18 March 2008

Romance 101, Part 3

Facing Reality or Ending Fantasy

True relationships, I think, are more than beautiful feelings and sweet simplicity. There are personalities to mesh, beliefs to reconcile, standards to uphold, social and interpersonal factors to consider. I don't believe that means the romance, delirious happiness, and fun is something to be disregarded. It just means it's something to be directed and weighed against these other factors.

Story 1, Canceling "The Next Level":

We remained close friends like this for a couple of years, and I kept hoping, waiting for something more to develop. Maybe I would feel that same spark I had felt when I first met her. Maybe our emotional bond would give way to a desire for physical expression. There were, in fact, a couple of times when I wanted to lean over and give a little kiss or put my arm around her, to show affection and appreciation and tenderness. But I was afraid of doing something to which she would likely ascribe more depth of meaning than I would be feeling. I didn't want to toy with anyone for my own curiosity's sake. So I refrained and thought, "Maybe I'll get there, to where it really does mean as much to me as it would to her. Or maybe I'll just try it and see what happens." I never did.

After a weekend road trip with her and some other friends during which I had plenty of time to reflect on our relationship, and realizing I was keeping her waiting while I tried to figure out if I was ever going to want more from our relationship, I couldn't stand the thought that I was keeping her distracted while so many other great guys came and went, and she was just waiting patiently for me to pull my head out. I couldn't do this anymore. She was too great a person to be kept on the line while I try to figure myself out with no guarantee of any resolution. And I couldn't stay in a relationship where I simply wasn't as invested, emotionally, as the other person. And...something wasn't right. Something needed to be addressed. It dawned on me that I had some things to face up to and confront head-on for a while. And I finally realized that homosexuality was the most obvious of those things.

Through tears, I told her I couldn't keep her waiting any longer. She deserved to be able to move on with her life, and I just wasn't sure if I'd ever be as fully attracted to her as she deserved. I needed to cut loose while I tried to figure some things out, and while I didn't want to stop spending time together, I supposed we might need to be apart for a while to sort everything out. It hurt so much to be giving up this friendship I cherished, but I loved her enough that I couldn't cling to the friendship at her expense, and I also knew that if I was going to figure some things out, I was going to need to clear my context, in a way, and remove certain pressures from my life while I sorted everything out. Here I was "breaking up" with her, and I was the one bawling. She had teared up as well but was amazingly supportive. I'm sure she could perceive I was in pain, too. I felt stupid accepting support from the person I was letting down, but we cried together.

Our friendship continued, albeit a little strained for a while. The next day after this talk with her, I called my bishop to meet with him, and for the first time ever, I spoke about my homosexuality with someone, telling my bishop about my attractions and my confusion and turmoil. He was great and did his best to be supportive. I laughed through tears as he told me how so much made sense now, like why he had girls coming in to his office perplexed at why they couldn't seem to catch my attention.

After some time to heal over, she and I reconnected, and though we weren't spending as much time together, we could still talk endlessly and have fun together. The friendship remained, and though it is necessarily different now, I hope it will continue over time, even though we now live far apart and she is married.

Story 2, The Relationship Shift:

After a few weeks of maintaining a sort of status quo in our "non-relationship," it became clear to me that we were going to have to make some decisions. We could continue as we were only so long. At some point, we probably needed to either make it "official" and consider ourselves "together" or we needed to take things backwards a bit to a more "friendly" level without the romantic spark. Our relationship was in a sort of permanent limbo, and there's only so long it could stay there, I figured, before something gave. Either we'd end up moving in a direction contrary to our gospel perspective (or change our perspective), or we'd stay in this in-between state, ignorantly pretending all was well while not really making any progress towards marriage or feeling integrated in the church, or we'd need to just try to bring it to a normal male friendship level to avoid letting the relationship get to a point where it could spoil in the long run.

Though it was not easy to do, and it took time, we managed to maintain enough boundaries to keep our friendship intact while backing away from more romantic situations. We set rules and guidelines to keep ourselves reminded not only of what direction we couldn't go in if we were to maintain our activity and ties with the church as we wanted and the gospel as we understood it but also of what ultimately mattered most, at least to me, about our relationship: the trust and intimacy and support we could offer as friends.

I had thoroughly enjoyed the thrill and comfort of these romantic feelings. Yet I had an outlook that it was my "first crush" and I'd be able to avoid doing this again. I'd be fine and move on with my contentedly single life, enjoying flirtation and some affection here and there with a few people but not needing a romantic relationship, per se.

I also had confidence our friendship was deep enough to endure the transition. It was hard sometimes. I had moments when I felt the pain of having to stifle or give up these new feelings, but I also didn't feel particularly torn up about it, probably partly because I figured we'd remain friends, and my tender feelings for him would remain.

I was glad I felt like our relationship was going in a good direction when I moved away. While it hasn't been a completely smooth road since then, we continue as friends, and though my romantic feelings have subsided, I still have a tender love for him and hope he knows that.

Story 3, A Rough Aftermath:

When we "came to our senses" and decided to curb the romantic aspect of our friendship to avoid letting it go where it shouldn't, the friendship seemed to become a casual thing with a shaky foundation almost overnight. Despite knowing this was an infatuation, I was surprised by the sudden change. I had, probably naively, expected to go on as friends who still share personally and hang out fairly often, but when we turned out to be casual acquaintances without the infatuation, and he seemed to prefer group activities to hanging out one-on-one, it hurt. I felt deeply disappointed and confused at how shallow the friendship seemed without the infatuation because it seemed, at least, that I was now more interested in being closer friends than he was.

I was facing the consequences of my recklessness. I knew the possible consequences of entertaining a probably-fleeting romance I knew could go nowhere and which I didn't want to go anywhere. When did the tables turn? I had known the relationship would change when the infatuation wore off, so I decided to just let go and enjoy the ride until then. I hadn't realized how much it would change, or how much I had let my guard down, or how differently we approached things.

I felt foolish for getting myself into this to begin with. What was I thinking? I wasn't. I had been foolish and selfish, letting my "better judgement" take back burner to what felt like a beautiful, romantic euphoria. Was I simply not sure what I wanted anymore?

In addition to whatever else I was feeling, and possibly most significantly, I felt the harsh, stark reality that I might never again allow myself the luxury of being "romantic" with another guy. I know myself. I tend to learn certain kinds of lessons and not repeat whatever caused me to learn them the hard way. The possibility exists that I could decide to let go of long-held beliefs and paradigms and decide to pursue a relationship with a guy. But I also knew there was a decent possibility that I would "wise up" and not repeat this. I'm not just barely beginning to experience this or in my early twenties with many excusable years ahead of me. No, I could chalk this one up to one reckless adventure, but I could not excuse myself again for the same mistakes. I'm supposed to be a solid, stable adult by now. Perhaps it was this realization that I might never allow myself to feel quite this way again which made it so wretchedly painful when it ended so suddenly.

I felt pain I'd not felt before. An inexplicable void. A hollow in my heart that was not just a mere hole but a tight, heavy pain that could be activated by simply seeing an affectionate couple and left me feeling intensely lonely, a bit despaired, and also very much alive.

The juxtaposition of the euphoria of seeing someone most nights for at least a while and being in constant contact and seeing that they seem to be trying to do everything they can to be with you as much as they can, followed almost immediately by the sort of embarrassingly naked, discarded feeling of their sudden, seemingly nonchalant absence catalyzed powerful emotional reactions. The emotions which saturated me through the whole thing, hot-then-cold, made me feel vividly human as few things in my life have done.

I felt my heart hardening its protective shell again to avoid any future roller coasters. It felt like my soul was deadened, or that the parts which had been activated and excited by this small taste of romance were being carefully sliced out as a sort of emotional lobotomy. I felt like I was killing the parts of my heart which had allowed this to happen. On one hand, I knew the relationship had been fairly juvenile and shallow. But on the other hand, parts of me which had come so alive during it now seemed like an adorable, bright-eyed, affectionate child I had come to love, and it tore me up to watch this child being locked up in a closet, never again to be seen or fed, to waste away from neglect. I felt myself falling back from what had felt like a beautifully human, emotional vivacity, into a bleak intellectual acceptance and emotional despondence. Several nights, I cried myself to sleep.

Parts of another journal entry from that time: "I feel utterly and eternally alone tonight, and that's partially, I'm sure, because I'm tired, and partially because I have been repeatedly reminded how little a part of his life I actually am... [...] Why it keeps bothering me, I don't know. I should know better. I never thought I would sound like this: like an emotionally needy basket case pining away for a relationship I didn't have. [...] I feel like an idiot. [...] I went into this more experienced, eyes wider open, but did it anyway. What the @#$% was I thinking? [...] I'm left here feeling lonelier than I have in a long time. Feeling like nobody really understands where I'm coming from or what I'm saying. [...] And I'm not at all interested, right now, in some intangible deity coming to rescue me and make me feel loved. I want a human! A living, breathing human! I'm tired of the ethereal! I'm tired of abstract theories and tentative wishing! I just want here and now for once, damn everything else! I'm sleeping in the middle of my bed tonight (instead of the side). Maybe I can delude myself into feeling less isolated and alone this way. And rely on my dreams to bring me some form of solace and the companionship I want, if only for a few beautiful moments."

Again, some of this sounds a bit silly to me now, and it's a touch embarrassing to admit to having been so distraught in the aftermath of this brief fling, but those feelings seemed very real. And those comforting dreams, where I'd be holding and talking intimately with someone, were also poignantly painful upon awaking to their deception. No, I hadn't shared a bed with him as would probably have happened in most such stories. That wasn't why sleeping alone felt so dismal. Being freshly and keenly alone, romantically-speaking, somehow made sleeping alone more unbearable because I was facing the newly refreshed possibility that I might never have someone dear with whom I was in love to hold through the night. My empty bed was symbolic of feeling bereft of the romance I used to imagine I'd find. The realization felt like a cold knife writhing in my gut, as melodramatic as that may sound now, even to me.

Resolving my feelings for this one took time. I've never felt such affection and disdain for someone mixed together, and I wasn't sure what to do with that. I didn't want a romantic relationship with him, not now, yet it hurt to see him seemingly closer to other people he'd spent less time with than he was to me, showing more signs of affection and enjoyment with them than with me. I seemed to need some kind of affirmation (which I apparently wasn't getting) that we were OK, that I hadn't been just a brief exploration, the likes of which he had no more need or want. I felt stupid for wanting that affirmation. I struggled with whether to remain friends or cut my losses.

I'd not felt so irrational and emotionally volatile in as long as I can remember. Rationality is usually a strong suit of mine. I guess romantic feelings and intrapersonal conflict can do strange things to a person. I couldn't possibly have been emotionally wrapped up in this fling with whom I had so little foundation, could I? Maybe so.

Over time, after each relationship, I went through stages or flashes of sadness, despair, tender memory, bitterness, resolution, and acceptance of mourning the loss not only of the kind of connection I had felt but also the loss of even some of the hope for having that kind of connection again.

On to Part 4.

Back to Part 2.


Max Power said...

some of this sounds a bit silly to me now

I don't think it sounds silly at all. It sounds very real. I am far too familiar with those feelings myself.

Over time, after each relationship, I went through stages or flashes of sadness, despair, tender memory, bitterness, resolution, and acceptance of mourning the loss not only of the kind of connection I had felt but also the loss of even some of the hope for having that kind of connection again.

I could have written that very statement.

I wish I could reason myself out of emotion as well as you seem to be able to. Honestly, for people in our situation it's an enviable trait to have. I just go on feeling a dull pang from my own experiences.

Original Mohomie said...

I don't know how well I really reason myself out of emotion. Maybe I do more than the average person. Yeah, I probably do. But still, some events in the aftermath proved that my feelings were probably less "resolved" at times than I had thought. Go fig. Even with my coolheaded approach, I have a heart. It's been a nice realization, in some ways. :-)