It’s a glittery, blue composition notebook, devoid of the cheap gold lock my childhood diary contained.
And my girlfriend had read every word.
“Awesome,” I thought gingerly to myself. “I meant for you to.”
You see, we haven’t always had an open and healthy relationship. Each of us is afflicted with mental illness, plagued by separate anxiety disorders weaving their smoky tendrils ‘round our heads till we’re filled with smoke, unable to ascertain the lies of anxiety with truth.
When we began dating, I began to pepper her with small gifts. Tokens, in my mind’s eye, of my affection for her—flowers and presents for various occasions that would take her hours to open. From her perspective, watching her open gifts was an opening to criticize her if she didn’t react the way I thought she ought to. Unbeknownst to me, when others had given her presents in the past, there was a string attached. I was hurt, feeling as though she didn’t appreciate how I was showing my love. Surely I wasn’t expecting anything in return. However, my therapist would later point out that I was in fact expecting a reaction, which in itself was a string. I was unconsciously repeating the patterns of her past relationships. I longed for compliments and words of affirmation that displayed her attraction, her love for me. Ignoring the actions in between the words, I became more and more unhappy.
We would have severe, ugly arguments. We’d each know the best way to cut the other down and would strike with total precision, each of us a petulant child acting out their tantrum on the other.
Never a particularly spiritual person, I was still brought back to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 time and again.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
Pettiness, jealousy, bitterness, and the inability to let go of the poison of our pasts kept us apart. During an especially daunting fight right after Christmas, I convinced myself I was done. As much as I loved her in that moment, I knew this dynamic was unhealthy. I gave her an ultimatum: Get into therapy or lose me.
She chose therapy.
The mere idea of losing her was like a searing knife to my soul. I couldn’t lose her without a fight, but this time… this time, I’d fight fair. I’d lovingly disagree. I’d respectfully voice an alternate opinion.
In a session with my own therapist, she was blunt. I had my own issues that we analyzed to discover my own role in sabotaging my relationship. Beginning with the passing of my father and my abandonment issues, we powered on. In her own time, my girlfriend did work on herself. We began to own our issues. Then, over time, something amazing happened. We got to know each other again.
She’d reach for my hand and I held hers instead of shying away. I gave her white roses and she placed them on her mantle. We learned our love languages. We began to communicate.
My favorite way?
The gaudy, glittery notebook.
We each write to the other. We journal. We read what the other writes. Long gone were our angry outbursts, replaced by carefully handwritten words.
A question we will ask and answer is “Why do you love me today?”
We take time to look over our days together and find one special reason we’re in love that day. Sometimes it’s doing dishes, a compliment, sending one another songs, or being there for each other during our anxiety attacks.
Today, I love that she let me write this. Sitting next to me, she says she loves my handwriting.
We’ve got a long way to go, but I know we’re on the proper track. I can’t wait to see what she writes.