Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mistakes

[Yeah, so, this is a long post.  I think it's my last big one about my breakup.]

As I've said several times before, I don't blame myself or anyone for the breakup.  It's just the way it worked out, sadly.  But I've been thinking a lot recently, going over events, and for the last few days I've felt that I'm as "over it" and "moved on" as I'm going to get for quite some time.  My thoughts have solidified quite a bit, and I'm ready to think about other things for a while.  What I've identified is that while I don't feel like I did something wrong per se, I still made mistakes.  It was my first and only attempt at love; it seems expected that I'd screw something up, right?  So what can I learn from this experience?

One error I made was to mistake a love of cuddling for genuine affection.  Not having prior experiences to go on, I misunderstood this love of being together with another person for, well, love.  I know very well that different people attach different levels of significance to any particular act.  Things that we did are things that I would never imagine doing with someone I didn't feel extremely close to.  I'm not a very touchy-feely guy, and in general, I would not be okay with someone lying across my lap unless I had real feelings for them.  But that's me.  That's not a universal rule of human interaction, that's just how I feel.  Since I tend to uncommonly have physical contact with others, when I choose to do it, I expect it to be significant.  There are a couple friends of mine who hug me fairly frequently, and more often than not it catches me off-guard, and I don't expect it.  It feels a little weird, and when I don't hug back (or don't hug back well) it makes me seem cold.

On our second date, Jason and I went to see a movie, and at one point he rested his head on my shoulder, and at the risk of sounding mushy, that was one of the most emotionally significant brief moments of my life.  In that moment I felt a connection that I had never felt before, and it felt right and wonderful and perfect.  For a person who never touches people and never cuddles, it was moving.  But for a person who isn't so damned standoffish, it could have been something much more commonplace and uninteresting, and that's the distinction I failed to realize.

I'm awkward in unfamiliar social situations as it is, and this all was something entirely new to me.  Fairly often Jason and I were just winging it, not really sure how to proceed with things, but not really caring either.  It was pretty fun, actually.  Without much prior knowledge we were, after all, sort of defining how relationships functioned all on our own.  I think that in general, I tend to read and observe people well, but sometimes I lack the social context and experience to fully understand my fellow humans.  I think that I attributed too many things to this awkwardness and inexperience, though.  We spent incalculable time silent in each other's arms.  When I'd say things like "you're really important to me," the response was sometimes more silence.  I'd pick up on this immediately, and in a more common situation I might have realized something was wrong, but in these times I must have simply dismissed it all as an extension of that awkwardness.

This didn't just happen when cuddling either, but also on a grander scale.  I noticed the change in our interactions right around the time that Jason decided that we should break up.  The affectionate sayings were gone.  Lengthy goodbyes including instant-message hugs and kisses to the classic tune of "no, you hang up first" were replaced with a simple and terse "good night."  I noticed that all immediately too.  And then I ignored it.  I chalked it up to a little loneliness and a drop in the excitement of life when you're home with family for the holidays.  I had deluded myself once again.  (But then again, if I'd have correctly interpreted what was going on—or, hell, even asked—would the end have been any less painful?)

I didn't make it easy for him to crystallize his feelings either, and realize that I wasn't the right guy for him.  I am willing to admit publicly that I'm a great person overall, and my generosity and showers of affection must have made it challenging for him to understand that he didn't feel the same way about me.  Perhaps I smothered him to the point that some of what he saw was my feelings, not his own.

At one point I got a Facebook status update on the home page proclaiming that "Jason is extremely happy and lucky."  (I know because it made me so happy that I saved a screenshot so I could remember it.)  But there is, after all, a difference between simply being thrilled to have a great friend or a great boyfriend, and actually falling in love with someone.  What exactly love is is something that I've thought about for many, many years now, and I'm not sure I'm much closer to figuring things out.  I know what it's like to have a close friend, and I know what it's like to have a sexual attraction, but I struggle with defining what precisely love might be beyond some combination of those two things with a little magic dust sprinkled on top.

I had so many clues that I felt more strongly than he did, but I ignored them.  I noticed the twist early in the relationship where I went from wondering if he was too clingy for me to realizing that I was the more attached one.  I never brought up the topic in conversation—I expressed my feelings but didn't really listen.  Allowing a breakdown in communication about something so crucial and dear to occur was my greatest mistake.

I made several mistakes.  But in the end, I don't think that they contributed to the end of the relationship.  I think that the consequence was simply a more painful breakup.  I didn't see it coming despite the warning signs that I had chosen to ignore, and perhaps I even drew things out.

No, what scares me is that there's this perhaps-tiny possibility that we are right for each other, and if circumstances would have been different, we may have worked out.  I mean, we were both exhausted pretty often, me from work and working out and him from work and fraternity and school, and those things made it difficult to find enough time together.  If we'd lived five minutes away from each other instead of eighty in rush traffic, how would our feelings for each other have been different?  Or what if we were each other's second or third boyfriends instead of the first... would that experience and reduction in awkwardness have led to a deeper relationship?  In searching for a partner we have only finite time, and that means that we'll never know anyone completely.  That thought terrifies me just a little bit—admitting that it is at least possible that a person could meet their perfect soulmate, but at the wrong time in their life, and they could fail to form a connection.  I'm not saying that's the case with Jason and me, and that would be unbelievably presumptious from the person who was dumped, but breaking up has made me at least think of it.  Jason (like all of my friends) knows a version of me, not me.  Some of what goes into that version of me is under my control, and some is random, or circumstance, or fate.  And that version of me is what they have to base all judgments and decisions on.

If back when this started I knew all that I knew now, would I still go through it, knowing it would probably end up the same way?  (And would it end up the same way?  If circumstances were better, and we had each been able to paint slightly different pictures of ourselves, would we have worked out?)  Yeah, I think I would go start it all over again, even knowing the likely pain that was sure to follow.  The joy and friendship that I've gotten from Jason over the past few months outweighs the incredible pain.  But if I knew it was inevitably not going to work out, would I just be deluding myself?

I said that I don't feel like I necessarily made mistakes that damaged our relationship, rather that it just turned out the way it was going to turn out.  The mistakes merely contributed to my pain in the end, and there is comfort in that.  But on the other hand, it doesn't sit well with me that I know I'm very likely to make many of these same mistakes again.

3 comments:

Louise said...

"What exactly love is is something that I've thought about for many, many years now, and I'm not sure I'm much closer to figuring things out."

Join to club! I have "slightly" more experience than you, but I still struggle with this. If you do ever figure it out, please let me know.

By the way, thanks for sharing.

g said...

These post-breakup posts have been fascinating. Your experiences are, for the most part, universal. We all mourn the loss of love and face rejection differently, but based on what you've written, you have just endured a brush with "real love."

You will continuously be faced with these questions, issues, and emotions throughout your entire love life, though I think eventually you'll learn to find some peace.

You've been very brave to put these thoughts on the internet.

Oh, and by the way, there is no definition of "love." It's like "peace" or "freedom" in that there is no tangible definition. You attach your own meaning(s) to it. It's one of those things that is simultaneously universal and yet entirely subjective.

Travis said...

I'm glad they've been an interesting read. I think that writing everything down was a bit therapeutic, and then sharing it with the world forever was sort of experimental. (If only I knew how to plan an instrument, I could have written a bad song about it all. Maybe some bad poetry...) I still see blogging my personal thoughts and feelings as weird and unnatural, sort of like exercising and eating right, but like those things, I've decided I'm going to do it anyway, because I think that there's enough value in it that isn't readily apparent.