Dear Joyful Rebel,
As a person who really excels in the music and visual and literary arts, I have a tough time finding my place in our world navigating a society so focused on the “career complex”, domesticity, and how that translates to someone who needs to be free to honor whatever muse shows up from day to day, yet whom like everyone; needs that human connection.
My last relationship was divine.... it was a fairy tale and as such turned out to be too good to be true on account that my partner decided one random day that I wasn't financially stable enough to deserve her time or ultimately be a good father to her future children even though we all know there would’ve been none better or more able.
I really connect with kids too, and I think it’s because I really know how to listen to them, their energies and their thoughts and I can relate to that youthful curiosity, better than most. I'm also, by virtue of having been marginally compensated for my efforts for years; harder working than literally anyone I know. And while society doesn't compensate me for my efforts even a fraction of what it does for other fields, I can do just about anything to a higher quality than most. I've been a chef, a musician, an artist, organizer, guide, and teacher. I crush everything I do.
But my partner did not believe in my abilities after all. Even after a year of creating a false narrative that I was her person for life, her future father of her children, her romantic and spiritual inspiration and her perfect lover; she took the mask off and revealed a totally different person -one who ultimately only wanted the strict watered-down vanilla image of a dogmatically fixed paradigm; that is, you have to look a certain way, have a certain career, net worth, and that if there are challenges along the way, it must mean it’s broken and therefore not worth fighting for.
Granted, these are all my words and not hers, but this is the gist of how things blossomed, and like a flower in full bloom; was then snipped from its root, left to die as the light she shone upon it set in the west and darkness swallowed everything in sight. It took multiple suicide attempts, anti-depressants, isolation, six therapists, wilderness therapy, meditation, and a year to unravel and untangle from such profound sorrow and of those narratives we were both guilty of creating. She was my everything, and yet I'm proud of myself for being able to say that now. I've done so much work to get here. Her loss, ultimately.
But I guess I’m trying to know how to avoid this pitfall in the future. Is it impossible to have a home, a family and also honor my creative soul? How can I come into my own power as one who thrives on the river of life’s general chaos; but within this toxic paradigm and notions of extroversion, power, ownership, clout, ego, career, marriage, family, and the domestic expectations that’re perverting our true natures and simultaneously propagating powerful fear-based narratives into the middle of otherwise perfect love?
How does one maintain their own divinity while the world around them judges and cherry-picks and continues to contribute and play-along to what we all know is an unsustainable, rigged game? How do I plan for a more domestic future when a normal career is also spiritually toxic to the process of making art and also toxic to my identity? And how can I have any hope to find a partner who also wants children, a home, and even marriage with such a boldly defiant creative soul?
First of all, thanks for your note.
I know you’re not alone in navigating a world of “shoulds”, so laden with the mixed messages of “FOLLOW YOUR HEART! YOU CAN ACHIEVE ANYTHING” and “Toe the line and buy this thing so you can fit in and feel cool” Its can feel so overwhelming and quite frankly shitty sometimes, particularly when you have a passion and talent for the arts - when you excel and thinking creatively and differently. As it sounds like you do.
So where do I start with your letter? I hate to sound cynical - because that’s not typically my modus operendi - but I think that when people describe their relationships and “perfect” or “divine” they are generally full of shit. As you talk about in your letter, when the masks and gloves come off, people can show themselves to be different than you thought they were. In your case, the woman who you describe as deciding to leave you on a random day. Though to be honest Duncan, it probably wasn’t random at all. This former partner of yours had likely been stewing for awhile on this fear that you would never be financially stable enough to start a family. The bummer part is that she probably didn’t feel safe enough to talk to you about it. I feel like it’s important to mention in the same breath that you shouldn’t take that personally. Here’s some food for thought: , but nothing people do is about us. Everything people do and think and feel is a result of their interpretation or the meaning they attach to external stimuli - in this case creative boyfriends who don’t place a lot of value on societies definition of financial security.
For instance, this woman didn’t break up with you because you’re a financially unstable artist. She broke up with you because of the meaning she attaches to money, and the biological imperative that compels most women to do whatever they can to keep their babies safe and healthy. Now I’m not saying she was right or wrong in her decision, as no one gets to decide that but her. But there’s something really important here about having super honest conversations about the shit that is most important to us: our values and what we deem to be most important.
But here’s where it gets tricky: Values, on the surface, are so easy to talk about. I value authenticity, I value presence, I value new experiences - whatever it is, none of it means anything if folks aren’t backing that up with some real action. Living into their values, if you will. So, if I had a chance to be sitting to you face to face, I’d ask you this: Where in your relationship did this divine woman show you that financial security wasn’t important to her? Or on the flip side: looking back, what things can you be aware of that were little red flags that financial security was more important to her than she professed?
I’ve got to be real: money is one of the hardest things to talk about in relationships. It’s something that still trips my husband and I up to this day. But it’s not just about spending and budgets that I’m talking about here - it’s about what money MEANS to us, what it represents. And to be real, I don’t think that most people think about that on a deep level. But I’d suggest in your next relationship, it is definitely a topic worth exploring.
As for the sudden taking off of the mask, and the apparent 180 turn in how this woman felt about your future together, there are so many layers to this. Like I mentioned before, I doubt that her change of heart was sudden. A crappy combination of fear and outside influence had likely built up over awhile. But there’s a couple of questions that come to mind for me here:
First: In general, how did you respond when she said something that you didn’t agree with or wasn’t aligned with your values?
Did it compel you to stand on a soapbox or convince her of the merits of your belief system? Or were you able to really listen, without judgement, and accept another perspective (even if you didn’t agree)?
My guess is that there were micro-aggressions throughout your relationship that for one reason or another led her to the conclusion that she couldn’t be real about things that existed in the areas where you might not have agreed. Hence, leading to a communication breakdown and the “putting on of a mask” that didn’t allow the two of you to have the deep, honest talks that you needed to have - particularly about the ginormous task of bringing and raising healthy babies in this crazy world.
I’ve got to pause as well, Duncan: and say this: kudos to you for being willing to pursue the healing journey. Breakups like this are fucking devastating. And it’s not always easy to pull yourself back from the depths of depression and build your awareness and love for yourself. Because it sounds like that’s what you’ve been working on.
Which brings me to this: On your journey to healing and greater self-awareness, what has emerged as most important to you in this life? Since you’re asking for my advice, I’d say that you should spend some time thinking more about that and how exactly you actually live into those ideas.
So when you ask how do you avoid this pitfall in the future, I’ll say this: First, start by narrowing it down to two core ideas that guide who you are and where you want to go in life. And then practice what you preach and living into those things that matters to you every day.
Next, build your awareness around the idea that even the “perfect” partner isn’t necessarily going to build their lives around values that are identical to yours. And you’ve got to allow space for them to live into what’s important in their hearts. To be able to voice that and share that in a way where they know that you accept them, no matter what.
On that note, I think it’s also CRAZY important to create a shared values system as a couple. As you’re establishing yourselves as a couple - figure out where your values overlap and come up with a couple words that will guide you as a unit. That way, you’ll have a common ground to come back to when the going gets tough.
Finally, allow for the courage to have uncomfortable conversations about things like money and what it means. Or raising a family, and what that means. Again, be willing to accept that your perspectives might not align, but be brave enough to step into that uncharted territory of the space in between to figure out where you can meet in the middle. Take that same approach of curiosity and play that you take with kids and apply it to your romantic relationships
As Brene Brown Says: strong back, soft front, wild heart
As for living your values in a world that wants you to fall in line with the idea of a 9-5, a white picket fence, and a 401K, I’d say don’t stop. Keep doing your personal work and growing into that truth. Live into what’s most important to you and create a container for that to thrive in. The right partner will be attracted to the energy that you put off as a result. There are plenty of women who do want a home, a family, and a partnership with boldly defiant, creative souls such as yours. But most of all, they want a partner who will listen to them, who will be reliable, and who makes them feel like a million bucks without having to have a million bucks. And you’re totally right, challenges will come up along the way in relationships, and it’s never fun. But when you work through them together in a way that fuels your relationship and come out stronger on the other side - there’s nothing better my friend. So don’t stop searching. Don’t stop being real.
I’ll also say this: Art and success don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And there’s no magic dollar amount that equates to raising happy, healthy kids. But, in the same breath, I encourage you to keep the lights on and food in your belly to keep that creativity flowing. And yes, that probably requires a J-O-B of some kind. My hope is that you A) get to meet your needs though your creative pursuits, and if that’s not the case, that you’re able to find a way to pay the bills that doesn’t require you to sell your soul.
It’s funny, because I used to harp on my husband all the time about finishing school and finding a career and doing all of the things that society tells us we should do. And he pushed back on it for years! It caused so many disagreements and frustrations. But when I finally let up and realized that he has intentionally created a life that sets him up for snowboarding and being creative while making decent money every night - that he was happy with what he was doing - everything about those expectations and hopes I had changed.
Duncan, I sure hope that’s helpful.
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