Updated: Aug 31, 2019
A few months ago, I went for a walk in Kensington Gardens, in the unexpected gift of a glorious late February sunshine in London. I was with my grownup son, Louis, and at one point he said, “Mum, may I ask you about your love life?”
I pushed through my shyness, took a deep breath and responded: “Of course, darling.” Louis then said that friends often ask him, and he tells them that I would very much like to be in a relationship again, but I had not yet met the right man. His next comment threw me: “People are often surprised when I tell them that: they assume you’re not wanting to be in relationship because you’re so happy and content as you are. Maybe you are giving out mixed messages.”
I was bowled over by the irony! All this conscious work learning to heal and love myself to get to the point of inner peace and self-acceptance and it gives the message that I’m wanting to be on my own. Ouch! Had I got it all wrong? Was I supposed to have remained needy and fragile to find love and bring my man in?
In a post written 18 months ago (Loving me loving you) I wrote:
‘It has taken me many years to learn to love myself. Lots of therapy and too many experiences of what not loving myself does to me and to those I love, but still my ‘critical parent’ inner voice can be quick to condemn this as self-indulgent narcissism based on a fragile ego. To give ourselves permission to love ourselves is a step too far, partly because of fear of accusations of arrogance but beyond that it is too painful: it reminds us poignantly of who we were before life changed us and made us defensive and cynical. It reminds us of that younger self who believed in hope and love. So we reject it… and as a consequence we reject our self... as naïve foolishness.
We cannot begin to love another if we do not unconditionally love ourselves. Otherwise it becomes conditional, narcissistic ego love: I only love you because of what you do for me, because of how you reflect ME.’
Psychologically there is no such thing as ‘opposites attract’ and why rebound relationships are often built on a very fragile foundation. We all draw in a mirror emotional energy of ourselves: if we are in a wounded place, either long-term or temporarily, then that is unconsciously the fragile emotional energy we attract. Conversely if we are in a happy, robust place in ourselves, then this is the emotional energy we will attract. This goes for all our relationships: friends, business and especially our lovers/life partners.
The title, ‘Being Alive’ comes from a song in Stephen Sondheim’s musical, ‘Company’ and a wonderful production I saw last year with a female lead replacing the original male lead: Bobby becomes Bobbie! Matt Wolf in The New York Times comments:
‘The Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical from 1970 long ago entered the canon with its tale of a commitment-phobic Manhattan bachelor named Bobby who ricochets among multiple couples while searching for a soul mate of his own. The result (of this production) is entirely transformative: the gender flip involves more than simply putting the central character in a red dress. Bobbie, it’s clear, needs to unlock something in herself to move forward in love and life. Whereas Bobby before had a slew of girlfriends, lending him the air of a diffident playboy, this Bobbie is on the rebound from a range of boyfriends, none of whom are quite right...or likely father material.’
What Matt Wolf doesn’t comment on is that Bobbie is a very successful business woman and she has chosen to focus her energy on this. A crucial difference between the two Bobby/ies as they celebrate their 35th birthday is that male Bobby doesn’t have to choose between love and success and the implication in this production is that female Bobbie has had to choose…right or wrong… to get to where she is.
I talk to my coaching clients about their leadership transition from the good boy/girl into an empowered adult. When I use the term: transitioning into a ‘King energy’ for my male clients, everyone knows exactly what I mean. When I use the term ‘Queen energy’ for my women clients, there is puzzlement. What does a Queen energy look like, what and where are the coordinates, the role models, for that?
And this has been my own path. I have focussed on raising my son who has grown to be a man I am extraordinarily proud of. And I have also focussed on raising me: of growing me up! In a post (When We Show Up) written last year for a talk I was giving to 80 American business women, I wrote:
‘I spent many years struggling to show up and each time I failed to do so, I felt guilty, depressed and bad about myself. Worst of all, it distanced me from ‘me’, from life and from others.
At other times I’d seemingly show up, physically there but not fully present. Like many women, I grew up ‘playing small’, trying to be a good girl, focusing on empathy and listening and shying away from speaking my ‘voice’, my inner truth. And yet, paradoxically, I have always wanted to make a positive difference to the world, to change it for the better. So, despite my ‘good girl’ intentions, my voice would not be silenced for too long. I wasted a lot of energy over many years trying to reconcile this internal conundrum: how to stay safely under the radar and yet how to voice my inner truth.
And then I finally gave up resisting and started to listen. It took a lot of courage and a lot of stumbles but gradually the shift happened: each time I consciously showed up I began to respect and like myself more. And this encouraged me to stretch myself further and, in turn, this created a positive flow: like attracting like. I began to embrace life and because I was open to ‘me’ and life, I became open to others. This is what true intimacy is and the real reward for showing up.’
So, what is my truth? Have I and my psychological training got it all wrong about learning to grow up strong and be at peace with myself? Or maybe is it, that as a heterosexual woman, with all the changes that have happened for women over the last 100 years, we still can’t choose a fulfilling professional life AND a happy love life, particularly in becoming a wife. That we have to choose one, not both, even more so if we become mothers. There are very valid reasons why female Bobbie battles as she does to own her independence and strength.
And yet. Beyond all the very real socio/economic/psychological realities I am held by both my son’s comment about the mixed messages I show and by Matt Wolf’s: “Bobbie, it’s clear, needs to unlock something in herself to move forward in love and life.”
Yes, I know I have needed to learn to heal and love myself first. Yes, I have a very rich, full and fascinating life with extraordinary experiences, and it is full of love with friends and family. And yes, I feel joy, happiness and inner peace so often it is now normal for me and it is really easy to convince myself and others that this is enough.
And yet beyond all this, as Louis and I walked and talked, I knew I was in danger of getting stuck and that I was scared to risk my heart again. Like both Bobbie and Bobby, it was time to let go of over controlling my life and to take the leap. That’s what being alive means. It is about the willingness to take the red pill* in whichever aspect of our lives we are stuck in and most fear to change. And what I have found, over and over again, is that the more I find the courage to take the red pill, the more it works and the more I dance and embrace my life.
*See The Courage to Dance