In Dependence

July 23, 2010

Given the title, it probably would have made more sense to write this about a week and a half ago, but time seems to move more quickly than inspiration for me lately.

As many of you know, I’ve taken up a lot of new physical activities in the last couple of months, namely rock climbing, biking and “boot camping.”  The latter of the three took a lot of emotional energy to commence.  Many friends had attended this particular group, with rave reviews, but I was incredibly reluctant.

The idea of fitness boot camp brought up strong, painful memories of gym class in middle school and high school, being any number of superlative inferiors: slowest, heaviest, shortest, weakest… I have vivid recollection of Mr. Cavanaugh reducing me to sobs one day when I misunderstood the instructions of a particular game, ridiculing me in front of the entire class.

My friend who runs this particular boot camp knows me extremely well, and intuited I might have some hesitancy toward the experience that wasn’t just the calendar-based excuses I had been giving.  He explained his process, the structure of the class, and the high level of support and encouragement the experience offered, mentioning modifications I could take in the solo stuff and the “fun” of the group activities.

That’s the thing, though. The solo stuff I knew I could handle. Thanks to a half-Eastern European background, I’m strong-like-bull.  I knew I’d feel fine in the strength training portions.  It was that group stuff… all that “fun” to be had… that made me want to curl into a ball and hide.

It boils down to dependence. The idea of someone – a “teammate” – depending on my physical ability for success is terrifying to me, even in so simple and unimportant situation as a little relay race.  I might be strong, but I’m slow, and subjecting that slowness upon others makes me miserable.

This has reflected itself in my unwillingness to bike with others, discomfort with climbing with others (though with top-roping you have to get over that pretty quickly), reluctance to attempt hiking, any number of group activities that I imagine I’d enjoy a great deal.  But to be the one to slow the whole group down; the object of disappointment?  I mean… it makes me want to cry just thinking about it.

And I think this vein runs even deeper into the mountain.  I think this fear of being depended upon – physically and otherwise – and disappointing, may be a wall keeping me from a relationship.  Granted, a big part of not being in a relationship is not having had the fortune to meet him yet (they don’t call it “getting lucky” for nothin’), but I do believe this is an aspect of emotional readiness that hasn’t yet been achieved.

The fact is you’re going to disappoint, and be disappointed.  This is hard for me to accept. I was never yelled at as a child; I was disciplined via disappointment. “We’re disappointed in you.” It doesn’t work with all kids; it worked like gangbusters with me.  So the idea of disappointing a partner, in whatever way, is – to entertain hyperbole – paralyzing.

My therapist made a really fascinating point when we were discussing this, and I share it here in the hopes that it helps someone else as well.  She suggested looking at being the slowest in the group as a gift.  That by being the slowest, you get to give someone else the pleasure of  not being the slowest.  I’m shocked to admit it works.  For some reason the thought of being the slowest so that someone else – perhaps someone who cares more than I do – doesn’t have to be, totally makes sense to me.  It’s made the various sports activities I’ve engaged in more enjoyable, and the idea of joining a bike club, a hiking club, etc., far more feasible.

I’m not quite sure how that particular lesson extends to my readiness with a relationship… maybe being the least experienced in a relationship means my partner gets the satisfaction of teaching? I’m not sure exactly.  But somehow it seems to help.


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