Preface: How I view the world is based on my personal experiences and events from my life, and I recognize that my own views are skewed and defined by the sum total of those experiences and events. My beliefs, my coping capacity, my balance point is likely different than anyone else reading this, and I want to state up front that we are both right for our unique situations and experiences. I am not judging or being passive-agressive in my disapproval of another’s choices, life, and lifestyle. I am mulling over my own recent experiences and emotional firestorm. Please do not take my statements personally or any sort of pointed criticism. Oh, and this post might be even more random, jumpled, and nonsensical than usual. You have been duly warned.
Yesterday I crossed paths with a guy (JO) I once had an involvement with. It was during the dark time, when M and I were separated and I was hell-bent on divorcing him. JO and I had met in an online forum and just clicked. The chemistry was intense, and we dabbled with a fling-like relationships. He is very smart, very earnest and empathetic, and has real issues with depression. While I was definitely older than him and by default should have been wiser, truth is I was not in control of my emotions or many aspects of my life, which created a recipe for hurtful disaster.
When our flirtation began, it was a welcome distraction from the heavy-handed neediness M was pressuring me with about the imploding state of our marriage. JO was kind to me, funny, made me laugh, and listened attentively. I craved supportive, non-critical conversation, which M may have been trying to provide and all I heard was his weeping and wailing and insistence that I not leave him. The initial heady days of talking with JO about anything and everything were intoxicating. I knew better than to fancy myself falling in love, but I will not deny loving the attention and the emotional support he offered so freely. When the talk turned from flirtatious banter to downright sexy and then to sexting, I floated along and let it happen the first time. It was not really my way, but he had been so kind and complimentary to me, I wanted to do provide something he strongly desired in return. Against my better judgment, I sexted with him.
The next day when my messages were not replied to, I was devastated and felt used and abandoned. But he returned late in the day and was an absolute right balance of contrition and comforting warmth. I was relieved and I thought our relationship would continue in its original vein, with a little spice now added. But very quickly it went from conversation about anything and everything to pursuit of sexting and phone sex. To this day I will not say he used me or anything else, because he was clear and direct about the casual relationship he sought. He is now and was then a troubled soul. His depression was such that sex, sleep, and wine were the only things that seemed to offer any relief, and sex was the most pleasant and harmless of the three. He hated the medications available and offered and refused to take them. I was needy myself, but sex of any sort is an emotional currency for me. This was the perfect storm situation to breed self-hatred and desperation for distance, not any sort of intimacy. Yet I was insanely angry with M and so wanted someone to like and to value me as a person. I stuck with JO because he had demonstrated the capacity to provide the salve for my soul.
But as the weeks passed I detected a definitive pattern to our relationship. Whenever I wanted or needed an outlet to just unwind and talk, he would be mostly attentive, encouraging, sympathetic, and cajoling. The “currency” of our relationship to get both our needs began to feel as if I were “paying” for his time and attention with sexting or phone sex, if only because we lived about 30 miles apart and getting together for actual sex was a huge challenge. I began to resent and hate the way it made me feel to talk with him, so I broke off our contact, several times, only to relent when he would seek me out.
I am a hyper-responsible, type A person when it comes to work. I cannot and do not take a lot of time off and never call in sick unless I am actually sick. JO worked for a state-run institution and was at home at least one or two days every week the months I knew him and was in almost daily contact with him. He wanted/needed me to call and get him off almost every morning, and if he was off during the day because he could not get it together he wanted me to talk with me during work days as well. It frustrated me. My understanding of clinical depression is somewhat limited, and it was even more so during this period of my life. What I saw, felt, was that this guy was able to take a lot of time off for his problems and would be critical of me for working as hard and as much as I did/do now. It was just another point of contention between us. I was even more ignorant then of the crippling aspects of depression, and being a practical woman, I wondered how bad the drugs could be that kept him from working and taking care of himself better. Even now I feel ashamed of my lack of understanding of his problems. They were not my problems to solve, but I feel like had I understood them better, I would have understood that a casual friendship was the best possible outcome for us.
Seeing him again brought back a lot of my own emotional stuff, possibly because I’m climbing out of another type of flare up. It got me thinking about the emotional currency exchange in relationships and how my own default seems so unhealthy.
With my upbringing, it is understandable that trust remains an issue. Yet most of the time I do not even recognize how little faith I have in other people. Everyone starts with a baseline and goes up or goes down depending on their words and actions. As positive and upbeat as I feel I am, I actually am rarely surprised when people hurt or disappoint me. That does not mean it doesn’t hurt, or that I do not get upset about it, but frequently it’s me I’m mad at, for falling for the lie yet again. I try very hard to be generous and giving without expectation of reciprocation, and when I start to feel as if some sort of compensation is expected in the relationship, I start to feel burdensome to the other party.
Is it unhealthy or is this normal? I have no idea. Maybe because I worry about money for a living I view everything in monetary terms? I completely understand one cannot buy affection or friendship, yet when I choose to help it does make me feel good. I also know my wiring making any sort of physically intimate relationship without some emotional basis impossible, which I have always found curious. I have an unhealthy fear of being used, and JO had the effect of making me feel as if I were simply an instrument to be utilized when he needed an itch scratched. I came to feel as if me the person had been minimized to mere sum of her value as sexual aid. While he would vehemently deny doing so, I came to feel like a whore, begging for my needs to be met before servicing his own. I do not necessarily disagree with him in his denial either. The problem, the perception of being wronged is my own; being unable to overcome it in a way that satisfied both of us meant the relationship was wrong because we could not agree on currency terms.
I remain bothered by my own characterization of it. Here I am, 24 hours after crossing paths with someone I have barely thought of in years, and I am perking along on all cylinders about what it all means.
With M, our overall relationship seems healthy and productive, very much a give and take. Our emotional currency is different and satisfactory, maybe because we agree on the exchange rate? Whether it comes from our extended history or (more likely) our choice to stay together and choose each other every single day, it is because there is balance and both our needs are fulfilled from the relationship. In talking about this, M points out that the “dark time” was a period of painful confusion, a culmination of mistakes on both sides, and yet a period of growth and renewal for us and our marriage. Those we met in the process were perhaps temporary and our emotions and the relationships built were temporary place-holding, need-filling at that time in our lives.
This exercise in navel-gazing does seem pretty pointless, except perhaps as blog fodder and even then I do not feel as if I am explaining myself well. I feel sad for this former paramour and how “stuck” and unhappy he remains. Perhaps it is the depression? He seemed pleased with my genuine surprise and delight to see him, my warm and spontaneous hug, yet my “how are you?” and “how is your life?” questions resulted in only the most noncommittal of responses. He told me a little about his job these days, updated me with his family’s good health and status, and revealed he remains romantically uncommitted. A little of the flirtatous chemistry between us sparked, when we parted and he told me to get in touch if I ever decide M is not the one for me. For the genuine goodwill in his smile as he said it, I feel happy to have seen him. We are not friends now, nor were we really friends then. And for whatever reason I find that sad. I’m worth knowing and so is he, but perhaps we value others more than we ever did each other.