“Ah, so you’re a fixer.”
These words were spoken to me a couple of months ago by someone I had recently met. I’d mentioned that my ex, who’d just returned to my life, was going through a rough time and that I wanted to support him. I immediately bristled at her comment. “I am not a fixer,” I said. “He’s fixing himself.”
But her words stayed with me, as did the irritation I felt towards her for saying them. I knew my resistance was showing me something. Was she right? Was I a ‘fixer’?
How do we know when we’re emotionally supporting someone, and when we’re rescuing them? I’d always disdained the idea of women trying to fix or save men. Why were they wasting their precious energy? Didn’t they see that people are responsible for themselves, that you can’t change anyone?
But things were fuzzy when it came to my own situation. I cared about my ex, and though we were living in different cities, he was back in my life after years of estrangement. I was so thankful for that. Romance aside, couldn’t I be there for him as a friend? I’d been on a path of self-discovery since our breakup. Maybe I had something to offer him. Maybe I could help him get back on track…
It was surreal when he visited me a few weeks ago. It was as if nothing had changed…yet everything had changed. I could feel how I felt with him all those years ago – insecure, ‘not enough’ – yet I also felt a strength I lacked back then. I was living two different me’s in the same moment.
I wanted time to get to know each other again but, like a whirlwind, he left town soon after he arrived. I’d tried not to get my hopes up about a future with him, but it happened anyway. Now that he was gone, I panicked. What if we don’t talk for another seven years? What if I never see him again? What if this is it?!
My best friend saw the distressed state I was in and insisted that I spend the weekend with her. What I remember most from our conversations was her request that I be more vulnerable in life. She knows me better than anyone, and she told it to me straight. I’m the gal who pretends everything is going great, when really I often feel lonely and isolated. It was time to stop wearing that mask. To reach out more to those who love me.
I’d been afraid to be truly vulnerable with my ex during our entire relationship. I hadn’t wanted to appear needy, dependent, weak, messy – like all the other women he knew. I wanted to be cool, confident. Not draining or suffocating him.
But what about my needs and desires? I’d held back for fear of rejection. I’d set my whole life up to avoid humiliation, being laughed at, or (worse) pitied, but all that took a huge toll. After being with my best friend, something roared to life within. No more. I knew I couldn’t live that way another minute: all buttoned up, silent, the unknowns and what-ifs eating away at me. Slow death.
I called my ex and expressed what I couldn’t during our visit. That I wanted us to try again. That we’d waited so long and why not just go for it, when our second chance was right in front of us? I sounded so clear, so raw. He listened and responded that he was not in the same place as me. Through our conversation it became clear that we had very different needs. After a few moments, we wished each other well. And that was it.
My emotions fluctuate, but somewhere in there is relief. I feel a sense of peace that I didn’t before. And this could only come from knowing I was true to my feelings. The real pain wasn’t in the rejection, but in the holding back. My own words brought me the freedom I was so desperately seeking.
I couldn’t be his ‘fixer’; I needed my own healing and attention. He showed up at the perfect time for me to really get it: the real power is in the vulnerability.