235. astir

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tombstoneI found out about a week and a half ago that my uncle died.

Out of respect for my family, let’s call him Nick.

Nick is my mom’s younger (and only) brother. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that his death was a surprise to any of us, including my mom. When my parents were last out in California, he’d gone missing. Again. This wasn’t the first time he’d disappeared or dropped off the radar for a while. Unfortunately, my uncle led something of a troubled life. That’s not how I’d like to remember him, but it’s how I do remember him.

Growing up, Uncle Nick was something of a byword in my family’s home. That may not be how my parents intended for us to hear it, but the ongoing saga of his life was basically presented to my sisters and me as a cautionary tale.

There but for the grace of God go any of us…

And that’s not to say that my parents weren’t constantly worried about him. Uncle Nick was an alcoholic, a drug user, and a host of other things, so he was in our prayers a lot. The main story that I remember was when he ended up going through the window of the Porsche that hit him after he got out of a taxi on the wrong side of the street while drunk and/or high one night. That trip landed him in the hospital, and also in a heap of trouble.

There was a time when he was going to church and seemed to be turning his life around, but apparently that didn’t last very long. The last my parents heard when they were in California last year was that he was living with some woman, and probably using drugs and alcohol again. It got to the point where they were calling county jails and even morgues to see if he’d turned up.

So when my mom got a call from a number she didn’t recognize about a week and a half ago, she called back and was asked by the woman who answered the phone who the name of the deceased was after identifying herself as calling from the coroner’s office.

This is the story from my mom, as we know it:

Apparently he had been drinking on January 1st, fell and broke his hand. Someone found him on January 2nd, face down (not sure if it was in the street or on the sidewalk), and sleeping. It had been below freezing, and he was just in street clothes—no blanket or sleeping bag. He was able to squeeze the paramedic’s hand when they asked him if he could hear them, but he couldn’t speak. When they moved him he became unresponsive, and died about an hour after he got to the hospital—10:12 am, January 2nd.

It was weird talking to my mom about this, mainly because it felt like talking to someone else about their family member dying. I mentioned this to my therapist in my last session: that as I get further along in identity building and more secure in a sense of authentic self, the less connected I feel to my biological family. And I feel bad about not feeling bad about this. While we share memories, and even a warped sense of humor, since reconnecting with them in the spring of 2013, I’ve struggled to find a sense of belonging with them.

Sadly, it probably comes down to my lack of religious belief. Some may think that a minor thing, but evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity is at the core of my parents’ and sisters’ identities. It’s not for me, and it probably never was.

This discussion led to something else in my last therapy session.

For a while, I’ve been trying to put a finger on why my being single bothers me so much. And as my therapist and I hashed out my feelings about my uncle dying, I hit on this:

I don’t really have any long-term relationships of any kind.

I’m still in touch with a handful of people from college and even from the church I grew up in, but these are largely online friendships. I don’t actually see most of these people anymore.

What bothers me is that for the last 10-15 years, I’ve been watching the people around my put down roots and grow in their relationships and marriages. I know very few people now who are single. But it’s not really just that that bothers me.

It’s the fact that I’m less than a month away from turning 32, and I don’t have any kind of long-term or enduring relationships in my life—including friendships. Some of that can be attributed to changing priorities and life circumstances. Some friends moved away. Others got married and had kids. Neither parties made much effort to keep up the friendship, though it’s probably more accurate to say that many friends gave up trying to make a friendship work with me.

It doesn’t feel great to admit that, but I’ve a sense that it’s true.

So the business of me griping about feeling old, and how now that I’m over 30 no guys are going to want me is less about age. It’s about realizing how old I am and how little I have in the way of relationships compared to others around me.

My housemate Matt is in almost constant contact with his parents and sister who have become like a second family to me. So many friends of mine spend holidays with their families. Their families love their significant others, and vice versa. Et al.

The image that came to mind the other day was of being on a raft, sailing down a river, and passing friends who’ve made homes along the shore.

My fear is that I’ll keep on drifting, sailing on and on without making real connections; that I’ll end up like my uncle, alone, having burned his bridges behind him.

Let’s sponge away the writing on that possible future.

234. consanguinity

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“When people experience trauma, they feel bad; children, in particular, think they are bad when they feel bad. Chronic bottom-up dysregulation and distress lead to negative identifications, beliefs, and judgments about ourselves.”
—L. Heller and A. LaPierre, “Healing Developmental Trauma.”


yogaUnlike previous years, at least since I became an atheist, Christmas this year wasn’t the depressive shit show that it has is. Usually, I lock myself away, alone, hating the entire world for being so festive. I did decide against being with my family for the holidays, choosing instead to spend it with friends and family of friends.

One of my early anxieties about therapy was the fear that it would dislodge all of the toxic dark matter packed into my subconscious. Worse, that I’d end up in a psychiatric hospital. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. Yet these anxieties have been present even when working with my current therapist, although I’m finding that it doesn’t need to be that way.

The past few days I’ve been getting back into Healing Developmental Trauma, the book I referenced in a blog post a few weeks ago, taking it in slowly and thinking. A lot of what I’ve been reading has triggered various memories and feelings—good, but unsettling.

To regulate the nervous system, it is more effective to work consistently with the organized “adult” aspects of the self in order to integrate the disorganized, regressed “child” aspects.” (22)

So I’m learning to live more in the present instead of the past, and to listen more to my body through things like yoga and mindfulness. I’m currently in the chapter on the Connection Survival Style. Right away I was hit with this opening paragraph:

As a result of the earliest trauma, individuals with the Connection Survival Style have disconnected from their bodies, from themselves, and from relationship… To manage the pain of early trauma, some individuals disconnect from their bodies and live in their minds… when asked what they are feeling in their body, [they] find the question challenging, anxiety producing, and often impossible to answer.” (37)

I ran into the latter part of this description a month or two ago at yoga when my teacher asked at the beginning of class what we’re feeling in our physical and emotional bodies. Admittedly, this was before I’d had any coffee so it was already hard enough to think, but so often I turn up a complete blank when asking myself this question: “What are you feeling?”

According to Heller, the compromised core expression for this survival style is: “I am… I have a right to be.” He also lists some of the associated “shame-based identifications”:

  • Terrified and inadequate
  • Shame at existing
  • Feeling like they never fit in
  • Feeling like they are always on the outside looking in
  • Burden on others

A real-world example of this was two Sundays ago when my car broke down. The average quote from a few shops within the free AAA towing range was $350. Aside from borrowing a car to get to band practice, I’ve been mostly homebound for the last two weeks.

You could insert a joke about men never asking for help, but in my case there is a great deal of anxiety in doing so, or in feeling needy. When I was subsisting largely on unemployment last year while job searching, I felt incredibly embarrassed and humiliated. I didn’t want to see anyone for fear that they’d ask what I did for a living.

This also meant that for the past two weeks I haven’t been to yoga, which has been a huge stress-reliever for me, both in the exercise and in the community. I didn’t want to ask anyone for a ride there as I live about twenty-five minutes south of the studio, didn’t want to be a burden on anyone (I almost wrote “unnecessary burden” just now), and didn’t want anyone looking at me as a failure because I couldn’t afford to fix my car.

But the truth is, I don’t feel worthy of help, that it’s selfish to ask, that there are others more deserving, that I’m less if I require assistance. It was a shock when people actually showed up to help me move in May, or to my birthday party… hell, whenever people are excited to see me! These feelings run deep into the core of how I see myself as a person.

Heller goes on in this chapter to describe some of the behavioral characteristics of this type (I’ll list just a few that particularly describe me):

  • Use interpersonal distancing as a substitute for adequate boundaries.
  • Withdraw in emotionally disturbing situations.
  • Tend to relate in an intellectual rather than a feeling manner.
  • Seldom aware that they are out of touch with their bodies.
  • Feel like a frightened child in an adult world; do not know how to deal with or appropriately manipulate their environment.
  • Strong need to control self, environment, and other people.

I have a distinct memory from around age eleven or twelve of being in the car with my family, and for whatever reason feeling disappointed and angry with my dad, and deciding that from that moment on I would renounce love entirely; that it was intellectually inferior; that it was inconvenient and messy; that enlightened persons shouldn’t need any form of love.

[Insert Nibelung steel strikes here.]

Not sure why I had that reaction, but it’s defined my relationship style: my tendency to withdraw when feeling overwhelmed or stressed, to avoid people, to live in my head, and to feel overwhelmed in social situations.

Because of their inadequate sense of self, they often try to anchor themselves in their roles as scientist, judge, doctor, father, mother, etc. When functioning in a role, they feel comfortable and they know what the rules are; being outside a specific role can feel frightening… They tend to withdraw or break contact in emotionally disturbing or stressful situations.” (39)

 

233. happenstance

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sängyssä

Quick disclaimer: this post will deal with my sex life in unsexy and entirely untitillating language. Because my relationship with sex these days is… well, complicated.

I haven’t had many relationships that could be described as healthy. Beginning with my family (our first relationship lab, as it were), through my tumultuous teenage years, up to present-day, my life has been a decades-long exercise in keeping people closest to me at a safe and comfortable distance.

Clearing my orbital neighborhood, so to speak.

There was also the culture of shame endemic in the evangelical Christian community. Religious fundamentalists in general are adept at wearing masks to hide their true faces from each other for fear of judgment, shaming, and reprisal. In my community, it was often done with a smile. under the guise of “prayerful” good intentions; and in my family, Bible verses were often used as reminders of how we weren’t living up to the Bible’s standard for Christian living.

Not only did our parents disapprove of us—God also disapproved.

Consequently, as I wrote about in a recent blog entry, virtually all of my relationships up until now have been based on fear. I learned to fear everyone, regardless of whether there was something there to actually be afraid of.

At the same time, I desperately longed for acceptance, for belonging, and safety. The cognitive dissonance was, and still is, deafening.

This has played itself out in my sexual relationships in a number of highly toxic ways.

For one, I’m ashamed to say that once I became sexually active, I began using sex to try to achieve intimacy. It’s not the sex part that shames me in hindsight as how embarrassingly stereotypical that was. And it never worked. After I broke things off with my first boyfriend (i.e., “Aaron 1.0”), I had quite a few hookups on the way to my second boyfriend (“Aaron 2.0”) as a way of “catching up” to where I figured most gay men my age were—that is, age 26.

Even in those hookups, I was still hoping against hope to find a partner, someone with whom to find mutual belonging. I must have been looking so intently that, even if I had found someone compatible at that point, my expectations for the relationship would’ve doomed it to fail from the start.

Of course, after Seth I went on a sex binge, trying to literally fuck him out of my system. That didn’t work either, and each time the disappointment and the dissatisfaction deepened.

It was a cycle of self-perpetuating and self-propagating shame.

It frustrated me how friends of mine could have so much sex with seemingly no emotional consequences. There’s that line from the chorus of a recent Daft Punk song:

We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky

“Good fun” was something I was not having.

After I broke up with my most recent boyfriend in March of 2013, every sexual encounter started to leave me more and more depressed. I was thirty years old, and the rest of my life looked to be a series of endless, unsatisfying hookups.

Plus, as I wrote recently, I had defined success for myself as finding a boyfriend and partner, because that was one thing I grew up believing I could never have. So with every disappointing hookup, my parents’ voices in my mind saying that gay men lead sad, lonely lives grew more terrifying.

So I probably put myself in situations where that prophesy was mostly likely to come true.

A foursome I had last fall (which ended with me being a third wheel after one guy went to bed and the other two guys were into each other but not me) left me feeling undesirable and even more out of phase with other gay men than ever.

Meeting the bisexual tree scientist this summer (who I was actually, finally into—until he told me that he’s still in love with his ex-boyfriend and that they were trying to get back together) left me feeling as if there’s a game of musical chairs going on, and everyone else is faster than me.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of impossible expectations and a ton of emotional trauma (yes, some of it self-inflicted) wrapped up in sex besides just getting off with another person.

So much that I can’t enjoy it properly anymore.

For example, a couple weeks ago, a friend introduced me to a guy at a gayming party, texting me before I arrived that he’d found my “future husband.” I shouldn’t have taken it seriously, but before I could stop myself, I started surreptitiously studying this guy, imagining our future together, in Technicolor. We did hook up later that evening, and while he clearly had fun, he also made it clear that he’d just got out of a five-year relationship and wasn’t interested in anything serious.

Just like all of the others, I thought.

So I’m taking a break from sex for now. It’s just too confusing and unhealthy. I’ve been saying that sex is like advanced graduate studies in relationships, and I’m still trying to just finish high school. Frankly, I need to get to the root of this need to base my self worth on external factors, like looks and performance, first.

The tough thing about that is that it’s hard not to resent everyone who is in a relationship, or who is able to enjoy sex without the resulting existential tsunami. Of course, we can’t know what’s really going on in other people’s relationships or in their minds. Maybe everyone else really is just as afraid and insecure, but can simply cope better. However, when your emotional vocabulary is based on fear, it’s difficult not to invent reasons why a relationship is already doomed, or turn an otherwise fun, pleasurable experience into an emotional minefield.

Fear fuels self-belief that I’m broken and damaged became a reason to preemptively sabotage potentially fruitful relationships.

This is why I’m in therapy, folks.

231. nostomania

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couple-holding-handsThis’ll be a quick download on Thanksgiving and how things ended up not going with my family.

In short, I told my mom that while I appreciated her invitation, it’s not a good idea for me to spend major holidays with them right now.

But first, a video.

Like many things YouTube, I discovered Sexplanations through the Green brothers’ creative and informative YouTube channel.

“Field of eligibles” was a new term for me, but it put a name to something I’ve been struggling to define for a while. Because while there are a good number of gay men in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area, eligible, as she notes, doesn’t aways translate to desirable.

And we’re not talking about a huge population to choose from here. If statistics are true and only 5% of the U.S. population is predominantly gay, of the 1.86 million males in Twin Cities metro area (the current estimate is that 49.7% of the population here is male), probably around only 93,000 of those are in my field of eligibles.

Then factor in my personal preferences—well-educated, cultured, geeky, secular-minded (ideally, atheist/agnostic), self-reliant, mentally and emotionally stable, physically attractive (to me), and reasonably hirsute (that’s more of a nice-to-have than a must-have), to name a few of the qualities that I look for in potential partners.

Even just using a couple of those filters rules out a huge percentage of the gay men around me.

The reason that I was thinking about this in these terms today is because yesterday found me single yet again at Thanksgiving. It’s been almost two years since I’ve been in a relationship. And I realized the other day while cooking for the Sunday Assembly Thanksgiving that the last time I really cooked for a holiday was when I was with Jay, and that brought up a whole lot of sad memories and feelings.

One of the things I’ve been exploring in therapy lately is why I’m obsessed with being in a relationship. From what I’ve been able to parse out, for most of my life I’ve had all of these external measures of self-worth. Even though I grew up hearing about unconditional love, the kind of love I actually experienced as a child was anything but that. The standards for being an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian were pretty steep. In short, we were expected to live up to the model of Jesus’ life on Earth, although that was only the minimum requirement (the rest I’ll get into another time).

Basically, I was unwittingly trained from a young age to compare myself to others and base my self-worth on how I was or wasn’t up to par. That paradigm transferred over into other areas, too, from basing my self-worth on how good a pianist, to how good a composer, to how good a writer I was, and so on. It was all performance centered.

I attended an evangelical Christian liberal arts college where the saying “ring by spring” was only partly a joke. The expectation was that by the time you’d graduated, you’d have a degree and your opposite-sex life partner. On the drive into campus, there’s a large rock that students would paint in the way of an engagement announcement. Usually it was just the couples’ initials or names, but often it was quite artistic. By the time I graduated, virtually everyone I knew was engaged or married.

Soon, I was often the only (or one of the few) single person at a gathering. In the years before I came out gay, the reason for my singleness was difficult to explain to anyone. Working all the time was a convenient excuse, but even that started to wear thin after a while.

After I came out, finding a long-term boyfriend became even more of a measure of success. Especially for someone like me, it would signal having overcome decades of oppression and religious abuse to deliver the ultimate “fuck you” to an institution that had told me for years that my limited choices were to change my sexual orientation, embrace a lifestyle of total celibacy and be alone for the rest of my life, or burn eternally in the fires of hell.

A real brain teaser.

So all that to say, holidays can be a real downer for me.

The only time I’ve been with a partner for Thanksgiving and Christmas was when I was with Jay. To be honest, I more enjoyed being with his family than I did with him, and they’re the only thing I miss about dating him. Because those times were the first I can really remember feeling welcome and accepted at a family gathering. While I know that my biological family loves me, there’s so much tiptoeing that I’ve had to do around them, always worrying about what not to say or do. That feeling intensified once I became an atheist.

And forget about bringing home a boyfriend or husband to meet them. While I’m sure they’d try to be tolerant and civil, I doubt they’ll ever be truly accepting and welcoming.

Yesterday, I spent Thanksgiving with my housemates’ family. And it was lovely. The only time religion or politics came up was when explaining to Matt’s mom why I wasn’t with my own family. The rest of the time we just enjoyed being with each other. I could be myself. And it was terrific!

While I was the only single person at the table, looking around, I could see myself bringing a boyfriend home to meet those people. Of course, there’s tons of work to ahead before I’ll be capable of dating anyone. Establishing stable friendships is difficult enough. I have to scrape away decades of internalize self-loathing and self-hate, and the fundamental beliefs that I’m not valuable, not worthy, not lovable, that I have to have achieved something or look a certain way for anyone to accept me, let alone think I’m worth dating.

But regardless of how long that takes, I’ve at least found a place to call home.

227. azoth

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rock_gardenLeaving Seattle to return to Minnesota yesterday was surprisingly heartbreaking, even for the three short days I was there. One thing I know for sure at the end of it: I’m going back soon.

Overall, it was a good trip. It was the first time I’ve ever really gone somewhere on my own, for no other reason than to go. Other trips have had a purpose—a wedding… well, mainly weddings, I guess. There was also the western camping excursion a few weeks ago, and the gaming weekend in Wisconsin in April. But those were trips with people. There was a plan, an itinerary.

flight_rockiesThis trip to Seattle was good in that it pushed my boundaries, as well as affirmed to myself a couple of things. One realization was that, while I can be terribly absent-minded, I’m actually a pretty capable person when it comes down to it. There were some flustered moments trying to navigate the Seattle transit system, but I had some great encounters with helpful transit officers, one of whom even recommended a great hostel to stay at next time right near Pike Place Market, the Green Tortoise.

However, I think if I had a few more days to familiarize myself with the streets and neighborhoods, I could be a savvy bus/link rider in no time. The biggest challenge to navigating the city was bus fares, so next time I’ll just get an ORCA card for the sake of getting around by “bus, train & ferry—it’s the easy way to get there.”

As a traveler, I’m not really into touristy things. I had a list of things that would’ve been nice to see, like the EMP Museum (which was terrific), the Underground Tour (also fantastic), and Capitol Hill (Seattle’s gayborhood, which I got just a glimpse of on Saturday). I skipped the big attractions, like the Space Needle and the Big Wheel, or anything that typically attracts large numbers of swarming tourists.

waterfront_dayThe biggest disappointment of this trip was not getting to see more of the city, mainly because I wasn’t prepared to deal with bus fares (and while cheaper than a taxi or renting a car, Uber is still pretty expensive). I’m trying not to focus on that as I’m aware of my tendency to ruin experiences by allowing my high expectations of what they could’ve been to spoil them. So I’m trying to keep the good things in perspective.

overlooking_pugetHow I prefer to encounter a city is by walking its streets, watching the people, getting a feel for the rhythm and the energy. You can’t do that by mingling with only those who are there just to take what the city has to offer, like a souvenir shot glass.

My only moment of touristy indulgence was visiting the original Starbucks location on Pike Street. Even then I was a little disappointed. There were a few touches to indicate that this was the “flagship” location, but like any tourist attraction, it ultimately doesn’t deliver as an attraction. Coffee is coffee at Starbucks.

This brings to mind those passages from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which puts forth the idea that, whether they know it or not, the very act of people visiting these locations, as in a yearly pilgrimage, imbues them with power—the power of human belief. It is this concentrated belief that makes places like the House on the Rock, Spring Green, WI or Rock City, Lookout Mountain, GA (in the novel) places of power. I had this thought when visiting Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, or walking through Pike Place Market on Friday afternoon.

waterfront_nightPerhaps that’s why I intentionally avoid “tourist traps.” I don’t want to see what everyone else sees. I want to see the places that people love, that they go to every day, that are a part of their everyday community. I think what bothers me about tourist traps is that they smell too much of theater, of being façades.

What I was really hoping to gain from this trip to Seattle was space to breathe, to think, and to just “be.” On my last day there, in the afternoon, I was in a bit of a strop over having such limited time and having to get on a plane in a few hours and fly back to my life in Minnesota. I was particularly irritated that, because I hadn’t planned enough for transit, I wasn’t going to get to the Chihuly Garden and Glass in time, or the Olympic Sculpture Park, or Gas Works Park. I wouldn’t have time to get to Bainbridge Island (would’ve needed at least a half-day), and would’ve needed to stay a week (or longer) to do any real hiking. And then, I would’ve needed a car.

kells_irishbandBut as I was eating lunch in Westlake Park, I realized that I didn’t need to see those things to have had a fulfilling trip. Focusing on my inexperience as a traveler or on all the things I didn’t do was only going to ruin the good. Yes, I mainly stuck around the downtown area and saw mostly urban landscapes. But on the train I saw plenty of Seattle that I’d like to return to and explore.

And I met up with a guy I’ve been Facebook friends with for some time, who lives in Capitol Hill with his partner Andy. I had a terrific time visiting with them.

The main realization I left with, however, is that the Midwest is no longer home for me. Maybe I need to do some more traveling and experience different cities and cultures, but I felt at home in Seattle in a way that I don’t feel anymore in Minnesota.

Maybe I’ve just had enough of “Minnesota nice.” And there does seem to be a community of gay guys there who’re more on my level.

Of course, I’m not the type to pick up and go, but after this trip I’m giving serious thought to moving to Seattle, maybe in the next year or so.

waterfront_seattle

223. cacography

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Darcy“My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”

This past weekend my friends Adam and Jesse got married. They’ve been together fourteen years, which is a number I can barely grasp as an amount of time spent with one person. Aside from my family, very few of my relationships have lasted even remotely that long.

As expected, the weeks and days leading up to the wedding were difficult, partly because I was putting together all of the music for it, as is often my job. I wrote (and performed) a song for the occasion, something I haven’t done since college, a setting of an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road—”Camerado! I give you my hand.”

It’s tough participating or working on weddings when it seems like it will never happen for me. It’s like someone who works for minimum wage making products that they’ll never be able to afford. Now that I’m past my half birthday and virtually thirty-two years old, it seems even more unlikely that I’ll ever find a boyfriend, let alone one who might someday become a husband…

Weddings are also difficult right now, seeing as one friend after another has been getting into relationships, engaged, or married of late. Relationship statuses change, and friends post pictures of themselves with their partners, seemingly happy, doing things together, participants together in life. Which leads me to wonder if I’m truly living, and what that even looks like. Because it still feels as if I’m picking up the pieces of the remains of my pre-atheist, pre-Seth existence.

A few weeks ago my friend Sarah returned to the States after several months abroad in Europe. Sarah is a fellow graduate of Northwestern College (now the bizarrely re-named “University of Northwestern,” which led a friend of mine to comment: “That’s awfully specific”), and a fellow apostate and ex-fundamentalist.

To make a long story short, at the end of her sojourn abroad, she inadvertently found herself in a relationship with an Austrian fellow who she’d met at the beginning of the year and had been building a friendship with over the course of her travels. I got the whole story at the beginning of the month, and my initial reaction was like this: “How is it that this is so easy for everyone else?” Because it truly feels like my universe is shrinking.

Part of her story was Sarah coming to the realization that her lack of interest in guys was not so much that she wasn’t into guys (or girls) but rather that she hadn’t met anyone on the same level, with whom there was a mutual respect. She likened her relationship to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

This struck a note with me, as I’ve been feeling similarly adrift, dating-wise. And for a long time I’ve felt like the problem is me, that I’m the one who is broken. Now I’m starting to think that maybe I just shouldn’t be dating American men—at the very least, not Midwestern men.

For me, the “Darcy” comparison seems particularly accurate (aside from not being worth $14 million). If you’re familiar with the novel, our initial impression of him is one of aloofness, coldness, and haughty pride. It’s only later that we discover his depth of feeling, fierce loyalty to family and friends, and the deep insecurity that drives him to keep most everyone away.

Most of my character faults can be traced back to a fear of rejection and failure. At the wedding this weekend, I watched everyone else interacting with a seeming fluidity and natural ease. It always confounds me how most gay men seem to flirt with blithe nonchalance. Of course, that may just be my perception, and that I’m only seeing extroverts.

The reality is that I find it difficult to interact with most American gay men. The stereotypical enjoyment of popular culture and trivial conversation is mostly lost on me. As a friend of mine once observed, I don’t suffer fools. Does that come across as Darcy-like arrogance? Probably. But as an introvert who finds most human company exhausting, I don’t understand the need to fill every moment with noise. That seems to be a defining characteristic of American gay culture.

The sense of dissatisfaction in my dating life up until now seems to come from the lack of any potential romantic partners who I can respect as an equal. That probably doesn’t sound very flattering, which is where the Pride & Prejudice metaphor comes in handy.

Elizabeth is perfect for Darcy because she is a strong, independent-minded woman with her own opinions (contrasted with her sister Jane’s demure, more compliant personality). She stands up to and challenges the men in her life, even supposed authority figures. Like Darcy, she is fiercely loyal to those she loves, to the point of disregarding social proprieties when she walks to Netherfield Park after learning that Jane has fallen ill.

Towards the end of the novel, Elizabeth asks Darcy what attracted him to her when they started as rivals. She suggests: “The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you, because I was so unlike them.”

And that’s what I’ve failed to find in dating American men—a man who distinguishes himself and challenges me. (There’s also the stunting influence of Puritanism and internalized homophobia, a rant for another time.) American gays seem caught up in the rush of culture, fashion, hookups, and fetishes, and I’m not into any of those things. Whatever happened to the likes of Gore Vidal, Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Britten, or Christopher Isherwood? (They were seemingly replaced by the likes of Perez Hilton and Ru Paul.) That era was no cakewalk and they were all flawed people, but that’s the ilk of man I’d want for a partner.

Now, to find him…

202. schizoid

Standard

here-not hereToday, the Pink Agendist posted “Are you living with a covert schizoid?

It’s important to put a crowbar of separation between “schizoid” and “schizophrenic” at the outset. These two have nothing to do with each other.

Both words are derived from the Greek word skhizein, to split. In the case of the schizophrenic, the split is from reality (psychosis). With the schizoid, it’s a split from the human world itself.

By nature, I’m introverted. As a child, I was off by myself, playing on my own or spending hours writing in my bedroom closet. (Yes, the irony.) I’ve learned coping mechanisms, but still prefer solitude or the quiet company of a few friends.

My dislike for human contact and company emerged around age 13 or 14, likely a reaction to the emergence of my homosexual feelings. These feelings were uncomfortable as they were forbidden by the teachings of my religion. Rather than differentiate, I reacted against all human contact. Survival mechanisms can be fucked up.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) describes the “schizoid personality disorder” thus:

A pervasive pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of expression of emotions in interpersonal settings, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

(1) neither desires nor enjoys close relationships, including being part of a family
(2) almost always chooses solitary activities
(3) has little, if any, interest in having sexual experiences with another person
(4) takes pleasure in few, if any, activities
(5) lacks close friends or confidants other than first-degree relatives
(6) appears indifferent to the praise or criticism of others
(7) shows emotional coldness, detachment, or flattened affectivity

(Way to pathologize normal human differences, APA.)

Wikipedia says this about the signs and symptoms of SPD:

Their communication with other people may be indifferent and concise at times (i.e. Meowing instead of speaking English). Because of their lack of meaningful communication with other people, those who are diagnosed with SPD are not able to develop accurate images of how well they get along with others.

Such images are believed to be important for a person’s self-awareness and ability to assess the impact of their own actions in social situations… It is not people as such that they want to avoid, but emotions both negative and positive, emotional intimacy, and self disclosure.

go_sit_in_my_houseAs I read all of this, I’m considering my indifference to my family; my lack of interest in most activities; my highly select group of friends and ambivalence to acquaintances; my inability to hold meaningful conversations without getting stuck or feeling tongue-tied, with anxiety over not knowing what to say; and my choice of career paths that require hours of solitude—writing, and composition.

It’s likely that all of this is related to Religious Trauma Syndrome. One theory about the cause of SPD is an “unloving, neglectful, or excessively perfectionistic” homelife and upbringing. This is somewhat true of my own childhood. Mind you, I never want to give the impression that my childhood was abusive, cold, or unhappy. My parents loved me and my sisters very much, and I have many fond memories from then.

But, by virtue of our fundamentalist Christian beliefs, my childhood was also highly judgmental. I was held to exacting standards, with virtually every aspect of my life subject to criticism and condemnation. It wasn’t just my parents who disapproved if I failed to meet expectations. It was God, who would determine whether I spent eternity in Heaven or Hell.

Pink Agendist quotes excerpts from a website, www.schizoid.info, which has this to say:

Schizoids are usually very intelligent and self-sufficient. They are intensely private people with acute interpersonal boundaries… They are deeply sensitive to intrusiveness, dependency, insincerity, and emotional behaviour. Despite their self-sufficiency, they require connection just like any other human being, and intense loneliness often compels them to reach out for some kind of relationship. This dichotomy leads to an ‘in and out’ pattern of him being in the relationship and pulling out of it, which is confusing and hurtful for the other party.

My previous ex-boyfriend often complained that I was overly withdrawn, that I spent more time on the computer or mobile devices than with him. There were problems in that relationship, and I wasn’t entirely committed, but it’s that way with most relationships for me, romantic or otherwise. Eventually, I need to withdraw and be alone. I feel like a jerk for doing it, but the alternative is exhaustion and shutting down.

Wikipedia mentions one schizoid “subtype”: the “secret schizoid.” (Ooh, la la!)

Many fundamentally schizoid individuals present with an engaging, interactive personality style that contradicts the observable characteristic emphasized by the DSM-IV and ICD-10 definitions of the schizoid personality. [These individuals] present themselves as socially available, interested, engaged and involved in interacting yet remain emotionally withdrawn and sequestered within the safety of the internal world.

I’ve wondered if my introversion and inability to connect was symptomatic of borderline personality disorder, or Asperger’s. I often feel the face I present to the world is an artificial one, having little to do with what I think and feel. I model my behavior and responses based on what I observe in others, but not really understanding the motivations behind what I see. My own therapist has described me as warm and engaging, but it feels like she’s just praising my act.

A simple action like getting a haircut requires intense preparation to overcome fear of what the stylist and I will talk about. It’s not unlike preparing to go on-stage—must remember my lines. Dating advice like going to new places to meet guys is virtually unthinkable. My trouble with job searching is not so much aversion to work as it is dealing with other people.

I write this, not to make excuses, but to explain—why I’d rather not go to gay bars with friends; why you won’t see me for days, or weeks; why I still sometimes flinch when touched.

That’s all.