What Do I Do Now?

One of the things that happened during the relationship with my beautiful girl was a very skewed sense of self. This is because she would say things that were completely counter to what the rest of my friends said about me. This was a very good thing in some ways, because I needed an outsider’s perspective. It was therapeutic to be able to talk about everyone in my life with no strings back to her, because we existed out of each other’s time and space. The dark side of it was believing a lot about myself that wasn’t true, because she wasn’t there. She was commenting on “there.” It took me a long time to take in that difference. It made me wonder what we’d have been like as a part of a larger group, because it would have made her commentary on my behavior so much different (I think).

The thing that reads universal to me is the difference between how you present in person vs. online. Seeing someone in their context matters. Isolating so that you’re only seeing each other is a blind spot. Tone of voice matters. How I see you treat other people matters. It is a different feeling of inclusion, physically and virtually. I will always be this person, the one that prefers virtual to physical, and the one that shouldn’t doubt its power. I get caught up in my writer personality, which leads me to ignore meeting in person until long after I’ve needed it- absolutely starving for a hug.

I wouldn’t even have suggested to said Internet friend that we should meet if I hadn’t discovered every single way my writing personality could fuck something up first. I wanted to meet up because I was tired of being misunderstood, but wouldn’t have cared about meeting in person if it wasn’t affecting us negatively. Text can only impart so much, and comprehension is due to context clues. It’s freewheeling to disconnect from anything that provides them. This is why I use the phrase “the emotional equivalent of freebasing cocaine.” Everything is coming at you straight, no chaser.

What would it have been like to know her as a girlfriend and mom- not because she told me she had a boyfriend and a kid. Because I was there and I saw them interact? Neither of us were keeping those things out, they’re just impossible to add as attachments (at least with Gmail). I would have loved to see her wipe the floor with her husband, because if she’s as brilliant with conversation as she is with writing, I could have popped popcorn. What I can do virtually is love him as an idea, a concept. What I can’t do is look at him while he’s looking at her to make sure he knows he’s the luckiest bastard on earth.

I also know that anyone she didn’t like wouldn’t last long…. Except maybe for my own amusement. Hearing her get bent out of shape over my dating life led to some of my favorite quotes ever…. All of them unprintable. I wonder what it would have been like for her to see me as a wife and a friend, and how fiercely devoted I am to both roles. I could tell her about it, but so different than her observing everything.

I’d want her to tell me when my girlfriend wasn’t looking at me the way I wanted her husband to look to look at her. She’s an excellent judge of character, and I could make a meal out of watching her feral nature when it comes to the people who are allowed to date me. I laugh when I think about how different it would have been had we experienced her physically meeting these people. I double over picturing asking her “what do you think?”

I grieve for that image as well. I feel like a bad writer when I cannot capture exactly what I mean, and I am sure a lot of what I’ve written has made wanting to meet me impossible. She thought I was a loose cannon as often as I thought she was, because physical interaction wasn’t slowing anything down. Anonymity helped at first and was hard over time, and not because of anything illicit or bad. It’s that only so much of each other comes through when you are not physically sharing the same space.

It’s a weird feeling knowing that there is so much I would have said with my body language that was cut out entirely. For me, it is similar to having a conversation with someone in Spanish. If they only spoke to me in Spanish, they’d think I was an idiot because I can’t even speak in more than one tense. I don’t know how to tell you what happened or what will. I can only tell you what is happening right now…. And even that is garbled. They will have missed what I can do with language when I have it. Choosing to be only virtual pals was the equivalent of being limited to Spanish when we were both natural English speakers.

It informs how I proceed. I make an effort to see Zac and not just Facebook Messenger him all the time. I make the effort to video call Bryn (though right now she’s on vacation). I try not to write so much down, because it’s not exhausting to write, but it is to read and it’s too much to ask of people who are too polite to say anything. Part of my love language is hearing the emotions that come up for you when you’re reading, and I know that if I send too much at one time, it’s overwhelming. When I have physically spent time with someone, it lessens my need to write to them because we just talked. Not having that guardrail is also problematic, because the last thing I want is for people to think that I am just rambling on for attention. From my perspective, I am including you in my life by describing it. It comes across to others as too much homework. Therefore, I am reticent to begin relationships over the Internet when I know there’s not a chance we’ll meet. You can only be so vulnerable with me in a vacuum, because I might know things other people don’t know… and yet I don’t know anything they do, either. Everything I know about that person has been distilled into black and white, where their pictures are all in color.

Color in a black and white relationship blossoms in commentary. Connection is so easy on one level, complicated on another. You can’t get to know a person’s natural rhythms, even in speech. The tendency on the internet is to pick out the angry things and comment on them first, without seeing what kind of day the other has had in any real sense… over time, it just becomes your perception of what their life is like. Perceptions attach certain moods and behaviors that compound in the other’s mind without ever being founded in reality.

I don’t know whether I am foolish for thinking it was better not to have this friendship than it was to live with the disconnects, because the perks were great. She’s my favorite humorist because there is literally no topic on earth she doesn’t know about, so no matter what ball I’m lobbing, she’s there with the world’s best pithy comment…. And the best ones are unprintable.

At the same time, I was carrying a lot of pain knowing that in some ways, I’d made meeting me feel scary. It made me afraid of myself. Not knowing where I stood gave me more reason to doubt our relationship would ever be more well-rounded, and that there would be an end to feeling like I was hurting her all the time. I knew innately that if I could emotionally injure her, I could emotionally injure other people. So I absolutely fixated on trying to make things right because if I could be redeemed from this mistake, I might be capable of a relationship where no one got hurt.

I had these perfect pictures in my head, changing as she and I did. Funny moments teaching her how to cook, joking with her husband because we know we’re the roadies on a pretty great tour. If the fates had aligned differently, I know I would have been Paul Child, not Julia…. And that’s why I needed her in a nutshell.

I don’t want to be the Julia. I want to be the Paul. I want to be the one cheering people on to do what they do and be who they are. Being supportive of her fills my purpose in life, too. But in this case, I am not limiting Julia to my beautiful girl. I just know I was born to help other people be great. Not having been that for the one I love the most is an exercise in torturing myself and leads nowhere good. Now, I absolutely know what I want in order to avoid the same mistakes. It is learning to negotiate those desires with others so that they also feel heard where the sharpest pain lives, because now I am overly protective of myself. I don’t let people in the way I should, because I’m thinking constantly about what I have done versus what I will do.

Telling me what you think while looking at me has become important again where it wasn’t for a very long time. I was afraid to come out of my shell for fear of rejection, so I just wouldn’t. Asking my beautiful girl if she wanted to hang after she’d already witnessed the worst things about me mattered. However, it was not a moment I knew I could take. It had to be given. So, when she said she wasn’t ready, I didn’t bring it up for years. It didn’t seem important in the grand scheme of things.

It became important because of all the things being lost in translation. Particularly, not knowing if saying that someday you might be ready is real or is something you say when you don’t know what to say. It is impossible to glean from mere words.

I made a meal out of someday without really looking at the amount of time that went by, engaging in the same behavior patterns over and over. It wouldn’t resolve without one of us doing something. I couldn’t stop feeling these large feelings, but I could do something to discourage them. I could turn my attention. I was tired of all of it. All the self recrimination. All the guilt. I have learned that I am not a bad person, and I should stop treating myself like it. I was holding myself to my worst mistake, reliving it in a way that she never would have endorsed. She would have protected me from me if I’d let her.

Dear God, how she tried.

Knowing she loved me that much, to try and understand something that wasn’t tangible or explainable, made me ferocious in trying to understand everything about me that repelled her. This is what I mean when I say that she’s always been the most honorable part of me even when I couldn’t be that for myself. She was rock solid in all the areas I was blind. She taught me to me in a way that will never be duplicated, because I had a yardstick to measure my success. Not in terms of material things, but in terms of emotional strengths she had where I was weak and needed time to grow.

But if the other person isn’t learning and growing with you, the imbalance shows quickly. There are too many chances for things to go wrong when 93% of you is somewhere else.


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