Doing the work: Why therapy and being alone is essential.

Posted By on Mar 28, 2014 |


This is a guest post by Carrie Schmeck.

There I was. 48 years old. On my own for the first time. Feeling like a failure in intimate relationships. Wondering if anyone would find me interesting, smart or attractive. The idea of being on the market again terrified me.

Before I left my then husband, I fantasized about meeting the perfect partner who was everything he was not. Now, faced with the reality of finding that person, I wasn’t so sure I was all that spiffy.

Anyway, Vickie told me, you need to work on yourself. Be who you want to be and you’ll attract who you want to be with.

Wise words, of course, but having been in such an unhealthy relationship for so long; finally having an opportunity for a do-over; I wanted to get on with it. I didn’t want to date. I wasn’t joining match.com. I just wanted someone to see me and know me and prove to me I was worth loving.

Vickie was right so I heeded her advice and continued my therapy. Nevertheless, I managed to emotionally tumble with astonishing speed and intensity at the first hint of an interested man. I hopped on a freight train headed south and I knew from Day One the only thing awaiting me was a brick wall.

But the man told me things I desperately needed to hear. He showed interest in my thoughts, communicated with me, and made it clear he found me sexy and attractive. I could not resist and I tangled myself in a web that, of course, led to heartbreak.

That relationship taught me many things. First, I had no business being in a relationship. As my friends warned me, though I waved them off, I was vulnerable. Every emotion, every insecurity, every fear and joy perched at the brim of my awareness. I’ve discovered this vulnerability is at once dangerous and attractive. It left me open to attention for which I was unable to decipher in terms of health. I was willing to accept carnage in exchange for an affection I knew would be fraught with complications. And I thought that was a good thing—at the time.

The second thing I learned remains a gem despite unearthing itself in a pigpen. I learned I had something good to offer. I learned the gift of me could be welcomed, that I made someone happy by being who I am and I could be seen as sexy and desirable. Because I really wasn’t sure.

The aftermath of that short emotional whirlwind was painful but it forced me to face what I had not yet brought to the table. Why did I think it was okay to accept a low standard in my relationships? What did I not love about myself? What did I most fear in me?

For a time I felt like a disassembled jet engine with parts and pieces strewn across an airplane hangar the size of a football field. I was overwhelmed. Nothing fit. And I was pretty sure I’d never figure out how to get this engine to fly. Vickie told me I was doing the work.

I used that time to discover me. I made lists about who I thought I was, what interests me, how I want to be and what I want in a partner. My lists about a partner centered on qualities and characteristics and even included the proofs I would accept to believe they existed. For instance, I wrote: I want a man of courage, a man who knows himself and understands where his relationships went south (and can communicate it beyond, “she didn’t pay attention to me.”) I want a man confident enough to be on his own. I want to know how he defines failure and success.

I listed what I would consider red flags (the insatiable need to do or get or be anything in order to be satisfied with himself), what I would or would not compromise; and even outlined how I hoped to approach sexuality, on my own and as a couple. Little was overlooked. After all, I didn’t get it right the first time. I needed a guide.

It was painful and laborious work, paved with loneliness and a struggle to believe God would both hear and answer my prayers. But it was good work and I wouldn’t change that time for anything—now that I’m on this side of it.

As it turns out, God did hear and it seems he answered in his above-and-beyond style. So there is a budding love story to tell but I know for a fact I would not have recognized this opportunity without the time and space of being alone and introspective, staying with therapy and mining myself.

To be continued…