What I Know About Marriage and Homicide

I wrote this for a friend when she got married.  So she’d know what she was in for.  Enjoy!


What I Know about Marriage and Homicide

By Lyralen

  1. Being known is great. Except when it’s not.


  1. After 26 years, I’m still waiting for her to turn into the suave, handsome, rich doctor or lawyer I was supposed to marry, instead of this completely authentic, loving, neurotic putz who makes me laugh.


  1. Loving her so much challenges all my fears. So I try to be friends and keep getting back on the same side. Otherwise I might kill her.


  1. I can only do as much intimacy as I can tolerate—so I don’t open my heart all at once. Or I might kill her.


  1. It’s better to tell on myself than to confront my partner. Because then she won’t kill me.


  1. I have a part of me that sees her as every monster from every nightmare and thinks my survival is threatened. When this happens, it’s time to go in my room and hide. And then try to soothe myself. So I don’t kill her.


  1. Marriage is a disappointment factory. I keep creating expectations or recycling old ones, just so I can learn that she’s not here to take care of me. (This makes me want to kill her.)


  1. For 28 years, she has told me, over and over again, that we don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, that we can go as slow as I need, that she never wants to hurt me (even though she does), and I forget this the minute she says something stupid. (And then I want to kill her.)


  1. When the voice that tells me I’m better than her, and she doesn’t deserve me, gets activated, it’s better if I don’t share that with her (so she doesn’t kill me), or believe what that part of me is telling me (so I don’t kill her).


  1. Once in a while, we get close, and no one freaks out, and I notice, one moment at a time, the way her hands seeks for me, the way she touches me as if I am the most precious person in the world, and the way I explode with joy (and make inappropriate jokes) at all of it, so grateful to be alive and know what this feels like.


I’m Crazy, You’re Crazy: What are my partner and I doing now?

Yes, I may fall over dead from admitting this.

We are doing a couples spiritual practice.

Here I go.  Falling over.  Bleck.  Urgh.  Uck.

Why, you may ask, do I fall over from admitting this?


And I get up every morning and do this thing called a renewal with my partner.

Who, by the way, I love.  I am also too cool to admit how much, but I suspect she knows just from the way she looks at me.

And get this, the renewal practice really helps me.  Not only be closer to her, but to live better.


I’m still going to do it, though, because it makes us both happy.

Here’s the practice–

We get up.  I refrain from commenting on her breath.  We lie there in some kind of stupor with two hot water bottles and several Buckies (pseudo hot water bottles) all on my side of the Sleep Number Bed because I am always cold.  I pull on my Snoopy fleece pajama bottoms.  She puts on her glasses.  Then we lie in a stupor until one of us says, “So, you want to do it?”

We answer four questions:

What can you admit you’re powerless over today?

How can you turn this over to some spiritual deity you don’t believe in for the next 24 hours?  (Okay, that’s not exactly it, but the whole letting go and trusting that you don’t have to know thing…that’s the idea.)

What do you need to bring to the Light?  (We take turns talking about things we’re ashamed of, which is always fun.)  (Sometimes I like to talk about how great I am in this section, because, well, I mostly like to talk about how great I am.)

Do you recognize that whatever/whoever or some wise part of yourself knows all this about you and loves you just as you are?  (Some days, the answer is a flat out no.  This indicates staying in bed for at least 24 hours.)

Then we say metta for ourselves.  Occasionally we actually get up and meditate.

And yes, there have been 12 step programs in my life.  It took a lot for me to admit I wasn’t a deity myself, but eventually I had to do it because LIFE WAS KICKING MY BUTT.

Anyhow, I feel a very uncool tenderness for my partner these days.  The life in her, the struggle, the uncertainty, the goodness…so much goodness.  And my hope that she sees it.

Which does not mean I always refrain from talking about her bad breath.  I mean, since I’m not a deity, I have to have some compensation.

What I Know About Marriage and Homicide (For a friend, on her recent nuptials)

1. Being known is great. Except when it’s not.

2. After 26 years, I’m still waiting for her to turn into the suave, handsome, rich doctor or lawyer I was supposed to marry, instead of this completely authentic, loving, neurotic putz who makes me laugh.

3. Loving her so much challenges all my fears. So I try to be friends and keep getting back on the same side. Otherwise I might kill her.

4. I can only do as much intimacy as I can tolerate—so I don’t open my heart all at once. Or I might kill her.

5. It’s better to tell on myself than to confront my partner. Because then she won’t kill me.

6. I have so many parts of me that see her as every monster from every nightmare and think my survival is threatened. When this happens, it’s time to go in my room and hide. And then try to soothe myself. So I don’t kill her.

7. Marriage is a disappointment factory. I keep creating expectations or recycling old ones, just so I can learn that she’s not here to take care of me. (This makes me want to kill her.)

8. For 26 years, she has told me, over and over again, that we don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, that we can go as slow as I need, that she never wants to hurt me (even though she does), and I forget this the minute she says something stupid. (And then I want to kill her.)

9. When the voice that tells me I’m better than her, and she doesn’t deserve me, gets activated, it’s better if I don’t share that with her (so she doesn’t kill me), or believe what that part of me is telling me (so I don’t kill her).

10. Once in a while, we get close, and no one freaks out, and I notice, one moment at a time, the way her hands seeks for me, the way she touches me as if I am the most precious person in the world, and the way I explode with joy (and make inappropriate jokes) at all of it, so grateful to be alive and know what this feels like.

Being Persephone

This morning I had one of my little fits.  They come on me this time of year, as I enter Hades–Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then the winter solstice and boxing day.  I emerge in January, and sometimes all the lights come on at once.  It’s beautiful, then, my own early spring.

I’m Persephone.

So, back to the fit.  This particular fit holds the title of, “You don’t love me.”  It’s really amazing how I can apply that title to so many situations.  My partner said to me this morning that if I didn’t know how much she loves me after all the work she’s put in trying to show up or learn to show up she didn’t know what else she could do.  I was like, “Accept me for who I am.”

And therein, as the man says, lies the rub.

Every fall, we come to this.  We both know I will turn into Persephone; and she, boy-girl that she is, will ravage the earth like Demeter, demanding my return.  We grow into our imperfections so deeply at this time.  I suppose every couple has this–their impasse issues, the place they return to, again and again, trying to learn how to grow.

My little trip to Hades will happen no matter what.  I am broken as well as strong.  And here’s the thing–it’s the trip and what I do with it that makes me.  I wrote a blog a couple days ago about the fault in our stars, and this is the true making or unmaking of every human being–not how the stars aligned, but how you relate to that alignment.

I am, as we all are, ashamed of my imperfections and the places and ways I am broken.  But in my most secret view of myself, I am proud of how I relate to that trip to Hades.  Every year, I lean into it more, and I let darkness be my teacher.  My goal is to end up like Ged in the Wizard of Earthsea, a woman who owns herself completely because she has chased and mastered her own darkness.

Of course, if I am to do this, I have to let go of the title, “You don’t love me.”  My partner inevitably disappoints me this time of year, because what I really want is for her to be the one who turns the lights on, and not in January, but in October, November and December.  She doesn’t much enjoy being asked to do the Herculean tasks of my dharma, and resists with all her might.  Much as, one might add, I do when she asks me to turn the lights on for her.

And get this, there is nothing in the world I wouldn’t give to be able to turn the lights on for both of us.  Only I can’t.  I can only turn them on for me.  She can only turn them on for her.  And then, in the light, there is the possibility of communion.

So, I throw my little fit (little, defined as short in duration and imperfectly owned fairly soon).  And she tells me how much she wants to be the comfort she can’t be.  And there we are, so imperfect we’re imperfect at being imperfect.

I want to lean into my fits, my failures, my darkness.  I want to be in them and know them.  I don’t want to pretend I’m more than I am, because then I end up being less.  I want to turn the lights on, one by one.  Because the first person I’ll see, when the lights are on, is not my partner.  It’s me.  The imperfect, fully loving and lovable one that I am.  So I can turn to her whole, and broken.  So I can see her, broken and whole.

I didn’t know, when I was younger, that this was what life is, or could be.  I thought it was all aim for the prize and prove you’re worth it.

I was so wrong.

The Fantasy Family

I come from a family of magicians.  We create illusions–not of rabbits or birds appearing out of nowhere–but of who we are.  You might say I come from a family of players–and it’s true, three of us have been involved in the theatre–but our greatest illusion requires layers of deception; and we are masters of this.

Take, for example, 1985.  The four oldest siblings (of six) were all 19 or older–I was the eldest at 25, my brother 24, my sister, 21, my youngest brother 19.  I had come home to live after college–for just a year–because I was convinced my two youngest sisters (15 and 9) needed me.  I thought they needed me to love them, to make them feel that they were good enough as they were; and, speaking of delusions, I thought this was my job, my responsibility, a spiritual obligation.

I lived with my sister the Waif (21).  I remember going out to bars, down into Philadelphia, with my siblings and our friends, and how they admired us.  They thought of us as close, as friends as well as siblings, as fun, as cool.  My sister the Waif (also the Party Girl) was particularly good at this spin–she was the club any cool person wanted to join.  But there was more–the way we inclined our heads toward each other, the way we danced together, the way we (my sister and I) tried to get our brother (24) to drink and loosen up.  The unspoken bond, the complete wordless understanding.  These things existed–we felt each other’s feelings, we were bonded, a unit; and, masters of illusion and spin, we could make it look cool.

I wanted it to be cool.  I wanted to fit in.  I wanted it to be true, that family, our family, could have some kind of love and comfort to it.

Of course, born into this family, I own the legacy of spin.  And to spin convincingly, the first person you must convince is yourself.  I knew my family wasn’t what I wanted, but I convinced myself if I loved them enough and worked hard enough, I could turn them into what we seemed to be.  At the same time, I couldn’t get far enough away.  So while I’m living 5 minutes from my youngest sister, living with the Waif, with my brother the Lost Boy (19) about to move in at any minute, I’m also saving every penny I earn to move to Japan.

The fantasy family–that knows our secrets without having to be told, that cares, that loves, that accepts…the siblings who we can talk to about the things no one else quite gets, the hope that the alcoholic father will get sober, the narcissistic mother will turn her gaze toward us…the dream dies hard.  It is the dream we can’t give up, and at the same time as we spin illusions for the outside world, we spin delusions, promises we know each other will break.

In early 1985, our friends from the various restaurants at which we worked and three of the four eldest decided to go down into Philly.  I wanted to go to the Rodin museum of art; my sister wanted to take me and my brother to South Street to get some gargantuan margaritas.  It was a moment of crashing reality for me.

We drove to the city, and arrived at the museum.  As our restaurant friends toured the small museum–a walk around and out, maybe 5 minutes, maybe 10–and my brother and sister did the same, going outside to smoke cigarettes and maybe pot, I stood in front of the Cathedral (one of Rodin’s sculptures of hands), disappointment seeping through me.  But I also rose on the wonder of those hands, of intimacy as holy; I understood, with my body, the truth of a single moment of touch, the meaning it could hold.  An atheist, I sought meaning in art; I always found it in Rodin.

I was the last person to leave the museum.  One of our friends, my soon-to-be girlfriend, waited for me at the door, her eyes shining.  An older guy, who my sister thought to set me up with, joined us.  He looked at me.

“You see something in this none of the rest of us can see, don’t you?”  He said.

I nodded as he named my loneliness.  Because my fantasy brothers and sisters would have seen it, too, that holiness, that presence in touch, that desire for meeting.  I didn’t know why they didn’t.  I didn’t know why I did.  What made me different?  Seriously.  I had gone to live in Europe, to swim in those waters, to dream of joining the legacy of artists who had come before me–literature, poetry, sculpture, architecture, history, painting.  I craved those things like water or air.  Why didn’t they?

We rejoined the group.  At a Mexican restaurant on South Street, my brother the Lost Boy sat next to me and snuck sips of my margarita.  We’ve always looked alike–I imagine the sweetness of the picture we made, our dark heads inclined toward each other, our voices low as we talked mostly to each other.  The happiness that fell over us, the bond, the love, the deep attachment.  And for a moment, Rodin and the siren’s song that would define my life vanished.

In the world of psychotherapy, the word enmeshment occurs again and again.  My Lost Boy brother had been betrayed and abandoned by both parents; in my memory incidents stand in stark relief of my attempts to protect and comfort him.  I have always said that we were the two gifted children in a family of extremely intelligent people–that felt like part of the bond…this sensitivity, this quickness of understanding.  When it came to each other, though, the special place we occupied was defined by the darkness that surrounded it.  We had no need to explain to each other the pain we carried; it was, after all, the same pain.  Both scapegoats, both rejected, both sensitive, both too smart…we were joined in what Patrick Carnes calls a trauma bond.

No need for a family of magicians if the truth can be uncovered without shame.

I have found myself pulled back, however briefly, into the family spell, into the unmet longing for closeness, and I find that I am not the only lonely family member–in some way we are all lonely.  In some way we all feel solitary–the only one that gets it, the only one that…fill in the blank.  Nor am I the only possessor of truth…or even the one free of denial.  As I spoke, over the last few weeks, with one of the other magicians, I found my own denial chiseled free so that I had to see more.  And why is more always worse than you thought?

I know, I know, that while family darkness is ubiquitous, so is real love, however conditional.

But I write this in awe of the fantasy family, and respect for its power.  I thought I had let go of my fantasy family, that I had grieved, but it seems I have only let go of the fantasy parents, and my siblings remain, in my heart, with that unspoken bond…that I thought was the Cathedral.  Only it turns out it’s not.

Yesterday my partner and I had a conversation in the car about how small boned she is, and what is achievable of her desired body and we held out our hands to measure and laughed, as we always do, at my large hand and her small.  But that is my Cathedral–those two hands.  Love, and the work of living in love, trying to be better for the person I love, being messy and imperfect with her, laughing and teasing her for her quirkiness, and the sudden sacred moments when she is all I see or need to see.

Shared pain isn’t a Cathedral.  That’s what the fantasy family is built on–shared pain and the denial of that pain.

I have often wanted to skip the stages of healing to get to “all done.”  I don’t get to, and with my partner, now, in mid-life, I’m so glad about that.  We had a fight yesterday, and I don’t get to pretend it’s all okay today.  I get to turn to her, and open, and know her better.  I get to build another Cathedral and another, and another.

I wish I could do this in the family from which I come, but the truth is that I don’t know how, and I never have.  In all these years, I’ve learned to prefer cathedral-building to the spinning of illusions.  Maybe, looking at the statue in the Rodin Museum of Art in 1985, all I saw was that possibility, all I felt was its call, and in the end, that mattered more to me than anything else.

I would like to spend the rest of my life building Cathedrals.  And I think I can.  I really do.

Buddhism Is All About Realizing You Are More Insane than You Could Have Imagined

So, my partner and I had a fight.  An argument.  A discussion of whose fault it was (this makes it a fight).  I blamed her.  She blamed me.  We both tried not to do this, but we failed.  I hung up on her.  She threw a comment at me.

Then, I went away to hang out with my enlightened friends from NYC, so my partner and I couldn’t really talk about it.  Giving me plenty of material for the Letting Go of Fear meditation practice group homework.

I tracked my fears.  I wrote them down, and then tried to sense where they happened in my body and how they changed my behavior.  My behavior was mostly not calling my partner, though I did send a text message, “metta,” spelled, “Meta,” because Siri inappropriately corrected me.  (Incidentally, I asked Siri if she loved me, and she said, “You’re looking for love in all the wrong places.”  This made my NYC friends howl.)

Among my fears appeared a kind of panic that my partner’s friends would tell her to leave me.  Also, that I would cave first and therefore not win the game of chicken I’d created in my insane mind.  (It goes like this–my partner tries to have the make up talk a couple times, but I don’t like her sallies into the game, so I say no.  Then she gets really mad because I won’t play, and when I try to have the make up talk, she says no.  So I decided I wouldn’t try to have the make up talk and see if she’d crack first.  (She didn’t, but I started the make up talk with a question so she had to be vulnerable first, which came a close second.))

In case you were wondering, this falls under the category of “More Insane than I Could Have Imagined.”  It falls under this category because Buddhism has made me capable of realizing that I’m doing these things, whereas before I just thought I was right and justified…or needy if I wanted to make up really badly.  Now I know I’m crazy.  My partner seems to prefer this…though I think she could have skipped the 3 days of playing chicken.

Anyhow, the good news is that when we had the make up talk, about, one might add, the same issue we’ve been arguing about for 25 years (is she being passive-aggressive, am I invasively describing what’s happening inside her head and is either one of us being really, really, really bad…or, even further, are we reminding each other of our mothers (answer to all questions, yes, yes, yes, and yes))…we actually made some F%$#ing headway!  After 25 years!  We are aiming for satya…you know, some relentless honesty about what we do, what we’re up to, and how much we’re defending ourselves when we want to just love and be close but are, guess what?  scared of being hurt.

My partner said, “I’m trying so hard to hear you and be honest,” and I really believed her, and I was trying, too, and we both do know the score, after 25 years.  I always say that the script is really well memorized for these arguments, and I could say her lines, in order, just as she could say mine.  There are, apparently, couples who don’t argue, and instead don’t talk at all and just resent each other endlessly.  We talk, resent each other, talk some more, resent each other some more, confess we’re scared, especially now, as we’re taking this Letting Go of Fear workshop together.

Tonight, at dinner, my partner was like, “I really hated the middle of this fight.”

I was like, “You know, I just started watching the procession of my own reactions, and I got really interested in them, and then curious, because I hadn’t seen it this way before, so it wasn’t that bad for me.”

She started laughing really hard.

I was like, “I’m just like that.  I get curious, and then it’s like, ‘Hey, someone just cut off my leg.  I’ve never had my leg cut off before.  It’s really painful.  But I didn’t know it felt like this.'”

She’s like, “I know.  I know what you’re like.”

Which is, in the end, the sum up of being married for 25 years.

I can say, for example, that I know since I didn’t print her out a check sheet for the fear homework (because we were fighting) she probably didn’t do it.

Here’s the surprise–I didn’t do it perfectly.
I only did 1-2 most days, not 3, because I was too busy being with my friends from NYC.

Miracles happen.  All the time.  We just have to stop moving and see them.

Metta for my partner.  Who I love, who I love, who I love.

Partner Lesson #7: Creating a Monster

My partner HATES pretentiousness of any kind.  Therefore she often hates the world of theatre, where people are always remembering that the next gig might come from whoever is right in front of them, and are therefore to-your-face nice most of the time.

My partner is also not terribly ambitious.  She loves a daily life, and a sense of meaning, and the idea of making a difference, but she has never dreamed of being rich and famous.

But then, this spring, she had an acting role for the first time.  In Saint John the Divine in Iowa.  We couldn’t find someone 40+ who was truly butch and could play the comedy and the heart of the scene, and when she read it with me she did really well (surprisingly, since mostly she sits there and reads everything in a monotone trying to get me to let her off the hook (she doesn’t enjoy being the line-learning helper)).  So she ended up in the play.  Shaking, on opening night, with the cast being sweet to her and teaching her how to handle the nerves we all get.  And then she got her first laugh.  And her second.  Then she got her own private round of applause at the end of her scene (which began to happen regularly).  Then she figured out how to make the scene better, how to keep it alive.  In other words, she sort of became an actor.

Then she’s all like, “It was fun, and I liked the laughs, but I wouldn’t do it again.  I didn’t get hooked or anything.”

Then she’s like, “But I was good, right?”

In other words, she sort of became an actor.

Then, this weekend, we’re driving home from our weekly date night, and she tells me she wanted to go down to the Sandra Bullock set and just walk around because she had a fantasy that they’d like her look and offer her a part, and then she’d talk them into giving me a part and we’d both be in a Sandra Bullock movie.


So, lesson #7 is that no one is immune to fantasies of Hollywood.  Not even my neurotic love of a partner.  This is so disappointing, on one hand, since her hatred of pretentiousness is really kind of great.  On the other hand, it does give me endless get-out-of-jail free cards when I start obsessing about myself and my performances.

Do not doubt I will use all of them, even if they are endless.  I will be dead and still using my get-out-of-jail-free cards.  Watch me!

**The end of 7 blogs of partner lessons.  My partner had a topic she wanted to suggest, but I told her to go get her own blog.  But since I’m about to start a theatre gig, and will be heavily unavailable, I may give her a guest appearance on this one.  No doubt this will also lead to unforeseen consequences.  I’m starting to have 2nd thoughts.  Right now.

Partner Lesson #6: Idiosyncrasy and Neurosis RULE!

So, let us begin with a little background.  Enter one Lyralen Kaye, raised upper middle class in the suburbs of one city or another, mother a housewife for the first 14 years of Lyralen’s then young life, father an outgoing, charismatic salesman who sang in the church singing group, arranged neighborhood barbeques (or, more likely, suggested them and got other people to do the work).  Lyralen’s mother had been the homecoming queen at her college.  Lyralen’s father, the president of his class and halfback on the football team at Notre Dame.  Lyralen’s mother dressed her children in red, white and blue.  The girls (eventually there were 4) wore not only patriotic colors, but matching outfits, though none of them were twins.  A leitmotif derived from the Brady Bunch, one might surmise.  A keeping up with the Joneses, a commercial for Lux detergent, a smile-for-the-camera-we-are- Americana-at-its-best.

In other words, like many upper middle class families, the family looked perfect.  It was all about image.

Let me be perfectly clear.  It was about image, image, image, image, image, image, IMAGE!

Now, dropping the antiquated usage I can honestly say that those people DROVE ME CRAZY.  I know, I know, everyone drives me crazy, but they were the first.  I mean, this metaphysical bent I have?  I didn’t learn it.  I was born with it.  I came out of the womb consumed with a desire to talk philosophy and meaning.  I believe my first word was, “Nietzsche.”

So here I am, 7 years or so past birth, watching these adults, (all members of the Catholic church) cocktails in hand, laughing, the women in pumps, the men with loosened ties, the appetizers–the cheese balls, the cantaloupe balls–that I sometimes passed around.  A woman leans closer to my father, laughs up into his face.  My mother’s tight smile in a group of women who chatter around her while she says nothing.  The way she changes when she turns to the men, the ease in the muscles of her face under skin that is peaches and cream.  Her blue eyes, frosted blonde hair.  And afterward, as she takes apart the character of each woman, the way my father drinks the 4th drink too many.  I’m watching this and I’m thinking, I will die before I have a life like this!

Of course, no matter how much I resisted, I also internalized some of those values, mostly in the category of looks.  My first two girlfriends were femme and gorgeous.  They both had eating disorders, but, you know, who doesn’t if they look like that?  It costs to be a Jody Foster look-a-like (that was my first girlfriend, who I not-so-affectionately refer to as the train wreck….or at least I have, but now I must say metta for her and be all Buddhist).

Enter one Lyralen’s-Partner-To-Be, circa 1987.  Rocking and blinking when overwhelmed by social situations.  Her face revealing every passing emotion, including and especially anxiety.  Who loves her white Fiat so passionately she keeps trying to fix it herself, climbing under the car in a man’s winter hat, climbing back out covered with grease…and beaming all over her face with pride.  Who gets so anxious about the first fight that she goes and sleeps in her car.  Who sings atonally in the shower, plays her guitar and sings loudly (also atonally), who claims the laundry room as her special space (it’s the size of a large closet) and moves in there when intimacy gets too much for her, piling in the guitar, some big books and a nest of pillows and blankets.  Who wears boy’s cords and old t-shirts, who literally puffs out her chest with pride when she links her arm with mine at parties.  Who holds my hand on the streets.  Who goes and buys poetry books by Adrienne Rich just because I mention I like her work.

*                                         *                                       *

It is, in fact, 1987.  A quick learner, I sit next to my partner on the single bed mattress and box spring we use as a couch, watching her wipe her greasy hands (from the Fiat) on her jeans, hoping she doesn’t get any on the carpet.  I listen to her talk about how she got the starter in, but it kind of hangs down away from the rest of the engine, held in place by 2 wires and maybe she should take the car to a mechanic if she can’t get it up and staying up.  And I realize, for the first time, how much easier it is to love someone so radically and emphatically herself, so imperfect, so openly anxious…than it is to love the physically beautiful trying to live up to an image in her own head.  My partner teaches me, in that one moment, what it  means to be real.

Of course, over the ensuing 25 years, the lessons in individuality and permission continue, though she did stop rocking and blinking, grew more confident and slightly less anxious, became an IT geek (so socially acceptable in the world defined by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates). But privately, in our home, she walks around in men’s underwear and t-shirts from the 80’s (because it’s summer), her hair standing on end, lifting up her glasses to squint down at Siri.  She still spills food on every shirt she owns (all 30 of them, the same style in different colors), still asks me how to get grease out, still repeats the last three words of any conversation in a mutter as she walks away, thinking about who knows what.

I mean, look at the material!  I can write comedy about us forever!

And I can look at her, her slightly turned out feet, her unbrushed hair, the 40 books piled next to her bed (she’s read 10 pages of each of them), and feel my chest straining to get big enough to hold my heart.

I recognize that my partner is neurotic and idiosyncratic, while I fall more into the category of completely whacked.  It makes for an entertaining 24 hours.  One after another.  For 25 years.

Avoidance 101

I plan to generously pass on Lessons Learned from My Partner in the next 7 blogs.  I got angry at her today, and for some reason that makes me want to remind myself of the things she has taught me in the last twenty-five years.  I’m sure I could fill many more than 7 blogs, but I’m not sure she could stand it (she’s become addicted to reading this thing!).

So.  Lesson 1:  The Healthy Uses of Avoidance as a Relationship Strategy

First, one must understand that I’ve learned most of what I know about how to behave from books.  Or, to put it bluntly, I decided at about, oh, age 6 that my parents were completely clueless (and that they thought I was an alien from outer space and had no idea what to do with me), so I looked for other resources.  I read books on how to communicate (“I” statements, be honest and direct), books on how to be assertive (“no” means “no”), books on how to deal with children, how to have better sex–I mean, I have a reading disorder.  I read unbelievably fast and remember almost everything I read.  I read a couple books a week at minimum.  I get that this makes me strange and a bit of a freak.

Anyhow, all the early reading meant that I created my own rulebook on how to behave, communicate, be assertive, etc (the sex part I extemporized on…a lot, but we won’t get into that).  And, as I have mentioned ad infinitum, I have a certain penchant for drama and never doing anything halfway.  I mean, if I’m going to be direct, I’m going to be DIRECT.

I will say this–being DIRECT creates a lot of drama in your relationships.  Like, you’re getting to know someone, and you notice that she is a monologuer.  Meaning, she says, “Hi, can you talk?”  You say, “Yes.”  She then talks for 44 minutes without taking a breath.  (If you’re me, you’re holding the phone away from your ear, swearing at it, making faces at it, dancing around and generally being extremely mature.)

Now, my rulebook says to be direct, so I call this person up a couple days later (this all happened about 20 years ago) and say, “Did you know you talked for 44 minutes in our last phone call without even asking me how I was?”  And she says, “YOU WERE TIMING ME???!~!!!!!!”

This was when my partner decided to do an intervention on me.  She sat me down and said, “You need to learn that if you don’t want to be friends with someone, JUST DON’T PICK UP THE PHONE!”

I was like, “You can do that?”

My partner then tore all her hair out at once.  It grew back, though.

“YES!!!!” she said (after the hair had been cleaned up and she’d stopped swearing).

“You don’t have to tell people everything you think?”

“You’re completely hopeless,” she told me.

Later, she came back and explained that if you want to be friends with someone, but not as close as they want to be to you, you wait before calling them back.  Or you do only group outings.  There are, it turns out, about a million ways to keep people at a distance without telling them that you’re timing their phone calls.

Who knew?

Besides my partner, I mean.

And so I came to study Avoidance 101.  I thought psychological health grew out of direct communication, but it turns out that mostly drama grows out of anything the least confrontational.  AND, my partner tells me, if you tell someone what bothers you about them, that’s actually pretty intimate, so if you don’t want to be close to them, it’s better not to say it.


Of course, if you do want to be close to someone, direct communication of the skillful variety is a good idea.  My partner has to study that with me, though, because guess what?  Being direct isn’t always her strong suit.

Anyhow, here I am, making a pitch for The Healthy Uses of Avoidance.

Some of us just need things spelled out.

All the time.

And while I am a student of avoidance, I personally prefer to say what I think with no punches pulled, and to hear things that way as well.  As long as it’s gentle, kind, and basically complimentary.  Of course.

Suffering Is Optional?!&*%#@

What about my poor partner, for whom kvetching is an art form?

No, seriously, this saying has always DRIVEN ME OUT OF MY MIND!  Like, okay, say I’m sad.  I’m just supposed to presto-change-o kill that emotion?  I mean, outside of alcohol, drugs, chocolate, lots of sex, shopping, etc, how is someone SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?

I have a lifetime full of attitudes that may, perhaps, at times, mildly, gently, occasionally need adjustment.  My attitude toward this saying can be summed up in the delightful sentence, “Can you New Age lightweights go get some real grief?”

But in my obsession with Buddhism and yoga, I have been reading The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope (because even though yoga teacher training means I’m reading about 10 other books, I just have to go off on what interests or informs me).  And it turns out that the full saying is this:

“Pain is a given, but suffering is optional.”

Ah-hah!  I wasn’t so off in talking about real grief!  Because the thing is, it’s really, really, really important to draw the distinction between the first and second halves of that sentence.  Pain is a given.  Meaning, it is inescapable.  We die.  We lose people we love.  We sometimes treat each other horribly.  There are natural disasters, wars, epidemics.  Fear, sadness, sorrow, anger, horror…these are a part of life.  You can’t avoid them.  They are not optional.

Then what is suffering?  According to Cope, who is liberally quoting the Buddha, Patanjali and Jung among others, suffering is the constant re-enactment of our own life patterns.  He says that this, really, is karma.  These patterns.  They are laid down in childhood, they are laid down by repetition, they are grooves in the brain.  We fall into them like ruts in a dirt road.  But they are not inescapable.  Of course, here’s the thing: They are not exactly easy to escape.  It’s not easy to find the way to freedom.  It’s just very, very possible.

The Hindu religion and Buddhism were and are very concerned with the nature of suffering or dukkha.  The sages in India studied the mind in order to learn about human suffering.  The Buddha himself, after entering samvega (the full realization of suffering and meaninglessness), wanted to eradicate suffering.

Now, I’m a beginning meditator (even though I’ve been at it off and on since 1987), but not at all a beginning seeker.  And what I know is this–your patterns don’t whoosh, disappear.  They remain, but not so deeply grooved, if you find a way to freedom.  You have more choice.  You are not held by your history to the constant dukkha of repetition.

There’s something else, though.  As you grow into an ability to hold your own patterns, to know them as you and not you simultaneously, as you grieve for the pain at the heart of them, you become sad in a permanent way.  It’s a mature sadness, that is held within freedom.  It’s compassion and understanding, because you have gone into the dark and come out alive.  It’s a recognition of the world of causes and conditions, the world in which war and poverty and pain exist.

I know that grief, fully lived out, teaches us our humanity.  I have yet to read, in Eastern religions, about the power of grief (or intimacy, for that matter, which is also a path).  But I also know that, as one of my meditation teachers said so eloquently, that there are many paths to the moon.  We all look up, we see it, but we take different routes to get closer.

The best thing about meditation and the full practice of yoga is that they are practices.  I think it’s probably best to be in a sangha, a community, to deepen and practice, but it’s just really great that you can practice alone and get freer.  In other words, you DON’T NEED A F*&(ING THERAPIST!

This is a great relief to me.

And, I’m going to meditate again right now.  Because this morning I was super edgy with my partner.  I’d had another one of those moments of seeing her, hearing her, completely separate from my own experience and fear; and, once again, the world shifted.  I realized that I don’t know squat and I’m madly constructing reality all the time and I got her wrong, which is not something I like to see or admit.  Even though she’s more loving than I even knew, even though I felt an incredible opening, a sense of compassion, yesterday, seeing her.  Truth is, this morning, I was just pissed off.  I mean, who is she to make me change how I see the whole world?

I have confessed this to her already.  One might suppose that I would be grateful to her for popping me out of a dukkha rut, but I found it incredibly disorienting, to tell you the truth.  I didn’t know where or who I was without my familiar way of seeing.

Need I mention that I live for these moments?  Popped out of dukkha, admitting I’m crazy, which pops me into closeness as long as my partner doesn’t judge at all.  Which she hasn’t been doing.

I get to be happy for a little bit in my dukkha, unenlightened life.


I mean, what else is there to say?