Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self. It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become. — Author of Mating in Captivity and couples therapist, Esther Perel
Esther Perel’s quote hit me like a lighting bolt. An electric and profound moment of self-recognition and human understanding. Over the last decade, I have been becoming who I am supposed to be. It’s been both an intentional and organic process. That sounds new-agey and I promise I won’t use the word journey to describe the experience, but it is true. For a long time, I strictly adhered to the rules. I followed the algorithmic pattern of life — get an education, get a job, find a partner, buy a home, have children, eat, sleep, carpool, kvetch, exercise, internet surf, put one foot in front of the other, etc.
Where it all changed
Then one day I ventured off the traditional path and took a guitar lesson. Then I took writing classes. Then I joined a writing group. Each new event introduced me to different people with fresh perspectives on living and on me. They saw me in a never-before-tapped lens of possibility and creativity. They accepted me and my introverted tendencies. They saw me beyond the algorithmic automaton I had become. I was renewed. I was given a chance to live heuristically. For the first time in a long time, I was self-directing rather than following or reacting to others.
Prior to that, I felt lost in the family unit. I know it’s an age-old whine of the middle-class stay-at-home mom but I was truly desperate for separateness and the honoring of my values.
I did not have a traditional affair but I will admit to an emotional attraction to those who made me feel alive and desirable. Their attention was more than validation. It was a gift, the chance to reveal myself. A catalyst for growth. It felt like love at the time, but I see now it was different. It was an opportunity to do be acknowledged solely as me, a woman, writer, thinker, idea generator, and inspirer. It was the first glimmer of a purpose for me beyond caregiving.
A relationship overhaul?
Try as hard as we could, my husband and I could not make that happen at home. Roles were already deeply established and that old/new identity of mine could not be integrated respectfully and satisfactorily into our relationship. My personal nature seemed de-valued and I could not bring about understanding within our family with my husband as my partner. It was affecting how our children were being raised.
In our case, we DID end up looking for new partners, but I believe each relationship is unique and simply recognizing discontent with yourself or a longing to become something else, could change the trajectory of your partnership’s communication and longterm viability.
So, the next time you feel trapped or dissatisfied in your relationship, consider whether you desire a new partner or a new self. If it is a new self you are after, is it possible to transform within the relationship?
Has there ever been a time when you shed your relationship instead of changing you? If so, how would you handle it now if you could do it over?
**Is it obvious I have a crush on Esther Perel? I have quoted her in at least three posts. What can I say? She is my new relationship writing therapist hero. I think her work is worthy of deep attention. Thanks for letting me worship her publicly. 😉