seeking beauty outside myself

Finding My Own Way Alone: “I’m Still Lost and Running”

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I’m Still Lost and Running

So many things change in our lives over the course of say 5 years… I went from being engaged to an alcoholic and imagining I could make things better. I couldn’t. I was in a relationship with a woman who professed to love my kids and then made ZERO effort to connect with them. “What are you going to do with your kids, today?” This is what she asked when she needed time off. Then there was the partner with a kid or two. I saw trouble ahead as her we never included me. I fought to become part of the team, but I was merely a supporting cast member.

So, onward and upward, I’m in NYC alone. A place where I find my energy and passion renewed, each time I visit. I am feeling vibrant, not old. I am feeling blessed, not lost. I am feeling centered, not running.

Am I lost when I’m alone? Have I gotten my own narrative wrong? Do I require a romantic relationship to be happy? Am I failing when I’m not “in love?” Or am I in my more natural state? Maybe alone is where I do 95% of my creative and aspirational work. I mean, I am aspiring to find her, the mythical woman. I’m probably reaching out to impress the angel of my older sister who died when I was in my 20’s. I’m still sort of looking for her and the love we shared. A brother-sister love, of honest talk, creative struggles, and warring against the outside influences that were intent on fucking us up. Together we braved great struggles. When she passed to the other side, I was left to struggle on alone.

Here I Am, At the Beginning Again

It’s not like the game of life, where you end the game, tally your money, and determine who wins. In life, there is no winning square at the far end of some path of adventure. There is no Free Parking windfall that sets you up with Park Place and Boardwalk and hotels. And in that same respect, there is no “begin again.” We just keep going, either with joy and energy or with struggle and strife. My work, as a man on a mission, is to find ways to tip my journey towards the joy/energy path and way from the depression/struggle path. Each of us makes these choices every day. Do we have another cup of coffee? Do we take a nap? Do we eat chocolate or a pharmaceutical or something else to bring us up?

I am at the beginning because that’s how I choose to frame it. I am somewhere in the middle, should I live a long and healthy life. Or even a long and less-than-healthy life. And yet, in my own measuring system, I am not IN THE RELATIONSHIP OF MY LIFE. I thought I was when I married the mother of my children 23 years ago. I thought I was when I got engaged to the marathoner. I even thought I was when I joined the solo mom on her adventure for two years. I thought I had found THE ONE. Obviously, since I am now alone again, I did not find THE ONE.

Going for The One

Maybe the soulmate, twin flame, “one” partner is a myth. I’m certainly wired for monogamy in all of my past partnerships, but maybe I’m asking for too much from a single person. Can we expect “everything” from our significant other? Can they fulfill us? Will I feel less alone when she is near me? Or will I still have moments of aloneness even when she’s holding my hand or sleeping beside me?

What if “the one” is me?

Let’s take this idea down the road a bit.

I am in love with being in love. I write poems, songs, stories, articles. I sing at the top of my lungs. I gather renewed energy and wake up in the morning to make them coffee. A first sip contemplating the smile of the “woman I love.” What if the woman I love can change from time to time? What if my ideal goal of finding a lifetime partner, is a bit more like a romantic ideal rather than an achievable goal? What if the love I shared within these flawed relationships, AND the pain I experienced afterward, was all part of my journey? Can I learn to love the breakups too? Can I lean into the sad love songs in the same way I aspire towards, “She was just seventeen, you know what I mean…”?

What if what I am looking for is the now love rather than the ultimate love? That puts a bit less pressure on everyone, doesn’t it? I mean, if I can just love this woman, at this moment, and not get too far down the imaginary road of Candyland, maybe I can love more clearly. Maybe my lifetime intention has caused me to stay in partnerships that were not worthy of the struggle, once the cards of dysfunction had been revealed.

My First Marriage

I know in my first marriage, my “starter marriage,” I learned on my honeymoon in Greece that I had made a bit mistake. Yep. And I still worked for 4 years, to stay together, work on the relationship, get counseling, and keep trying to find a safe place with this unsafe woman. And I was crushed when I took the wedding ring off for the first time. I was giving up. And while it took me two more tries to actually get free of the wreckage of my initial marital adventure, I took away some valuable lessons.

My Second Marriage

I didn’t really learn the most essential lesson from that first failure, that no one can fix your broken or depressed heart. A relationship is not going to make you whole again. It may give you years of things to work on, and a lot of growth, but the happiness and healing are going to have to come from within you. I met my second wife in high school. She was massively attractive, while also being somewhat marginalized. I didn’t really know why she was not part of the IN crowd, but neither was I. Still, in high school, we only recognized a brief attraction and moved along in our own groups. We knew of each other, but we never dated.

Moving forward 10 years and 2 marriages later, and we met in the parking lot of a fancy coffee shop on Easter morning. As I reached for a handshake, she pulled me in for a hug. The rest of my day was filled with rapt fantasies triggered by the strong smell of the perfume she had left on me with her hug. She followed me all afternoon. I could not stop thinking about the hug, and her smile, and our conversation. “Oh, you’ve been divorced too? No kids? Yeah, me too.”

While we lit up with passion and heat over the next month I began to build romantic ideas around how we could, should, and would get together. She, on the other hand, was living with an older gentleman, telling him some sort of lies about her “lunches” and moving along with both of us unaware of the other. She was playing a dangerous game. A flaw of hers, that belied her fear and need to hedge her bets. She was moving towards a relationship with me, before closing off her relationship to the man who still loved her and shared his bed with her. This was an unforgivable lie. As she was accepting my romantic texts and post-lunch hugs, she was going “home” to someone else who had no idea what was heading his way.

My Next Marriage

I love the idea of marriage. I have written in the past how much I believe in marriage, what to get married, and am looking for my lifetime partner to marry and ravish for the rest of our lives. At this point, today, I am going to put a pin in that idea. I’m curious about marriage. I am more curious about how I can maintain my creative thrust (which requires good amounts of alone time) while building a trusting a loving relationship with THE ONE (for now).

Perhaps the lifetime aspiration is part of the problem. If the goal is a lifetime partnership, that’s awesome. We should both be so committed. But is it real? Is it even important? What about a life partner? We get together, we align our lives and schedules. And we just ARE together. Is marriage a requirement for happiness? Or, as many of my friends imagine, is marriage the beginning of the end?  Do we court our wives and husbands with the same care an intensity as when we were trying to woo or impress them? Can we keep the romance and longing alive in a marriage?

What does marriage mean today? It certainly did not provide me any protection against a partner who chose to exit for her own reasons. Today, marriage may be more about tradition and less about commitment and love. I am still examining this idea. But I’m not as fully sold on the idea of marriage. I am sold on lifetime partnerships, done one at a time. When they fail, they fail, but not for my own valiant efforts. Let’s be together and explore how we can continue to romance, the care and kindness. Let’s woo and adore our partners regardless of our “status.”

Let’s just love as best we can.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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