This may be another one of my many solipsistic posts that follows the scenic-route detour around the larger issue. But my intentions are good. I’m fleshing out something that’s been following me around for weeks. I had been starting to put it into words in my own mind, and as I did I thought that this may be some sort of midlife crisis.
I’ve heard things in the last week that I’m having trouble processing. A small part of it was about the (past) home life of a very bright, but troubled student of mine. Every time I think of what I cannot un-know, it makes me wish I could melt down my brain and rebuild it from scrap.
And then my cousin, who was only a year older than me, got very sick and died. I want to be very clear that I’m a piece of shit family member who has never done a thing for him. I hadn’t seen him in years, hadn’t even tried to have a relationship with him past childhood. I am completely unentitled to have the amount of difficulty that I’m having with his death.
It’s guilt. It’s remembering him so clearly, his voice, his accent, his dry sense of humor, what a big part he was of the memories of my childhood that were happy….and realizing that it’s my loss that I didn’t keep him in my life.
It’s also wanting to un-know the things I’ve learned in the last week. I’m finding it a burden to not talk about it. I need to vomit it out somewhere, but I don’t want to be gross or betray anyone’s privacy.
I’m bouncing around ideas. So far, I’ve got “try to make a therapy appointment. If you can’t work that out, write it down and burn it. If that’s not enough, you’re going to have to talk to your family members who know the same things but wouldn’t be burdened by you unloading. If not that, find a friend who knows no one and talk in person or on the phone so you’re leaving no record.”
That’s the plan so far.
But, unless I do this in therapy, isn’t that just going to pass the burden onto someone else, who will then wish they’d never heard these things, my unanswerable questions?
For now, I will just write about what was on my mind before this.
As miserable and dark as I can be, I’m much happier than I was 10 and 20 years ago. If I never had to see myself in the mirror or pictures, I think I might even say that I love being middle-aged.
(Okay, I’m still very much struggling with this: I hate my appearance. I used to be able to take a couple hundred selfies and get a decent one. Now, I avoid pictures altogether. When I look in the mirror–to brush my teeth or pluck eyebrows–I don’t really look at myself. I focus on what I need to focus on, or I don’t really absorb that the reflection is me. I know that, 5 years from now, I’ll look even worse, and I’ll look back at this time and think that I looked younger and wished I could go back and just have that number of wrinkles, but right now, anything but avoidance leads to me feeling like garbage).
Still. Fifteen years ago, I wasn’t looking at myself, either. I was looking at the scale. Overall, I’m still happier. Or, at least, I can face unhappiness/unpleasant feelings without getting overwhelmed or self-destructive.
There is still an element of self-acceptance that is new for me. There’s also a feeling that I’m less of an alien among others. I’ve cut down on the “blurting” that might alienate me from others, and I’ve also lived enough to see that, by this age, WE ARE ALL DAMAGED GOODS. I’ve seen people that I respect and admire as being much more “together” than I am make terrible mistakes or falter when it comes to stopping mistakes. That’s not a judgment–they still have it together much better than I do.
In some cases, their “stuff” is just based on things I’ve inferred or intuited based on the glimpses they’ve shared of their pasts or home lives. I could be completely wrong about it.
But it’s still a comfort to be pretty sure that we are all fucked up.
I feel better about seeking a relationship–any kind of relationship, not necessarily romantic–as long as there’s the possibility that I’m not above-average in terms of my damage. I feel like there’s hope that some people will be able to tolerate me, maybe even accept and love me, as long as I don’t have to not be a fuck up.
For a while, I felt a little bit optimistic about romantic relationships (not for me necessarily, but it still made me feel warm to think this): we’re all messed up, and now that we’re past the age that 20-somethings consider us sexy, we can just do our thing and be totally open with our fellow middle-aged single people. I even started to mentally poo-poo the high rate of divorce for second marriages, at least among people who don’t rush into it.
But now I’m sad about it. When I am in love with someone, I want to know everything about him. I remember with my ex–who was 15 when we met–“missing” him from before we met. I’d picture him as a little nerd getting bullied by lacrosse players, and I’d fantasize making it better.
I’ll probably never meet the great-grandmother, or childhood best friend, or childhood nemesis of that hypothetical “he.” These types of things are pretty integral to me being in love, and it’s probably too late.
My friend J had said about his ex-wife that he felt that she wanted to “consume his soul,” and I think that’s how I was. I just want to binge on that person, and know everything. I used to send him lists of questions to answer about himself, because I wanted to know everything.
Well, now I have four decades of life behind me, and I seem to draw in kind of dismissive men, so…I figure my options are:
(1) make peace with it
(2) find a narcissistic who is happy to talk about himself constantly to catch me up on the 40+ years I missed before we met, and be utterly miserable, or
(3) do whatever comes to me with relationships, and figure out a way to deal with that longing.
Yes, I’ve met myself. I know #1 isn’t an option unless I change radically.
I won’t even bother wishing that someone would feel the same way I do. One, it’s probably just a generically immature and naive style of loving, Two, I know I’m not compelling enough that even someone who is blinded by love would feel sad about not knowing me before we met.
It’s just so strange, the things that people are carrying around that we don’t even know. Big things, traumatic things, top moments….And the person you love may not even bother to discuss those things with you.
I know I’m obsessed with that which goes unsaid, but I’m not even talking about denial here. I’m talking about how bizarre it is to not share yourself, for whatever reason. And I don’t know what the reasons are, because I’m obviously overly porous.
I feel especially exposed after the big…thing? Fight? Whatever it was that M and I had a few months ago. I think I showed too much, and I’m embarrassed and afraid. There’s so much I don’t know about him, and he’s seen like 99% of my garbage.
I don’t understand why I kind of gradually stopped asking questions. Some of the times I’m quiet are times that I’d normally be asking random questions. I’m too daunted by how rejected I’d feel in reaction to a dodge.
But mostly, it’s weird for me to find myself not thinking to ask questions or learn more. That’s not like me, and it kind of makes me sad. It feels like a form of giving up.
I feel like I’ll never really *know* another person. There’s just too much of them that came before we met, and unless that person is an oversharer, I won’t catch up.
My old therapist–the one who also saw my ex, until a couple months before we left, and held onto the secrets of countless men–was shocked that my marriage ended, but she also told me this:
If there is one thing that I wish I could scream at anyone who came into my practice seeking help for their relationship, it would be this:
YOU. DON’T. FUCKING. KNOW THE OTHER PERSON.
At the time, I found it comforting. I felt less stupid.
Now, it makes me want to melt down my brain and rebuild it, because it’s a message from an expert that (1) any horror can happen, and (2) the time to binge on a wonderful person’s stories and thoughts is finite, and that window can close long before death.