Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Rocky Road of Romance

Sometimes with One I Love


Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage for fear I
effuse unreturn’d love,
But now I think there is no unrerturn’d love, the pay is certain
one way or another,
(I loved a certain person ardently and my love was not return’d,
Yet out of that I have written these songs.) [1]

– Walt Whitman
(1819-1892)


Growing up, my father taught me that nothing in life worth having comes fast or easy. He was right! The following story recounts my journey in search of one of my life’s most important goals: romantic success that leads to marriage. This story is actually more about failure than it is about romance or success. It is about my failures with romance, with one vital success at the end.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot – and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

– Michael Jordan
(1963-Present)


All failure is temporary—unless you quit. If you keep trying and never give up, temporary failures become the building blocks of lasting successes. This is good news, because temporary failure is an inevitable part of life; no one is exempt from its painful clutches. In the words of Alan Boss & Henry Sims, Jr.:

To live is to experience failure. There appears to be no way around it. Sooner or later, everyone fails. Some failures are small and private … other failures are larger and more public…. All of us experience failure many times in our lives. Some fail miserably and get over it quickly, while others let it completely take over their lives. However, failure is not a permanent state, and there are actions that can facilitate recovery. In particular, individuals who are adept at emotion regulation and self-leadership create their own opportunity to emerge from failure and return to a state of recovery. [2]

In more ways than one, I am no Casanova. This chapter details the ways in which repeated failure in romance often exacerbated my obsessive-compulsive pathology, leading to some of the most profound psychological and emotional adversity and pain of my life. On the plus side, this pain promoted some of the most focused, ambitious, and committed SAL I’ve ever undertaken. In fact I believe I owe a sizable portion of my overall success in life to the lessons I learned and the growth I experienced vis-à-vis romantic failure and disappointment.

Correspondingly, I explain how these failures and disappointments, in concert with my efforts to transcend them, produced the all-important seed of success that grew into courting and marrying my wife, which I view as the single greatest achievement of my life.

FALLING HARD


I am a romantic. My mother and father were both romantics, so I suppose I got a double dose of the romance gene. I was also mimetically influenced to value romance. For example, as a thirteen-year-old boy, I recall watching my father excitedly preparing a romantic atmosphere in a posh hotel suite for his and my mother’s 25th wedding anniversary. His actions left an indelible impression on my young mind.

Since kindergarten, I can hardly remember a time when I was not romantically interested in – if not obsessed with – some girl or woman. Romance has always been an interest, and to varying degrees, a focus of mine. My first crush came at age four or five. The subject of my attraction was a girl I planned to someday marry.

From a tender age, my daydreams were many and varied regarding romance. My OCD also made it almost impossible for me to like any girl or woman without viewing her obsessively as my future wife. Later, as a young man, I even composed dozens of letters – some of them handwritten – to my “future wife.” Throughout junior high, high school, college, and beyond, I cannot remember a school year without having at least one captivating crush. I was always falling in love, and the falling usually occurred rapidly – sometimes at first sight. Thus it is that I once penned:

She Was [3]

She was . . .

An angelic figure of embryonic divinity,
A guileless goddess of perfect pristinity,
My unmatched match throughout all infinity . . .

This girl that I met just today.

I was so desperately prone to falling in love that one time I became infatuated with a girl I had never even seen or met! I found her attractive simply by what other’s had said about her in conjunction with a lone phone conversation where I found her voice to be enchanting. Being thus aurally enamored, I penned:

The Beauty of Her Voice [4]

Although I’ve never seen her face,
Her voice is sweet as honey,
It speaks refinement and pure grace,
That can’t be bought with money.

’Tis ’mazing how her tone enchants
My soul and heart and mind,
The lovely sound for me implants
Hope that my eyes might find…

Her face and form and outer light
And with that meet and mingle;
And listen to her voice so bright,
My ear for her is single!

Yes hope and words and inner spirit,
All proclaim her golden worth,
And when her sweet voice I hear it,
My ardent heart is filled with mirth!

MY DATING RECORD


Unfortunately, my passion for romance eventually conspired with my OCD to make it virtually impossible to win the heart of any of my crushes. This is not to say I didn’t try. I went on my first date at age 16. According to my personal dating journal, between my 16th birthday and the day I got married – a span of 13 years – I went on 746 dates with 134 different women, 526 of which (71%) were with Lina—my wife-to-be. During this same span, I was rejected 130 times by 80 different women. [5] The numbers don't equal each other because some women rejected me more than once. Two women in particular rejected me nearly 20 times between the two of them, and I never convinced either one to be my girlfriend. I was not always very good at taking -- or accepting -- a hint.

DATING WOES & PATHOLOGICAL HEARTBREAK


OCD-related social awkwardness was typically what poisoned the waters of any lasting success with romance. Whether it was coming on too strong, not listening, a neurotic, high-strung intensity, taking things too seriously, blowing things out of proportion, dealing poorly with rejection, pride, arrogance, impatience, being overeager, the inability (or refusal) to take a hint, or simply trying too hard, I failed again and again in my efforts to get a girlfriend.

I was a 24-year old college graduate before getting my first kiss. Before that, I was like the Mormon version of the “40-Year-old Virgin!” My first “official” girlfriend dumped me after only one week of going out. Before reaching these encouraging, albeit fleeting, “benchmarks” in my progress, I had suffered through several extended periods of pathological heartbreak over several different women with whom I had never even been in a relationship! Two such occasions were sufficiently severe and agonizing to drive me back into therapy and back on medication.

These extended episodes of “despised love” triggered some of the most severe and clinical OCD episodes of my life. For months at a time, I would become obsessively consumed with the excruciating ruminations of heartbreak over women who were never even my girlfriend. It was terribly unhealthy, and excruciatingly painful. Nevertheless, I continued on with my studies and life as best I could while suffering unrelentingly inside. While I went about my business with a semblance of stasis and normalcy on the outside, the storms taking place in my mind and heart and soul were inexplicably agonizing.

Ironically, I would often act as confident on the outside as I was insecure on the inside. Sometimes, this external bravado would pave the way for temporary success, only to evolve into embarrassing failure down the road. I was also extremely egotistical in the way I viewed myself. I often harbored a narcissistic fantasy that I was somehow God’s gift to women and that all of them should adore me, if not at first sight, then certainly after a little conversation. In my crazed mind, if a woman didn’t like me, it was basically because she was clueless, or because I was doing something wrong.

While I often was doing something wrong, my neurotic, egotistical, overinflated view of myself was a classic symptom of cognitively distorting reality into “all-or-nothing” dichotomies. [6] One minute I’d feel on top of the world, assuming that any woman who didn’t want me must be crazy! The next minute, I’d feel like the most awkward, dorkiest loser in the world that no respectable woman should like. Neither extreme was an accurate perception of reality.

My arrogance was such that that I’d allow my pride to be unnecessarily bruised over a "rejection" even when I knew the girl wasn’t right for me, and had little intention of pursuing a relationship with her even if she were open to dating me. I behaved as if my only pathway to success lay in convincing every woman on the planet to instantly fall in love with me. Aside from being neurotic, it was absurdly conceited. With the progress I have made, I can only look back and shake my head in embarrassment at how immature my thought processes were.

As I struggled along, I often committed pathetic social blunders that are painful to reflect upon even today. I was a bridge burner who foolishly focused on objectives rather than processes. My older brother Joe once brought this point to my attention by asking me a sarcastically serious question. He queried: “Jordan, why don’t you focus on developing friendships instead of leaving a wake of destruction in your path?”

It was a good question, and the answer was that I lacked the internal security, maturity, and patience to do so. It is hard to stomach that I behaved and thought this way, but it was the truth, and I had to face up to reality if I ever hoped to improve my chances with women. It was not the job of the women, my external circumstances, or my luck to change; it was my job to change myself to become a desirable partner. I needed to exercise SAL to develop the social growth I so terribly lacked.

DREAMS OF REJECTION


Leading up to meeting and then marrying my wife Lina, I often struggled with painful dreams of romantic rejection. After I began dating Lina, the dreams shifted to Lina rejecting me. To this day, after seven years of marriage, I still have dreams that Lina and I are dating and she breaks up with me. In those dreams, she never calls me back, and sometimes months or even years pass before I wake up. I virtually always wake up before a resolution is reached, and I am grateful to regain consciousness and realize Lina is there, and still loves me.

MY QUEST FOR MRS. RIGHT


Looking back, there are three key improvements I made that paved the way for success in my relationship with Lina. First, I was more patient, casual, and relaxed; in short, I learned to act normally around girls. [7] Second, I learned how to respond to rejection more maturely. Third, I progressed in my career in an attractive manner.

ADVICE FROM GRANDMA JENSEN


As my family members observed my issues with romance, they began to worry about me. I remember my oldest brother suggesting maybe there was a reason I was not finding more success. His painfully obvious implication was that I was doing something wrong. And he was right; I often was doing something wrong.

Once during a visit with my grandmother Jensen (with whom I was close), the conversation turned to romance and dating. As we chatted, she cleverly cloaked her concern for me in a compliment. She said, “Jordan, you’ve just got to not let the girls know how smart you are.” She then added a somewhat flippant comment about how girls are often silly and just want to have fun. Far from casting aspersions on all young women, what Grandma was really doing was sensitively exposing a glaring personal weakness I had with regards to dating; and she accomplished her design by adroitly presented her feedback in a package full of praise.

When she said that most girls are silly and just want to have fun, what she was really trying to tell me is that I needed to relax, be more easy-going, and act more “normal” in my social interactions with women. The lesson was not lost on me, although it would be a while before it would sink in sufficiently to start bringing me success. This advice from Grandma changed my life, and started preparing me to meet and successfully court Lina.

LINA


I met Lina when she was a sophomore in college. She was studying mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta. I found her interesting, intelligent, fun, and attractive from the start, and—true to form—fell in love within the week. If it had been up to me, we would have been dating within the month, engaged within six, and married within a year.

In actuality, six weeks passed before our first date. Another three-and-a-half months went by before she officially became my girlfriend. During this three-month period I suffered terrible symptoms of anxiety, insecurity, and fear of failure. Intense and pervasive, these symptoms took a toll on my body as well as my mind and heart. That fall, I was 6’2” and weighed 165 pounds, not exactly a portly figure of masculinity. Moreover, anyone who knows me well is aware of how healthy my appetite is under normal circumstances. However, by the end of that year (2006), I was down to 152 pounds. I was terrified of what might not happen, and haunted by all of the romantic failure and rejection of the past.

One day, I shared my thoughts, feelings, and concerns with a church leader in a private meeting. Sensing the depth of my mental and emotional turmoil in the matter, he thoughtfully directed me to Joaquin Miller’s inspiring poem, Columbus.

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores;
Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: “Now must we pray,
For lo! The very stars are gone,
Brave Adm’r’l, speak; what shall I say?”
“Why, say: ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’”

“My men grow mutinous day by day;
My men grow ghastly, wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
“What shall I say, brave Adm’r’l, say,
If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day:
‘Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!’ ”

They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
Should I and all my men fall dead.
These very winds forget their way,
For God from these dread seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Adm’r’l, speak and say——“
He said: ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ ”

They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
“This mad sea shows his teeth tonight.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
He lifts his teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Adm’r’l, say but one good word:
What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
“Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”

Then pale and worn, he paced his deck,
And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck—
A light! A light! At last a light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!” [8]

Not knowing beforehand of my passion for poetry, my church leader had been inspired in his method of assuaging my pain. In the meantime, my mind, heart, and spirit were, like Columbus and his men, being stretched to their limits. Internally, it was exhausting. It also impacted my physical vigor and energy. During this period of time, I did little exercise and found running – one of my life’s cherished hobbies and passions – to be a ponderous chore.

Soon after my first date with Lina in late October of 2006, I decided to make my feelings known. I gave her a poem and a note clarifying my intentions for her to read over Thanksgiving break. A few days later, she wrote me back and said, “I'm not sure what your intentions are, but I just wanted to make sure we are on the same page. I'm glad that we're friends, and I'm not really looking for anything more.”

These words sliced into my heart with a poignancy that had grown exasperatingly familiar over the years. Old habits tempted me to respond immaturely and burn yet another bridge. After all, I was not interested in wasting time if she had no intention in pursuing a relationship.

Aside from my injured pride, which was already black and blue from previous beatings, I was also sincerely disappointed because I had found I was increasingly caring for this woman. Nevertheless, she had communicated clearly where she was at, so it was up to me to decide whether I was going to burn another bridge, or finally choose to take the high road. Fortunately, and somewhat uncharacteristically, this time I made a mature choice.

My congenial email response was, “Thank you for communicating your desire to just be friends. I am glad to know that we are both on the same page about that.” While I was not being 100% honest, I was being 100% appropriate (an ironic indicator of progress with my OCD on both counts). I surprised myself by how well I responded to my disappointment, and by actually backing up my words with uncharacteristic inaction. I did not push the matter any further. In fact, I stopped sending her e-mails just to demonstrate by deed that my words had been sincere.

Six days later, to my surprise, Lina e-mailed me back. In her opening sentence she wrote, “It seems like I haven't talked to you in a while. How's it going?” While I was making some ground in my development of patience, I still knew I wanted to date Lina. I did not want to act like a close friend when I was really looking for something more. Doing so would have been disingenuous, insincere, and inauthentic. So, in my e-mail back, I aimed for a casual, friendly tone throughout, but added an invitation to go to a Christmas concert at the end of my missive. To my great shock, she accepted.

From that point on, I refused to give up. But this time, the gal was running towards me rather than away from me. I was in unchartered territory!

It took four months from our first date, but by February 2007, Lina and I shared our first kiss and began to date exclusively. I was on cloud nine. The contrast helped me to better understand the tortured musings of Emily Dickinson:

SUCCESS is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purples host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,

As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear. [9]

Before we began dating, I told Lina about my OCD. Fearing that such news might end my chances with her, I was somewhat surprised when she didn’t budge over the news. Phew! And when I say phew, I’m talking PHEW!

Since my teen years I had held on in faith that someday I would find a great woman, be able to date her exclusively, and then marry her. “Your day will come,” I would remind myself over and over again.

A key to success in getting a relationship to work with Lina was learning to be patient with the timing of things. I had a real patience problem in other potential dating opportunities. One of my closest friends once remarked to me: “You know, Jordan, it seems like when you like a girl, you are ready to schedule three or four dates right off the bat.” This friend, kind and discerning like my Grandma, had a way of wisely offering constructive feedback implicitly, while giving the impression he was actually complimenting me. I initially viewed his comment as praise for my decisiveness, clarity of objective, and personal drive. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that what he was really trying to communicate was, “You know, Jordan, you might find more success if you didn’t approach dating like you would approach a hill you were trying to conquer in a race.”

I was still a long ways from convincing Lina to take a chance on me, and I still had a lot of progress to make in my career before I could seriously consider marriage. In the meantime, Lina seemed to really enjoy kissing me, and the feeling was mutual. Then, after six months of blissful dating, things took an unexpected turn for the worse.





A PANIC-RIDDEN BREAK-UP


Two weeks before Halloween, Lina broke up with me after eight wonderful months together. Although our relationship had generally been going very well, she remained unsure of her readiness to commit to marriage. With a little forewarning that the break-up was pending, I panicked. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to officially propose marriage. It was a terrible idea, and a pathetic proposal—I did not even have a ring. Rather than magically change Lina’s mind, which I somehow thought was possible, Lina just cried to have such pressure put on her when she needed to take a step back. I felt terrible to have made her feel even worse. Though the break-up was already inevitable, my foolish move officially sealed the deal. I drove home in the dark with my spirit subdued, my hopes dashed, and my heart broken.

A HARBINGER OF HOPE


As I was suffering through this heartbreak, a memorable incident took place one day at work. I was a groundskeeper at the time. It was late autumn, and all the flowers at our worksite had been removed for the season. One day, I was working near one of the property’s more prominent flowerbeds when I overheard a visitor talking with one of my coworkers who was cultivating soil in the flowerbed opposite mine. Disappointed to see the bed bereft of its typical multi-colored flora, she exclaimed disappointedly: “Oh, all the beautiful flowers are gone!” Then, simply, and with a tone of comforting eloquence, my colleague replied simply: “Don’t worry, it will be beautiful again.”

Though obsessed with and dismally distressed by my recent breakup, I was sufficiently cognizant to overhear this simple, brief exchange. The symbolism of my colleagues’ words was not lost on me, and I wondered, and even dared to hope, that it was foreshadowing of things to come, if not with Lina, then certainly with someone else. Only the passage of time could answer such musings. In the meantime, I continued to suffer at having lost “My Girl.”

BEAUTIFUL AGAIN


Soon after, fall flowers were planted, and true to my colleagues’ words, the flowerbeds were beautiful again.
As for the flowerbed of my life, it turned out that Lina had been suffering over the break-up as much as I had been, and after one frightful fortnight apart, she accepted my offer to get back together. I had not dared to hope for such a quick reunion, but as had been the case throughout my relationship with Lina, this time, things were different. I was overjoyed. She was happy about it too. Things were beautiful again with us, and it had all happened more quickly than I had anticipated.

Engagement Photo
Painfully, we broke up once more the following January (2008). This time our separation lasted only one week. We could not seem to stay apart, and I am eternally glad of it! Well aware of my long-held desires and long-term intentions in the relationship, Lina finally felt ready to reciprocate in February 2008. I officially proposed on March 22, 2008 at a romantic dinner at the base of the King & Queen Towers in the Sandy Springs area of Atlanta. We had a six-month engagement, four of which we were apart with work (me) and study abroad (Lina), before tying the knot on August 8, 2008.

FINDING VALUE IN REJECTION


In hindsight, I owe much of my Existential Growth to the countless opportunities I had to learn, grow, stretch, and suffer through the many romantic rejections I encountered and/or caused. Being rejected was never fun, but it provided me with many chances for close examination of my many foibles and flaws. This empowered me to better identify where I was a part of the problem, and provided many occasions to exercise SAL to improve myself and grow both socially and existentially.

It took a while for me to become worthy of a woman as remarkable as Lina, but over time, I was able to sufficiently transcend my former self to win the heart of an incredible person I deeply love, admire, and respect. Earning success with Lina made all the frustration, disappointment, hurt, and wait of the previous decade or so incredibly worth it.

With my Queen on 8-8-08




My precious family in November 2014.


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References

[1] Whitman, W. (1897). Leaves of Grass. Page 112. (Google Books version).
[2] Boss, A. D., & Sims, H. P. J. (2008). Everyone Fails!: Using Emotion Regulation and Self-Leadership for Recovery. Journal of Managerial Psychology, Volume 23, Issue 2, p. 135-150. DOI:10.1108/02683940810850781. Pages 135 & 146.
[3] Reprinted from Jensen, J. R. (2012). Psalms of Life: A Poetry Collection. Bloomington, IN: authorHouse. Page 96.
[4] Previously unpublished.
[5] “Rejected” refers to a woman’s refusal to go on a first date, or, as was more commonly the case, a refusal (explicit or implicit) to go on a second, third, fourth, etc.
[6] Burns, D. (2009). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (Revised and Updated Edition). New York, NY: Harper Health. Pages 42-43.
[7] I was definitely more casual and relaxed in comparison to attempted romantic relationships with previous women. Despite this, one of Lina’s biggest issues with me early on in our relationship was how “formal” (i.e. serious, traditional, rigid) I was. Over time, as she accedes, there have been huge improvements in this area.
[8] Miller, J. (1909). Joaquin Miller's poems [in six volumes] Volume One: An Introduction, Etc. (Google Books version) Pages 151-152.
[9] Todd, M.L., & Higginson, T.W., Eds. (1892). Poems by Emily Dickinson. Roberts Brothers: Boston, MA, p. 13. (Google Books version).

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