A few years ago I came to accept something most of my friends and family already know about me — I’m obtuse. I don’t notice what’s going on around me because I live deep in my head, lost in thoughts, lost in my own frustrations and pain, ambitions and proclivities. Even though I possess the ability and tools to be observant, I can easily turn that off, as if it had a switch, and become lost to my inner visions.
Having this tunnel vision has its advantages. My goals are never too far from my mind. I’m routinely testing myself to get better, looking for opportunities, work that will make the difference in my career and get me where I need to go. I have the fortune of doing something that I love, which is rare, so I take my relationship with my work seriously at the expense of everything else in my life. My ultimate fear is to make it to the end of my life and wonder “what if?” So I boldly charge ahead trying, risking everything. I’ll work at start-ups. I’ll move cross-country. I’ll pursue uncharted waters. I’ll try new careers. Make new friends. Whatever gets you there.
I have a much harder time with romantic relationships, which no matter how much the heart may want them, the mind seems to see them as a distraction. The spirit is always open for love and the body is always closed, and has been, since at least 2002. But it’s hard to tell that to people you date, that you’re so emotionally closed off that you won’t risk anything with anyone ever. Some of it has to do with my romantic history — one of unrequited, one-way romances that lead to nothing. A lot of it has to do with me. So I miss out on love a lot because I can’t get out of my own head.
In my defense, there were times I needed to focus on me, which was for most of my 20s-to-mid-30s because my life was under constant threat from my out-of-control Bipolar Disorder. It felt weird to entertain love when on a day-to-day basis I couldn’t even tell if I wanted to be on the mortal coil. So I told myself love would have to wait until I was well.
I have lots of stories of near misses or times I completely botched a relationship with someone because I was unwilling to open up. Tons. And they make me feel bad, because I didn’t entertain the “what if” with love in the same way I did with my friendships or career. But I don’t feel guilty, just frustrated with myself. What was I thinking? Was I even thinking at all? When 90 percent of the time you think you’re a crappy person, obsessing over the times you were an actual jerk can destroy you. I have guilt trips over imaginary conversations and innocent flubs. Actual avarice or cruelty from my own hands? I’m ready to throw myself out of a window, I’m so inconsolable.
There’s something safe in loving people who are never capable in loving you back. They can’t hurt you, for one, because the relationship isn’t real. And you don’t have to do the work or invest. You just tell yourself that if something opened up you would rapturously go with it, but if Danielle in Love is anything like Danielle Gets A New Job, I will be disappointed. In every achievement of my life, with every mountaintop I’ve climbed, once I got the thing I wanted I immediately looked forward, saw a different mountain top and desired it. Rarely do I relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor for the minute I earn them, they taste rotten. I spit them out and wonder why I even wanted them. They weren’t that good anyway … but those fruits over there! They look delicious!
This doesn’t mean I think I’m not going to be faithful. It’s more that it’s unlikely that any relationship will fulfill me like I fantasize that it will, at least not in the short-run. I have to have three friends that I rotate to keep from burning one friend out from the intensity of my emotions. One man with his own dreams and desires isn’t like my career, my silent partner in crime that agrees on everything I want to do.
Then there’s always been the part of me that feels its irresponsible for me to date. While making friends came easy and I was never afraid to bond with others platonically and deeply, I struggled to take that risk with people I was also physically attracted to. What if some poor asshole actually falls in love with me and I crush him with my cruel indifference, with how my mind believes anything offered isn’t worth having even if that makes absolutely no logical sense? And then that happened and I didn’t even acknowledge it was happening. That I’d set out to avoid this very thing and gone and done it quite loudly and deliberately. He eventually moved on and got over it, but three very hard years of depression and personal introspection later, the fog lifted and I realized what an ass I’d been. And that there were no do overs and I had to accept what I’d done and how I’d been. How I’d done the thing I’d set out not to do. How I’d broken my own rules.
When I was at my lowest in my late 20s I used to tell myself that if I ever got better I would talk about my illness so that others would know they weren’t alone and that you can live with Bipolar Disorder. But while you can live with it, it will take a toll. The price you pay for focusing all your energy on keeping it together sometimes means accidentally blowing up the lives of those innocent enough to get close to you, thinking they’re dealing with an emotionally available person, not a narcissist who is in an abusive relationship with themselves.
I apologized to him and got momentarily lost in the “what if” of it all for the first time. What if I’d just allowed myself to love him? What really would have been the worst thing that could have happened?
I used to say that if I ever felt really good, normal for a long enough time I would be open to it all again, but what if I never get “better?” What if this is as good as it gets? Do I deny myself love forever and spend the rest of my days blowing off perfectly nice people? Is it really that scary? And if it is, what am I afraid of? Falling in love or what I would do with it?
(Image: “Self-Portrait” 1995)