Dorene was the greatest therapist I ever had. My sister-in-law’s mom had recommended Dorene as the therapist who had helped her kids process through their parents’ divorce. I had been struggling with a particularly devastating and lengthy bout of depression, and my mom didn’t know how else to help me.
She called Dorene and asked to make an appointment for her daughter. “Oh, I don’t take on children as clients anymore,” Dorene had responded.
“Shes not a child. She’s 21,” my mom told her.
“Then why isn’t she calling me to make her own appointment?” Dorene asked.
“Exactly,” said my mom.
I could go into a long essay about how Dorene changed my life, but I’m going to fast-forward through all of that to our last session. I was 27 years old, coming off my anti-depressants*, and moving in with the love of my life, Tony.
*(Note: My depression manifests circumstantially and is not the same as chronic clinical depression. I don’t have a chemical imbalance and the antidepressants weren’t helping me.)
At this point, she tried to tell me something that I wouldn’t truly understand for many, many years. This was when I first encountered “The Pizza Analogy.”
She drew a circle on a piece of paper and divided into slices. “That’s a pizza. That’s you. You have to be whole, just like that – just being you. And now, Tony…,” she drew scattered circles around the slices, “is like pepperoni. He’s a topping. He makes your pizza more enjoyable, but you still have to be able to enjoy your life without him.”
This is where she lost me, because from where I was sitting – I would never have to enjoy my life without him. I would have my pepperoni forever. He made me happy. He loved me. I loved him. He wasn’t pepperoni, he was the dough. The whole pizza thing was making me hungry and confused.
But, like I said, it took years for me to fully understand what she was trying to tell me. It didn’t happen until a year or two after Tony passed away and I had to rediscover my own identity without him for the first time.
A standard pizza has three main components: the dough, the sauce, and the cheese. Now, you can be gluten-free dough, alfredo sauce, or vegan cheese if you need to be – but the point is – that in order to have a solidly good pizza, you kind of have to have those three things.
See, I am a pizza. I am a delicious, fresh-from-the-oven, gooey-cheese, thick-crust pizza. My partner? He’s my favorite topping: he’s mushrooms. My metamours round out my flavor profile – they’re the black olives, bell peppers, and roasted tomatoes. (Apparently, I like a veggie pizza).
Their participation in my life makes it MORE awesome. Their existence enriches
mine and makes my life better, more colorful, and more fulfilling.
But without them, I’m still a solidly good pizza. I am still dough and sauce and cheese and I may miss the way they enhance my existence, but I don’t cease to exist without them.
Without them, I am still pizza.
This was the lesson that Dorene was trying to teach me. I had made Tony my dough. Without him, I was a bowl of sauce and cheese. It took a while before I realized that before I could have a healthy relationship with anybody else, I had to build a foundation by forming a really healthy relationship with myself.
That took a lot of work, too. Finding that perfect recipe to be the kind of dough I want to be is an ongoing project. I don’t think that the quest to perfect the dough is ever complete, but I’m definitely off to a good start now.
I understand now that for me to feel whole, I have to love me for the delicious fucking pizza that I am. I can’t rely on anybody else to make me feel “whole.” It puts too much responsibility on them, as they are forming their own pizzas (on which I am probably the ham).
It doesn’t matter if you’re monoamorous or polyamorous or relationship anarchist, really. The people that come into your life, they are the toppings. In monogamy, maybe it’s just pepperoni. In polyamory, maybe you can have pepperoni, olives, mushrooms, and green peppers. In relationship anarchy, you can throw a freakin’ pineapple on there – the point is – it doesn’t matter if you have one topping or twenty toppings, the basics need to be there: dough, sauce, cheese.