My stepdad used to tell me that I thought life happened somewhere between “once upon a time” and “happily ever after,” even though I used to pride myself on being “realistic” about my romantic prospects in particular. I have come as close to being a-romantic and asexual as possible without identifying as such. I still hold out for some kind of “solution” through these things and maybe that’s why it’s such a trap for me. I tend to put the object of my affection on a pedestal. I need to believe they have no flaws. I couldn’t relate to people normally for many years–not sure why–and then when I got a real boyfriend and found myself spending every evening in another’s company, I wound up breaking down. We broke up and I begged for him to come back–we weren’t all that attached, but I didn’t know what I was going to do without someone to hang out with every evening, someone kind who hugged me and watched movies with me. Maybe that’s where serial monogamists come from–they need that person there, doesn’t matter who. After he told me we couldn’t get back together, I spent the next few days listening to “All By Myself” (the Celine Dion version) on repeat and crying like I never knew I could.
The playlist I am listening right now to on Spotify just finished and it has started shuffling through a bunch of 70s and 80s ballads, which it seems to think I prefer. The song is “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies. Once, I posted the lyrics to “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” all over my college campus, without permission, which we needed. That was right before Christmas break my sophomore year. The first boy I had ever felt anything like love for had just told me he didn’t like me back and I felt alienated from the cohort I started my studies with. I almost didn’t pass a vital algebra test and only got through because I worked on it with another mathematically challenged person whose boyfriend came around and gave us all the answers. It was my third time taking the test. My grandfather had just died after a ten year battle with alzheimer’s and my family had let me know, however inadvertently, that they were looking forward to having me around during Christmas break as much as they looked forward to greater stress and bills. I was miserable, and newly introduced to the softness of what Pema Chodron calls bodhichitta, the goodness in people, which she says resembles a broken heart.
I haven’t been physical with someone since September of 2015. If I showed you this person, and really all the guys I had tried to date since that first boyfriend whose nearness made me cry, you would think I had gone astray. And you would be right. I don’t have a good picker. For a while I was lucky enough to get unexpectedly picked by nice guys who were friends or potential friends. Then I started “dating” boys who hung out at the bars in the afternoon and moved through one night stands like they were mechanical and boring. I found the final one after meeting him at a birthday party (I had seen him with sunglasses on and thought he was attractive before). He was that violet-gray shade that hospital patients take and you could tell that alcohol had replaced most of the calories he would have otherwise taken in from food. He had dark hair that he didn’t wash on purpose (a pet peeve of mine, kind of like the guy I dated who never wore underwear), and a beard. He had lots of tattoos.
He liked creepy things. He chainsmoked in his apartment and drank from the moment he got up, which was usually around two. He was crafty and liked to tinker with electronics. He also made pickles–he gave me a jar before I left forever. I hung out with him three times. He didn’t seem like he wanted to be rid of me, which was nice, compared to some previous experiences. He talked in an eternally calm voice, just like my father. Like nothing could cramp him style, as long as he could drink and do whatever else he wanted.
I remember laying in his twin bed trying to sleep while listening to something called Creepypasta, which helped him sleep. You could not have picked a person I had less in common with, or so it seemed at the time. At around 2 AM, my eyes and lungs burning from the smoke, I asked him if we could please open a window. He had been playing a videogame and puffing, puffing, puffing. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” and he went and opened the door. We sat in the doorway in our underwear, him still smoking, but attentive and sweet. It was nice to look at the street and not feel as if I was going to die of suffocation. It should have been charming, but I had already made my mind up to leave the next day.
I was grateful he hadn’t beaten me. Maybe eventually he would have, maybe not. I always left relationships after two months, or they left me. I was never beaten, but I always worried about it. I prided myself on not being desperate enough to always have to be in a relationship; so I was always single. Independence was my “virtue,” self-sufficiency the way I gave back to my family and my society. I always wound up without friends, or feeling as if I had none.
At the end of a summer camp for young artists called Innerspark that I went to when I was in high school, I watched all the kids around me crying and swearing their undying friendship and love to each other feeling detached and also vaguely jealous. I had made some friends but I hadn’t gotten very close to anyone, not like that. I didn’t make a stupid idiot of myself crying like I had met my soulmates at camp and no one else would understand me like they did.
Nope, my way is to find a cranny in some rock and settle in to watch things happen, and pretend I haven’t tried my best to physically and emotionally remove myself from everything happening. When I was a freshman in college, I was in a special cohort called the January Freshmen that started the program at our college late. There were 23 of us at the beginning (many dropped out). We were always classifying each other as this and that. If we were animals, what would each of us be? I would have been a mouse, apparently. Thanks a lot, bitchface, I wanted to say to the person who decided that. I started making drawings of the January Freshmen as if they were members of a village. There was a sheriff, a loan shark, a lumberjack, a barmaid. Once I asked a girl in my class what I would be in the village. The girl said, “You would be sitting on the sidelines observing everyone.” That didn’t seem to answer the “who am I and how do I fit in here” question but I let it go, as I let many things go during that time. It could have been worse.
Now Spotify is playing “I’d Love You to Want Me” by Lobo. I have often wondered why I like such bad music, what happened in my childhood that led me to be unable to hate schmaltz and corny things. All I know is that a long time ago I grew very depressed and I couldn’t judge things like I used to. Certain songs, books, looks from strangers, were like hugs, hugs I hadn’t asked for. They didn’t care if it was awkward, and that was what I liked. And if they did care, I was glad to let them know that I didn’t care. I loved awkward. I loved connection. Connection with me was awkward, and I loved when they acknowledged that connection with them might be awkward, too.