened up to those I needed in my life, and turned away from those who did not fit my standards.
I was raised to be strong. I was raised to show no weakness. But when I showed weakness, and when I went through with that conversation, I was thanked. I was told I was missed. I was taken aback when, by breaking down my own walls and rebuilding those bridges, I saw the storm settle outside, and I could see for miles.