I met a boy when I was barely 17. I felt an attraction that was so palpable and intoxicating that I could not help myself but to fall deeply, madly and insanely in love with him. We shall call this boy X. X was everything to me -- my best friend, confidant and lover. He took my virginity and I was convinced that this was something special, that this love was not one to take lightly.
My friends warned me that maybe he wasn't the best person to get involved with, as he had cheated on a previous girlfriend. Being young and naive, I was sure I knew best and so I ignored their advice and warnings and threw myself head-first into the relationship. We spent as much time as possible together. I had never met a person who was as intelligent, funny and deeply the same as me on every level. I could tell him anything. We'd both experienced loss recently, I having lost my mother to cancer and he having lost his best friend to drug addiction and this level of understanding only deepened our bond.
He made me feel like I belonged, like everything would be OK. He helped me to understand myself. He challenged the ideas I had about the world and my beliefs and values. He helped me to form my individuality from the soft putty of my adolescence, and with him I felt like I could accept myself for who I was, with all of my failings, flaws and vices.
But it wasn't always so rosy. He had darkness in his character and in his mind that meant he would sometimes withdraw into himself totally. He was diagnosed with depression and with my encouragement started treatment. After this, somewhere around the one-year mark into our relationship he started experimenting with drugs. This was a shock to me as he’d always been so deeply anti-narcotics. He experimented all the same, and eventually I joined him. We smoked pot, and indulged in acid, speed, ecstasy and MDMA.
The long, drug-induced hazes left me feeling closer to him. I felt we had experiences that were exclusively our own. Like we'd discovered something special. It didn't take long for it to go sour. The man I knew was changing. He was moody and suicidal. He was almost perpetually high and I could rarely tell when he was high and when he wasn't. I often caught him out lying and when I did he seemed to have no remorse or guilt and couldn't even tell me why he'd lied in the first place, even knowing it would hurt me. He was cruel and vindictive, and rumors of him cheating on me swirled around. But I still couldn't leave him. I felt that to live without him would be like trying to live without air. I gave him an ultimatum and he broke it off with me. I found myself in a depression so deep that I could not leave my bed. It was not a clean breakup by any means; months of sleeping together, fighting, screaming matches, physical abuse, lies, manipulative behavior and what could only be emotional abuse ensued. We continued in this vein for some time until he moved away. We broke up well over a year ago now and I can now safely say he is out of my life, and has been for about six months now, with no contact.
Stories about him continue to surface and nothing he has done or is alleged to have done shocks me anymore. The warm, funny and beautiful man I fell in love with is gone.
My problem is that this has left me cold. I feel ruined for love. I have been close enough to other men to feel like I could pursue a relationship but I just can’t do it. I am paralyzed by fear. My first love turned into such a tumultuous battleground of clichés and horrible, awful, soul-searing pain that I just cannot bring myself to go through with something that could end the same way.
I recognize that falling in love was glorious and beautiful and that it was not my fault and that not all men will be the same. I know that to experience the joy of love we must also experience the pain when it ends. But I can't escape the fear. I push them away, close my heart and my mind and pretend I'm happy to settle for sex alone, and nothing more. But I'm not.
Even when I do entertain the idea of feeling something for someone, I cannot help but measure them up to the man he was when we fell in love. And no one ever comes close. It seems to me like I am looking for the kind of connection that I will never ever find with another person.
How can I ever have a normal relationship again?
You are wounded and weakened and need some convalescence. Take a year off of men.
This may sound crazy but men can be like drugs, and your task is to distinguish one drug from another, so that you do not take a drug that has a bad effect on you, or a drug that makes you addicted to it. A man like the one you describe, his effect is too strong. That is a warning sign right away. You swoon, you fall, you give in to this feeling which is actually an intoxication. Naturally you want that intoxication again, but the very intensity of it ought to be a warning. Sure, intoxication by love is great, and who can argue against it? Yet it is also a kind of madness, a toying with poison. He was poison. He was delicious poison but he was poison. And you can learn to recognize men by the kind of drug that they are, by the way you feel when you are ingesting them. A man who is poison will leave you lying in bed for days, breathing shallowly, shutting out the light. That may be delicious but it is something you can ill afford now. You've done it once. You've tinkered with your capacity and found you have a weakness. You have a weakness for that kind of intoxication. It will do you in like an opium-laced wine. It will do you in if you allow it to.
It feels great to be completely gone, does it not? But then comes the disheveled hangover day. And since you have weakened yourself already by youthful drug use, you are even more vulnerable.
You must come to understand some things. If you continue to hunger for that old intoxication it will lead you to that same place of madness and despair. So as you back off -- say, stop dating men for a year and just take care of yourself, take long walks like in Victorian England, get some fresh air, spend a week in Brighton -- take note of what this swirling void looks like. You do like the sensation of entering that swirling void, right? You do know what I am talking about, right? If not, OK, let's be more explicit. What I am assuming is that your delicious feeling of merging, of being understood, of coming to know and being known completely, is connected in your psyche to a longing for self-obliteration and annihilation, which is also connected to a desire to return to the womb, meaning abdication of adult responsibility and repression of our tragic nature, our mortality, the screwed-up-ness of it all, if you will.
It is the screwed-up-ness of it all that drives us and keeps us operating. It is the screwed-up-ness of it all that keeps us healthy. It is when we pretend that everything is OK that we regress. So a man who can make you feel like everything is OK is a kind of drug; he tempts you into unconsciousness. So when you feel that urge to find unconsciousness, recognize it as the lure of your own death, and meditate. Meditate wherever you are when you find yourself desiring unconsciousness. Sit quietly and let sensations bathe you. Let your breath become audible. Get back into your body.
Your body is the bread becoming toast. It is the bread slowly toasting. That's our mortality metaphor of the morning: We are all toast. Without this constant knowledge that we are all toast, we run to palliatives. Then we wake up alone, forsaken.
So you can do this over and over and weaken yourself and wake up again and aging pretending you have no idea what happened. Or you can admit that you are using men as a kind of intoxication, and you can admit this is because you have some unacknowledged need to lose consciousness, and you can meditate on this, and let whatever it is suffuse you with its horror and see that whatever it is is not really so horrible after all. It is just the normal detritus of mortality.
So that's how you get from falling for toxic men to having some kind of basic self-respect that allows you to get on with your life without too many skinny longhaired guys sleeping on your red velvet couch, waking up to take bong hits and order out a case of wine. That's how you slowly convalesce from your unfortunate bout of poison.
Take care of yourself. Taking are of yourself is boring, but life is unforgiving, and will grind you up and spit you out if you pretend otherwise.
Again, I have let myself go mildly mad in prose. That is my brief. That is a daily intoxication all my own. Welcome to it. And now to meditate and eat some toast.
p.s. In what way exactly can such an apparently life-giving connection with another human being actually be a sign of a death-wish, a desire to stop living? Because living is individuation and conflict. Because we do not agree with anyone about everything. Because we are not completely known by anyone. Because if we seem to be in complete harmony, someone is lying. And to find ourselves in such harmony is to find ourselves back in a false womb, seemingly cared for but in fact neglected, feeling selfless and actually lost, having become a part of someone else's body. Of course it is a glorious feeling to merge with someone else, and who's to say that heroin does not have its attractions, too, but without our boundaries we die. We cannot survive skinless. When you remove your clothes, that is one thing; but when you remove your skin for a man, you are more than naked; you are vulnerable to the wind, prey to all predations of nature.
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