When you deserve better

I woke up in Nairoibi this morning after a rough night. Someone was having one hell of a party downstairs. The back of the hotel is next to a huge, noisy church, the front had a party…..sigh.

Thank god I had a backup. I plugged in my noise-canceling headphones and finally drifted off to sleep.

By comparison the night before, I had slept inches from the all-night parade of noisy hippos that were marching in and out of the swollen Mara River, located in the North Mara Conservancy in Kenya. Hippos are great gossipers, their conversational expressions ranging from great grunts to high-pitched squeaks and whines. Combine that with the heavy patter of rain on the tent canvas, puts me to sleep every time. Night music.

As a side note, aging hippo bachelors (at around twenty or twenty-five) waddle away from the constant, noisy politics of river life, find themselves a nice bit of shaded stream to nestle their enormous asses into, and spend the rest of their lives in relative quiet.

Christ, I can relate. I feel like an aging hippo bachelorette myself at times.

I love the bush. African, Argentinean, doesn’t matter. Bush life.

I deserve this. This is what I love. This is what puts the bird in my chest. That I spent so damned much of my life waiting around to be loved is criminal. Just. Fucking. Criminal. Yet so many of us do.

Even two of my absolute favorite real-life Colonial Kenyan characters, Karen Blixen and Beryl Markham, spent an inordinate amount of time waiting around for the famously ne’er-do-well Denys Finch-Hatton, who was happy to be served as he wished by both women, played them against one another and couldn’t bring his arrogant self to commit to either one. Both broke their hearts on the stony rocks of his unavailability yet considered him the love of their lives. He was an asshole. Plain and simple, and both women deserved better. But that’s just me. Robert Redford played him with great and (to my mind, uncalled-for) sympathy in Out of Africa. When you are here in Kenya you see things differently.

This morning I re-read an older post by one of my favorite Medium writers Kris Gage about how we deserve someone who isn’t putting up with us while they wait for someone better:

You Deserve Someone Who’s Sure About You

As is typical of her writing, she nails her points in a way that makes me squirm with discomfort. I’d put up with a guy for ten years for whom I was clearly a way station while he waited for Ms. Perfection. The fact that he dumped me twelve times in a decade might have served as very obvious evidence that he was as shallow as one of those riverside hippo wading pools (and as full of sh*t, I might add) but I hung on.

As we do. Just like Blixen and Markham, we hang on, and wait for the man we love to grow a pair of testicles.

What strikes me is that every time I got dumped I went on to do some pretty amazing things, because I’d been released, albeit painfully, from the anchor he was on my ankle.

The man was dead weight. As we do in love, we give people we care about great credit for characteristics they don’t have, often in hopes that somehow they will eventually sprout in the dead spaces of their souls. No matter how hard we try to water that particular garden, if it’s not present in them, it won’t bear fruit. This particular man, as with others in my life, wanted someone with everything I had to offer…..but just a little more perfection. Or, a little younger. Or, just…whatever it was they thought they had to have. Clearly it wasn’t me. Clearly I was fine for now, but….Jeez.

Gage writes:

Don’t live your life that way. Don’t treat other human beings that way. And don’t let other human beings regard you that way. Don’t settle for a partner who looks at you across the table and internally sighs, “not perfect, but they’ll do.”

This bites.

Sometimes when I look back over my love life, what I notice more than anything is a series of choices of men who replicated my troubled relationship with my dad (sound familiar?) and who reinforced my less-than-respectful relationship with myself.

These days, not any more.

That I woke up in Nairobi this morning has everything to do with that decision. The picture window on my fourth floor hotel room is wide open to the early morning birdsongs and breezes that characterize this busy city, as I take a day to wash off the bush dust, heal my sunburnt nose and write articles for clients before heading back out to the bush tomorrow. This is how I love myself.

When the BF dumped me on my 66th birthday, while it was exquisitely painful, it also forced me to take a long, hard look at how my choices in men had led me to treat myself as “barely good enough, but I’ll do.”

While Gage’s article might primarily have been pointed at how we allow ourselves to be used as conveniences in other’s lives while they swipe left (while swiping our months and years from us with our full permission), I might posit that the much larger lesson has to do with how we treat ourselves.

The older I get, the more I treasure who I am and what I bloody well deserve. In matters of love I’ve largely given that a rest, if for no other reason than the pool of available candidates has begun to look like those heavily-trodden spots next to the Mara River here in Kenya.

Oh hell, so has my face, but that’s another issue entirely.

However, what I’ve done in terms of loving myself is vastly different. The year 2019 was a watershed, in that the BF’s ugly dump and final insult forced me to pull myself up by the bootstraps in ways I’d not done before. I realized - and this embarrasses the holy sh*t out of me - that I’d hung out in Denver for a very long time for him, rather than pull up stakes and move, which is not only long overdue but a real gift to myself. For ten years the ex treated me like his personal Motel Six. I left the light on for him. He could show up any time, get serviced, leave, and show up again on his own terms. That is precisely what both Blixen and Markham did for Denis Fynch-Hatton.

I admire both those women greatly but not what they did around men, yet that is exactly what I did. Damn it anyway.

We can waste an entire life for men like this. I damned near made that mistake. Fynch-Hatton died when his Gypsy Moth crashed landed. He was 44. In some ways his death was a massive gift to both women. Just as my ex’s final ugly dump more than a year ago was for me.

Assholes. Both of them.

Like Markham and Blixen, I lost the love of my life in a plane crash back in 1973. I know the feeling all too well. But romantic love isn’t the whole point of life. Living is. And living well, as we each can best define it, is even better. With or without a partner, with or without company.

We wake up on our own time and in our own ways. Popular culture pounds into us that we’re supposed to be paired off, have a mate. That would be lovely. Yeah. It would. But each and every time I’ve done that in the course of my long life it has cost me my dreams. When the guy has disappeared, as they inevitably do, I renew working on those things that make my heart sing as loudly as the African birds are right outside my hotel window.

I would love to believe that having love and being able to live your dream can go hand-in-hand. The young man who was my guide these last eight days on riding Safari, Simon, is marrying a woman who works for the company. That allows both of them to live the life they want, a life of both love and adventure. I am delighted for them. That’s not how my life has evolved. At this point, with limited time left to me, I don’t have time for men who don’t have time for me. Or, someone who expects me to jettison what I love most dearly to take care of him so that he can live his dreams. For me, settling for less would be settling down with someone.

The cost is too great. How much of myself do I have to give up to be loved by someone?

Perhaps my favorite line out of Gage’s article is this:

You are not a throw pillow.

I’m a touch tired of having someone show up and emit his beer farts into the comfortable couch of my body until he’s ready to move on to The Next Best Thing, only to return when that Best Thing turned out to be, like all of us, deeply flawed. As long as you and I are willing to settle for partners who settle, we have limited lives. As hard as it may be, the death of a relationship may well signal, at long last, the love affair we deserve.

With ourselves.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash