(The following is Jacqueline’s response to our Why We Didn’t Work series. Listen to her episode here, and find more about the project here, and read Ben’s response here.)
“Think less. Enjoy more. And allow all the feelings. All of them.”
That’s what Diana Gasperoni instructed me at the end of our show. The process was not what I had expected.
First off, I’d thought some major revelations would come to light regarding my past relationships, but nothing was particularly revolutionary.
Boyfriend #1 and I were on the same page: we started dating as wee young things and were together for almost a decade, so we both cherished growing into adulthood by each other’s sides, and regretted only not having the experience to navigate conflicts with more experience or clarity. #2 and I both loved exploring art, food, and physical intimacy together. We broke up because my time in the city in which he lived was limited, and he wanted a family (I don’t). Both of those men are still special to me, and I cherish their friendships.
The gentleman after #2 didn’t participate in the study, which I’m not surprised about, really: we don’t keep in touch at all, making him the outlier of the five and meaning that he doesn’t know my work or me enough to immediately trust my intentions. Which is totally fair.
Of #3, Diana pointed out (off the air) how much he loves, respects and admires me in unique and compelling ways, as I do him. But, again, #3 wants a family, so we’ll keep on loving and honoring each other as friends. #4 was a short “relationship” of 2 months. He continues to be a truly wonderful human being who fascinates me and supports me and challenges me in the best of possible ways, but he needs time to process through some really hard life things, and I support that he gets that time.
With the four, there were small revelations: I didn’t know that #3 wanted to be a father as much as he does. I didn’t know #4 felt a lack of chemistry at times, or that he felt cultural differences between us. I didn’t know #1 thinks of me as “a caring, passionate, lovely person who actively wants and tries to leave things better than she finds them.” I didn’t know #2 wonders what we might have accomplished as a couple were our dreams more along the same line.
As Diana pointed out, we were all very kind to each other. No one “fights with” me. Our breakups were amicable and warm, about, “You do you, and you’ll be okay, and I’ll be okay, too”. There was a lot of love, and a lot of friendship, and little conflict in retrospect. The men are connected emotionally and communicate well. There’s a lot of passion. The relationships end, but they’re often circumstantial endings.
Which doesn’t exactly make for good radio.
Twenty minutes before the show, we didn’t have a clear a plan. We didn’t have “four universal relationship issues supported by the personal situations here.”
So instead, we jumped in examining the longevity of #1, and what I (or someone else in this situation) could do if faced with it again in a more mature scenario. Very helpful. Then somehow it became assumed that I don’t talk about negative feelings, and we discussed how to embrace that dialogue more. Then we questioned if the loving breakups (that felt calming and empowering) came at the cost of not fighting for the relationship. I found myself asking the question, “Do I not dig in as much as I think I do?”
Through the discussion, we got to a place where the love and lack of drama in the correspondence equated to me possibly overthinking things and not feeling deeply enough. Or, at the very least, that I maybe process and neutralize negative emotions too quickly.
I hear concern and vulnerability in my voice. I hear confusion. It felt good to feel vulnerable. It felt good to question my past actions. It was comforting to hear the whole neutralizing theory, because for a large part of my life I lived with very big wild emotions that led to some choices I don’t want to repeat. It felt (scary and) good to question if I work and think too hard. I’m 100% for examining these questions.
But I don’t agree with most of what we speculated. Why? Because I’ve done (wonderful) muck-digging on these points before, and where I am is a result of much self-examination, exploration, and active choice.
Tempering strong feelings is a coping mechanism I learned specifically because I feel a lot of physical pain and sensations on a regular basis: were I not to emotionally and intellectually neutralize them a bit, I’d be a horribly depressed, angry mess (which I have been). When shit hits the fan, I downplay by meditating or playing with my dog or looking at the sky. I recognize that this hurts my body or heart or head right now, but that it will most likely pass soon, whether I make it go swiftly or even if it takes a long time. Nothing is permanent. That practice has made me a calmer, more grounded, and happier person. It’s saved relationships. It’s created those sweet goodbyes. It means I can do what I do with a body that is a part-time job few people see.
Overthinking has served me well, too. Behind every passionate artistic creation has to be someone to produce the work, organize the schedules, make the bids, and invoice and track things. I’ve had to be both artist and producer for myself as a writer, and for Ben and I with this show. While I definitely struggle with Imposter Syndrome (did you read this in the Times last fall? I totally related), it’s taken a lot of “overthinking” to keep me patient and disciplined enough to continually grow my work as a freelancer in the arts.
I stayed in a relationship for ten years, so obviously I know how to fight for something worth fighting for.
I disagree with Ben’s implication that my seeking a gentle, soft and comfortable life equates to my not embracing conflict in someone else: two of the four men were struggling out of marriages in which they’d been really hurt, with other losses to boot. Embracing each other’s conflict is, in a way, what made those relationships (which still exist, though not romantically), so strong.
I don’t feel that the mantra “everything is okay” or the sukha / dukkha contrast in the yogic lifestyle we touched on (where basically all negative and positive experiences are to teach us something, and therefore are okay) has been taking anything away from my life.
Which leads to my delicious new takeaway.
Maybe the zen-ing or neutralizing I’ve done for myself has resulted not in me not feeling deeply, but in me not expressing my deeper feelings and opinions.
Since my professional life as both an actor and writer has always been about expressing what others are thinking and feeling, I’m learning how to best navigate this “private in public” sphere as I go. The pieces I’ve written about living with a chronic illness for Cosmopolitan are honest, but safe (again, Imposter Syndrome). On the radio show, my mind is often occupied with the practicalities of making sure we’re moving the conversation forward (so Ben can be so damned poetic) and on producing the season as a whole. I don’t want to be a part of the rabble that just says everything they think as if it’s novel or valid, and I want to make sure I mean what I say. This takes time, and practice, and experience; hard when your radio show is only 17 weeks old and the Cosmo work 3 or so months.
So now it’s time to be braver. To not be quite so curious and compassionate if, after I’ve listened to and learned from the other side, I disagree. To not work so hard to anticipate unsolicited advice, often from those who don’t have the personal experience to know better. To welcome the Syndrome and trust that it’s there to serve me, too. To not jump to, “I’m a calm, happy person” without truly sharing how dark and hard things can be when you have a body that hurts or is overwhelmed or is tired all the time.
Just as I wholly love and respect Ben for what he chooses for his life, so can I love and respect myself for my choices and opinions. Diana was not wrong at all in her brilliant, kind, and thoughtful guidance; but from this experience I’ve learned that my current struggle not about fighting a hypothetical conflict in a relationship that hasn’t happened yet or a theory I don’t believe to be true for myself after a lot of hard work and self-examination, but about fighting myself for myself.
Not a bad takeaway.