The idea for this post came up shortly after the last one. So much can change in a few weeks, though! I’m in no mood to write about love these days, but it seems that this particular reflection really wants to come out. As I prepared to write this, I kept questioning myself on what in the world I actually know about love! I know so many people, with so many different stories! Marriages that appeared to be forever, but weren’t; teenage love that couldn’t possibly last, but has; strong relationships formed from fleeting encounters through apps; healthy relationships formed shortly after the collapse of other relationships; long waiting and trying, to no avail, etc. Looking at the stories of people I know, it seems to me that there are no clear rules on love. But as I doubted myself, I kept thinking that even though I may not know the rules or laws of love, that I do have a reflection or two. Or several!
My first experiences of love in a romantic sense were felt whilst I was in the closet. They were intense and all-consuming, because mainly, they had nowhere else to go. I felt that I couldn’t express my feelings, and eventually I didn’t. It dawned on me, fairly recently, that the reason why my post-coming out years were so chaotic was because I had shut down my feelings to such an extent, that I couldn’t even accept feelings from others. I felt repelled by others’ love, which leads me to timing and readiness.
I came out fully at 19 years old. Prior to that, a few people knew that I was gay, others thought I was perhaps bisexual, but at 19, I decided that everyone I met would know that I was gay. My gayness was loud, and probably obnoxious, but this was my way of getting over my own fear of spending one more minute in the closet. With this loudness came a very strong sense of…well, everything! My highs were very high, and my lows were very low. I didn’t have much emotional regulation, and because of that, I numbed this rollercoaster ride as often as I could. This made relationships tricky. I met many wonderful guys who liked me, but I didn’t know how to accept that. As I said above, their affection repulsed me. I couldn’t understand why at the time, but I can now. When you close yourself off of negative emotions, you tend to close yourself off of all emotions, including amazing ones, such as being loved and cared for.
Since those early days of coming out, I’ve had periods of many short relationships, the odd long but dysfunctional one, as well as no relationships at all. Around two years ago, driven by my own sense of being sick and tired of relationship dynamics, I went back to therapy to really face up to it. A year later, I felt something I’d never felt before: I didn’t NEED a relationship. I was okay, by myself, for the very first time in my life. I rejoiced in this freedom, in this sense that I didn’t need to be completed by someone else. I was happy just being me. I met two wonderful men during this time, but I felt that being with myself was more important. I still wasn’t ready. Not being ready is very familiar to me. It comes with a feeling of inauthenticity, of forcing something, of not being at ease, of always wondering what the other person is feeling, of always doubting myself, of wanting to hold, of desperation, of neediness. I know the exhaustion that comes from it well. And when I feel it, I know that no matter how amazing the other guy is, that it’s not going to work. Because I’m not being me, and my heart is not opened. It’s fear-based, rather than love-based.
So, when the opposite happened recently, I recognised it immediately. I was me, I continued to feel free in myself, and I was open hearted. I was ready. And it felt amazing. It came unexpectedly, as I always suspected it would, and there was a flow, a connection, an immediate sense of something deeper. It was also different than before, because instead of hesitating and stepping backwards, I stepped forward, without fear. Now, the Universe wouldn’t be the Universe without a wicked sense of humour, and after a while, this other person felt that they weren’t ready. And I felt, also for the first time, what it is like to be the one who feels ready, when the other person isn’t. This side hurts more, and I now feel great compassion towards those who loved me, but whose love I wasn’t able to accept. But you see, timing and readiness never lie. You can always feel them - if you pay attention. You’re either in or not. If doubts arise, I would suggest that the parties are not fully and equally in. Obviously, it’s possible to talk about these doubts to reach clarity, and understand if they’re really in or not, but individuals need to have similar levels of emotional maturity and intelligence to achieve this. Communication on these matters needs to be open, authentic, vulnerable, intentional, and conscious. None of it comes easy to most people.
Readiness comes with certainty, but timing won’t always allow for that, which is unfortunate, and no one’s fault in particular. We are ready when we are ready. I felt recently that real requires healing. Real, as in real connection and intimacy. Authentic and vulnerable. You can’t get there without some healing, because when you’re there, in the real, you also know boundaries – at least some. You know what’s acceptable and what’s not, what has meaning and integrity, and what doesn’t. Without some healing, we will always settle for less than what would be best for us. I’ve written many times about the fact that we were all wounded in relationship, and only in relationship can we heal. I always thought that we would need to heal through romantic relationships, in order to reach a healthy romantic relationship. Which, if you really think about it, is a total co-dependent type of thought and belief. It is clear to me now, that other types of relationship can also contribute to our general healing and wellbeing, which would then allow us to have healthier romantic and sexual partnerships. For instance, I realised during this latest relationship, that a big part of why my heart was so open was because of my relationship with my therapist, who has helped me to be authentic and vulnerable in the presence of another gay man, and my work with children. The cliché of innocence is very real indeed, but also the fact that the innocence of children comes with plenty of imagination, curiosity, playfulness, and authenticity, which I guess have been very helpful in melting away the block of ice I’d been carrying around my heart for the past two decades.
Our relationships are all interconnected. We may be slightly different people in different environments and contexts, but who we are in each circumstance will always influence the other ones. And whilst I understood that in theory, I can now understand it in practice, in real life, for I’ve felt a very real example. We always heal in relationship, but perhaps not in the way we expect, or even hope.