Never Mistake Love for Weakness

I am strong, but some of my behavior has been perceived as weak. I struggle, sometimes daily, with this. It was the primary cause for the end of my last and most serious relationship. Now, I am faced with the challenge of learning how to be both strong and vulnerable. As any seasoned veteran of relationships will tell you, vulnerability is a critical part of any successful partnership. Without opening yourself and trusting your partner fully with your delicate soul, you can never truly develop the trust necessary to sustain the union. The problems arise when your partner doesn’t respect that openness and respond with compassion and grace.

I did everything in my power to stop my ex-wife from taking my son a thousand miles away and making it nearly impossible for me to see him, but I failed. As a result, I bear the pain of knowing that my boy is growing up without his father. I think of him every day. I wonder what he’s learning, how he’s growing, and who he is becoming. I want to be there, but the hurdles I must overcome to be there are sometimes insurmountable. So, I will wait and clear the hurdles in time, and that means being stronger than I ever thought I would need to be. I carry the financial burden of supporting a family, but I rarely have opportunity to reap the rewards of parenthood. In the last two years, I’ve spent less than ten hours with my son. While I cherish those moments dearly, I feel only the loss of the other 11,670 waking hours I couldn’t be with him. Just writing it makes my heart sink. My presence in his life is a vanishingly small one. The math is unkind. I’ve been involved in less than 0.1% of his life. One might expect that of an adult and their parent, but never of a 5yr old child.

For a long time, I heard the stories of deadbeat dads who don’t man up and be a father to their children, and I thought they were the scum of the earth. Now, from a certain point of view, I fall into that category. Granted, it’s not by choice, but that doesn’t make it sting any less. I know where I stand, but it’s embarrassing and carries a social stigma I don’t really know yet how to handle. Most days, it’s not an issue. Some days, though, it’s nearly unbearable, and I need love and support from my friends and family to get through it.

I was always there for my love, but the few times I opened myself up to her, asking her for support when I needed it most, she criticized me for being weak and needy. It was as if my being a man meant I must always be strong and secure, never allowing anyone to see behind the fortified wall, not even my love. She would say things like “you need friends who you can talk to about this stuff” and “I can’t help you” when all I really needed was a hug and a “we’ll get through it together.”

I know now she wasn’t ready for the kind of relationship I wanted. She lacked the tools to nurture the bond we shared. Put simply, she just wasn’t ready. That doesn’t change the fact that she was the most compatible partner I’ve ever had. We were the best of friends and so much more, or so I thought. Sure, there were rough patches, but every couple goes through that. The one red flag that stands above all others was the one-sided nature of our partnership. I was always the one nurturing her, helping her, reassuring her. She rarely assumed that role, expecting me to carry us both. There were even a few times I overheard her talking to friends who said “he’s like a puppy. he’ll never leave you.” Eventually, that evolved into “you can walk all over him, and he will tolerate it.”

I can see now that she misinterpreted my caring, nurturing, and forgiveness as weakness. I knew that deep in her heart, she did not intend to be hurtful, but she simply lacked the ability to express herself clearly in a way that wasn’t hurtful. I had (and still have) faith in her ability to learn a better way, should she choose to try. That’s what kept me going. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen her try. We’ve been apart now for almost nine months, and I’ve seen her once in that time, so despite my hope for a positive outcome, I’m not optimistic that I’ll ever see it.

In the end, I feel fortunate to have met such a wonderful woman and to have felt such joy and adoration. The tragedy is that she set the bar so high, I believe no one will ever reach it again. It’s not fair to measure others against that, and I know in time I will stop comparing other women to her, but for now, I’ll have to be content being single because my heart still belongs to her, whether she deserves it or not.

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