I am sipping my coffee. It is a quiet Saturday morning, far earlier than I have any need to be up and about, but consciousness is what it is, and sometime around 5:00 am, mine shifted gears from sleeping to waking, largely without any obvious inputs from me. Coffee comes first this morning, and I run my fingers through my unbrushed hair, laughing at the ‘lack of order’ in my morning, and the seeming urgency to have that first sip of coffee. I feel both quite awake, and also not so very awake at all. I made my coffee quite strong.

My thoughts light gently on one thing and then another, like a butterfly. I notice a cluster of closely grouped small insect bites near my left elbow. The adult self residing in this fragile vessel part-time suggests that I do not scratch there. Minutes later I find myself scratching that spot, anyway, without realizing I had started to do so. I find myself struggling to stop, and change the motion – which is easier for me – to a soft light stroking, less likely to tear my skin. I am not yet fully awake, and I have learned to understand it is at these critical points of consciousness – not fully awake, or when deeply fatigued – when I am less able to self-regulate behavior. I find myself wondering how ‘different life might have been if’ I had at least known about my injury much sooner; I have no specific actual recollection of it in my memory that I can be sure of. I lose interest in the bug bite as my attention wanders; I return to simply writing and sipping my coffee.

I consider the wanderer. As wanderers sometimes do, he stood me up this week, likely not out of malice, and our plans were not firm in the first place, but discourteous lack of communication or lack of expectation setting is not a comfortable fit for me in relationships; I made a point of setting very clear expectations about requiring clear, explicit communication, as a reciprocal courtesy. Days later, seeing him active elsewhere and having still heard nothing from him by way of regret for the discourtesy, I reached out and received a predictable pro forma apology, but missing the point – and the lack of openness doesn’t work for me, even a little bit. So. There’s that.

The goddess of Love within the Temple of My Heart; she only asks everything of me, and I only have everything to give.

Love demands that I tend the temple of my heart with great care.

I found myself thinking about it yesterday, too, after the brief text exchange. Thinking about what constitutes an ‘ex’ in my own experience, from my own perspective – because if you asked me, I’d say I have only 3 exes. From my view, an ex is not someone who is defined as ‘no longer my lover’ – an X is a very big deal. An X is someone I am so incredibly done with, and depart from feeling so badly injured (emotionally, physically, or financially) that I do not want any further contact with that person, ever, under any circumstances. An X is someone I don’t even want to continue thinking about, let alone interacting with. I have only 3. Lovers who become friends, but are no longer lovers? Those are not Xs. They’re my friends – there’s nothing diminishing or discontinued about that.  People who were once more than casual lovers, something deeper but not lasting? Most of them go on to become friends as well (some of them just go on to other things). Some of my dearest friends were once my lovers. Casual hook ups don’t become Xs – they’d have to become more than something casual for that to be an option at all. Becoming an X of mine requires a level of damage, destruction, or disregard that results in enough pain that seeing signs of that experience later on causes new stress.  I do what I can to make them an X in my recollection, as well as in my present experience, and even in my writing; they are no part of my life beyond the legacy of the damage that needs to be repaired, and they are surely not involved in that!

Lust

Lust makes her own demands, and does not always play nicely. “Face of Gods: Lust” 12″ x 12″ acrylic on canvas with ceramic, gold leaf, and broken glass. 2009

The wanderer isn’t an X anything – he’s a human being, with free will, and character flaws, and baggage, and a life built on the consequences of his actions. (We all are.) Sure, I’m irked by the mistreatment, but I also recognize that his perspective is his own, and likely quite different. I’m even sure he found adequate rationalization for his discourtesy.  There’s no real damage done – I’m learning to make better choices, myself, and take care of me, and I set clear boundaries. He’s charming, funny, listens well, and every minute of time we spent together was worth it for me. That we’ve moved on to other things isn’t relevant to that experience, it’s just the period at the end of a sentence.

Fond memories are worth the investment in time.

Fond memories are worth the investment in time.

My Xs are few in number, but they are orders of magnitude more damaging than a change in relationship dynamic; in some cases I continue to work to repair that damage years later (decades later), and to restore order to the resulting chaos. One X was horrifically violent – there’s not much else I can say about that without my PTSD starting to flare up. One X was enough less violent that I overlooked it to my detriment; the relationship was characterized by day-to-day controlling and manipulative behavior (even gas lighting me) and financially exploiting me near to the point of total ruin. One X was distressingly mentally ill perhaps, but often seemed to me merely entitled and narcissistic, shifty, and an unexpectedly destructive force willfully breaking objects and damaging things (even other people’s things) with a frequency that can only be described as ‘routine’. My Xs are each and every one an individual who managed to inflict so much damage that I have lasting scars – in some cases physical – and did so without also investing in the relationship in any positive way that had the potential to make the damage ‘worth it’. 3 may not sound like many Xs by count, (only 30 years of my life!) but it definitely shows my lack of skill at selecting long-term partners; 3 out of 4 long-term partnerships I have invested my heart in were incredibly toxic and damaging. I’m not bitching, I’m just saying it’s hard to make the list. Certainly I  have learned a lot about what human beings are capable of, and how little it may mean when one of them says “I love you”; I am changed by that knowledge.

Relationships of all sorts come and go. Most of them are lovely moments along life’s journey, and I have very few regrets – surely no regrets about love and loving! One key difference between other relationships that have ended and one I consider to have ended with an X, is that I look back fondly on all those others – and endeavor not to look back on an X at all – not even the good moments. Even relationships that didn’t end on the best of terms, those former lovers can expect a warm greeting from me when we run into each other. Every experience ending with an X seems tainted with the pain of being hurt, willfully, continuously, and egregiously; ‘running into’ any one of them would feel traumatic, undesirable, and I actively take steps to prevent it occurring. I’m glad that I have very few Xs. I am grateful to have so many excellent friends.

Worth more than antiques, diamonds, or a fat bank account: friendship is a treasure beyond measurable worth.

Worth more than antiques, diamonds, or a fat bank account: friendship is a treasure beyond measurable worth.

It’s an amazing journey, isn’t it? I find it so. I enjoy the opportunities to share some portion of it. My traveling partner and I share something profound, deep, remarkable – and still we’re human. There may come a day when what we share now is no longer our experience together – I don’t see him ever being an X, however long our shared journey lasts – or doesn’t. He’s more than a partner, or a lover – he’s a very dear trusted friend, too. That’s where we started. I’ve learned, over time, that in fact that’s precisely where love does start, for me… with a friendship. Friends are precious threads of gold woven into life’s tapestry. However intense or magical some love game might feel to me in the moment, I can be fairly certain that if it didn’t begin with a friendship, it isn’t actually love. [Your results may vary.]

My coffee has grown cold. I’ve written more words about Xs than they deserve of my attention – yeah, I’m that serious when I say that I make an attempt to mark those places in life with an X – a big, black, bold, dark, fully obliterating X, as with a sharpie on the page of a journal, and walk on. Doing so, they have no lasting power over me, and the scars heal more easily over time.

So much of life is about love and loving.

So much of life is about love and loving. It’s an important area in which to become skilled.

Today is a good day to breathe deeply, and savor life’s riches, and love’s joys. Today is a good day to enjoy the woman in the mirror, and celebrate the incremental changes over time that result in better choices about life and love, and more skillfully taking care of my heart. Today is a good day to live beautifully, and to tend the garden of my heart with the same devotion as I tend the garden that puts food on my table. Good choices about love may not change the world – but they do change my experience.