(Warning: this post has nothing to do with sex. Don’t read on if you’re not interested in the non-sexy parts of this blog. This is a pure-and-simple journey into my psyche.)
These three things suck:
1) Wanting what I don’t have.
2) Not wanting what I do have.
3) Worrying that I’ll lose what I have.
I’m a lucky guy. For the most part, I’m content with my lot. And I’m neither materialistic nor anxious: I don’t worry that I’ll lose either my stuff or my loves. So no worries on #2 and #3.
But the first one? That is, for me, the most compelling. And if I add one more concept to it – not just what I don’t have, but what I can’t have – then I’ve nailed the single thing that most torments me in life.
Often, I become deeply vulnerable (I first wrote “allowing myself to become,” but I just don’t have that kind of conscious control over myself) to a person who is incapable of providing me with the one thing I most crave. In some instances, this is because the object of my desire is a sociopath (someone with a constitutional inability to empathize), or a narcissist (someone for whom the primary motivation is the care and feeding of her/his self-esteem).
In some instances, it’s because I’ve homed in on precisely that which my interlocutor can’t give me, and decided that it is that which I need. But in all cases, it boils down not to her or him – it’s me. Just today, as an example, I (just barely) resisted my impulse to reach out to a woman with whom I went on a single date, about three months ago. The truth is, I was unenthusiastic about her, but my ego was hurt by the fact that the feeling was mutual. I wanted her to want me, even though I didn’t particularly want her. So here I am, about to manufacture a whole new opportunity to be disappointed, hurt, rejected, by someone who’s ALREADY TOLD ME SHE’S NOT INTERESTED (and, for Christ’s sake, in whom I’m not even interested).
I’m old enough, grey enough (o.k., bald enough) to know this: if I keep running into the same situation with different people, it’s not them, it’s me. Or at least, if it is them, then I’ve chosen them, I’ve created this situation.
Some years ago, my friendship with my very best friend – someone who was (and, as these things go, remains) very much a brother to me – was ruptured over such a scenario. We reached an impasse in our friendship, a point at which I simply couldn’t remain friends with him without hearing a relatively simple formulation (which boiled down to, “I understand that you feel pain, it makes me hurt to know that, and I want to be there for you as a friend in your pain”). The thing was, that formulation was inaccessible to him. Why? Because he knew that his actions, in part, had contributed to my pain, and because the organization of his own personality, of his own sense of self, made it impossible for him to offer this up. To do so would have been, in some fundamental sense, annihilating to him. Interestingly (to me, at least), he actually could describe all this perfectly: he would say, “I know you want me to say that I’m concerned about the pain that you feel, and I wish that I could say it, but I’m afraid that I can’t, because were I to do so, it would mean admitting that I had done something wrong, and I don’t believe I did.” He would say this, and I would look at him like he was from Mars. And I would still (fuck, I do still) hope he would “come around.”
I forgave his actions (though he never apologized). My issue wasn’t that he had done something hurtful. I could get over those things, because I understood how, why he had done what he had done.
My issue was that he was unable to express concern for my pain, because, in this instance, doing so would have (in his mind) required some sort of implicit or explicit acknowledgement that the pain came about as a result of, or at least subsequent to, actions he had taken, and that was a step too close to accepting responsibility for him.
I’ve been struggling over how to end this post – I’ve written maybe five different endings so far. I think I understand why.
I keep writing something like, “Why do I keep making this mistake?” And I do – I make it five times a day. At least. And I realize, it’s not a “mistake” in the conventional sense of the word. How can it be a “mistake” to do the same thing over and over? (The saying – likely mis-attributed to Einstein – “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” comes to mind.)
It’s something more powerful, and insidious, than a mistake: it’s a compulsion. I do it all the time. I did it with my best friend, I do it with my family, my other friends. Shit – I do it with, as I’ve written before, the woman who sells me bagels. The mistake? Imagining that I crave something different….
To circle back to where I started: much of my suffering in life comes from “wanting what I don’t have.” But in this instance, I’m confused. Evidently, I have what I want (since I seem to create it, over and over). So the real suffering comes not from not having what I want, but from imagining that I want something other than what, evidently, I want.