It’s 1992, I’m sitting in a darkened movie theater, watching “The Last of the Mohicans.” A beautiful young woman in voluminous skirts and evening shoes is scaling a steep mountain, running from an ambush. Her dashing lover, a white man adopted by an Indian chief, is following close behind, encouraging her to keep moving. But when they reach the top of the mountain, instead of making a mad dash for safety, they stop and gaze at each other. They press their lips
together in a hungry kiss, and I lean forward. It’s so romantic and exquisite . . . until I suddenly become filled with rage. I don’t care any more what happens to them and I leave the movie theater.

I got angry because this unrealistic depiction of romanticism, perfect beauty and love eternal have long destabilized women and men with the idea that love will remain deeply satisfying and hot forever. The unattainable beauty of the heroine, the magnificence and loyalty of her man and his unspoken commitment to die for her if need be, hooked me in the moment, but they were unreal. Many of us were
programmed with this false idea about relationships, so how do we build a foundation with someone else that is grounded in reality? How do we accept an imperfect human being with their weaknesses and vulnerabilities? Bad hair, wrinkles and morning breath. Cellulite and jealous behavior that is all too human and exists in all of us in one form or another.

As a professional ballet dancer coming of age around other ballet dancers, I focused on the physical more than on the emotional. I wasn’t shallow. I was just uninformed because I left home at fourteen to pursue a career in ballet. I didn’t know that the ability to listen and be compassionate was more valuable, long term, than
physical attributes. We dancers didn’t think long term. Our career trajectories were pitifully short so we lived in the moment. But everything changes. I had life experiences that other people could only dream of, but when I retired my pointe shoes and stepped out into the real world where real people dwelt, I was a stranger in a strange land, disoriented and unsure of myself.

I had some false starts, I really didn’t know what to look for in a partner and I engaged in a few dances with the devil that could have turned out to be disastrous. After flirting with two Italian men I didn’t know, I got chased through a long dark tunnel in Spoleto, Italy. Thank God I was faster than they were. I went to a late night party in Brussels with a stranger and got tossed out into the dark street when I refused to sleep with him. I consistently chose men who were not
good for me, who didn’t treat me with respect, and my self-talk got pretty mean. I should have known better, I scolded myself. I should have done better. I should have chosen differently. Did my disregard for my well being damage me permanently? Am I responsible for the pain and sorrow my relationships caused me when I put on the blinders and made destructive choices? It’s no wonder I’m alone.

Being alone and being in relationship, I’ve spent time in both, have their individual challenges and lessons. For me, learning how to stop my inner critic from abusing me remains a full time job. I got a powerful lesson about this back in  the nineteen eighties when a young man I loved dearly was dying of AIDS. He languished in the hospital, judging himself harshly about contracting the disease by going unconscious and being promiscuous. Then one day, he let go and began to relax.

“What happened?” I asked him.

“I forgave myself,” he said. “Everything I did, I did for love.”

So did I. So do most of us. As I worked on myself ruthlessly, I discovered what was real and what was fiction. What was kindness and what was not. What was possible and what was futile. What mattered and what didn’t. I appreciated the good traits in my friends and made sure I was being treated with compassion. If I wasn’t, I moved on. Today, all the people around me are kind, compassionate and they appreciate our friendship. I’ve discovered that life can be a safe place if we stay awake and make sure we do the right thing. For ourselves and for the people we love.