relationships

six bright red and green flags of dating

Dating can be daunting and complicated.

It isn’t easy to find the balance between enjoying it and not letting it run our lives, between giving time to it and time to everything else that matters to us, between being open to possibilities and protecting ourselves, and between releasing our pasts and learning everything we can from our experiences. It requires time, attention and effort. There’s no one right way to do it, there’s no perfect recipe for a great social life. I found that what worked for me developed over time, with a lot of trial and error.

I think the hardest part for many of us, especially those of us who’ve made appalling mistakes in the past, is learning to trust our own judgment—again or for the first time. Every encounter and every person is different. How do we know for sure that we’re making the right decisions for ourselves?

Thinking about this recently, I decided to create a list of some of the red and green flags that I learned to watch for through the process of dating. These may or may not be helpful to anyone else, but they they gave me confidence and helped me keep my balance.

Red Flag #1: Love Bombing.
The other person overwhelms you with attention, compliments, praise and expressions of devotion. This is called “love bombing,” and anyone who’s experienced it knows how GOOD it feels. Suddenly you go from being alone to deeply attached, you belong to someone who adores you. All your free time is absorbed by them. They talk about the future—forever—love. They’ve never met anyone like you before, you’re The One. You’re breathless with excitement and giddy with romance, devouring every word. Before you know it, you’ve become dependent on the heady drug that is their affection, and find all your boundaries and values flying out the window in order to keep it coming.

The catch? It’s not real. No matter how quickly two people fall in love, if it’s a healthy and sustainable relationship, one person won’t overwhelm the other with attachment. Every relationship has its own pace, fast or slow, but the key is that both people are comfortable and clear-headed about what’s happening. If it feels like too much, too soon, then it is, and chances are this person wants something. To sleep with you, manipulate you, condition you, use you in some way to their advantage. No one ever needs to be love bombed in order to fall in love.

Green Flag #1: An authentic pace.
Sure, being swept up in romance is fun and exciting, it’s a natural high unlike just about any other. But what’s the hurry? This person is basically a stranger, no matter how great they seem. It’s a good sign if they make it clear that they’re in no rush. They show you that they want to get to know you better, but that’s it. They don’t have an agenda. This flag indicates maturity, integrity and respect, not a lack of desire or interest. You can let the relationship unfold as it will without stressing over it or feeling overwhelmed by it.

The flip side is someone who drags their feet, who does NOT show you that they’re interested, who leaves you guessing because they’re playing games or aren’t really sure what they want. Your best bet is to watch for the indications that they really do want to date you. They contact you and respond when you contact them. They follow up when they say they will. They end a date by talking about the next one. They don’t make big promises and don’t break the promises they make. Their actions speaking for their intentions. Beyond the almost unavoidable “how much does he/she like me?” question we all ask ourselves, you shouldn’t have to guess whether or not they’re interested in you.

For both of these flags, your own responses will tell you everything you need to know. Do you feel dismissed and confused? Valued and respected? Overwhelmed and anxious? Does this person frequently disappoint you, or consistently follow through? Are you deeply attached by week two, terrified that it will end? Are you willing to let the relationship unfold at its own pace, whatever that may mean?

Red Flag #2: Boundary Crossing.
You’ve just met a very attractive, charming man or woman who’s knocked you off your feet—maybe even love-bombed you, but it’s too late, you missed that red flag. Or maybe they didn’t love bomb, you watched for that, they courted you or responded to you in a mature, open way that clearly showed they like you. You’ve gone on one or three or five dates, and are starting to think that this could really have potential. And then something happens that makes you uncomfortable. They tease you—about something you’ve made clear is important, or belittle you in a teasing way. They make an unkind comment about your appearance, or job, or friends—as a joke, maybe, but it still hurts your feelings. They do something—flirt with a bartender, go a little too far physically, “accidentally” leave you with a big tab—that disturbs you and makes you uneasy and resentful. You may seem “over-sensitive” to someone who has different boundaries, but that doesn’t matter. You were made uncomfortable.

If you’ve already established for yourself what is and is not acceptable behavior and what they do falls squarely into the unacceptable category, now’s the time to cut your losses and walk away. There’s no value in rationalizing or making excuses—it’s appropriate to end it now, no matter how nice you thought they were. If their behavior is in the gray area for you, daunting as it may be, it’s probably best to address it head on. We have the right and responsibility to speak up for ourselves when our personal lines are crossed. Either it was an honest mistake and your budding relationship will be the stronger for the conversation, or it wasn’t. If the other person is defensive, plays the victim, blames you (or anyone else) or is in any way crazy-making, this is definitely not a good bet for a future partner. If speaking up scares them off, what are the chances you’d work through even bigger conflicts in the future?

Green Flag #2: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Self-respect in dating matters. Coming from a strong place where you value yourself and believe that your wants, needs, opinions, feelings and ideas are important is the best guarantee that you’ll choose similarly strong people to date. One way to recognize this is that you feel utterly respected by the person you’re dating. You know they value who you are—not who you could be if you were more successful or skinnier, not you with less flaws. But YOU. They show respect for your time, your priorities, your family, your responsibilities, your choices. Making plans with them doesn’t require you to rearrange your life, and vice versa.

We all know when someone is disrespecting us. Crossing boundaries, consistently showing up late or cancelling plans at the last-minute, trying to negotiate when we say “no” or convince us that we’re in the wrong, playing any kind of mind game. No matter how attracted we might be to them, disrespect is disrespect. You deserve better than that—and someone who starts out disrespecting you probably won’t stop.

It’s on us to own our own boundaries and self-worth. We deserve to feel empowered to define our deal-breakers and enforce them, to recognize when someone has crossed a line and decide for ourselves what to do about it, and to only let people into our lives who show us unwavering respect, who we respect in return. Without a strong foundation, a relationship will crumble, causing far more heartbreak and stress than speaking out or ending it early on would.

Red Flag #3: Your Gut Says “No.”
Whether it’s the first date or the fiftieth, there’s one very simple and beautiful way to decide if someone is right for you—whatever “right” means at that moment in your life. Your gut will tell you. Even those of us who have made some truly horrible decisions when it comes to dating can trust our instincts—there was nothing wrong with what they told us, what was wrong was that we didn’t listen to them. Haven’t we all kicked ourselves, saying “I KNEW I shouldn’t have done that,” and we were proved right? Our instincts are our best friends, best guides and best allies. They only have our very best interest at heart. There’s nothing complicated about our instincts, they don’t have conflicting loyalties. They have one job: to lead us to make the choices that are aligned with who we really are. That’s it.

Maybe by the third date, you believe that the man or woman you’re dating is pretty awesome, but something inside you is saying “Nope. No. Not.” Instead of accepting this and open-mindedly investigating why, you argue with it—”But she’s fabulous!” “He’s such a nice man!” Say you’re successful (as so many of us have been) and manage to ignore and override your inner guide, pushing yourself forward into a relationship regardless. What good can come of it? You’re never going to change your instinct’s mind. Something is telling you not to be with this person. Maybe they’re actually a sociopath, or maybe they’re a fantastic person who just isn’t right for you. Either way, your gut will be your best resource for deciding whether or not to pursue a relationship.

Green Flag #3: Your Loved Ones Say “Yes.”
This is much less important than listening to your own instincts, but it’s still a good indication of relationship potential. Not everyone in your life has to love your significant other like you do, but it’s a big flashing green flag if those in your inner circle, the people who love and value you the most, like what they see when you’re with this person. They should see you being yourself, feeling comfortable and confident, remaining committed to your values and priorities. Sure, a relationship requires us to make some compromises, but a healthy relationship never requires us to compromise ourselves. Our partner should share our core values, not challenge or negate them.

Whether or not a relationship is meant to work out long-term, having the support and enthusiasm of both partners’ friends and families will only add to what you bring to each other. If your partner can be friends with your friends, and you with theirs, that’s an extremely positive sign—because if they can’t, or they aren’t interested in building those connections, what does that mean for their friendship with you?

There are a lot of forces pushing on us when we’re single. Society wants us to be paired up, as if we all have sell-by dates and will expire if we’re not happily partnered. The world at large favors couples, outside of our own desire for companionship. So we’re really good at talking ourselves into and out of things, often with the help of our advisers, often just in our own minds. We might pass up a potential date because she or he doesn’t fit our projected ideas about who our partner “should” be. We might get married against our instincts because we rationalize that it’s better to be with someone than to be alone, convincing ourselves that we’re in love. We might date the wrong person for years, just because we don’t have a logical reason not to.

The point is, this is your life, you live with the consequences of your dating decisions—not your family, not society at large. Whether or not you’ve made mistakes in the past, you get to learn the lessons offered and start again. In this complicated thing called dating, your instincts, your values and your awareness are the most dependable tools for finding the right balance, and right partner, for you.

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i don’t wish you ill, exactly…

I recently read an article in which the writer, very thoughtfully and beautifully, wished 10 good things for her exes. Love, laughter, happiness, success… It was lovely. I can completely relate to these feelings, because I want only the best for my ex-husband, who I still sometimes miss and always wish well.

My ex-boyfriend, however… that’s another story. While I certainly don’t wish anything bad to happen to him, and while I do in a neutral way wish him well, I honestly don’t feel the same uplifting desire for blessings to fall upon his head. My divorce was longer ago, but not all that much longer ago. The difference isn’t in that I’ve had more time to heal, it’s in the relationships themselves, and the men themselves.

My ex-husband is a good person. He made some poor choices, but so did I. We failed each other, we fell apart, but were never anything but kind through it all. He never meant to hurt me, nor I him. Our breakup happened as a result of much bigger things, with only goodwill on either side.

That was not the case with the man I dated next. I’ll call him Shnook. He did NOT mean well. He was NOT kind or loving, not even when we were together. And the hurts he perpetrated on me weren’t a result of much bigger things, but were all part of a deliberate and ruthless agenda of manipulation, conditioning and abuse. If this sounds extreme, it is. Those who have had a sociopath as a partner and come out of it by the skin of their teeth will know that this isn’t an exaggeration. He was not good to me. I chose him, and I chose to stay with him, a truth almost harder to face after our relationship ended than his multitude of betrayals. I was ashamed and heartbroken and had to work very hard to forgive myself, while I also worked to forgive him, taking full accountability for my choices. At the same time, I was relieved beyond expression—am still relieved to this day—that I’m free of the toxic nightmare that was Shnook.

Now that I’ve forgiven Shnook and my life has moved on, immeasurably better than it was with him in it, I still can’t pretend to wish him “all good things.” I do, however, have a few wishes for him.

1) I hope that someday, in some way, you understand the sickening pain and heartbreak you put me and other women through. This doesn’t mean I hope he’s mistreated or taken advantage of, because I truly don’t. I just hope he can understand it, comprehending and feeling empathy for the kind of pain he inflicted. According to the sources I’ve read, sociopaths simply don’t feel empathy, that shared human compassion for others. If I could I’d give him this gift, Shnook might understand the boundaries he crossed and hurts he inflicted in a deeply personal and transformational way, and be a better person for it.

2) I hope you develop a conscience, and feel true regret for what you’ve done. People with covert manipulative personalities, narcissism, psychopathy or a variety of personality disorders don’t have consciences. They know right from wrong, they just don’t care. The rules don’t apply. So if Shnook felt true regret, and started experiencing the sting of a conscience the way the rest of us do, it would have undoubtedly painful but ultimately extremely positive consequences for his character—and be a reprieve for the people he might hurt in the future.

3) I hope that your actions have appropriate consequences. This isn’t about karma, though I do believe in it as it relates to universal balance. Less in the abstract, I would like Shnook’s actions to have real, tangible consequences that he can’t wriggle away from. I want him to be accountable. You steal, you get caught and prosecuted, or you make reparations. You betray, you have to own the betrayal and not make a single excuse for it. You abuse, the person you abuse presses charges or immediately drops you. I’d like him to stop getting away with everything—the opposite of the way I let him get away with so much when we were together.

4) I hope you get your act together for your kids’ sake. I’m not sure how he’d do this, because I never saw any indication of progress in this area, but if Shnook could possibly pull it together long enough to take responsibility for his actions and his life, then his daughters—by other women, not me—might have a dad they could be proud of. (Fortunately both of them have really great stepfathers, as this doesn’t seem likely.)

5) I hope that I never, ever, ever have to deal with you ever again. I know he’ll keep falling flat on his face and keep managing to somehow get back on his feet. Shnook is a survivor, an intelligent, perceptive one who can be charming and witty and even sweet. He’s going to manipulate more women after me, just as he manipulated many women before me. Since we have acquaintances and friends in common in a relatively small community, I’ll probably run across him at some point. I won’t panic and hide if that happens, I just have zero desire to connect with him in any way. I’m in no danger of getting caught up for one second in his drama and lies, but I’d rather not even have a conversation. It would actually give me a heady and twisted rush of pleasure to SHUT HIM DOWN if he tried to sell me a sob story, much less use me again, so this could be my most generous wish yet.

There is a middle ground in looking back at our exes, the ones who didn’t treat us as well as they could. We don’t have to hate them and dream of revenge—which is giving them way more power than they deserve, anyway. But even if we’ve forgiven them their trespasses and moved on, even if we’re good people with compassionate hearts, we don’t need to send a single gleam of light and love their way, either. Because I damn sure won’t be doing so anytime soon.

the people who take it personally

In the worst times of my life, I’ve found that my immediate network falls into two groups of people: My People, and The People Who Take It Personally. It becomes very clear, very quickly, which group someone belongs in.

In his book Boundaries and Relationships,* Dr. Charles Whitfield calls this latter group unsafe people, and describes them as those who: “may not really listen to you or hear what you are actually saying, although they may pretend to do so. They may or may not make eye contact with you. They often reject or invalidate the real you and your inner life experience. They may be judgmental or false with you. They are often unclear in their communications. Their boundaries may be blurred, and they may often send you mixed messages. They may be indirect with you, often triangling in another or others when they are in conflict with you. Rather than being supportive, they may be competitive and may even betray you. Overall, the relationship just feels contrived.” [Kindle Location 1747].

I came across the above passage and it really stood out—while I’d experienced what he describes, I’d never formally recognized in my own mind what it means for someone to be unsafe. It certainly doesn’t imply that they’re toxic or abusive in relationships, but rather that they probably aren’t the best people to turn to or place your trust in.

The takeaway for me is that unsafe people will generally not own what’s theirs, will not be accountable for their own projections, feelings, boundaries, mistakes, and ultimately will not be true, trustworthy or loyal friends.

The way I see it, those who are unsafe aren’t bad or ill-intentioned, they aren’t predators or psychopaths (who should be avoided at all costs), out to manipulate or control for their own agenda. But they do have an agenda, of sorts—to be righteous, to be right, to be victims, to not take personal accountability for their actions, words, choices or feelings and to project their fears and negative thoughts about themselves out onto other people. They may be extremely nice, friendly, generous, attentive, and loving, but I find that they’re often lacking in self-awareness, healthy boundaries or both, and they tend to see problems as the fault of others (or the world at large). Their loyalty isn’t assured. They’re more inclined toward judgment and projection than compassion and empathy. When it seems appropriate to them, they may very well betray, dismiss, demean, devalue, accuse or stomp on those who they see as a problem or threat. Their values are different—not wrong, just incompatible with mine.

It’s possible to have good relationships with unsafe people, even close relationships. But at the same time, it isn’t wise to trust them with your intimate secrets, thoughts or feelings, to expect them to be loyal or empathic, to place confidence in their judgment or authentic responses, or to be vulnerable around them. They could snap if provoked, they could intentionally cross your boundaries if it serves them and get angry if you protest, they could betray your trust, they could kick you when you’re down—not without conscience, but with a large dose of rationalized entitlement. Their rationales and assumptions can be elaborate and rigid. Unsafe people may even feel guilty for their actions—and then project that guilt into even more antagonism toward you, the person they mistreated. Projecting blame, unable to simply own their choices.

I had a number of people show themselves as unsafe during a particularly traumatic crisis I went through some years ago. Seeing me at my most conveniently vulnerable, rather than support me, express empathy and understanding or step forward with practical help, they chose to violate my boundaries, attack, dismiss, judge and demean me, accuse me of all sorts of juicy faults, withhold needed help and demand that I admit to my failures. They took what happened to me personally and blamed me accordingly. It was upsetting and damaging, the way those friends and family members turned on me, and it changed how I feel about all of them. As opposed to those I considered My People, who were all just as sincerely concerned for me, who wanted to make sure I made healthy choices for myself just as much if not more—and yet only made me feel safe, supported, loved, valued, understood and trusted to do what was best for me. Those were the people who got me through it.

I now recognize my accountability in both types of relationships. I can choose to confide in unsafe people and get burned for it, or I can choose not to let them into my inner circles, keeping a comfortable, relaxed distance. I can choose to build my support system of only safe people, My People, and understand and accept that even though someone is counted as my nearest and dearest, they may not fit into that definition. It’s up to me to know the difference. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to separate the two.

Safe people don’t intentionally cross lines—nor do they get offended, accusatory, antagonistic and defensive when they unintentionally violate a boundary and are called on it. They don’t project their baggage onto anyone else—they own it, and for the most part leave it out of the equation when it comes to others. And if they can’t leave it out, they own that. They don’t use someone’s vulnerability or weakness against them, taking the chance to devalue, accuse, find fault with, lecture or dictate to those who are suffering. They don’t bring piles of steaming judgment to the table, forgetting the compassion and empathy in the other room. They don’t feel entitled to tell you EXACTLY what’s wrong with you (in their opinion, stated as truth) and how wrong you’ve been for years now. They don’t store up kindnesses and grudges to pull out when they feel like they need ammunition. They don’t create triangles by bringing third people into conflicts—and they don’t handle all conflicts in a dysfunctional way by never speaking openly about the conflict nor owning or apologizing for their part in it, ensuring that there’s plenty of drama and little real resolution.

My safe people aren’t afraid to admit they’re wrong, that they made a mistake, that they’re sorry. They have generally healthy boundaries, and are conscious and respectful of the boundaries of others. They recognize the consequences of their choices, and they allow others to make choices, screw up and confide honestly without judgment, accusations, blame, shame or dismissal. And my safe people never, ever crazy-make others.

To be a safe person doesn’t mean being a perfect person or perfect friend. But it does mean choosing respect and validation over dismissal and disrespect, empathy over judgment, compassion over impatience, trust over fear. It means not taking what happens to others personally, and not assuming that what you think or feel is true or right. It means being self-aware, having the intention to listen with an open mind.

I’m grateful beyond words for My People, who allow me to not only make mistakes and falter, but to ask for and receive help, advice and validation when I do, unconditionally and authentically.

And I’m grateful for The People Who Take It Personally—for teaching me that there’s no place in intimacy for blurred boundaries, disrespect or judgment, and for reminding me how lucky I am to have safe people in my life.

 
*Whitfield, Charles L. Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self. Kindle Location 1747. Health Communications. Kindle Edition. 2003, 2010.

 

ending one chapter and starting the next

I’m on the verge of a new chapter in my life. In a month or so, I’ll be moving in with my boyfriend of almost a year. It’s a change we’ve come to see as right and necessary, one that we’re both excited about. The weight of maintaining two households with pets has become an increasingly awkward and heavy burden on both of us. We want to share a home base, to have the chance to create routines that don’t involve one of us racing 15 minutes away to the other house.

I’ve lived with two other men, one of them two separate times. Moving in together wasn’t deliberate or planned, but either horrifically premature or a haphazard decision based on circumstances—or both. I didn’t get a chance to think about what it meant, if I really even wanted it, what I would be gaining and losing. I jumped in blindly, head first, with the assumption that of course I wanted to live with this guy, why wouldn’t I? Even if I had some doubts, it was just for a couple of months, so what was the big deal?

With hindsight, I see the big deal.

Even now, coming at this from a totally different place, it’s so easy to be distracted by the pull of everyday tasks, the mounting to-do lists and plans that come with big decisions and moves. But it’s not enough to just know I want it and get busy doing. This is a pretty profound beginning, and if I don’t take some time to honor that—to recognize the ending that’s inherent in any beginning, to consciously let go as I move forward—I feel like I’ll miss out on some important steps. I might wind up feeling more lost and confused than excited and gratified and grateful.

Like what I felt right after my wedding. I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I got married. I don’t regret marrying my college boyfriend, but I wish we’d taken the time to talk through a lot of things before we got engaged, and I’d understood what a huge transition it was. When I got back to work after the honeymoon, I felt disoriented, depressed and hopeless. Post-wedding blues aren’t uncommon, some of it due to the fact that you’ve been frantically working on a project for months and of course there’s a letdown once it’s over. For me, a lot of it was because I didn’t pay attention to the fact that I was changing my identity, taking on a whole new role as a wife and life partner, without taking any time to recognize that I was losing something, too.

And then it was backwards during my divorce—I struggled to let go of the identity I’d built during the marriage, belonging to someone. That period was all about the ending, versus getting married being all about the beginning—and each time I didn’t see that I needed to process and honor BOTH. Meeting my toxic ex just as I was stumbling toward a new truth, right on the cusp of learning who I was without my ex-husband, slowed the process down by about two years. Once I got out of that relationship/nightmare, I was finally free to get to know myself. Date myself. Give all my time and energy and attention to ME.

For the first time in my life, I was my only priority. I got to decide what I did and when I did it. I reclaimed myself, rediscovered my self-respect, and enjoyed the heck out of it.

After a year, when I decided to start dating again, I did it knowing exactly why I wanted to eventually find a partner, with a clear set of intentions and a deep attachment to my singlehood. I had fun with the experience, and eventually stumbled across someone who I grew to love, respect and appreciate, someone who shares my core values. I’m not with my boyfriend because I was unhappy alone—the opposite. I’m with him because I finally figured out what it means to be happy, what it means to be aligned with what matters most to me.

It means being authentically myself. Caring about myself and allowing myself to screw up and say no and have needs. Writing new rules.

It means feeling free. Relaxed. Safe. Loved.

It means taking care of my life, my health, my cats, my home, my friends, my family, my money, my job. All the things I’m responsible for—and not being manipulated into taking care of any person or obligation I’m not responsible for.

It means making sure I have empty moments to stare up at the sky and quiet my mind.

It means curling up with a book for hours, only getting up to find snacks or go to the bathroom.

It means experimenting and exploring and having adventures. Traveling to new places. Doing activities that I love and trying new ones.

It means feeling whole within myself.

It means carrying all of that forward with me, always, through every new chapter and every transition, not taking any of it for granted or forgetting how important it is.

I really treasured my single life, my tiny cozy apartment. It was so straightforward and fulfilling. I loved coming home on a Friday night and reading until I fell asleep at 9 p.m., waking up early to a quiet Saturday alone, making myself a special Christmas dinner of steak salad, creating small everyday rituals. I’ll miss those things. There’s loss in most big changes, and these things are what I’m losing. At the same time, I’ll be coming home on a Friday to make dinner with someone who loves me, waking up early on a Saturday to a quiet day of bike rides, gardening and cooking together, celebrating holidays and creating rituals as a couple. A new fulfilling life with my partner in our new home.

Being on the cusp of change is a really powerful thing, if we remember to check in and pay attention to how we’re experiencing it. It’s an opportunity to take stock of what matters to us, what we’re leaving behind and what we’re taking on. Every new beginning marks an ending of something else, every ending a new beginning, and all that we feel about both deserves to be fully honored.

blasting a crater in the rut of life

My life is in the process of changing, as our lives constantly change, and at the same time I’m witnessing the major transitions of several close friends. I’ve started a new relationship for the first time in four years—an exciting, gratifying and slightly unsettling addition to my life, while a few of my friends are struggling through distressful challenges and facing some difficult decisions. We’re all supporting and encouraging each other through the good, bad, ugly, thrilling and impossible, and it’s reminding me how important times of upset and upheaval are.

I’m lucky that my transition is a positive one, but I’ve known the other side as well, and am convinced that those negative experiences were crucial to getting me where I am today. I believe the most disturbing and jarring events have a critical purpose for us, as we struggle our way through: to open up the very roots of our lives and reveal our true selves, who we really are, who we need to become.

Life transitions are never easy or particularly pretty—not even the ones we want to happen, much less the ones we don’t. And the ones we don’t want, the ones that we’ve been fearing and avoiding, are even more riddled with jagged parts, snags, pitfalls, shame and anxiety. We’ve been existing in the same paradigm for months or years, safe if not exactly happy in the known, barely daring to imagine what the unknown might sound, feel, smell and look like. We might long for another path, another kind of life—long to be truly aligned with ourselves and what’s most important to us, but we’re focused on surviving. We might want change, we just don’t necessarily know what change, or how to consciously make that choice.

And then something happens—something we were unconsciously calling in, or waiting for, or terrified of, something that knocks everything sideways. An explosion rocks our lives, whether one massive impact or a series of small yet life-altering earthquakes.

Because the hard truth is, there’s no climbing out of that rut without blowing a big gaping crater in it first. Otherwise we just keep trudging blindly along in our comfortable dissatisfaction, aware that there could and maybe should be more, but unable to see it for the high walls around us. Suddenly things blow up, and we’re thrown backwards and left flat and breathless. Once we can get back up, let the dust settle, dry our eyes—the world is all around us, strange, unfamiliar, full of possibilities. The light may be too bright, we might be more horrified than gratified at what we’re seeing, but it’s too late. There’s no going back into the rut.

I feel like that happened in both of my previous long-term relationships. I couldn’t see how unhappy and disconnected my ex-husband and I were or how unaligned I felt—I was secure, deep in my rut, even though it wasn’t the life I truly wanted, until a catastrophic eruption blew everything to hell. As for my last relationship… Who knows how long I would have stayed with a manipulative sociopath, convincing myself that I was OK, that it was worth it, had someone I loved not died and shaken my foundation to its core. Blasted a huge crater in my rut, allowing me to climb free.

Of course, what I’m experiencing now is a very different kind of life event, one that I consciously called in. But even this wanted, appreciated transition has shifted things, requiring me to work to keep my balance. As I and those I love experience the anxiety and disorientation caused by changing paradigms, it helps to remember that all transitions are complicated, all are challenging, all bring some measure of loss and fear along with the pain or pleasure. And all require us to bravely face the new life ahead of us, to step forward into the chance to live in greater alignment with who we truly want to be.