The Roles We Are Vs. The Ones We “Play”

11 Aug

The other day I was in the drug store when I heard a girl who couldn’t have been a day over nine years old say in a sharp voice to her younger sibling, “You need to stop running around and get here in line with me, right now!” I did a double take. The girl’s voice was not her own. It was clearly channeled from her harried mother. Someone had put the girl in the mother role, expecting her to look after her sibling and she was pulling it off with a Meryl Streep performance. The incongruity of her little body juxtaposed with the adult posturing of  stress and impatience was astonishing.

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What roles do we play and which ones do we authentically own?

As a drama therapist, I encourage people to expand their role repertoires and to not always play the same parts. On the other hand, I believe in an authentic self that supersedes any roles we play or conventions life asks of us.

What about the roles we deeply long to star in that we haven’t been offered? How do we account for a career stalemate and/or turn our game around? How do we simply write and cast the movie, assign ourselves the lead and then pick the supporting players?

About two years ago, I listened to the poet David Whyte give a lecture/reading in Asilomar, CA. I had had the fluke chance to meet David a few months prior, but I had never attended one of his events. His theme centered on “the art of asking the beautiful question.” At one point he asked us to reflect on a couple of words that had resonance for us and/or that we wanted to better cultivate in our lives. He then had us write the words down. I scribbled “mother” and “lover”, two words I felt I could barely identify with, yet as soon as I wrote “mother”, I realized I completely resonated with the word. Although I had never given birth and my two cats had just passed away, I realized I was more than maternal. I had loved on and nurtured scores of young people in my life and had more innate, motherly instincts than many who have given actual birth. I was reminded of a statement a male friend once said to me. “Lise, anyone can fuck. Anyone can get pregnant. Not everyone knows how to shape and encourage a young person’s development.” He was right. If mothering was about shaping and fostering a young person’s strengths and potential, then I was a mother.

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But now this other word…. Lover… Shit. I hadn’t had a boyfriend or even been kissed for years. I felt completely bankrupt. How could I be a lover without a lover to love?

If you don’t know Asilomar, David’s event was held at a site along one of the most beautiful stretches of the Pacific coastline imaginable. Asilomar basically butts up against beautiful Pebble Beach, the 17 mile drive, and the famous golf course. During the afternoon breaks between David’s talks, participants were free to roam along the beach. After the session, I took a long stroll along the shore. It was a stunningly gorgeous day in January. The sky was a glorious blue, the sea greener than a cat’s eye, yellow labs played in the waves, and the sun brushed upon my skin as gently as a lover’s caress. I watched couples holding hands and then felt the pit of emptiness in my stomach. “I’m not a lover. I don’t have that.”

The instant this thought went through my mind, the Universe defied my thought distortion and challenged me to a debate. Simultaneously, the wind joined the sun, stroking my face. It was nature’s form of a menage a trois.  I found myself smiling at the pleasure of the moment. And I thought, “WHOA!!!!! I AM A LOVER! I am a lover of nature, of people, of the sea, of animals, of the things about which I am passionate, I am a lover of words and art and dance, and I am a lover of life. Nothing and no one can take that identity from me. Not only that, I am sensual and I express that, whether I am sharing my body with someone or not.”

From that day on I identified myself as a consummate lover. I was not a wife. I wasn’t even a girlfriend. But I was a lover. It was a role I’d played many times, but now I was fully embodying it as part of my authentic self with or without a co-star.

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Within two months after that, a real life lover materialized. And now, once again, I am a woman without a consort. Without a dance partner for sharing and enjoying romantic love. People tell me, “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone. ” I despise that phrase. I despite the whole idea of it. Sure. You can definitely shift your focus by pouring your love and sensuality into someone else. Sometimes this is healthy and a natural progression of life. A relationship no longer works and you step into one that does. But to naively say, “Reclaim yourself by fucking someone else,” is the most bullshit way to take one’s heart and power back. If love making comes naturally and organically and joyously, that is one thing. But to just scout out some lover in a bar to make yourself feel alive again, will only reinforce emptiness that can’t be filled by someone’s sperm or a few moments of ecstasy in the sheets.

A lover is someone who is passionate, powerful, sensual and compassionate. Another person may help strengthen these qualities and draw them out in us. But true love is sustained when we are these qualities with or without the body in the bed next to us.

Ladies, the sooner you figure this out, the sooner you’ll really understand the power of your own self-worth and what is truly sexy. You are the lover and player of your own life. Do not wait for someone else to validate that which is feminine within you. Honor it, embody it, and be it first and foremost for yourself. Then if you so wish to share yourself with someone who is worthy and who you feel delight in, more power to you. But the power is yours. Not the other way around.

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