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More than a few people who study the subconscious mind have concluded that our dreams represent either fears or desires. Lately, my own dreams have felt like the massive, corner-to-corner ‘housecleaning’ I always say I’m going to do twice a year. My subconscious has returned to The Past. Specifically, how I used to feel, think and act ‘in love’, before I actually knew who I was. Why am I now dreaming about how I used to behave in relationship? I suppose, as I think about adventures that lie ahead of me, I fear  that I’ll forget crucial lessons I’ve learned over the years, and am therefore doomed to make the same mistakes.

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How hard is it – when we want and need Love in our lives – when we’d so much rather be part of a couple than alone – to not “settle” for less than we deserve? We hear and read that word (settle) a lot; we know what it means. It’s never a good ‘look’, from others’ perspectives. When it comes to romance and Love, we’d rather gossip (I’ve seen and heard this, even at weddings) about the person who’s “definitely settling!” than think we could ever ‘betray’ our own hearts.

What does “settling” mean? Not too long ago a friend told me he was getting (re) married. I surprised myself, still optimistic and romantic, after all these years: “You’re in love – how wonderful!” Not, as it turns out. He was feeling his age, tired of living alone, wanting a companion in his big house, and – of course – hoping for “regular sex”. As it turned out, his fiancé was in the same ‘boat’. So they married. And are already struggling to adapt to one another’s personalities.

I totally understand why people enter into and stay in relationships (even complicating things further, with marriage). Whether it’s romantic love, erotic love, platonic love, companion love, or any other variation of Love. I don’t judge them. But the dream I had last night (yes, back to the whole point of this Post) showed me that my own heart demands something more. In the dream (totally reflecting real life, some years back), I was in a Love Relationship; sort of a long-distance thing. We’d been together for some five years and I was wearing a beautiful diamond engagement ring, but in my heart I knew that I would never marry this man.

In last night’s dream, we stood holding each other in a loving embrace. He was whispering sweet words and talking about the future. I was ‘in my head’, not feeling it at all. (There had been, over the trips and visits to one another’s cities, strong indications of his substance abuse and mental health issues, and many deep dive conversations.) His words were all about our ‘road ahead’. I kept quiet, a total coward, not wanting to leave his arms just yet.

The thing about dreams:  I always seem to wake up from this ‘movie’ in my head when it’s either just getting really good, or, when my heart tells my subconscious, “That’s enough of that!” Last night I woke up before I had to say anything negative to my lover. The dream was a total flashback, a psychic “do-over” scenario with a question waiting at the end for me, when I woke up:  “Here’s this guy, so perfect for you in so many ways; except for the substance abuse and really concerning mental health issues. Are you going to “settle” when your heart is screaming ‘Run for the door!?’ ”

In Love, how do we know, for certain and for sure, what our non-negotiables and deal-breakers are? How can we be sure that we know, understand and accept what we’re ‘in for’ in a committed relationship, and not feel like we’re making excuses for not receiving what we really want and need? Rhetorical question, right? Because we  know that each one of us asking these questions has to look deeply into our own hearts, eyes wide open, stripping away any romantic fantasy or feelings of desperation before the decision’s made. Real Happiness and joyfulness  is always a better option than bargaining-away our deepest needs and even values. Whatever that ‘Happiness’ means…it’s worth holding on to, waking or dreaming.

For a long time now, and with even more effort lately, I’ve been trying to recall my dreams the minute I wake up in the morning. Most of the time, even a vivid, totally-immersive experience during sleep evaporates as fast as my conscious mind tries to grab for it. This morning was different, though:  not only did I wake with a complete memory of what I’d dreamed,  but I was also keenly aware of the message from my subconscious mind, as to what it was trying to tell me. Last night’s dream was all about my relationship with Love, and how that relationship has changed, through both luminous, and harsh, experiences.

Being in Love is uniquely personal. I can’t, and wouldn’t try to describe it for anyone else. First Love (which was what my dream-memory recalled) was an absolute free-fall and deep-dive into the other person, without any fear or hesitation. I often had the sense that we were in sync at a cellular level: at times seeing, breathing, thinking as One.  Everything that I thought I was, and everything I wanted to be, was intertwined with this feeling. Love was authentic and trustworthy. Love was a kind of protective insulation from the world; a special way of feeling, and being, that sprinkled fairy dust on anything  we wanted to conjure together (even the mundane, like our first apartment). My first love lasted almost 9 years. Even then, the love didn’t ever wane, but our radically-different ideas about ‘stability’ became impossible to ignore. We were a cliché of the times:  the ambitious professional, constantly – and becoming bored with — propping up the starving-artist who wanted to play music and do little else. Still, over the years that First Love remained imprinted on my entire being;  it was my metric for how I knew a relationship could feel. But as I continued to date, even falling in love two more times, I began to change, and my lovers did too.

If we stay ‘single’ or get divorced, at a certain point, — or maybe it’s a certain age — men and women start to feel and act on the belief that Love is just not going to happen naturally. It’s over. Done. The time has passed.That’s when the small lapses start; the little half-truths or fully-baked lies.When I’ve had occasion to give a man the heave-ho because he’s grossly misrepresented himself (I once had guy tell me he was in a college nursing program; he was actually a gardener with no academic aspirations), I’ve always asked, Why? Why lie? A shrug of the shoulders is a common response. As if.  If I had time and space here, I’d share with you some similar, truly laughable, and even bizarre, online dating experiences I’ve had. (which is why I stopped taking that avenue!) Men have lied about their faces and bodies (of course, right?), but also their careers, interests, habits (smoking, vs. non-) and marital status (“married, but (not) in the divorce process”). Again: Why do this? It’s not like the Truth will never be exposed; but it’s a gamble that it won’t, so there’s the answer.

My male friends (not dating prospects, so they’re willing to be candid) back me up on this, telling me that I just don’t understand how hard it is for men to be “on their own”. They seem to think that women have the upper-hand, when it comes to coping with a solitary life; so, women are less-likely “cave” to deception and outright lying.

I don’t know about that. But what I do know is that it can feel increasingly difficult to remember Love, before the heart became jaded and wary; and, at the same time, easier to want to hide in seclusion, amidst the after effects of consecutive disappointments with Love. My dream last night, I’m convinced, arrived as a gentle reminder of the Power of Love, Trusting in Love, being Patient with Love, and the courage needed to take care of my Self until I cross paths with Love again. There’s really no point in trying to look for it; it knows where I am.

Here in the U.S., tomorrow is the first day of June. In the Northern Hemisphere, June is a month that usually brings (or promises) more sunlight and warmth, and a renewed sense of optimism. June is also the month when, statistically, most couples in the States choose to have their weddings. Besides being considered an ideal month for outdoor venues, there’s something inherently romantic about June. A wedding is a celebration that lets all participants feel caught up in romance and believe. June is a month of Hope.

Not long ago I watched an interview on television with a high-profile media personality. The host of the talk show which featured this guest asked questions that allowed the 40-something woman to discuss her lifestyle (single, well-traveled, super-fit and aging well); her many outward accomplishments (author of a few books, and another in process); and her plans for her future. In a pause for breath in this impressive review, the host asked about the guest’s love-relationship. The woman (clearly delighted to be asked) described an “amazing, fiery love affair” with her younger (20 years) lover that was entering its fifth year. The host asked if there were plans for marriage. The guest’s facial expression changed from beautifully serene to something I’d call ‘fierce’. I stopped vacuuming, turned off the closed-captions, and listened.  The woman began by saying, “I’ll never marry.” The host asked, Why not? She answered, “Because I want to wake up every morning with ( —) beside me, knowing that he’s with me because he wants to be, not because he’s in a contract with me.” The host, whose trademark is her outspoken nature, was now fully engaged (in defense of marriage) and the two women gave viewers “ a rollicking good time” for about ten minutes.

I would never criticize another woman for feeling any way she chooses about marriage. According to the CDC (which tracks this data for its impact on general health and longevity), however, in 2018, roughly 2.25 million people became legally married. Also in 2018, almost half, or 850 thousand people got legally divorced. My conclusion:  a “contract” is not what’s holding married people together. Believing that someone is with you because they are legally forced to be, could be someone’s reality I suppose. But most of the marriages that I’ve observed, and the one I lived as my own experience, were entered-into with abundant love and high hopes, not cynicism. The “contract” was considered a religious and/or practical necessity, totally redundant to the belief in The Happily Ever After clause in our minds.

Romantic love is often opined as the ultimate in lunacy:  a total reliance on the heart, the senses, instincts and emotion. I think of it as a mist; a fluffy pink cloud that we enthusiastically step-into, believing (no matter what  age we are) that the mist is magical (it is, actually) and will never become diffused (it does). There are other moments in Life when our brains get fuzzy with love and our hearts fill with joy – some women would describe gazing at their newborn like this – but the feeling that we’ve found The One, which causes us to enter into marriage, is the precursor to everything else.

Believing in True Love and the idea of living Happily Ever After is absolutely necessary in our existence as humans. I’m here to report that love is enduring. Being happy and staying happy in a union is not fantasy or illusion, but totally possible. In the most unfortunate circumstances, where illness, tragedy or some other external issue beyond our control presents changes that ship-wreck a marriage, a union may crumble. But the most common and the most difficult to define (or understand) changes that impact our unions are the ones that occur inside us, changing us as people; people who come to see themselves differently. ‘ Aging’ is just one form of change that produces a ripple-effect: “I wanted that when I was 30; it’s not ‘me’ at 50”. Education, career, travel, the birth of a child (or children), a change of job, a new hobby, weight-loss (or weight gain):  this is just a small list of potential triggers, changing our view of ourselves. We come to think and feel differently:  about ourselves, about what we want and need, and about what we need and expect from our partners.

When my own marriage began to disintegrate, the trigger was the death of my husband’s father. My husband was ex-military, and a true “stoic” in terms of his emotions. When his father lay dying, I wanted – and expected to be – with my husband throughout the process. My spouse, however, was so overcome with emotion (and quite a bit of anger, which was partly his PTSD), that I was literally banned from the hospital room. In the aftermath, I tried to discuss my feelings with him, but I began to see a larger picture of feeling shut-out and wanted things to be different. I’d changed. I wanted to share those changes. I didn’t give up for 4 more years, but eventually (for my own mental health) I had to let go. The love never died, and the belief in life-long happiness has stayed with me. I’m ready for that pink mist  cloud whenever it next appears.