The trouble with being a (closet) introvert is that solitude is both a boon and bane. At best, you get to relax with only a drink of choice, a good book / great music / your favourite show(s) for company, which is nothing short of fantastic. At worst, you find yourself wide awake at the ungodliest of hours, your mind wandering into the previously uncharted depths of your psyche, stumbling upon thoughts that make you question your very existence.
And so it was that I recently found myself in the latter situation. My year so far had gotten me thinking about a great many things and, without elaborating unnecessarily, let’s just say that Alfred Lord Tennyson was sorely mistaken when he wrote In Memoriam A.H.H. I refer specifically to the last two lines of the poem, which have been quoted ad nauseam by idealists and romantics since time immemorial (okay, since 1850).
I have loved and lost, and in retrospect, loathed the entire process. Those who subscribe to the sentiments expressed in Tennyson’s poem may be quick to assume I am a pessimist, but I beg to differ. Despite my utmost efforts to see things in a positive light, I have still come to the following conclusion: ’tis better not to have loved or lost, than ever to have loved and been fucked six ways from Sunday for it.
I cannot speak for anyone else, but I much prefer the version of myself that is not in love. True commitment is never easy, and once entered into, often requires a shit tonne of focus and sacrifice. It is for this very reason that I know exactly what it is like to invest the bulk of one’s energy in a relationship, to try to make the necessary changes in oneself and to accept or even overlook what the other person cannot or will not change. And having done so, I also know exactly what it is like to do everything in one’s power to make things work, and watch helplessly as the other person simply does not care to do the same.
There may be an initial semblance or façade of reciprocity on the other person’s part but eventually, it becomes evident that his only priority is himself. His flimsy explanations for his inaction, or even his intent to hurt, are nothing more than thinly veiled excuses for selfishness, for taking without ever giving.
Now, I’m not one to play the victim. The truth is, I can be a stubborn ass bitch who isn’t immune to the occasional ego trip or bout of self-centredness. But with that sizable ego comes a certain toughness, a resolve that ensures that however difficult it is to reach the decision to commit oneself to a person, such a commitment would be wholeheartedly honoured. And though I’m no martyr, I’ve always cared too damned much for my own good. It’s an aspect of my character that I believe exists primarily to counterbalance my negative tendencies: the cynicism, the inherent distrust of people (and often, even of self), the constant awareness and wariness of Murphy’s law, to name but a few.
The problem with caring is that it makes one vulnerable, and vulnerability often leads to heightened defensiveness in the name of self-preservation, which in turn leads to greater disappointment. More so than other people, a person who cares too much does not take kindly to betrayal, deceit or being unappreciated. While this also means that such a person will feel profoundly justified when appreciated and treated honestly, he tends to be especially cautious, lest he winds up on the losing end.
I know all this because I have lived it for as long as I can remember. And while I’ve learnt to pick my battles so that I remain largely unaffected by the dishonesty and ingratitude of false friends, I still haven’t found a way to suppress or bypass the fiery indignation that comes with being treated callously by anyone I love. As this blogger succinctly puts it: “When shit goes downhill, you don’t take it easy.”
Caring is the easy part. Loving isn’t too difficult, either, even in the face of adversity. What is truly difficult is letting go when you’ve realized that the person you love will only ever love himself. Everything you’d been working towards has come to naught, and unlike exams, there can be no repeats, no do-overs. You will blame yourself, question everything you know and ride the “coulda, shoulda, woulda” train of thought more times than MediaCorp airs television reruns. And if the other person has decided to absolve himself by conveniently taking a figurative blame-filled dump on your head, the aforementioned process will be doubly painful.
One fine day, though, you will snap out of it. You will learn that you can neither shoulder all the blame, nor allow someone else to tie that anchor around your ankles. You will realize that all the “chances” at starting over the other person has deigned to give you from atop his self-made pedestal, with all his tiresome terms and conditions, are but a manifestation of his overblown ego and the need to massage it at your expense. More importantly, you will realize that you have in fact been giving him chances to prove himself as a human being, and that, knowing how much he means to you, he would rather treat you as poorly as possible, if only to see how much of his sociopathic behaviour you will tolerate. You will then be strong enough to get up and walk away, to burn that bridge and never look back again. You will regain your confidence, and life will be worth living once more.
You may even find love again, and settle down with that special someone. And if you do, more power to you. But all things considered, I highly doubt that path is for me. I’ve been lovingly — and condescendingly — chided for my cynicism, and perhaps those people didn’t mean to patronize me, but just as not everyone is suitable for children or marriage, I feel thoroughly unsuitable for romantic relationships.
As mentioned earlier, when I care, I care too much. I once helped a guy I liked get close to a good friend of mine whom he fancied. On a later, unrelated occasion, I resolved to remain a good friend to another guy I liked, who — surprise, surprise — fancied another good friend of mine. It was all fine and dandy until one or more of the involved parties decided to either blame me or lie to me. However, the upside to caring too much is that when I don’t care, I really don’t give a rodent’s behind. So I gave them all a piece of my mind and proceeded to extricate myself from the mess in both instances.
I don’t do such things so I can feel sorry for myself. I don’t sit in a corner crying about how tough life is or how unlucky I am (I much prefer whisky and working out — though not together — thank you very much). I do such things because I’ve made it a priority to do right by not only myself, but also by those around me. Well-meaning friends have told me I shouldn’t feel obliged to do so, especially if it puts me at a disadvantage. On the contrary, I don’t feel disadvantaged — but I do snap when I am ignored, or worse, vilified for my efforts.
Hence, I’ve come to the conclusion that being with anyone who is not a male version of myself is a recipe for disaster. It prevents me from being the best version of myself, something I find simply unacceptable.
See, the problem is that most people cannot handle the non-idealized version of their objects of affection. It’s easy to be enamoured of a personality, a smile, a laugh, a certain quirk or unique trait. But once they get close enough and the seemingly ethereal beings with whom they have been so absolutely smitten turn out to be too human for their liking, they realize they can’t have everything their way, and they start to question their relationships. Hope dies, hearts are broken and all internal hell breaks loose.
I have been on the receiving end in the above scenario, and have witnessed friends willingly get burnt over and over again, all in the name of what they perceive as “love”. But they forget the one of the fundamental elements of love: loving oneself.
Of course, I am still susceptible to the powers of attraction. After all, mirrors do exist. No, really. Jokes aside, though, it is nice to be all giddy over someone. You know the drill: you’re far too delighted when you make any form of contact with him, your conversations can last hours, just thinking of him makes you smile so wide that your jaw begins to ache…admit it — you’re doing that right now, aren’t you?
So yes, I know what it’s like to be mad about another person. But loving someone should never extinguish the love for oneself. The day that happens is the day you have to step back and reassess everything: your self-worth, self-esteem and self-respect. I could go on about how not loving oneself often results in loving others for the wrong reasons, but I think we’ve all heard that song before. And having been with an insecure, highly controlling partner who spent the better part of four years striving to make me feel inferior to and unworthy of him, I know what it’s like to have to force yourself to look at the big picture and come to the realization that he doesn’t so much love you as he loves possessing you, or keeping you around just to indulge his every whim and fancy.
You can either waste the rest of your life moping about it, or pick yourself up and move on to bigger, better things. Remember that you should never count on others for the affirmation you need, no matter how much they may care about you. That is not to say you should shut yourself off from people altogether (tempting as that option may be), or deny yourself the pleasure of loving someone, only that your self-worth should come from within.
And if you love someone, don’t be afraid of letting that person know how you feel. At best, he’ll feel flattered or even reciprocate. At worst, he’ll be a child about it and ignore you, and that’s one more undesirable character you can cut out of your life with no regrets. Albert Einstein was right, but in some ways, so was CS Lewis.
People think it’s difficult to tell someone how you feel about him. But despite the initial challenges, the nerve-wracking nature of it all, that’s actually the easy part. What is truly difficult is having to let that person go, and doing so in a way that is best for him, that is not motivated by any form of self-interest. And you can do that only when you love yourself enough to be able to love someone else wholly and unselfishly. Will it hurt? Of course. But you’ll survive, you’ll mature and you’ll be all the better for it. As long as you love yourself, you have nothing to fear.
Sometimes, all you can do is tell yourself: “Fuck it — I’m fabulous.” And (once again) in the words of the even more fabulous RuPaul: “Sashay away.”