The Age-Old Question
I knew much of who I was before I met him. That’s not to say I loved all of the parts of myself or had come to learn to accept my own shortcomings. In many ways, I was naïve. I was secure in my self-worth, but too sure of putting myself first. An arrow pulled back, a planned trajectory that I didn’t have to attend to. The path was already decided. And that path included only me. Perhaps friends, family too. But romantic love? Without having tasted it, I had already decided that to be a flavor I did not need nor desire. I told my friends I was asexual and aromantic. I had sat them each down to tell them the news and the revelation had given me a new license on my identity. I had felt free.
Then we came to be with a passion and assuredness that took the unsure me and pushed her into a scale of emotions previously not privy too. I saw the extent of my own mistaken thought. Even so, I quite often looked for all the ways in which I could take little steps backwards. Afterall, this, this was not in the plan. This was not in the plan at all. And I was scared.
But he would grasp my hand firmly and he would look at me with those eyes filled with knowing, those eyes that held no hesitation, and he would say, “I am sure it’s meant to be.”
With my palm in his I first trailed behind before walking with him side-by-side as, over the years, I learned how to love the way he loved. Without fear. With conviction. With the words, love is not only about emotion, it is about effort. So that I grew to also believe even when feelings changed, the foundation of the relationship did not. That foundation that depended on the belief that things were overcome as one and that nothing was a threat to the overall.
Within the comfort of his love, I became like one of Ainsworth’s securely attached infants. I explored myself and my world to an even fuller extent, to a layer deeper than I realized existed.
Many parts of me changed, through time or the relationship. I embraced it all and saw the growth without acknowledging the sacrifices to quite the same extent.
I would say, often, “It’s great, because we are two whole individuals who decided to come together. It’s not two parts of something complete, it’s more like when 100% and 100% become 200%.”
Things ended with “I am not sure I love you anymore.”
What just happened? Screamed within my mind, bouncing back and forth, over and over, demanding to be answered. And the words were so loud that I couldn’t hear the other softer, but no less pain ridden question.
Who am I now?
I couldn’t hear that question for a very long time, even past when I had answered What just happened and How did this occur. I couldn’t hear Who am I even as I grew to accept that there was no answer to the simple Why, the question I thought would haunt me the longest.
I had gotten too used to that hand in mine, to being moored amongst the universe by another. So much so that when he suddenly let go, I both no longer possessed the skills to orient myself in this chasmic swirl nor the instincts to realize that which I did not have. Independence, true independence, wasn’t something I had encountered for quite some time.
At first, I reacted wildly to my unaccompanied state. I didn’t realize a person could cry like that. I didn’t realize I could cry like that. I lost ten pounds in as many days, as fat and muscle wasted away without movement, without sustenance. The gnawing in my heart afforded no room for a physical appetite.
In the presence of other people, I still felt alone. I thought I would collapse under the weight of that awful loneliness. There seemed no way to alleviate it. At times the feeling would press down all the heavier with no warning and I was quite sure it would kill me. With a certain amount of learned helplessness, I fell victim to its pressure.
Even so, I still had some fight in me. I swung in the other direction, embracing my newfound single identity like a weapon. I went on dates with other men, telling myself that it was an effort to erase him from my mind as I constantly maintained his image there as a reference for comparison. I called myself the ice queen even though rather than feeling nothing, I felt everything to such an extent that I became habituated to the white noise of my emotion.
In reality, I likely needed someone to share the burden, but having been burned once it felt I would never trust again.
“Love is a lie.” I would say to my friends. And some would laugh because the jibing tone served as enough of a social cue while others let out a sharp bark as they faced their own embittered hearts once again.
I had chanted you are who you are silently to myself, growing rapidly in tempo during the darker hours, without considering exactly who that might be. It is ridiculous to so wholly and suddenly become strangers with yourself.
Caught within the core of this chaotic, ubiquitous sadness I did not realize I had lost my personality until time weathered away the all-consuming, overshadowing broken heart. The crack is still there. It will always be there, but it gets a little shallower and the injury less life threatening every week.
Now, I can be alone again. To do that, I had to relearn to live life by sharing things with myself. To no longer hold my pain in my hands and offer it to everyone around me in a desperate attempt to make it something other than mine alone. Instead, I gather that pain to me. I sit with it, and acknowledge it, and I thank it for all the ways in which it has nudged me to both ask and answer questions. Then I let it go. When one loses the tether of love, it can be quite compelling to anchor with pain. But to do so is to refuse to answer.
Who am I now?