Il dolce far niente

I’ve always thought of myself as pretty independent…not so independent that I wouldn’t love to have someone to share my life with, but independent enough not to fully give into the lie that life begins as soon as you meet the man of your dreams. I’ve done what was necessary to ensure I could take care of myself, I’ve tried desperately to be content in every situation and I’ve regularly attempted to pursue a peaceful heart regardless of life’s ups and downs. I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to receive a quality education, which gave me the ability to go to work and provide for myself, but in all reality, I wouldn’t mind having someone else to share in that task. I’ve chosen to live my life to the fullest, I’ve laughed and cried with abandon, I’ve traveled around the world and met all types of incredible people, and I’ve been blessed beyond measure. There have been those moments, though, especially during this past year, when I wished for nothing more than a steady place to call home…a place where the pain and fear of the unknown would have been quieted by the strength of a partner by my side.

On September 18th, nearly three months ago, I took an extensive inventory of my life, something I think is quite normal after having been faced with one’s susceptibility to death…I examined the dreams accomplished, the hopes yet to come to fruition, the milestones met, the losses over the years, the health battles fought and won, the relationships that never fully developed…I took a look at it all and made a huge discovery…I’m approaching “that age”…the one where the ticking becomes louder and more intense, the age where those who have already been married for ten years and have a house full of kids tell you “Oh, you’re just a baby, you still have plenty of time,”…the age where settling down and starting a family might not be such a bad idea but the older you become the more you wonder whether being single for the rest of your life might not be the worst thing…Well, I realized that I’m approaching that age and there’s something not quite right! Naturally, after such a revelation, I did what most women would do under the circumstances and I panicked! I reached for the nearest phone to call 1-800-find-me-a-man! No, I actually did the exact opposite! I made the intentional decision to clear my life of all distractions (the kind that comes in the form of the male gender), and I committed to six months of not dating in order to focus on healing…both physically and mentally.

While six months may seem like a very small amount of time, as is common with anything we tell ourselves we cannot have or do, the forbidden object then resides at the forefront of all our thoughts. I’ve tried to reason with myself…it’s been six months since my last radiation treatment, and looking back I have almost forgotten how bad I felt in the midst of all that, so not dating for that amount of time should be a piece of cake, right? Umm, wrong! It’s amazing how intimidating and daunting the quiet can be that follows such a decision…especially when the last year of my life has been full of life-changing transitions that would have been much less overwhelming had there been a significant other present to help me walk through it all.

In the 2 months and 27 days (but who’s counting?) that I’ve been on this quest, I’ve learned so much about my sense of identity as it is wrapped up in someone else. I’ve come to see that for someone like me who was used to dating on a fairly regular basis, whether it was a quick coffee outing, or a lengthier romantic relationship, despite my previously claimed independence, I came to rely on the idea that I was special because someone else told me so. I was also really great at convincing myself that staying with a man who wasn’t quite the most functional human being on the planet, had more to do with my belief that everyone deserves to be loved, rather than my overall fear of being completely alone.

Nevertheless, not one to shy away from personal growth, I spent several sessions delving into this topic with my therapist, and with her guidance I made a very specific list of the characteristics that I must have if there is going to be another relationship in my future. I acknowledged to myself and out loud that I had a tendency (as is common with us therapist types) to date men who needed me…who needed me to stick by them when the rest of the world had turned their back and who were really great at taking advantage of my loyalty. I’m loyal to a fault. I’ve come to see that my compassion is my greatest strength AND my greatest weakness, and most people who are emotionally and/or physically unsafe/unhealthy clue into that personality trait very quickly and use it to their benefit.

Since swearing off men, I’ve had to catch myself during those moments of panic, the moments of vulnerability when it was all I could do not to pick up the phone and dial the ex that I knew would jump back into communication with me without a second thought. I’ve had to become very purposeful with my actions towards others and recognize that it’s okay to be alone on Friday night…it’s okay to refuse an invitation to go out, and it’s okay to tell your well-intentioned friends that a blind date just isn’t the best idea right now…even as I approach “that age”…even as I contemplate another big move to obtain employment…and even as I continue to fight the greatest battle of my life.

Last week I rented Julia Roberts’ latest movie, “Eat, Pray, Love”…twice. I have to admit that I wasn’t really all that interested in seeing it, especially after hearing such mixed reviews, but I figured if it was a massive disappointment I had only spent $1.00 on it from the Redbox at the local grocery store. The first time I watched it was with my sister. We waited until the kids were in bed before bundling up in blankets for the theatrical journey ahead. Not long into the movie, I was sucked in. It’s not often that a film captivates the very interest of my soul, but this one had so many powerful phrases in it that I was constantly having “Ah-ha” moments…mostly because her life mirrored mine in the area of self-identity and men. The second time I watched it with my brother and his wife. I literally had a pen and piece of paper in hand to capture the words that caught my interest.

One of my favorite phrases, “Il dolce far niente!” Translation from Italian to English? “The sweetness of doing nothing”…As Liz (Julia Roberts’ character) traveled through Italy, India and Bali, she learned the brilliance of finding pleasure in even the smallest of things and she began to unveil the lies that we all believe at one time or another…the lie society tells us as women…the lie that we’re incomplete unless we have the Martha Stewart home, the doting husband and the adorable 2.5 children…which are all incredible blessings, but it’s also important for single individuals to understand that the absence of the spouse, home and kids do not speak to their worth as a person. She took the time to revel in the beauty of the creation around her and the joy that is found in the bonds of true friendship. She found an identity outside of a romantic relationship by embracing the gift that comes from learning to love and accept oneself…learning to identify, appreciate and work on it all…the good, the bad and the horrific…the parts of us that we want to hide from the rest of the world…the parts that ultimately keep us from having a complete, healthy relationship, and the parts that if we just surrendered to the process of cleaning them up, we would find a genuine appreciation for who we are and could then offer a more whole individual for someone else to love. She gained a profound insight as she realized she did not need to love a man, just for love’s sake, in order to prove the love she had for herself.

As I approach the beginning of month four, I am learning to sit quietly with myself. I am learning to give over to God the places that feel impossible for me to change, and I am learning to find my identity in a God that created me to love deeply, to serve others and to live passionately for Him. I am learning that the goal of finding approval from mankind will leave me feeling empty, because I was not created to find complete fulfillment in anyone but God. I am learning that I am worth more than a relationship that is based on the conditional love of an emotionally unhealthy individual. I am learning the true meaning of “Dolce Far Niente”…the pure sweetness of doing absolutely nothing! For in the stillness of doing nothing, of taking myself out of the game that has become dating, I am learning to find me again…I am learning to identify the sweetness within myself.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lorilynnnavarro
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 03:36:56

    Beautifully written, my sister. Once again, you have me in tears. I love you.

    Reply

  2. lori zimbardi
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 04:20:56

    Now that I know you a bit better than just being your sisters friend, I am commenting. I love reading your writing. You write beautifully.

    Reply

  3. Jennifer Penner
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 08:41:24

    🙂

    Reply

  4. Coral
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 08:47:24

    Very well expressed. I love you. I’ll be praying specifically for you in this area.

    Reply

  5. Judith Michelsen
    Dec 31, 2010 @ 03:11:15

    One of the most sensitive, eloquent, and mature responses to the inevitably thorny growth process we all face I have ever encountered. Thanks so much Kelli! (P.S. Now I’m going to go and get that movie!) Judith

    Reply

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