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What makes you feel safe in a relationship, romantic or otherwise? How did you learn those are the things that make you feel safe?
This is a writing prompt given to me by my friend Bryn, and I’m going to start with what I thought made me feel safe over time, because it’s different over decades.
In the beginning, what made me feel safe was having my needs met, and it didn’t take much because I wasn’t an active kid. I’m not sure I even had a social life until Lindsay was born (this is not actually a joke). Before Lindsay, like now, I was the kind of person who had one friend (Justin). When Lindsay got old enough to have friends over, I was in charge of them most of the time. “In charge.” Yeah, like I wasn’t soaking up human interaction when my battery was full enough that now I’d isolated enough to feel lonely… I wasn’t in charge. I was an introvert, and Lindsay was the extrovert who adopted me. She still plays that role, and we don’t even live in the same city anymore.
It makes me feel safe to give everything to one person. Just everything. I want to tell you my hopes, dreams, fears. I want to show you my inner landscape and walk around in yours. It makes me feel important to know things about people… that they trust me with their secrets because they know I won’t tell them. It makes me feel safe because it is an agreement. I will take on your inner landscape if you will take on mine.
My childhood was idyllic, so this didn’t become a big job until I was an adult. The War Daniel is one of the last people that saw that version of me, before life had hit me in the face. It’s the biggest reason I feel safe in marrying him if he changes his mind. The War Daniel knows leslie, not Leslie D. Lanagan, Trademark. What makes me feel safe in my relationship with him is that I know my inner landscape isn’t too fucked up for him to handle. He’s a nurse practitioner. WTF does he care that I’m bipolar?
Between my knowledge as a patient and his as a Doc, it’s handled. We both have our demons. We both need each other, and he turned on me when I needed him the most. But he should have, and I support him. The only person Doc needs to worry about is Doc. If we’re going to fight this thing out, I need him as healthy as he can possibly be. I need him to return to that feeling he had when he said he’d been in love with me for 36 years. I do not think that I am crazy in the slightest for thinking that this breakup is actually Daniel just saying “I can’t handle a relationship right now.” I am trying to think logically through alcoholism and rehab… walking around in his inner landscape and trying to understand because he made the agreement to walk around in mine. That kind of friendship and love doesn’t go away with a few angry e-mails. We’re in each other’s heads and hearts. Addiction and recovery are not the time to be making life decisions, and if I was short-sighted about anything, it’s that I gave too much credence to what Daniel was saying right before he went into rehab and not the grand possibility that everything he said would change once he actually got there.
It doesn’t make me feel safe in a relationship to think about it ending before it even begins, so I didn’t. What made me feel safe was to look at every possible outcome. I planned for the fact that Daniel would break up with me, and asked myself if I could handle it. I told myself that I could. That the most important thing was keeping his spirits high until their docs had them and I didn’t have to worry about him until he was ready to start doing the real work in our relationship, which was massive. I’m queer. Cora’s trans. Daniel is sincere in his love and support of us, but wasn’t ready for the massive change in his behavior it would require to make us feel safe and wanted.
The reason I was so extraordinarily hard on Daniel is not because I was offended. It was hard watching him be a bad dad out of idiocy and not malice. I could have handled it had it just been between him and me, but the group chat with Cora changed our dynamic because I could see theirs. I have seen everything, and this is why I’m willing to hang on for the ride. I feel like there’s more here to mine, like this isn’t the end of our movie if I’m just patient about it. It’s going to be even harder for Daniel to prove to me that I’m safe with him, but just because it’s hard, it doesn’t mean it would take a long time. We both process emotionally at a very quick rate. We’re writers. What would make me feel safe is to start writing letters again, and then for him to come and visit, so that my other friends can see how closely what I have said matches who he actually is.
Nothing illicit, nothing shameful, nothing to hide from either of us, especially from each other. I used to love the darkness.
This is because my one person changed immediately and inappropriately to an adult when I was almost 13, and for some reason, I got to walk around in her inner landscape as well. This is where things get complicated. In addition to walking around in someone’s inner landscape, feeling safe involved secrecy. I liked keeping secrets. I was more emotionally intelligent than most adults by the time this happened, and the undercurrent was strong. It turned everything dark, because then I began to crave relationships that were under the radar. The ones that felt illicit and maybe a little cooler than I actually was?
Relationships that created their own little worlds apart from reality, and I could go there when life got hard.
It was being able to run to a secret clubhouse, small and intimate. Not as big and intimidating as the whole world, because the universe is the two of us.
I am blessed to have those friends now that the feeling of needing darkness is gone. It was a process to get rid of it, and hell while it wasn’t resolved because of course the relationships I paid attention to weren’t the ones in the room. I came by it honestly. I lived with my mom and dad for years without hearing a word they said without it being filtered through one illicit relationship.
When things got hard with Dana, I stopped thinking about her because sitting alone in my office, writing e-mails into the night gave me more peace than interacting with her. They got hard for a multitude of reasons, but Dana became masterful at the bait and switch, where I’d ask about one issue and it would devolve into “you like your e-mail better than me.” We stopped communicating about anything else, because any conversation that didn’t start there found its way there quickly. Just a self-destruct button, because I didn’t think that who I let walk with me through life should be her choice, and if she didn’t like them, she didn’t have to meet them. Even I hadn’t met them. Remember? E-mail relationship.
When it became clear that the e-mail relationship was grabbing my heart in a bigger way than I expected, all I wanted from Dana was patience. That these feelings would work themselves out, and it wouldn’t even be a thing anymore. How things actually shook out is exactly what I predicted. Those feelings went away, but not on the timeline she needed. I’m sorry about that, but I couldn’t get there any other way except mine.
Do I feel like I threw away my marriage for an e-mail relationship because it was under the radar and Dana was in the room?
Yes, I absolutely do. I also know with eight years’ certainty that it was the best move I could have made.
When I left Dana and moved to DC, again I was alone in my office writing, and it was delicious. What made me feel safe was no relationships at all. Remember that Dana and I ended our relationship with a physical fight, so I was running scared. I didn’t trust anyone, and I was alone by choice. I had people to call if I needed them thanks to having lived in the area before and my cousin living in Virginia, but I didn’t.
My sister works in Washington, luckily, and so she was always close by in terms of the telephone and within a couple months of being physically available to hang. Sometimes I send her concert dates and things like that on the off chance she’ll be here, but I don’t expect her to show. I want to make her feel included… like she has two homes instead of just one. Washington can be a lonely place if you don’t know a local to keep you grounded.
What makes me feel safe in my relationship with my sister is the vulnerability factor. I can tell her anything, and vice versa. But it’s a much bigger deal that she’s vulnerable with me, because she’s powerful and I’m not. I actually think that’s one of the reasons our relationship works so well. We live in such different worlds that there’s no reason or even path to compete with each other. We’re just there to make sure the other one has her head on straight. In fact, I feel safe and vice versa that we’re each telling our stories exactly the way we want to tell them, and just advising the other on craft. There’s no, “I think you should do this.” There’s only “where do you want to go, and how can I help you get there?”
What makes me feel safe in a relationship is being in one with someone like my sister, who understands people on a large scale. She’s a lobbyist for a federally funded queer health care group. Her view is national. She does what she does because of me, because I helped raise her. Of course she’s the cis, white, straight, beautiful blonde woman who uses her platform to advance queer issues in the Texas and federal legislatures. Of course she is.
I am starting to feel like a wizened old grandmother character, because my role in Lindsay’s life is basically that. I don’t know the policy details of her job, but I do know people the way she does. Exactly the way she does. We both picked up our diplomatic skills from being preacher’s kids. We knew who Karen was long before there was a word for her.
It makes me feel safe that the ways in which she knows people are the ways in which I know people, we just use those talents differently. I ran away from a public life in terms of something like lobbying or preaching…. and into a public life where I have enough clinical separation to pretend that this is just a letter to myself in the future and there aren’t really thousands of you reading every day……
It makes me feel safe in our relationship. 🙂
Now, what makes me feel safe in a relationship is honesty, even if it’s painful to hear. What makes me feel safe is being vulnerable and the other person having enough courage to hear me, to talk it out instead of walking off. A bubble with a universe of two still makes me the happiest, and I write letters all the time.
I suppose the last thing that makes me feel safe in a relationship is actually hearing the words “please feel heard.”
The last person that said that to me became the most important person in my life, my editor dragon (it amuses me to picture her in dragon form and her glasses still inexplicably fitting).
It makes me feel safe.