This month I’ve been devoting an hour every day to writing. It’s awesome because it provokes a lot of self-reflection. But it also sucks… because it provokes a lot of self-reflection.
For example, I’ve been recognizing a certain recurring pattern in my dating life, and it goes a little something like this (Hit it, DJ): I’ll be seeing someone, and everything will be totally normal. We’re clicking, we’re jiving, I’m hilarious, they’re eating it up like Thanksgiving dinner, life cooler than cake. And then one day, out of the blue, something shifts. To some people it may be almost imperceptible. But I’m a fucking Cancer so NOTHING goes unnoticed, bookay?? Suddenly, they don’t text back as often as they used to. They don’t make an effort to hang out anymore. Yes, they’re really busy, but their schedule has always been jam-packed. Yet now they no longer make an effort to squeeze me in.
Now that I’ve become aware of these changes, I realize there are only two possible realities:
Reality #1: Nothing has changed, and I’m being hypersensitive and insane.
Reality #2: Something has changed, and I will be making a fool of myself if I continue to pursue them when they no longer have feelings for me. And if I continue to be vulnerable to this person by doing affectionate things, I may call these “acts of courage and authenticity” but they’ll feel like “acts of absolute stupidity”.
In order to figure out which reality I’m currently living in, I must take action. So I broach the subject with them: “Hey, is everything good between us? I’m sensing that you’ve lost interest. It’s okay if you’re no longer down; just let me know.” Now, by asking this, I’m accomplishing two things:
- I’m getting to the bottom of the situation a la fugging Nancy Drew: I’m asking if it’s really happening, or if it’s in my head. I’m giving them the opportunity to tell me if something is going on in their lives that has caused them to change the way that we’re interacting. There is a chance that I’m taking this too personally when in reality they’re dealing with some heavy shit that has nothing to do with me.
- I’m giving them an out: I’m giving them the opportunity to say, “You know what, I’m not really feeling this anymore.” I realize that it’s really hard to tell someone that you’re no longer interested; I get it. So I’m trying to make it easier by asking them the question. All they have to say is, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t think this is a good fit.”
Let me be clear, this specific situation has happened to me three separate times now. And it always goes the same way. I give them the out, but they always respond with: “Oh no, I still like you. I’m just really busy.”
Okay. Listen up, cowboy, this isn’t my first fucking rodeo. I know what’s going on here. Just grab hold of your balls, and use your words. I know you’ll probably feel like an asshole for telling me you don’t like me anymore, but I’m a big boy; I’ve been through more painful things in my life, and I can handle this. You’re actually being more of a jerk by telling me you’re still interested, because you’re giving me false hope, which is probably the cruelest thing you can do to someone. No, I take that back. The worst thing you can do to someone is make them feel crazy. I openly admit that I have a very real struggle with mental health. I feel things with all my heart, and my emotions know great depths. So if I like you, I really like you. I am OBSESSED with my friends. I love them so much it hurts, and I make it known to them constantly. So you have to understand that when you tell me, “No, James. I still like you. No, James, nothing has changed. It’s all in your head,” but then you continue to put distance between us, I feel extremely crazy.
I discussed this situation with my mother, because she knows the answer to everything. And she told me something really helpful: “James, you’re extremely emotionally aware for someone your age, especially a male.”
Alright. Touché, Mother. Perhaps I can’t be furious with these individuals. I just assume that they know exactly what they’re doing. I assume that they know that they’re not interested, and they just keep me hanging on out of some sort of cowardice or insecurity about not having someone pursue them. But maybe they have no fucking clue! Caity said, “James, being emotionally aware takes practice, and you’ve been practicing for a while! Some people haven’t even started.” True. Maybe they don’t know that they’ve lost interest. Maybe they don’t realize that the way we’re communicating has changed. Maybe they are absolutely oblivious to the affect they’ve had on me. Maybe they aren’t supervillains trying to thwart my rise to Fame and Happily-Ever-After. Just because they aren’t Team James doesn’t mean they’re Team Anti-James.
Fair enough. But let me just read you boys for filth before I close up the library for today. This is what many of my past relationships have felt like:
Do you remember that game we played when we were kids: Red-Light-Green-Light? Well if you’re not familiar because you were too busy eating the dandelions and wondering why the sky is so fucking blue (no judgment), I will explain it to you. The gym teacher usually was the Traffic Controller, and the kids were the cars. The goal was to go from the starting line to the finish line near the Traffic Controller. Every time the teacher said, “Green light,” we all stumbled as quickly as we could towards them. When they said, “Yellow light,” we moved in slow motion. When they said, “Red light,” we came to a full halt. If you violated the light, you had to start over; the stakes are much lower than if you blow a red light in real life. Well, in my relationships, the other person has almost always been the Traffic Controller, and I was the small child sitting cross-legged at the starting line with my foot in my mouth screaming, “VROOM VROOM!!!” When the Traffic Controller gave me permission to move closer with a shout of, “Green light,” I would quickly hop towards them, increasing intimacy in the least threatening way possible. If things needed to slow down, they would yell, “Yellow light,” and I would move towards them in slow-motion, sticking my tongue out and crossing my eyes all the while to distract them from the terror of pending intimacy. And when they became too overwhelmed by the thought of us actually being together (HEAVEN FORBID), they would exclaim, “RED LIGHT,” and I would freeze completely. And although both of us were supposed to remain still, frozen in time, we would both stealthily inch away from each other, secretly believing physical distance would minimize the pain of emotional distance, smiling as we retreated, pretending that a relationship could come to a full halt with zero casualties. But I’ve played this game repeatedly with different dudes: them being the slightly hot gym teacher who dictates proximity, and me being the excited child who can’t WAIT to reach the finish line, not giving the slightest fuck about what will happen when I actually reach the sexy gym teacher who was so reluctant to let me be close; I just know I’ll be at the finish line, and everything will be okay, because I’ll win, and I’ll be the winner, and I LIKE DANDELIONS!!
But rarely do they actually every say, “Red light”; it’s only implied with their actions. But they continue to tell me that everything is fine. So I keep pursuing. I’ll send one more text that says something like, “I’d like to see you again,” and I’ll get no response. I will immediately feel like an idiot, and I’ll want to swallow my iPhone so I can simultaneously choke on it while also preventing myself from sending any more heartfelt texts. I’ll feel myself falling victim to the turbulent winds of a Shame Storm: my stomach drops out, my whole body turns cold and my mind starts reeling with unkind thoughts toward myself. Then I have to make the conscious decision to navigate my way out of the storm by talking to myself louder than the destructive cyclone in my head. I’ll take deep breaths, cover my face and speak aloud to myself the first words that come to mind: “I’m not stupid. I’m not stupid. I’m not stupid.”
Because I’m not; I’m not stupid. I was courageous for putting myself out there. No, it didn’t go my way. But I tried, and that’s the success. Some people are paralyzed by the fear of possibility, but I tried. Sure, maybe I embarrassed myself a couple times by being over-eager and possibly over-zealous, but I tried. Yes, I’m still haunted by the memories of how sweet everything was in the beginning and I have to resign myself to the fact that I will never know why everything changed, but at least I tried. I don’t want to be ashamed of any of it. Brené Brown says that sometimes it’s enough to just show up. And I did that every time. I showed up with my heart in my hands, thoughtfully practicing authenticity, and I’m proud of myself for that.
After it all, I just have to tell myself, “You’re OK, James. CUZ YOU’RE THE FUCKING SHIT.” People always laugh at me or make fun of me for lacking modesty about my virtues, but I don’t have the time to shortchange myself to make others feel more comfortable. The rest of the fucking world is going to shit all over me, and I’m not gonna be another diarrhea cloud in that shit storm. Yes, I recognize my imperfections, but I know that I have a fuck-ton to offer. So you may judge me for being a fan of myself, but I simply don’t have the time to pretend that I don’t know I’m fucking cool as tits. I don’t have time for any of it anymore. I don’t have time to play Red-Light-Green-Light where I’m at the mercy of someone who has no intention of ever letting me reach the finish line. I don’t have time to play Red Rover where I run towards the outstretched arms of someone with the hopes of an embrace but end up on my back, breathless, staring at the sky, wondering, ‘How the fuck did I get here?’ I have no time for childhood games or fuckery of any sort. And I definitely don’t have the time to submit myself to gaslighting either; I already feel as if it’s Me vs. Me, and I don’t need anyone adding tinder to that bonfire. I can empathize with people’s issues until I turn blue, but there has to be a point where my sanity takes precedence.
And with that, the library has been officially closed.
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
~Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling