“Why not go for a guy who has no baggage?” my best friend said when I told her I was dating a male version of me: a responsible person with a complicated past.
“Normal and easy is an option too.”
She meant well, but I took offense at that: I’m not normal or easy!
“Everyone has baggage,” I said, meaning that I can deal as long as the bags are packed, inventoried and the one with shit all over the floor sees it and cleans it up.
Alcoholic? Sure, if he’s in recovery.
Post-traumatically stressed out? Fine as long as he can calm himself and has feelings.
Being a little on the crazy side doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker if he knows his particular size and brand and what to do when the colors bleed.
I’m not afraid of someone who gets this…why would I be when we could get it together? Me and Mr. Just Like Me could be a pair of twin phoenix birds rising from the ashes using our wings to write “Happily Ever After” across the sky.
The heightened gratitude of people who could choke back the fuzzy green and blue parts of moldy bread was what I wanted. Imagine our how we’d enjoy the freshness of even day old bread?
I didn’t want someone who felt entitled to warm, buttered and out of the oven. A man like me would know how blissful boring is and to keep drama in the theater. He’d marvel in the unlikely triumph of the miracle of normalcy.
But in reality, him and I had the same shared history but couldn’t make it work.
Even though we both loved art, radio, poetry, pets and owned our own homes. Even though we shared bits of fruit on an island in the sun when our kayaks had been camped. Even though we both felt the same violin music plucking us.
Both of us were stunningly brave. We confessed our old patterns, excuses and default operating systems, such as:
“Always have a get-away plan.”
“Trust no way.”
“All the way in except a toe out.”
“Hold a tiny bit back so it won’t hurt so bad if it doesn’t work…”
“Want a person but don’t need them.”
“Be ready to escape quickly.”
Face to face and heart to heart we owned the times we had moving too quickly on the way in or the way out. We admitted trying to hedge our bets and protect ourselves but this time was going to be different. We would be different together and with one another. We’d equip each other with maps and compasses. We’d warn each other of the dangerous passages hard to cross when fear shut down the road.
“Touch not words is the way to warm me when I get icy,” I said. “Stroke my hair, breathe on my face, hold me tight until the fear is gone and feel me. Don’t use words. Words never work. I’ll just argue.”
He said he would need space, time to repair alone and that ripping into you like a package would alienate him. But, if I could circle the perimeter and wait to be signaled you’d eventually call for me I just had to be patient.
Except when he withdrew and I demanded contact.
Intentions are no match for defense mechanisms. Defenses move in as fast flood waters and wash away emergency plans. Floods soak the engines of the car supposed to drive us to safety.
We thrashed in open water.
Neither one of us had a life jacket.
We stayed alive but when the water receded love was gone—in other words, we went back to our old ways.
He lied when he said he understood my need for honesty.
I lied when I said I’d give him space.
We didn’t even make it to the third round before the past kicked our asses and knocked us flat. There was no epic struggle for love. We were both naked, bloodied and with swollen eyes and lips. The best we could do is crawl back to our corners.
I expected more of him.
I’m still staggering, spinning, dizzy and blurry-eyed.
I know my battle is with fear and the collateral damage of living so long afraid of people.
Or, what others call attachment issues.
I’ve learned that there are three main attachment styles: Anxious, Avoidant and Secure.
The styles are formed in childhood. Security breeds secure attachments. Adversity breeds anxiety and avoidance.
He was avoidant and I was anxious. We went together like two mediocre swimmers over their heads who got tired. We drowned us trying to stay afloat.
Why didn’t we wait for a lifeguard or stay walking in the shallow waters of dating and friendship where our heads could stay above water?
I plead inside but the truth is—we were doomed—which is why I don’t call him up. Ever.
It didn’t take a book to know this. I sensed it after our first fight. Remember how even after it was over and we made up I couldn’t relax and settle?
“We’re fine now,” he said, but I wasn’t.
“If we are both hurting—who will be the one who comes out and fights to save the relationship?”
We had both shut down fast, gone so long and deep into our caves.
And the fight was minor.
What would happen I wondered when it was serious and we weren’t madly in love? Who would collect that debris left after the storm?
“You worry too much,” he said.
I can’t help it. I’m anxious. Only reassurance helps me.
After our second fight, when I caught him in a lie, I told him I needed three things: an explanation that made sense, time to see if my trust could return and a self you knew fairly well that I wouldn’t have to uncover for you.
“It shouldn’t be this hard,” he said, and ended with “Godspeed.”
I’ve not seen him since.
He couldn’t come clean or move in closer. I returned his belongings and told myself, I’m better off then—relieved—whew…I dodged a bullet. Better to know now before in too deep, good thing I didn’t have him spend much time with my daughter so she won’t miss him…
But also, but I think I understand something else: he couldn’t help it either.
He’s avoidant. That’s his attachment style.
And we are left with what we started with.
Maybe that’s what my friend was trying to say to me when she told me to find a guy with strong family relationships, good friends and maybe a dead first wife that he loved.
To make a future different than the past I have to find someone who doesn’t need to get it together. I need to find someone who knows how to stay together and has.
I need a person who got something in childhood that I did not and who is willing to teach me how to receive it and give it back.
That wasn’t the case with us.
There’s good news though.
Securely attached people are like super heroes. What they have is contagious and overrides fear. Secure people can help even an anxious type like me to create and enjoy secure love.
We couldn’t do that together.
We are both the color blue. Together, the most we could do is transform shade or hue. Secure types are the reds and orange of life who when they blend with us become more vibrant.
I forgive myself.
I forgive you.
I didn’t want to be forever blue.
I want more for me.
I want more for you.
Author: Christine Cissy White
Editor: Renee Picard
Image: via the author
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