I saw my ex-boyfriend Alex this week and the experience was surreal enough to spawn a flurry of introspection. My history with Alex is long and convoluted, and seeing him again, it's hard not to reflect on who we were and who we've both become in the ten years that we've known each other. What first drew me to him was that he saw the world in a way that was so different than anyone else I knew, a way that is so indescribable that it can only be defined as "Alex." I've seen his interests float from ROTC, skateboarding, punk music, Eagle Scouts, computers, and music. He was always looking for adventure and new experiences and seemed to fit in wherever he went. I'm sure it didn't always feel that way to him, but at that time his humor and confidence was exactly what I needed. Unfortunately I was just coming off my first real, long-term relationship, and it would be an understatement to say that it was an unhealthy one. I was very skittish during the course of our relationship and when the opportunity came for my family to move, I pounced on it hungrily. It had nothing to do with Alex, I was extremely unhappy with the rest of my life, but I think he was hurt by my eagerness to leave. Truth be told, I was so scared that I probably would have screwed it up somehow, so it's probably a good thing I left before I could have damaged our friendship as well. The connection has remained and since then we have gotten together several times, but geography, and my own issues, have kept us apart.
Still, every time we talk or every time I know we are about to see each other, my heart skips a beat. I think that maybe something will happen, something that will indicate that passion, that pull that we had together, but for the first time I realized that that's not going to happen. He was playing his music (think Ross on his casio keyboard in Friends) in this bizarre hipster San Francisco art gallery/club(soooo not my scene), I realized that we are far too different right now and neither of us has what the other needs right now. Part of me is relieved, I can let this go and Alex doesn't have to be the one that got away. Or more specifically, the one I let get away because I was too wrapped up in my own anxieties and fears. I can love the boy that he was and respect the man that he is now.
The other part of me is nervous. In a way, Alex was an easy answer. He's someone who already knows some of my quirks, my hang-ups, my neuroses. In short, he's someone I've already let in.
And I don't let people in easily.
It's common knowledge that I'm not a big hugger. Or cuddler. Or really very touchy-feely in any sort of way. My aunt once claimed that I have the biggest personal space of anyone she's ever met and she's not wrong. My co-workers call it The Bubble. Anytime a customer or a particularly vile colleague gets to close, they laugh at my visible discomfort and comment on how the bubble has been breached.
But the bubble transcends physicality and surrounds me on an emotional level as well. Something unseen that both separates and protects me from everything and everyone else. In the beginning it was imposed upon me, by both genetics and circumstance. I'm naturally an introvert which is not a comment on whether or not I'm outgoing (although let the record show that I'm not) but how I get my strength. According to my therapist, extroverts gather their energy from being around people, while introverts get it from being alone. Whenever I'm around people, whether they are enjoyable or tiresome, I'm always left drained. So my natural disposition coupled with the fact that for a long time I was an only child whose parents worked a lot, I spent a great deal of time on my own, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Back then the bubble was clear and iridescent, like one freshly blown from the bottle. I could still see and interact with the world, but in my own skewed, beautiful way.
As I grew up the bubble naturally clouded and became harder, tougher. Kids are rough and I've always had what my psychiatrist called a "tender soul" (though I denied it at first). I take things very personally and the innate callousness of kids going through puberty forced had me becoming more cautious about who I trust. Gradually I started to gain more confidence and become comfortable in my surroundings.
Then, when I was 15, my world fell apart. The aforementioned unhealthy boyfriend who claimed to love me above all else, turned out to be an obsessive, manipulative, headcase and the rest of my friends abandoned me. I was alone. Most of the time life changes so slowly that you don't realize that things are different, but in one moment that year I knew that I would never be the same again. A heaviness infected my body and heart that day, one that makes it impossible to breathe fully and deeply, one that has yet to completely dissipate nearly ten years later. My anger yelled and screamed, but no one heard. My hurt cried and cut, but no one saw.
And so I rebuilt the bubble until it was hard and opaque; I had learned my lesson. People came and went from my life, some of whom were fun acquaintances, some of whom I considered friends, some of whom were more, but rarely did I let them past the surface level. With each perceived hurt and rejection, the bubble became harder, darker, and heavier. Only once I thought to reach out for help but my cry was dismissed, something I have yet to fully forgive my mother for.
Eventually the bubble became so dark, heavy and oppressive that my world came crashing down on me again. The world was so black that death seemed like the only path to light. And so I took it, or tried to anyway. Needless to say it didn't work, but scared me enough to demand help. The fragile illusion of the healthy, normal person I desperately tried to project was ripped away to expose the mess I had become.
It's been several years and diagnosis since then and I've dealt with or accepted many of my issues, but there are some that I continue to work on. I have great people in my life now, but I rarely let them see the whole me. I don't want to say the real me, because the fun, sarcastic aspect of my personality is just as much a part of me as the scared, pathetic side or the vulnerable, raw side.
But the fun, sarcastic side is a lot more impervious to hurt than the other and I can't completely abandon my bubble. I can't radically change the way that I am just because I don't want to be that way anymore. I need some sort of protection, but I'm not really sure how to not become too protected.
I'm coming to a point in my life where I actually kind of want a relationship that goes beyond friendship. There are times where I actually crave the touch of man's fingertips as they brush through my hair, someone to laugh in bed with, or a guy who makes my skin flush and my blood heat. But let's face it, relationships are scary and tough. I think that's why I clung to Alex, or the idea of Alex for so long. He was safe. When you love someone as fully as you can, you let them go farther than anyone else, and the prospect of finding that with some unknown person is daunting to say the least.
Adding to the anxiety is the fact that I have the tendency to see the worst in all of the relationships surrounding me. One the one hand it's smart, because I know what I want to avoid in a relationship, but on the other hand it probably adds to the anxiety. I'm scared of changing the core of who I am for the sake of compromise. I don't want to lose myself in one person to where I toss away any identity that I ever had and abandon everyone around me in favor of that one person. I'm afraid of being hurt beyond salvation because no one knows how to exploit your vulnerabilities more than someone you love.
Quite simply, I'm scared. And I don't know what to do about it.