But before I dive into all that… I wonder if I’ll ever not think about Electra Woman and Dyna Girl when I use the word “dynamic?” (I hope not. I miss that lunchbox. And I just fell down a rabbit hole of excellent old lunchboxes, darn it!)
When C and I first met, ours was a pretty easy integration. I had room, space, and time for him, and – when he wasn’t traveling – he had the same for me. Neither of us had much in the way of social obligations, so the majority of our free time was spent together, and it just… worked. It was lovely because it all made sense.
But he has kids, he has a family, and he had a life prior to meeting me. I have family, and a long time of being on my own which meant I was accustomed to doing things my way, or my family’s way. I’d never really given much thought to how much of a challenge it might be, could be, and probably would be, to integrate families that have pre-existing dynamics that may not match up with the other. In fact, it’d be pretty miraculous if they did easily and magically align with no chafing. With two people, it’s not so hard to make adjustments and establish new family dynamics, but when there’s all that other stuff, other people, all those prior patterns and behaviors and expectations… it can get challenging, or at least feel that way.
Some years ago, I opted out of Thanksgiving with my family and went to spend it with friends in New Orleans. I missed my family the entire time. Even when we only spend a few hours together, or if someone doesn’t start cooking the turkey until 8pm, it’s YOUR family. These are the people and the customs you’re used to. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had a GREAT time in New Orleans, but I often found myself preoccupied with my internal leaky faucet of comparisons: “This isn’t how it’s done. That isn’t the couch I’m used to, those aren’t the foods I’ve come to love and expect, these aren’t the people who have no problem leaving the room to go screw around on the computer or play ping-pong downstairs…”
Comparison is the thief of joy, you know.
So, this year will the the 3rd of maybe the last 10-15 where I can remember not spending it with my family; he and I are driving to Atlanta to spend it with his parents and his kids. We figured since he gets the kids for the holiday, it would be great to all get together down there (and easier, and probably less confusing & stressful for everyone to not have a major holiday at our house just yet – especially since our dining table hasn’t shown up). I’m looking forward to it; his parents have a lovely house that is comfortable, and also large enough for everyone to spread out and keep entertained, which means we all keep our sanity, I think.
I’d be lying if I said it isn’t also just a little bittersweet to not be spending it with MY people.
But you know, things change. They’re… dynamic. Families change, relationships change, realities change, dynamics change, venues change; you’d think I’d be used to that by now, right? It’s happening at work, and in the not too distant past, it happened with friendships here, as well.
I won’t get into the family stuff too much, but suffice to say, there’s “stuff”… which is all the more reason why it’s a good and timely thing C & I are heading out of town. Things are changing with my family all over the place, and I can guarantee they won’t look the same a year from now, much less 5 or 10. Even if/when your family drives you up a damn wall bonkers, they’re still YOUR people. The devil you know, right? It’s what you’re used to.
The friendship thing took an unexpected turn some years back as a result of some “stuff” too, but ultimately, it changed like someone threw a huge rock in the pond and the ripples unsettled the status quo; the underwater critters have since resettled in their new spots after being displaced by the rock and the waves, but the slow and gentle lilt keeps it all moving around – just a little, I think, as is the nature of relationship. It’s really just part of life, and I get that, but have been paying a whole lot more attention to it all lately; maybe because it’s important to me to get it as right as I can these days.
At work, we had what’s being referred to as “workforce reduction” – we had to lay off some really good people a few weeks ago, all of whom brought not only huge talent to the agency, but huge hearts and personalities, as well. The place just doesn’t feel the same without them, so the dynamics there have shifted, both from the absence of some, and the remains of the others. It feels like something is missing; something is different. And even something as simple as one new person moving into our office suite, and another person moving across the office to a different desk… everything changes. It’s almost amazing, the ripple effect. If it weren’t so potentially disruptive, I mean.
I know I add to it with my own reticence and resistance to change. I am Bruce Lee’s greatest disappointment, because I am NOTHING like water when it comes to change, or to life happening. I’m messy, and I’m petulant, and it takes me a while to process through all the feelings I have about things. And in the midst of all those feelings, the part of a person where they’re able to pretend like everything is fine was apparently never installed for me, so you always know where you stand, and where I’m at. I worry sometimes that I should have more of a social nicety filter where I can make people feel better and not inflict my own mood on the situation… but then I’m reminded that I’m simply being authentic, and it ain’t such a bad thing.
More about that whole “making things okay for people” thing in another post.
Anyway. Pre-existing dynamics are a mofo, I tell you what. I mean, most of the time it’s easy to take a step back and observe if they aren’t yours to navigate; you can rise above and not participate, just learn. I’m grateful for that. But I’m also having to recognize every time my own upbringing, conditioning, and dynamics are showing up and preventing me from allowing for true connection. I’m having to own up to all the conflicting emotions that crop up as a result of bringing my stuff to the table, recognizing that my way isn’t necessarily the best way – it’s just a different way. I have to breathe, give space, and hold presence with how C interacts with his family, kids, ex-wife… knowing they have a lifetime of engagement, and that I am the “outsider.” Just as it would be if I had kids and an ex of my own (at least, one I had to talk to).
Some folks say blending or integrating families is simple, and we all just complicate it by thinking about it too much. I think there probably are situations and times where it would be simple and straightforward… but more often than not, you’re dealing with not just the people who show up, but all the stuff and things they carry with them (which, you could argue, is an integral part of who they are, at least at that particular moment). Memories, hopes and dreams that may not be coming to fruition anymore, expectations, resentments, behaviors…
Our new dining room table only seats 6; I think we’d need a much bigger venue if we tried to hold the holiday at our home this year.
Anyway. I find it interesting to note each year when my attachment to Thanksgiving shows up. Christmas I can take or leave; I’ve gotten REALLY sensitive about gifts, people wasting money on things other people may or may not want… I’m bitter about the expectation of present exchanges on a holiday that – for me – has no other real meaning. You know? But Thanksgiving. There’s something about it that goes pretty deep, and I guess I’d do well to figure that out so I can just enjoy the time, the food, the company, and the concept of gratitude, all in my first year married to a wonderful man (and all of the goodness that comes with that – dynamics be damned or embraced).
Thanksgiving was the closest thing to a steady tradition I’ve had in a life full of moves and transition and change, so maybe that’s all there is to it. And maybe it’s time to establish our own dynamic dynamics, our own holiday traditions. Maybe that’s how it all starts over: with us.