Who am I?

Pretend you and I are strangers who find ourselves in a situation where we are forced to interact with one another. Eventually I overcome my shyness and introversion and we start talking. We realize we’ve got some common views on life and politics, some shared experiences, some shared tastes in music or books or whatever. We talk more. Eventually I feel safe enough to open some gates, drop some barriers and we have some deeper talks. Most likely, because I keep my life so compartmentalized even though I feel “safe” talking to you, I’ll limit discussion to topics contained in just one or a couple “compartments”. You won’t see the full spectrum of “me”. I’m not sure what compartments I’ll expose to you. Maybe by nature of how we met and the time we spent together it’ll be more blue or white collar. Or because of your geek level, I might feel safe enough to talk about comics or movies or music. Most likely I’ll never really feel secure enough to talk to you about religion or fears or deep emotions in this environment.

Now let’s pretend you’re female (unless, you know… you really are). And time goes by and we have great conversations and we laugh when things get crappy and you start to be attracted to me. And somehow or another we have a first romantic moment. Which turns into a second and a third and then eventually we’re dating. Guess what happens shortly thereafter? No idea? Let me too you. I start shutting down. Having great challenging conversations that make us seem emotionally close and bonded ends. Sure we can talk about TV shows or fluff but the connection weakens. And this is hurtful and surprising. How’d we have such open dialog before and nothing now? And as we hang out you hear me talking to other people who fit into other compartments. So we’re having discussions about things you had no idea about, didn’t know I was remotely interested in them. Or most likely you’ll just see me texting or emailing them and if a call comes in maybe I’ll leave the room, saying I don’t want to disturb you. So you don’t actually hear about the things going on in the other compartments. This probably doesn’t bode well for the future of the relationship does it?

So why do I do this? I used to think (and at one time it might’ve been, this is a problem that I think has gotten progressively worse) it was “just me”. Deal. My shyness or introversion. And there’s probably some truth to that. Maybe we worked together so our time spent talking, while fun/deep/engaging was limited. And now that we’re dating there’s less space for me and it’s a form of rebellion. I think that accounts for some of it, but not all. I know that if we’re not being physically intimate I have problems being emotionally intimate. So that may or may not account for another percentage of the problem. Of course, that’s a snowball effect. Some women, if they don’t feel emotionally intimate/safe/connected can’t be physically intimate. So what accounts for the rest of the problem?

My first thought was maybe I was just being a male pig. Maybe it was the thrill of the hunt. Talk and be expressive and blah-blah-blah to woo the woman, but once she was wooed, the thrill was gone as well as the inclination to communicate. I suppose there’s the possibility that some element of this is at play but if so I think it’s a pretty tiny part of the whole. I’ve got plenty of friends that I keep communicating with, even if it’s compartmentalized.

I’ve mostly narrowed it down to two things. Still have to do more thinking on this, but I think these are the two big ones, they “feel” right. The first is my relationship track record. None of my relationships have been ended by me. Generally I’ve thought things were going relatively well in a lot of them, been happy and content and was surprised when they were ended. The other person cheating on me was frequently a reason for the end. I’m fairly certain that when I get into a new relationship, instead of enjoying it and being content some survival mechanism kicks in and subconsciously I start protecting myself from the pain to come. That includes distancing myself and shutting down the communications.

The other thing. That’s tougher. And probably the root of a lot of other problems.

I think I’ve got some pretty screwed up ideas of what it means to be a man and what it means to be in a relationship as a man. What my responsibilities are, how to act, etc. The crying thing for instance. That happened thru the lens of a child. I don’t remember what my Dad said exactly, but the message that I interpreted from my hero was “Men don’t cry.” So I didn’t. Another lens distortion was “Don’t ever take work home.” I think that was a common theme in the 70s or 80s. What it means is “Don’t go home and beat the wife and kick the dog and yell at the kids because you had a bad day at work.” But what I took it to mean was to be stoic. Don’t worry the wife and kids. Instead of taking problems home to my significant other I now just bottle them up. While we were friends we could complain and bounce ideas off of one another. But the minute we coupled up I felt a responsibility to shield that person and protect them from the ugliness. And work is the easy part. What about things like the disease? When I notice my health is slipping? Not only do I not want to scare that person, I also don’t want to see the worry and pity in their eyes when they look at me.

I’ve got several friends who used to be Drill Sergeants. A common theme when they get together and tell war stories of their time “on the trail” is that as a DS you have to be the “god” in the world of those recruits. No matter what happens you can’t appear to be surprised. If it rains, it’s because you made it rain. And if something catastrophic happens there can be no hesitation, the DS has to jump into action and solve the problem and exude calmness and control. These Drill Sergeants are the model of what they’re trying to turn the recruits into. Consummate professionals who can handle the pressure of any situation, accomplish the mission and lead soldiers safely through to the other side.

Now don’t take me wrong, I sure don’t want to be a “god” in a loved one’s world. But to me (without thinking about it), discussing fears and concerns and worries and letting that person help me must have seemed mutually exclusive with this idea that I needed to be a rock in all situations. And I think I thought that that was both my duty, but also what was attractive to the opposite sex. But it sure limited conversation quickly. The distinction between “friend” and “significant other” was huge and would just automatically trigger some reactions without my awareness. And then it becomes habit. To not answer questions, to keep things from that person. Once it was habit, when pointed out or complained about… it was a) hard to reverse and b) hurtful. I didn’t do it because I wanted to. I was doing it because (in my mind) that’s what the male partner is supposed to do. It’s not fun to keep all that stuff inside, not to share it, have sleepless nights over it. To be there and take care of that person and help them with their problems, but not let them help me with mine or take care of me. And now you’re complaining about me living up to my obligations and fulfilling my duties instead of appreciating it?

Looking back, this makes sense. Dad gave up flying when he got married and had kids. And he LOVED flying. But it came with risk and he couldn’t take that risk while he had obligations. Dad left the Air National Guard when things got a little politically squirrely in the early 80s instead of re-enlisting because he didn’t want to go off to war and leave the wife and kids at home, and maybe fatherless if something happened even though he loved the military. That was my example growing up. And it was perceived thru those distorted lenses of a hero worshipping child. I have no idea what my Mom and Dad talked about on their walks or behind closed doors. He might’ve (and I’m fairly certain he did) tell her everything. But because I didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. And Mom sacrificed tons that I’m not aware of for the family as well. But she wasn’t the one I was trying to emulate. I’m not sure what the connection between this and the habitual relationships with “broken birds” is but I’m sure it’s there, it ties in with my idea of the role.

So great. No what? Knowledge isn’t worth much if you don’t apply it appropriately. As a good friend said today in an email about therapy:

The problem with therapy though, is that I think a lot of the people who go to therapy think that going to therapy is the work. So they figure out all this stuff and they’re so fucking proud of themselves for being so self aware, but then they don’t actually do anything to change their situation. I’ve met so many people who can articulate exactly what their problems are but won’t actually do anything with that information or try to change in any meaningful way.

I’m not saying you’re like that. It’s just a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes I think people misunderstand the value of therapy. Self improvement is an all day every day project that requires more than just fessing up to how fucked up you are. You have to rewire your brain, and that is a lot of work.

So now I’ve got to figure out how to rewire the brain. And not just to stop cutting off the communications and the way I feel about my role in a relationship, but also the compartmentalization.

Seems like a lot of damned work. And it, along with a lot of other stuff going on rocks my world. What is a man supposed to be/do? How am I supposed to be in a relationship? How do I ask for help from that other person? On top of the normal fun of aging, not recognizing that person looking back at you when you look in the mirror, there’s the body that doesn’t act like it’s supposed to because of the lung thing. The brain that doesn’t work like it’s supposed to because of the TBI. And now emotions. Not just “Who am I?” but “Who am I supposed to be?” and “Who do I want to be?”

PS – Duh! I forgot the third reason. It’s just been such a part of who I am it’s right in front of my face and I don’t really recognize it or think about it anymore. But I don’t feel like I’ve got that much appeal to women. I don’t say that to fish. This is the way I’ve been all my life, some blog compliments aren’t going to change it overnight. And the women who cheated on me and left me for that other guy just kind of fed into that belief over the years. It’s just statement of fact. Kind of like the “Better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you’re dumb than open it and prove them right” thing. I’m convinced that the more I talk, the more someone will find out how boring I really am. Or geeky, or nerdy, or whiny, or, or, or.

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2 Responses to “Who am I?”

  1. That 2nd reason, that’s definitely an example of the “love her how she wants to be loved” thing.

  2. […] were talking about this in therapy, the “Who am I?” question.  And the homework was to come up with my definition.  To start figuring out what values […]

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