When my husband passed away from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2010, I was not unfamiliar with loss and grief. Yet, for a period of time after his death, I found myself void of compassion for others experiencing their own loss, grief, and trauma. In fact, it was almost two years before I was able to feel again for someone else….and when I did, it was with great relief. This was despite the fact that it was over the death of a neighbor’s daughter, who was just one year older than my oldest son. She had passed away in a fire, along with her childhood best friend and college roommate. For days, people had shared the tragic story on social media and I didn’t connect the name, for some reason. I was living in an apartment in Colorado at the time, my house being on the market to sell in Illinois, and I had just waved at the girl’s parents while they were on a walk the last time I had been in town. When my mother finally called me three days after news of the tragedy first broke and asked if “Lauren” was my neighbor, it hit me…..and it hit me hard. I spent the next two weeks crying over what had happened to her, even sending her parents a large bouquet of flowers and card expressing my sympathy and grief as best as I could. It made a difference, I believe….that small gesture….as Lauren’s mother and I had a few lengthy heart-to-heart conversations some weeks after about raising children and eventually letting them go off on their own. It can be quite scary as a parent, letting go, and Lauren’s mother knew first hand the risk that comes with it. Sometimes, a parent’s worst nightmare happens. Sometimes, a parent ends up having to let go in more ways than initially thought would be required.
The memory of all of this resurfaced this morning, as I lay in bed reflecting on current personal issues. It’s not really Lauren’s death that first came to mind, but the lack of compassion I experienced the two years prior. The void of that emotional capability is not unlike the void I am currently experiencing, albeit for an entirely different reason. This void….this lack of feeling…..doesn’t involve my ability to grieve or capacity to empathize. Instead, this void of feeling is in regards to romantic love and its associated physical aspects, such as kissing and touching, etc. The truth that is becoming increasingly evident to me with time is that I really want to feel things, but just don’t…..and can’t with another person. It’s as if I didn’t know what a kiss or anything else could feel like until last year and now, ever since, I can’t feel these things at all.
Needless to say, this is quite concerning, as I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever feel them again. Even my special moment with my friend of over 30 years didn’t have the affect I thought it might. Yes, it was something I believe I had to experience…..some level of closeness….but, we really are just two good friends who have been a source of mutual and unconditional acceptance and support for each other throughout the years. I love and appreciate him. I would take care of him, if needed. I just can’t pretend or force something that isn’t there and, at this point, may never be there again.
I wouldn’t wish any of this on my worst enemy, by the way. This is not a choice or something I want at all. I really have thought it possible that I could be surprised again…..that I could be affected. There’s definitely no lack of anything in me on a base level. It’s not as if my passion and desire have diminished. So, what’s the problem? I’m more than willing to move on, be open to meeting new people and having new experiences. In fact, with the onset of fall and cooler temperatures, nothing sounds better than the idea of new love, adventures, and another person’s warmth. The change in seasons has a way of awakening the senses and inspiring the imagination, after all. I can feel that. Why can’t I feel it with another person?
Furthermore, what makes the person I was seeing last year so great or different? This is a serious question I ask myself. What makes him so damn special? He’s just a guy to who I wasn’t even specifically and initially all that attracted. Sure, by the end of our first date, I knew that I was in trouble. I knew he had this “thing” about him…..no doubt, the thing that led him to having no shortage of kids or relationships that never went anywhere. But, big deal. My days of being some melodramatic and overly attached teenager thinking there’s only one man in the entire world are long gone. Sinead O’Connor can sing her whiny hymn of romanticized and apocalyptic co-dependency to someone else. There will be no self-torture in order to express or prove how I feel. I’m not that person and the world does not end because I loved someone who didn’t love me back. End of story.
Except it’s not the end of the story for me and I don’t get it. Perhaps there’s just something more to this person….something (I hate to say it) divine? I definitely believed whatever I experienced with him was beyond this world. So, at this point, I’m considering divinity a real and distinct possibility and I’m giving up on thinking that I can handle it in any normal way. The idea that he may actually be some sort of direct line to the “source,” however, only makes me wish he could have refrained from getting involved with me in the first place. Surely, he knows this thing about himself and the affect he can have on people. Contrary to prior words uttered from his mouth, by the way, I do consider it a “him” thing. It is not something I ever experienced with anyone else, although I suspect other people experience it with him quite easily.
Does the distinction even matter, though? Do I really need to believe it’s just something with him? Do I really need someone to blame for my lack of ability to somehow resolve this issue within my self? And why am I even writing about any of this? Does it help?
I don’t think it hurts. I suppose there’s something in me that wants to express it, so that maybe it ends. Maybe I can clear all of it from my psyche or soul. And if I can’t, well then maybe I can at least explain to people why I can’t date, meet, or engage on a romantic level…..why I don’t want to be kissed or touched. You see, I already live with an absence every day and I manage well enough on my own despite it. But even just kissing someone else seems horribly unfair to that person. I know I’m not going to feel anything. This is not a mere assumption or self-fulfilled prophecy, either. I know it. I have tried a few times now since last year and the result is the same. I might as well be dead for all that I seem to feel…..or rather, to not feel. Not only is this unfair to anyone else, but it seems pretty ridiculous and pointless to do something that I’m not even going to enjoy. Also, to put it frankly, it’s kind of gross.
So yeah, I have my hang-ups. This seems indisputable. However, I still say that Sinead can save her song for those who are unhealthily obsessed and want to torture themselves. There will be no torturing here. I’m just going to give up all together…..throw in the towel. I’m going to acknowledge, at this point, that my issue has nothing to do with my mental and emotional health, nor do I have any control in it. This is my new reality. For however long, I do not know. I can only accept that it may not change…..or it will. In the meantime, when I watch a romantic movie, I will do it knowing that I haven’t lived my life without ever having experienced true and real love on my end, even if I end up living the rest of my years without ever feeling the same again. Maybe, at some point, I’ll even share my days with someone and experience something different…..slow, tender, intimate. The thought of this, at least, is nice….and I’d like to move toward the person with who I feel that.
And maybe, too, I can appreciate that the person I’m writing about didn’t refrain from getting involved with me for the short time he did. After all, if we hadn’t gotten involved with each other, would I have stopped my search for someone on my own or would I still be out there in the world seeking something? Would I have come as far as I have spiritually (for lack of a better word) or would I still be struggling in numerous ways with rejection, self-acceptance, acceptance of what is, unconditional love, and separation? I’m unclear about the answers to these questions, since my journey actually began a little before I met him. However, I do believe it sped up tremendously with his entrance into my life and subsequent departure. For all of my lack of clarity, meeting him has seemed rather necessary in my evolution and growth.
Furthermore, I’m considering the specific possibility that the evolution and growth resulting from the connection is necessary for something else to come. Just because I don’t know what that is yet, is irrelevant. The fact is, we learn and grow and it aids us as we move into the next moment. There’s so many people entering into relationships and even marriages without knowing what they really want, without clearing out and letting go of past relationships. And there’s just as many who enter commitments with the intent to sacrifice everything for a relationship, only to realize later that the sacrifice is too much….that life is too short to not live one’s dreams or be suffocated and stifled by another person.
Do I believe I am less likely to be one of these people at this point? Yes, I believe this to be the case. I’ve already done so much of what I’ve wanted. I’ve already answered so many questions. I’ve explored within myself numerous issues arising in many relationships…..issues pertaining to trust, possessiveness, jealousy, resentment, self-acceptance, abandonment, insecure attachment styles, fixed mindsets, and more. Not that this necessarily makes me any more fit for partnership than anyone else, but maybe it means that I won’t enter into something for the wrong reasons. Maybe it means I won’t hurt someone because I’m entirely clueless about who I am and what I want.
This isn’t to say that I’m not clueless at all, but that I’m at least aware enough to do what I need to do in the moment for my own growth, health, and wellbeing even if it means a relationship never makes it to any significant level of commitment. Trying to be the perfect and ideal partner for someone, after all, just doesn’t work. We need to allow ourselves to screw-up sometimes, otherwise our relationships can never be at their best. It’s the reason so many advise against marrying so early or young. When we mess up, we learn….and we can apply what we learn to future relationships. Sometimes, those future relationships are even with those from who we once parted ways or separated. If both people do the work and grow, it is possible. I say “both people” because that’s what it takes. Even if one person in a relationship messes up horribly and causes the separation, it’s not just going to take growth on the part of that person. It’s going to take growth on the part of the other person in the form of healing, forgiveness, and the willingness to see the other in a new or different light.
So, returning to my own growth, this is how I see it. Have I done things the past couple of years that would make someone question who I am and whether I am someone to who the person finds worthy of a relationship or committing? Maybe. But regardless of the outcome, I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Having the kind of relationship I would want takes risk and sacrifice…..and a willingness to be a complete idiot about what I am doing. If I lose someone due to my own attempt at growth, then it really is for the best. It’s also the same if someone loses me. And mind you, when I say growth, I am not saying my idea of growth. After all, I believe no one can tell anyone else what growth is for them, or even the pace at which it should happen. Some people spend their entire lives just trying to grow in one very small and specific aspect. It may appear to others that the person isn’t growing at all, but who is anyone to say that?
This is the place I’m currently beginning to operate from. I do realize that I began this little essay about a perceived issue, how I feel in regards to new romantic possibilities, etc. Yet, I suppose after a few days of writing, I’m already growing beyond this. Don’t get me wrong, the basic issue and feelings are still there….but how I am responding to them is already different. My compassion and empathy are at an all-time high right now and I feel lighter, overall. Detachment from inner battles or struggles, either my own or other’s, allows me to love everyone. So, yes…..love without attachment is real and possible. No amount of judgement can change this truth. No separation….perceived or otherwise.
Last night, I dreamt about a bright and colorful fish swimming through the air. I no sooner noticed an aura of light surrounding the fish as it floated over water, when I saw another one. They were being blown like bubbles through a flute by a wildly eccentric man standing on the shore. It was magical. Later in the same dream, I noticed a small indoor water feature or terrarium containing miniature live hippos playing in a river. They were wonderful. I was overjoyed and amazed. A tiny man was swirling in the same river, face down, crying out that he was drowning. The peculiar thing about this detail was that I realized the man wasn’t real. He was actually a piece from a model kit placed in the terrarium as nothing more than part of the display. I could tell he wasn’t real by the repetitiveness of his cries….like a recording. The miniature hippos, in contrast, were very real. I picked one up for just a second, let it wiggle between my fingers, and put it back down. Fascinating.
I think I’ll end the essay with this dream of flying fish and tiny hippos and leave it for readers to decide what it all means, if anything. For me, it means possibility. It means being able to see things to which I may have previously been blind. It means wonder, it means joy, and it means there’s a whole other world in which we can find ourselves if we just take our faces out of the water for a second and let go of the struggle.
As always, thanks for reading.