Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I almost died once; Nice to meet you.

Let's talk about sex.  Well, in a minute.  Why don't we get to know each other first?  Let's talk about where we grew up, what clique we fell into in high school, and what sports we watch.  What kinds of things do you like?  I like turtles, and chocolate chip pancakes.  How about you?  Let's engage in the long-standing tradition of courtship, and marinate slowly in the developing bond of our sprouting romance.  It'll be fun.  Hmm... that kind of talk makes me hungry.  So maybe we can cook together too.  I like dinner dates -- the kind where you go out of your way to cook some exotic dish together.  Some assembly required.  Which is alright, because some assembly is required in budding relationships to begin with, right?  We'll do sunsets, carriage rides, stargazing, and Eskimo kisses.  As long as we have each other, and these butterflies, what could go wrong?

I bet you can almost see where this is going.  Almost.  You see, I didn't have a significant other going into my diagnosis.  Sometimes that was sad, but mostly I felt lucky.  I thought it was a fortunate turn of events that I didn't have a girlfriend, and therefore had one less person in my life to worry about me.  I was lucky not to have to drag someone extra down into the depths of my suffering.  I'm not the kind of person who would forge an extreme bond with someone in order to distract myself from a terrible situation.  I couldn't star in "A Walk to Remember."  If anything, I'd rather "Sweet November" the shit out of someone, but I doubt I'd ever be able to, in reality.  A) I don't think, realistically, that anyone is strong enough to do something that intense, and B) Keanu Reeves is not my type.  And so it's better off leaving well enough alone, and keeping my distance from any potential emotional bonds on the horizon.

And that was my attitude, for a year and a half.  In some ways, it still is.  Because it's very hard to allow yourself to connect with someone when you think you might die.  Or, at the very least, when you've been bumped up a few spots on the list.  Connecting with people I find interesting has never been my strong suit, anyway.  I've always had an easy time winning over people I don't care about.  I could do that all day.  I could just turn on the charm as easy as if I were flipping on a light switch, and people would fall for me.  It was a tough realization when I figured out that isn't how you generally begin a relationship that's wired for success -- by seducing people you couldn't care less about, in order to make yourself feel better.  It sucks, I know.  But there comes a time when you have to learn to be okay with yourself long enough to find someone who might also be okay with you.  The real you.  Not the one you put on, like a mask, to serve your own narcissism.

Most of the relationships I've had, and the people I've met, in the last few years are a mystery to me.  Aside from the friends I've had growing up, the ones I can trace all the way to the backyard days of my youth, I really don't know how I've made any friends at all.  But it seems to me that I know a lot of people, and a great deal of them like me.  I've been told I'm "likable," and that may be true.  I like to appreciate and dissect the issues and concerns of others before those of myself, and I unconsciously focus on other people in conversation or action.  I also try to be funny.  At one time I was very funny, but I'm no longer as outspoken or extroverted as I once was.

When you go through something like this, something life-threatening, all of your quirks and character traits become multiplied by a thousand.  You become almost a caricature of yourself.  You double down on your principles and your deepest wants and needs.  Since my deepest feelings are for those closest to me in life, I stopped talking to anyone who I viewed as extraneous.  And I developed greater bonds with my family and close friends.  The people I included were genuinely needed at the time, and still are today.  However, the problem lies in the nature of my rejuvenated loyalties.  It seems I've forgotten how to connect with people in general, and I don't have the easiest time convincing myself that it's even necessary to do so.

Sometimes, the greatest depths of solitude are found in the eyes of the person across the table, whom you have no interest in saying another word to.  Since my diagnosis, I've had different opportunities to meet and talk with various people.  And every time, I walked away disappointed.  Mostly with myself, because I legitimately can't find the energy to connect with someone on a superficial level.  It's devastatingly hard to make small talk -- poking and prodding at the psyche of the other person in order to gain insight into what makes them tick.  Figuring out body language, and nonverbal messages.  That's something I used to love doing: character analysis, behavioral analysis.  It was always easy for me, and always enabled me to say exactly the right things at exactly the right time.  It gave me great satisfaction to be able to do that, in many more ways than one.  Maybe I'll get back to that someday, I don't know at this point.  Or more likely, there's a balance to be struck somewhere.  I'm realizing that possibly, just possibly, it matters a great deal more that you represent yourself in the most genuine way possible, rather than worry exclusively about how to make the person across the table swoon for you.

Honest communication, with women or otherwise, isn't a new idea to me.  I'm an adult, and I've had adult relationships.  But the concept, like all of my psychological anchors, is now multiplied by an infinite magnitude.  The pressure to be honest and the bold-faced luck it takes to find someone who actually appreciates what you're offering is probably terrifying enough for anyone.  Add to that a year and a half of post-terminal-illness neuroses, and you have yourself a cornucopia of obstacles.  Although everyone has issues, and many relationships are defined by who decides they can put up with each other, there are certainly other factors.  Perhaps most importantly, one has to be a voluntary participant.  And that includes several things.  One of which is, like I said before, being okay enough to find someone who is okay with you too.  And that shit takes guts.  It also takes time, energy, and other intangible resources that involve a stable psychological bearing.  When someone pursues a relationship but doesn't have these things, that relationship will fail.  People like this generally hop from one relationship to the next, never pausing for a diagnostic check or to evaluate their own self-worth.  Or they date superficially, turning on the charm like a switch, always making sure to say the right things in order to distract from the fact that they aren't actually letting anyone in, much like a magician uses slight of hand to hide his true actions.  You wouldn't hide your true self from someone unless you either didn't think yourself valuable, or you didn't think that person valuable.

I hide myself in public all the time now.  Because my true self is wounded.  And I have no desire to spill those wounds out onto the ground.  I'll hold my severed guts in with my own two hands for now, thanks.  But someday I plan to figure this out.  It's easy to assume I've permanently altered my ability to connect with people, because that implies no work needs to be done to correct my current attitude.  And I think that's the wrong way to go.  Because other people have had problems, and other people have found a way to love and friendship.  And I'm still very young, and I have a lot left to do.  I have many more people to meet.  I might as well do it on my own, principled terms, which include appreciating them for who they are, for what their minds and souls reflect, and not for how they can make me feel, or what I can get out of it.  Other people are enriching enough on their own, without having to make a game out of your relationships.  That's a conditioned response I'll have to work on.  I have pursued relationships with women and with friends for many reasons: because I was in love, in lust, I was bored, because once it was the greatest game.  It remains to be seen how I will do so in the future.

But hopefully I've uncovered something valuable to anyone who reads this.  Hopefully I've given a reason to reevaluate any relationship, even ours, and polish off some piece of it we can keep in our hearts, untainted, until the end of time.