I used to be a shy girl. I would blush when anyone I didn’t know very, very well spoke to me unexpectedly, then agonize for months afterward over how stupid whatever I’d responded with sounded. I was even rocking that stylish “hair-over-face…always” look for a few years. I still would have picked flying over invisibility as a superpower (obviously), but the latter was what I seemed to be working toward.
I don’t even know what happened to that, but it went away. I’m still awkward, mind, but not particularly shy. I no longer dread the sound of my own voice, and I’m fairly confident that people will respond to me positively more often than not (and if they don’t, the world still spins and the internet still has kitten pictures). But, though I’m not shrinking from people like their eyes spit acid, I remain fairly reserved until I really warm to someone. My impression of the first impression I make on most people (a category of speculation that is necessarily fallible in the extreme) is that I’m friendly–maybe even bubbly– on a surface level, but emotionally inaccessible.
I am mostly okay with this because it’s largely accurate.
It took Laramy and I about six months of dating before I’d admit to being his girlfriend. And we were a good match that way; neither of us dropped the l-word until even later. This pace felt managed and comfortable, but I will concede that it may have looked like Remedial Relationships 101 from the outside. And maybe it was.
Indeed, you could argue that my dating history in general has witnessed me choosing a lot of people who were not entirely emotionally available: people who detach, people who do not understand these crazy Earth emotions you humans have, people who maintain lovely but impenetrable shells. Those relationships, for some reason, felt safer to me. Although I do have an awful lot of feelings, I don’t enjoy laying them bare. Perhaps this is true of most people with detached tendencies; maybe we’re liars who enjoy dating liars. Or maybe not. Maybe we’re just struggling.
On an impersonal level, I love everyone. Maybe not everyone everyone, but I come damn close. People are so bright and fleeting and gorgeous, it’s hard not to let your heart flutter right out of your chest at their preciousness. It’s hard not to want good things for every one of them. Platonic love is also easy, though powerful and amazing. Attached, romantic love? The kind that steals you away and owns a part of you, your thoughts trapped and starving like Persephone before the Stockholm Syndrome took over? The kind that people become junkies for? That kind that’s such a juggernaut that people call it falling? Terrifying.
“I love you” means “you have the power to hurt me”. That isn’t all it means, and that isn’t a great part of it to focus on, but there is truth in it. By “hurt me” I don’t even mean the pain that comes with loss of that love. Loss happens, you realize the world still spins, and the internet is still full of kitten pictures, and you go on. The real threat, to me, is losing oneself to the juggernaut, to the swoon, to that other person and their expectations and their importance. The threat is the constant pressure to form yourself to your beloved’s wishes, spoken or implied. To become domesticated for them. Nothing hurts more than figuring out you’ve become as much a golem as yourself, and the words on your forehead read “I love you”. That is patent fuckery. And I have done that, and my entire being recoils from the idea of ever doing it again.
But really, it was not love doing that to me. It was not the other person doing it to me. It was always my choice to stop being entirely myself to try to please people who were presumably already pleased with me enough to want to be with me. We say, when we formalize love as marriage, that two people become one. That image may be useful in many ways (although I’m not sure I know how, come to think of it), but not as a directive for those two people to each dissolve into another messed up, flawed human being. That may feel sacrificial, but that doesn’t mean it’s loving. Really love someone? You owe them your authenticity, not their desires.
I wonder if I have learned to anchor myself to my self with detachment. When I remind myself that any relationship I have could end at any time– even though that’s absolutely true– is it to keep myself from being swept away? I’m much more secure in myself than I used to be, but still, I will do a lot to avoid the blur, the splitting of my will, that degradation.
And then, and then, what I’ve never much anticipated, but suspect might be a thing: there may be romantic relationships that bring us more fully into ourselves, and set us free. Maybe. May it be.