You’re about to read Chapter 45. Want to start this story from the beginning? Go here.
I’m so tired I feel like crying, but I don’t want to shortchange this post.
Still, I give myself permission to do exactly that, because sleep is my most important act of self-care.
And when I am with family members full-time, self-care has got to be top priority.
There is no shame in sleeping on my mother’s floor
I am sitting on the couch in my mom’s home office right now. My feet are resting on an air mattress that is slowly but surely deflating.
Last year I stayed in this room for nearly a week over Christmas and I told myself never again. I told myself that if I wasn’t in a relationship by the following Christmas that I would just stay in New York.
It was just too painful to be alone among my extended family, all of whom are partnered and/or procreating. I am the oldest cousin, yet the only one who is unmarried. I felt pathetic, sleeping on my mom’s floor in my mid-thirties.
True to my word, I am not staying here for Christmas again. But Thanksgiving isn’t all that different, when it comes to externals.
Yet I feel different, indeed, and for that I am deeply grateful.
From “me” to “we” can start with family
I wish I had the energy to effectively summarize the contents of Lesson 45 because they impacted me quite meaningfully.
Basically, Katherine explains—in a way that would be condescending if it weren’t so necessary—why relationships need generosity to succeed.
“Creating a ‘we’ life as opposed to living parallel ‘me’ lives requires a fluidity where giving to one another is as natural as breathing,” Katherine says.
Because “long-term, committed love is an interdependent dance,” she says, “it requires us to think inside of the context of what it is to be deeply related, mutually dependent, and responsible to and for one another.
Codependence is a problem
I have a history of codependence. And since that buzzword means different things to different people, for our current purposes I’ll define it as, depending too much on someone else.
I have so much compassion for my old pattern. I did not receive the care I needed as a child, and so I kept yearning for it into adulthood.
In my desire to be cared for, I learned to be a caretaker—giving and giving and giving in hopes that I might also receive.
Such behavior is not healthy.
True love is not transactional. True giving is “an act of enlargement and expansion.”
Over time (and with good therapy) I learned this.
Eventually, I got to put it in practice with Paul.
But even then I got off track, and he left before I had the chance to sort out what was going on.
Still, my time with him gave me a solid taste of interdependence, and I am ready for more.
Interdependence is the answer
Interdependence is what humans were made for.
Not keeping score or single-minded selfishness.
Not losing ourselves in order to be loved by another.
Interdependence is something miraculous in the middle, where people consider the needs and wants of others, and value them as their own.
A healthy “we” requires two healthy “me”s
Katherine says that “many of us fear entering into a ‘we’ covenant because our sense of who we are is still fragile and delicate.” She says we’re afraid “we will be overpowered by our awareness of the needs of the other before we have a good grasp on our own.”
This resonates strongly for me—and I have a hunch that it would for Paul, too.
And I also think he would agree that “you have to be a strong ‘me’ in order to form a strong ‘we.’” Because it’s true that “healthy ‘we-ness’ always enhances and strengthens the individuality of who you are. It provides support that enables you to be more fully yourself in the world.”
This was reassuring to read, but it also made me miss Paul so much.
Because we didn’t do it perfect, but we understood the goal.
We had this shorthand for how we planned our time—we each had an “IL,” for “independent life” and we were also building a “TL,” or our “Together Life.”
I know that because of his love and encouragement, I felt increasingly able to be braver and bolder in my IL.
And actually, that’s still true. Even without his active presence—maybe even because of his absence?—I am becoming a better person as a result of having known him.
The definition of a functional family
It is hard to aspire to something you have never seen.
Sort of like how I didn’t know what boundaries were until I was in my twenties (as discussed in Lesson 10), I did not fully understand what a functional family was until I got to the last paragraph of Lesson 45.
So just in case you aren’t sure either, here is a stellar definition:
“Functional families allow for the individuality of each member. People are free to express their needs, their wants, and their feelings. Those expressions are met with respect and with love. They are then taken into account in all subsequent decision making.”—CITO, p.298
Reading those words felt like taking a deep breath after being underwater. Or like discovering a new language you already understand.
Or like recognizing your deepest desires in the span of a few phrases.
Because what I want more than anything in the world is a functional family of my own. I don’t care if it’s only two people.
In fact, two people would be plenty.
And that desire in no way contradicts my professional ambitions or personal goals, all of which lead toward increasing world peace.
Because as Katherine says, “if we ever hope to have peace in the world, we will first need to be able to do this in our homes.”
Lesson 45 in practice
I answered twenty-one questions as a result of the journaling prompts from this lesson.
They were great prompts about marriage and community and my answers contained useful insights.
And maybe another time I will even tell you about them.
Because as much as I’d like to explain, I am even more tired than I was when I started this post.
And one of my takeaways from the homework is that I would like to be a more giving member of my family, aka one of the communities I belong to.
And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I am going to have ample opportunity to put that intention into practice, I am going to need all the sleep I can get.
So right now I will rest, and tomorrow I will show up for my family the same way I did my best today. I will appreciate as much as I can and I will (try and) bite my tongue as much as I need to and I will observe dysfunction but I will not judge it. Instead, I will love, love, love it.
And when the time is right, I will have a functional family of my own.
Love > fear,
Want to know what happens next? Proceed to Chapter 46.