I used to inwardly scream at men who drifted in and out of relationships like irregular tides. What could possibly be more childish, more avoidant, more hurtful? Why couldn't they stay forever and everything would always be exactly the same? Why did the come and go, and come and go, and come and go? Why (why, why) did they act like Mary Poppins?
Except now it's my turn to be Mary Poppins.
We're all whitewater rafting down our own personal rapids, and although we do our best to direct our rafts, to a certain extent we have to go where the river takes us. Someone else is eddying along on their own current, and for a while our currents go together, and then they go apart. And they might go together again in the future, or they might not. We have some control over our lives, and on the other hand, we don't have some control over our lives. You never know. But with skillful directing of the rafts, reunion with those who matter is more likely.
I loathe the Mary Poppins approach to living life because it feels impossible to build anything solid with someone who's going to fly away when you least expect it and be gone for an indefinite amount of time, maybe forever. And maybe come back, perhaps, who knows, except that by that time everything will be different. I love clinging to the happiness and stability of being together and I want life to freeze itself exactly as it is in moments of union and never, ever change. I'm like Beyoncé. If I like it, I want to put a ring on it. Whether it's men, or friends, or places.
But that's not how life goes. People cycle through phases of life. What hurts is when you're in a togetherness phase and someone else is moving into their somewhere-else phase. It hurts with friends too. I recently lost a friend and I have no idea why except that she seems to be moving her emotions to somewhere-else. I don't know if it has anything to do with me or not. I guess I just have to work at being ok with not knowing, and with letting her go. Because trying to hang on didn't work.
The thing is, I've been the one whose heart drifts away too. We've all been on both sides. And when our hearts drift away to somewhere else, we can try to pin them in place, we can feel guilty, we can mourn, we can hate ourselves, we can struggle to stay where we are, but none of those things will do any good. When the tide moves us on, we must go. We can go kicking and screaming, but we will still go—and it's less tiring to relax into the waves than to struggle against them.
Knowing so many itinerant sailors and pirates in recent years has taken a toll on my emotional health. Because it's always feasting and famining instead of a regular diet. We cram the story into condensed blocks of time, and then it's goodbye again, maybe for a little, maybe for a long time, maybe forever. You never know. “You'll stay until the wind changes,” I said to one. He nodded matter-of-factly. That's how life is when you're a sailor. You can like it or not like it but you can't change it.
I wore myself out famining over sailors and pirates. But they taught me that in our hearts, we are all pirates, all somewhat at the mercy of the high seas. Even the lubberiest of landlubbers knows that sometimes we feel close to our partners and sometimes we don't, and we all rubber-band. (Although as a woman, I think men do it more than women do, and as an anxious-attachment type, I think that avoidant-attachment types do it more than secure-attachment types do.) As a friend, sometimes I want to talk to one particular friend every day, and sometimes we're just going through different phases in our lives and that friend seems less relevant to whatever's going on. Even as a mother, sometimes I want to weep over my little angel's celestial head of silky starry angel-feathers, and sometimes I'm like, “Take. This. Child. Now.” (And then I go back to wanting to cuddle.) Nobody feels the same all the time.
Sometimes our hearts take us different places. Sometimes our lives take us different places. Sometimes we want to go and sometimes we don't, and sometimes we have lots of conflicting feelings all together. Perhaps the more useful approach would be, instead of railing against the Mary Poppins Effect and wishing it didn't exist, to realize that it is the inherent nature of all relationships. It's even our relationship with life itself. As Charlotte the Spider so brilliantly says, “we're born, we live a little while, and we die.” (EB White) —We can get angry at the fact that everything changes, or we can try to go with it, knowing that it's going to happen whether or not we get angry.
I'm not saying going with the flow is easy. That's why we have ancient spiritual practices, and that's why they're still in print. It's also not always easy to know right away what the real flow is. And there's a delicate balance between going with the flow and throwing yourself helplessly into the waves and abandoning control altogether. But...we all do the best we can.
Life is scary. Change is scary. Saying goodbye is scary. But this is what we've got, so we might as well learn to go with it.
And take heart. Mary Poppins always comes back.
Until It's Time for You to Go. Buffy Saint-Marie. Barbra Streisand.