As humans, we often seek and find refuge in a multitude of places. Our bodies, minds, and hearts require opportunities for retreat from life’s harsh realities, regardless of how accustomed we become to it’s difficulties and fragility. Emotional refuge, specifically, is something that we all need and seek on some level. Some may find it in religion, God, a significant other, friends, family, and even within themselves. Personally speaking, I have most often found it within myself…..as I learned to self-comfort at an early age. However, I believe there is something quite natural and beautiful in two people finding refuge in one another…..and it’s (perhaps) the one thing I’m looking for in a partner.
So what does it mean……this “refuge” to which I am referring? For me, it means a safe place to share thoughts and feelings, as well as a place of trust in which my heart is protected as another’s own….and in which the other person finds the same with me. It means that whatever life holds, we are a team. We protect and will fight for each other, if needed. We comfort and reassure…..sometimes through touch, sometimes through listening, patience, verbal affirmation, and the like….but always through our emotional availability and mutual respect, trust, and care for one another. We are strong for each other and allow for each other’s vulnerability…..and individual challenges. And on the rare occasion that we cause one another harm, we respond to each other with grace….but no expectation of it. For we understand that what hurts one of us, hurts the other….hurts both of us….and this is how we live our moments in this world, together.
For me, this concept of refuge isn’t just an ideal and I have no reason to doubt anyone’s capacity for it. Yet, for some reason, we often hold back with those who offer us refuge and offer refuge to those who hold back. Sometimes, we’re just not a good fit for the other person or communication is lacking. Other times, a relationship may become more competitive in nature or one or both partners create a hostile environment of criticism, judgement, and devaluation. It’s easy to do when so much of society operates within a dog-eat-dog mentality/structure or win/lose mindset. Although trust breeds trust, it can also get a person run over. When it’s seen as a weakness…..and when vulnerability is seen as a weakness…..they are often exploited and abused.
And this is where I have found myself a number of times in my life…..used and/or mistreated…..then discarded. A couple of times, I have even been the one to discard. Perhaps I have failed to establish adequate boundaries in my relationships. People often need someone else to keep them in check and (admittedly) I haven’t been the best at that up to this point. I haven’t been the best at being vulnerable, either. Not really. Trust, for me, is logical. One can assess the risk and choose to trust up to a point….and this can create the appearance of vulnerability. However, REAL vulnerability is not easy for me and I don’t relent control easily. Letting go…..sharing from my depths…..being fully myself in all of my imperfection….this is a challenge. I possess no shortage of love for myself, but it’s been me against the world for so long that I wonder if anyone else can love me as well. And I wonder if I can love another as well. Because, it’s not just about loving and accepting someone unconditionally…..that is easy. It’s about the extent in which someone and I can do that within the context of a relationship. You see, relationships are conditional even when the love is not. And this is where the establishment of boundaries, expectations, and communication comes into play.
My own expectations are few and pretty simple. I expect honesty, but allow for a more introverted personality (being that I am that, as well.) I expect the person I’m with to be the refuge I describe for me and me to be that for him…..or at least be working toward that. I am patient, so if it takes awhile to get there, I am fine with that. It will likely take me some time to get there, myself…..so I require some amount of patience from the other person in return. I also seek strength and courage that mirrors my own….because what I’m talking about is going to take both. The journey is not without risk….and I do recognize that.
However, I’ve come to a recent conclusion that I would like to disclose for no reason other than I feel the need to express it. Maybe it will help me…..somehow. While my late husband and I were separated, he said something to me that I had mostly forgotten about until this past January. He said that no one would ever want to have anything to do with me unless there was the promise of sex. The reason I remembered this, I believe, had to do with a new relationship and the level of emotional intimacy I was experiencing with the new person. It scared me…..and I verbalized/expressed my fears and recently-surfaced pain to the person. And yet, I took a chance with the person….a chance that ended up lasting maybe seven months (mostly long distance.) And now, the last visit/moments with the person influence my current choices in a way that is, perhaps, unfortunate…..although, I’m mostly unsure whether the impact is a curse or blessing at this point.
I’m going to attempt to explain. I don’t know how one spends three physically intimate nights with someone he knows is in love with him……only to end all romantic involvement immediately after being physically intimate the morning after the third night. I don’t know how a person can feel that this is somehow “okay”…..and how if a person just doesn’t really kiss the person during those three nights, that this removes the emotional component of the physical interaction. For me, it doesn’t…..and for me, it is a blatant disregard for my feelings. A person I felt emotionally safe with did not protect my heart at all. I would be angry, but it’s not in me to be that way with a person who, I’m sure, does his best to care….who has his own heartache and issues to contend with.
So, I’m not angry. I’m just a person finding refuge, again, in myself……finding it sometimes and at some level in the only other person I still feel like verbally sharing my thoughts and feelings with…..and hopefully finding/experiencing it on a deeper level at some point in the future. However, I’m also a person who is now even more afraid of allowing anyone to touch me ever again. I’m afraid that physical affection had been previously non-existent or denied me so many times in my life before this past romantic involvement that it became my primary love language…..which is now a point of potential betrayal.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m much more fragile than others tend to think. Although I often see my admissions of weakness as a strength, it’s only the admissions themselves that are actually indicative of any kind of strength. The weaknesses persist as weaknesses….whether I admit them or not. And until someone else in my life steps up to protect my heart as his, it’s my job to protect and defend it myself. In fact, it’s never not my job. Finding respite and comfort in ourselves doesn’t end when we find it, too, in another person. It simply makes us all the stronger…..multiplying the strength and rest we each bring to the refuge we find in each other’s arms and care.
But that’s just my current thoughts. What are yours?