Christmas twenty one years ago I lay on my sofa with my head in the lap of the person I loved with that ‘all in’ depths-of-the-ocean kind of love, tears filling my eyes and blurring the lights on my Christmas tree into a watery seascape, then dripping onto his jeans as he stroked my hair with a painful amount of compassion before leaving the country to go figure out his shit. I remember being terrified, foremost that I would not come up from the sadness, and that my child’s first Christmas would be lost; a farce that she would FEEL in her bones, grief that I could not contain flooding up through the floorboards, saturating the gifts, washing away the merriment, the lump in my throat lodged in the bottom of her stocking, stealing her innocence. Ho ho ho, mommy lies around crying, Fa la la, mommy’s hiding in the bathroom again.
But after he left, a few days passed and a strange light shone in, through the window, illuminating my mind, and I was strangely and tentatively “okay”. I felt some angels shuffling their wings in the halo of morning in our little home. I held her tiny fingers and fed her and gave her lovely things beneath the tree. And though it took a little while, he figured himself out, and we spent a lot of Christmases together after that.
Pain is pain and hurt is hurt. And in the moment your heart is spilling out of your eyes and you don’t understand— why for the love of all things good and beautiful you would be shown such a love just to watch it walk away— you can’t and don’t know it will come back. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. And because you don’t know you have only your starry eyes, and your aching want, and the opinion of your best friend, sister, hair stylist and favourite barista (plus also that nice older lady from aisle five who caught you crying into the kumquats) mingling with the hundred thoughts that want to pull you deep down into the depths of lonely and useless all competing with the one that says “there’s a reason to hope”. You know you’re crazy, but there’s not much to be done about it. Cheers.
Maybe you’ve known her or him for a year, or years. Maybe it’s been a few dates, or a long conversation over text. Maybe you’ve lived a hundred lives entangled in each others’ hearts and minds. A broken heart is a broken heart. It’s disorienting and all consuming sometimes, when we finally find what we have been looking for, even a brief glimpse of it, and then it vanishes with a wink and a “see ya”.
So why do THEY meet us and fall for us and give us all of those lovely signs and signals and butterflies, only to erect a moat protected steel wall to their heart before we can say “I am free on Tuesday”? Well cue a little catch phrase we here in the wellness circuit like to call “emotional unavailability”. The result is the same: we, the recipient, lying around in our metaphorical bathrobe eating bon bons and ruminating over the unanswerable, dreaming up the new red dress with the sparkly stilettos or the perfect ratio of vulnerability to swag that will win over our sweetheart, while they talk to us with the hand, seem inexplicably capable of spending ENTIRE DAYS composed of thousands of minutes without so much as thinking of us or at least breaking down and firing off a text (do they have a lock mode for their phone? An erase mode for their humanity?), and possibly hop the next train to Spain, just to get far enough away from us. It’s not one hundred percent flattering, just saying, even if our new kumquat bestie assures us that we’re better off without this kinda grief.
Well in my lifetime of digging into the emotional underpinnings of All the Shit That Goes Down, possibly what I should entitle the book version of today’s musing, there are different kinds of unavailable, and they look like this:
I am unavailable to you. In this happy go lucky dynamic, I am seeing you, or dating you, or giving you some crumbs of my time, attention or love, but in a controlled, reserved, or limited way. Sometimes I date you because you are NICE and I really want healthy and nice in my life (leather jackets and tats have done me one too many wrongs), but I am confusing my desire for nice with actual desire. I am overcompensating, zealously CHOOSING better, by giving you a pass out of the friend zone on Friday afternoons between three and five, but a good portion of the time I am emotionally holding you there with the sheer G force of my resistance *cue my face contorting in brash wind of “you’re like a sibling to me”. OR sister to this problem –I feel grey about you. I love your kindness or your intelligence but there is no way on God’s Green that I can see myself spending a lifetime with your annoying habit of correcting my hyperbole or chiming in with bad news when I am already upset. I am Katie Perry hot cold yes no in out up down, because I am struggling to let it go, or see it for what it is, or accept what I cannot change. Mean time I keep coming back to you for smaller and smaller doses of affection until emotional death do us part.
I am unavailable even to myself. I am grieving someone else. You’ll spot me with a ginormous fucking broom sweeping my twenty year marriage under the rug with frenetic speed sort of like that creepy Edgar Allan story they made me read in EIGHTH GRADE (innocence crushed brain traumatized). I may chat about my wife or husband and forget the “X”. Sometimes I am keeping them in the metaphorical closet or the actual spare room. I talk about how ready I am for something new like a gopher on crack. I’m super duper fine I tell you and the rest of the world in my Ned Flanders voice, but there is an actual continent between me and fine and I am gonna need to visit it sometime soon.
I am unavailable because of commitment elsewhere, or Fun and Games With Knives and Scissors, I like to call this one. I am married or otherwise engaged. You promise to fill my need for attention or worth or a better relationship than the one I am committed to but not dealing with. OR my brother’s in a facility and my mobile goes off four times an hour (Love Actually), or the hot mess of life has sucked me into its soup and even though I am an aspiring saint for all the people I am looking after you’re not a saint and you didn’t sign up to live like one and I am never going to have enough to give you. My loved one’s survival depends on my prioritizing them and all that goes into their care, which doesn’t mean you can’t be with me, but don’t say you can handle it and then demand more that I can give you and mope when I don’t choose you first and passive aggressively attack me when I am already spread as thin as the thinnest ice in Thinsville, please. In other words, don’t become a needy child, I am not your Mommy because you signed up for less but expected more.
I am unavailable to life. I am addicted. Or ill. Or I am carrying a heavy emotional burden, like GUILT over that thing I blame myself for, or I have never opened the Pandora’s Box of my feelings, or I am SCARED that I am not worthy and you will see that thing about me and judge me. I pursue you with enthusiastic intention but as soon as I have swept you off your feet I begin to foam at the mouth. I become feverish and lethargic, consumed by my lack of worth and decompensating by crawling into a corner and emitting a lip curling low growl when you come too close. Your affection threatens to reveal my unworthiness and so I project that onto you, and you become the escape room that my life depends on finding my way out of. I have a history of heartache and abandonment and I will win in both checkers and who will leave whom first, fastest, and meanest. I need some help to sort my shit out. I deserve that. You can’t give it to me. You’re pining over those golden days or hours when I was a healthy dog, wagging my tail and generally overjoyed to see you. Lassie montages play in your head to super sad music. You wish you’d never met me because you were doing just fine on your own, thank you. Thank you very much. The love that you gave that we made wasn’t able to make it enough for me to be open wide, blah blah blah and now you are scratching your nails down someone else’s back and hope I feel it, but I am like, sorry I wasn’t listening. Silver lining is that you are Alanis now and make a gazillion dollars and a career out of my need to run from you, and myself, again and again.
The SAD news friends (*cues first five minutes of Up and last five of The Notebook) is that no one is really having much fun in what a particularly clever client-friend calls this “land of broken toys”. I mean I don’t really think you’re broken, but we can all save ourselves some heart ache by planting our seeds in a more fertile ground rather than the final resting place of the downtrodden by life. The problem is that no one is wearing their Emotionally Unavailable name-tag on that first date. It usually kicks in a bit farther down the dating pipe, after the confetti has been thrown and there has been some BUY IN to magic and love in the air. We don’t want to know that someone has changed the channel and we aren’t in Kansas anymore. Because it makes us sad. It stings. It doesn’t make sense to our healthy mind. You liked me or you loved me and now you don’t. I must be mistaken, or there must be a way to jiggle it a little and fix the reception. And it’s extra hard to figure out, because we are actually available, GO FIGURE so yes actually means yes for us (except sometimes see below).
There is no way out of sad, other than to let ourselves feel it and to turn up the love. To applaud our emotional bravery. To decide our own worth, again. And again. To choose ourselves.
And if it’s pathological for us? If we keep choosing beloveds who don’t choose us because we learned how to do that from our families, because we’re comfortable with cruelty and neglect…because it’s safer than looking within and facing the fear that there was a good reason for someone to walk out on us given that it’s all spiders and snakes in there, well then we are going to need some help with that #hotdatewitherin2020 .
For today let me hold your hurt. Let me be the twinkling through your tears. Let me stand behind you and wrap you in all that is white and winged until Stevie Nicks appears with her hair blowing in the wind and personally fills up your cup with some nectar of the heavens while singing “ooh baby ooh”, until together we feel strong enough to let go of the promise of love with all of it’s delirious confusion and feverish illusion, for love that is ready to love. Actually.
Also, puppies for everyone.
Merry magical time you holy thing, you.
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