We’re nearing the end of 2017, which naturally means it’s time for those obligatory “end of the year” posts looking back on the highlights and low-lights of another revolution around the sun.
My year wasn’t the best I ever had, nor was it the worst. There were challenges, to be sure, but I think I can honestly say that overall I spent the year happier than not, which is definitely something as you start to darken the corners of middle age.
It was definitely a year of much learning, about myself and others, as well as one in which I finally learned to trust in the process and the universe and realized that instead of worrying all the time about outcomes, maybe everything really will be alright even if I do absolutely nothing.
In fact, without any significant life event in particular teaching me this, I daresay that 2017 was the year that I learned, really, that we aren’t in control of anything.
It’s truly those moments of the most stress and confusion in life when it’s most important to stop thinking, stop talking, stop doing anything at all and just breathe through it. Usually, whatever is meant to be is going to happen anyway, so accepting it is the first step toward being happy about it.
Lots of stuff happened this year, and lots of stuff didn’t happen, but I’m still alive and kicking, as you are, too, if you’re reading this. So not to be outdone by end-of-year bloggers before me, I’d like to share with you a few of the most significant things I learned this year:
No 1: Surfing isn’t everything.
I gave up my entire life in New York and moved to Portugal in 2010 because I discovered surfing and wanted to live somewhere quiet, beautiful and close to the beach where I could do it almost every day. January 26, 2018, will be eight years to the day that I arrived here to stay and I can honestly say I’ve accomplished my goal and become a confident longboarder who still enjoys surfing more than any other sport.
However, as I also turned 46 this year, I realize that surfing—as a sport, daily practice or lifestyle—isn’t everything. Used to be I had to surf every day, or just about, to think I was getting a decent workout—for my head and my body. However, as they both slow down, so does my surf obsession.
Don’t get me wrong–I still go as often as I can, but I don’t religiously check the surf forecast before making any plans. I don’t go out when it’s complete shit just to get in the water—instead I wait more for days when I know it’s pretty decent and I have the best chance of enjoying my session.
Sure, there are still days when I just get in the water for fitness or because I need it to clear my head, but those days aren’t in expense of other meaningful things I can be doing, as they once were.
No. 2: Some people in your family will never understand or know you, nor will they want to. Others may surprise you with their depth of insight.
I had a situation with my sister this year in which we had a chance to repair our long-damaged relationship. I asked her to sit down with me and talk candidly about our polar-opposite views on the situation and she flat-out rejected the idea.
At the time it really stung (and it still does, as I fear that when my 84-year-old father passes away, things might get ugly), but I’ve since made peace with the situation in my own mind at least, and I continue to try to do the best by her and send her love because I know she has her own struggles.
That situation involved a blow-up that occurred in front of some family members, one of whom stepped up and showed me remarkable insight into a long-time family dynamic and revealed to me the challenges he’s faced over the years to try to deal with it. Another listened to me sympathetically and bore witness to my side of the story, as well as told me of a similar relationship and problem she had with her own sister.
It’s true that you don’t choose your family, and if you’re lucky enough to have great relationships with everyone, then I’m happy for you. I’m not one of the lucky ones, being as different from most of the people in my family as anyone can be.
This year I finally made peace with that fact and stopped trying to please everyone. Instead, I learned how to make myself happy.
No. 3: Your partner may not be exactly what you thought he/she would be like, but if you drop all expectations, your relationship can amaze and fulfill you in ways you might never have imagined.
I spent this entire year in a significant-other relationship—the first time in many, many years I can say that.
And it wasn’t always easy. Fuck, sometimes it was difficult and painful as hell, and I wanted to give up because I thought there was something better out there for me.
But mostly, it was great–as far as over-40 relationships between people who didn’t know each other before they embarked on one go–and we survived. And I learned a hell of a lot about myself, what it means to make a commitment to a relationship, and how to be a partner to someone.
The thing is, there can always be something “better” out there. It just depends on what you’re looking for. I realized this year that most of the flaws I’ve found in other men I’ve been with over the years (and the reasons I’ve made some really bad choices) are because I didn’t heal my own wounds. And that the reason I was single more or less for almost 10 years was that it took that long for me not only to realize this, but also to heal myself. (It’s a lifelong process and believe me, I’m still working on it.)
Our partners are our mirrors. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, you’re going to struggle a lot with the person with whom you are in a relationship. I think this is pretty common knowledge, but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to learn this when you’re actually in something meaningful that brings out your shadow side and forces you to grow as a person.
My boyfriend is far from perfect, and he is far from the person I imagined myself with—in some ways. In others, he is a perfect match–funny, steady, kind, handsome, strong, practical and with integrity I admire more and more as our time together goes on.
But we haven’t had the type of romance you see in films, though we have done a lot of cool and super-fun things together. He hasn’t swept me off my feet with fancy, surprise presents or grand romantic gestures; instead he fixes my broken things, gives me freedom to be who I am and do what I choose, and gives me fruit from his garden.
Much of our time together is spent doing every-day things, like food shopping, hiking with his dogs, cooking dinner. We don’t have everything in common and we don’t spend hours contemplating the fate of the universe. We do, however, have meaningful conversations when we need to, and spend a fair amount of time cuddling and engaging in long hugs that make me feel safe and protected just when I need to.
What I’ve learned from this type of relationship: Not everyone gets the fairy-tale romance, and that’s OK. Not everyone is meant to. Sometimes you just get someone who supports you and the work you’ve done for yourself to make yourself happy, who complements you in ways that you need, and who is just an all-around decent human with integrity who makes you laugh more than he makes you cry.
If you learn to accept someone exactly as they are and love them for that, you give them the freedom and acceptance to grow from there. It’s a better kind of love than any romantic comedy will reveal to you.
No. 4 Loving yourself is really the most important act we can perform in this life. And it’s harder than it sounds.
More than anything else this year, I’ve learned that if I don’t love and accept myself exactly as I am, the rest of my life will pretty much be shit. Think about it: most of the time if you’re pissed off or annoyed or generally feeling dissatisfied with the world, it’s related to something you’re not happy with about yourself.
It’s so easy. It really is. Yet we all fuck it up over and over again and are generally harder on ourselves than we are on other people. And because we hold ourselves to such high standards sometimes, we’re not satisfied with what or who we get in this life.
So really, stop it. Stop hating yourself or blaming yourself or not loving yourself enough. Because I swear to you, every good, kind, generous, successful, sincere or genuinely positive thing you do in this life comes from self-love first. Once you’ve nailed that, the rest really is easy.
I wish everyone a happy and healthy transition into a new year and an amazing 2018. It’s time to smash the old to pieces and make something beautiful with the new. Peace to everyone and happy new year!