Listen to this story
There is a person I may be in love with. I met him a month ago, and we’re as close to a real-life version of fairytale soul mates as I’ve experienced. I knew it from the first time we hung out and got into a long discussion about Jodorowsky’s Dune. Now we’re friends for life, after just a couple months of knowing each other.
When you meet a new person and invest yourself in him or her this much, you create a mirror. You can see yourself anew through this person’s eyes — from the first impression you make to the soul you bare as you let down your guard. You reveal the dirtier parts of yourself in the reflection— the cold sores, the longstanding fears, the hangups, the hopes you’re afraid to admit, and specifically for me: the bitterness I carry.
This new person I met recently shared a fear he has come to have of me. He fears getting on one of my lists. I didn’t realize I kept lists, but I believe him. Much like Arya in Game Of Thrones, I keep a mental record of people and events that have slighted me, ignored me, rejected me — going back to when I was bullied as a kid. It’s a long list, and I wasn’t conscious of it until he pointed it out. I don’t keep these items in my head to avenge or get back at anyone or anything like that. I keep it to remind me of everything that has not paid off. Or I keep it out of self-pity or self-aggrandizement or just self-destructive habits.
People get on my list when they don’t return the effort and energy I give to them. When the relationship isn’t tit-for-tat. When I open doors for people, and they close them after they pass through, so I can’t follow.
I’m a giver by nature. I like giving my time and energy to people, when no extra effort or kindness was expected, and I am happy for their accomplishments and successes. And, at the same time, I’ve grown bitter at not feeling like I’m included in some of the communities I’ve contributed to. Included in their collaboration, their creation, their success.
I crave relationship and closeness with people, intimacy and connection. Loneliness is the greatest challenge in my life. I’m not good to myself when I’m alone. I don’t grow by myself. I spin in circles. I pine and whine until I have something to focus on getting done, or I can go to sleep, so I stop warring with myself.
I flourish in concert with people, in community. We change most in relationship with others. It’s very hard to change yourself on your own. I am my own worst enemy. But with feedback and honesty from those who I love, I listen to what others tell me. I like the person I am when I’m surrounded with people I love. I want to cry with someone, something I haven’t done in years. But I’m bottled up. My therapist invites me to cry in front of her, but I don’t trust that bond yet. Maybe because I’ve been burned when I shared too much of myself, when I opened my flank. When I came out and my mom told me I was going to hell if I didn’t choose to be straight.
But I have gotten to the point where I can be vulnerable with this new person in my life. And he admitted he fears my bitterness — my list. He sees joy and light and spark in me, and he sees me caught in depression and anger since the theater I helped launch closed six months ago. I’m still mourning it daily and manically overworking to escape feeling grief. Living vicariously through a thousand things to do. My credit score took a hit because I’ve been opening too many new credit card accounts, so I can play the game of getting bonus miles from different airlines. This is how far I’ve gone to distract myself.
And when not I’m doing, I’m minding my imagined list of wrongdoings done onto me. This takes up the bulk of my physic energy most days. It distracts me when I could be creating new things: new relationships, new art, new collaborations, new opportunities. I’m a born giver, and I’m a born builder, and I’ve been glowering in the ruins. Not feeling the pain of the loss — which could open the door to healing from it — but festering in it, and allowing it to fester in me and rot the hours in my day.
But I can change. I don’t want to be the jealous guy that keeps lists and harbors resentment. I want new beginnings. I can change my patterns — with help. I can see myself in the mirror of a new love’s eyes and grow out of limbo. I can grow up. I’m not too old, even though 31 seems to me like a late age to be growing up. I don’t think we ever can be too old to change. I saw my dad come to terms with my sexuality at age 65 — he grew to accept something foreign and confusing to him, and now he’s my biggest advocate.
I can change by pledging to give to others and not count the tit-for-tat. Do everything and expect nothing. Add no new names to my list. Look at what loss and failure has written on me, learn from it, and let it go. The bitterness isn’t serving me anymore. It only served to teach me how to get through this moment.
Changing serves me. Working on my destructive habits — no matter how much easier it is to let them play out, occupy my hours, and make excuses why I’m not ready to change — serves me.
There may be discomfort though. Growing is always uncomfortable. Your body won’t want to do it, on it’s own will. You have to fall in love with discomfort. And then change happens imperceptibly, in small increments over time. You wake up one day and your behaviors have shifted, and you may not have noticed how or when it happened. You’re just different.
You have to fall in love with discomfort in order to grow.
I saw a kid playing catch with a dog at the park today, and I wanted to be that kid again, free of the weight of trying to grow up. But I wasn’t a happy kid either. I mentally tortured myself then, too. I raged against circumstances and everything unfair. I’m wiser and stronger now, because I’ve been looking in the mirror for years. I am a student of life, and I can change. I refuse to harden. I refuse to wallow. I won’t get stuck in this version of myself.
But I need help to do it. And I’m grateful today for community, for my friends, for new love, for the mirror, for all that life throws my way to challenge and deepen my experience. Grateful that I’m capable of change.