I haven’t posted in a long time. That’s because my life has been a mess. I’ve had serious problems in my romantic relationship, as well as other forms of instability (financial and in my living situation).
I’m blocked as I write this; I’m not sure how much of my relationship problems I should describe. I need a bit of that for context, but what I really want to do in this post is detail the personal growth I’ve gone through as a result of it.
In short, we can say that I felt an intensely negative emotional state, initially triggered by what you might call “relationship jealousy” – though I don’t like that word, as it can refer to many different things. In my case, my partner found himself another romantic partner (we’re polyamorous) and this triggered in me a string of emotions – a fear of loss, a feeling of inadequacy, and an intense discomfort caused by a feeling of instability and rapid change in my life.
My “jealousy”, as we might call it, in turn triggered a very negative interaction between me and my partner. I felt bad and acted a certain way, which caused him to feel bad and react in a certain way, and that reaction made me feel even worse, and then my reaction to that made him feel even worse. It was a very unfortunate convergence of triggers and incompatibilities.
In the end, I spent a couple of days basically feeling tortured in almost every moment. It seems like I’m an intense person and have intense reactions like this. It sucks, but it is as it is.
One thing that came to me as things began to settle down was: “Stop, listen, wait for the truth to come.” In my mental storm, rash words and actions came to me. I knew that rash words and actions usually only ever caused the storm – inside me and outside of me – to escalate. I told myself instead, “stop and listen for the truth”.
Because dark and negative thoughts don’t want to wait. Space and calm are antithetical to them. When I choose to not act on my impulses, and instead create space in my mind, the truth eventually comes into that space. And at the very least, doing nothing is pretty much always better than acting on a negative impulse.
Well, the whole drama passed and me and my partner decided to have some space (that’s not a euphemism for breaking up, we really meant space). What this meant for me was being rather alone for an indefinite length of time – I had been depending rather a lot on my partner’s company in the recent couple of months.
Sometime shortly after coming to this understanding, I found myself crying. I imagined being alone and that hurt. It hurt a lot.
Indeed, after breakups I’ve tended to feel rather tortured and to cry long and hard. I think that compared to other people, breakups are unusually hard for me. Certainly I guess it’s rare for others to exhibit that half-scream crying I’ve been known to have.
This time though, that unhealthy crying stopped suddenly as I had a little revelation. I thought about what I was actually crying about. What I realised was that my reaction was disproportionate to just being upset about being alone. Sure, being alone hurts, but I always get through it. Inevitably there’s a period of being lonely before eventually I find someone(s) to fill the gap in my social life.
What I realised was, my vision of aloneness was unrealistic. I seemed to have an unexamined subconscious boogeyman, a sort of primal fear of eternal, deadly aloneness. I imagine it to come from how a young child is programmed – at that age, they are very vulnerable, and being abandoned really could mean death. But somehow for me, as an adult, that programming was still there.
So I simply made myself imagine a more reasonable vision of aloneness. It would hurt, but I’d be able to deal with it, and it’d be temporary.
And my crying stopped. I didn’t cry again that day. I have cried a bit since, but it wasn’t that tortured scream I’ve known before. And after crying, I felt better.
Since that revelation, I’ve come to think a lot about aloneness and company.
One thing that I’ve thought of is that for me, perhaps my romantic relationships were my solution to the primal fear of being eternally alone. Each romantic partner was my saviour from the deadly aloneness, and each breakup meant being plunged back into that void.
I’ve ocassionally wondered about why it is that I feel different about a person after I start calling them my romantic partner. In real life, friends and romances exist on a continuum without it being possible to draw an exact line between friendship and romance. (At least, in polyamorous life it is so; monogamy makes things more complicated as you have to define a partner to know that you have only one). Yet, it seems that when I’ve drawn that line, I’ve designated my new partner to be the one who saves me from the void.
Now, I believe that I can change this dynamic. I will know that no single person can save me from eternal aloneness – in reality, I fulfill my needs with many different people, and I can always find new people if I lose someone. More to the point, I don’t need a saviour because there is no eternal loneliness. Even if every other human on Earth died, it wouldn’t be that bad. Not even the most far fetched worst case scenario is as bad as my primal fear’s imagination.
What do I actually need?
I’ve also started thinking more in practical terms: If I’m not running away from eternal loneliness, what do I actually need?
Social needs are funny things. I guess there are actually many different needs. Even having an argument with your worst enemy once a day would keep you sane if the alternative was extended solitary confinement. (Solitary confinement is considered a form of torture and can result in hallucinations). But then of course just any contact with anyone would, on its own, not do much more than keep you sane. There are other things like recognition, understanding, warmth, that make the quality of an interaction far more fulfilling. These seem to fulfill a social need that goes beyond simply having a person in front of you.
I asked myself: how much of what sort of social fulfillment do I need to feel okay?
From there, I started to plunge into aloneness. I think in some way, I was experimenting a bit, trying to see what I needed when I removed the primal fear of eternal aloneness. In some way, too, I was still gripped by that fear; I was enacting my feared outcome, unable to reach out for what I needed because some part of me imagined that I was alone forever. After a few days of this, I experienced true loneliness, a feeling of piercing cold in the center of my chest, and a debilitating depression.
At the bottom of this low dip, I turned things around simply by starting to organise a social event. It seems like it was the act of organising it itself which made me feel better; where before I felt cut off, I now felt connected. Suddenly, I was going all out and arranging as many social interactions as possible. My depression lifted.
I’ve come to understand that probably I need at least half an hour a day of contact with someone who has recognition, understanding, and warmth towards me to remain functional. Sometimes I can find that in unexpected places; today I had a nice talk with someone who was showing me a room for rent. Of course, I can also call or Skype when needed, and if I can’t find anything else even a little Facebook chatting can make me feel more at ease.
There are other needs too of course: physical contact, love, and even sex. I’m sure that if I went long enough without these things, I’d long for them, though I don’t know how much less functional I’d become because of that longing.
Now that I am no longer controlled by my primal fear of loneliness, though, I also think about sometimes reducing the amount of energy I put into relationships. I don’t need to spend a whole day with someone just because I can and because I fear the alternative. A few quality hours can be just as good, and I free up energy that way which I can use on other endeavours.
Actually, what came to me recently was that if I spent my entire life wasting all my energy on turbulent and transient romantic relationships, I’d regret it. But if I never had a romantic relationship again, but remained functional and was able to complete my life purpose, well, that’d be sad in a way, but it’d be an okay outcome. The important thing is that I don’t waste the gifts I’ve been given.
I definitely do intend to continue having romantic and otherwise close relationships. But I think from now on I’ll no longer cling so deeply to them; I won’t expect them to give me something they can’t. I guess this will look like being a bit more distant, but also as I imagine it I have a feeling of freedom. Loving in this way lets me expand more, explore more. And that must be a good thing.