My own capacity for emotional sluttiness frightens me. The historic ease with which I have given passion and devotion, and the perhaps even more sobering ease with which I have withdrawn it, leaves even me (to say nothing of my past loves) puzzled and reeling and not a little ashamed of myself.
A few years ago, with some amused clicks of the mouse, I found that OK Cupid pegged my ‘dating persona’ as ‘The Sudden Departure,’ and while at first glance it was funny, I found a lot of ugly truth in it: when I finally fall for someone, the connection is so visceral as to border on the animal; it gets deep and primal in a way that would frighten most mortals (but will be well understood by Scorpios, wink wink), but just as quickly it can plunge into Arctic temperatures and tundric emptiness, triggered perhaps by something as innocuous as the wrong shoes, a slight tic, an offhand confession that reveals their vulnerability and lack of human perfection (the nerve!) and when that happens, I’m out, as remote and unreachable as I was once present and involved.
Sometimes the division isn’t so simple; there have been times when The Sudden Departure has been supplanted by The Irish Goodbye (this comes from the nickname I once gave the way the Irish wind it up at last call, which is to say, slowly, painfully, and with reluctance) and the exercise at couplehood goes on much longer than it ever should have, as does the associated emotional turmoil.
I remember sitting in a small, tidy room in County Donegal nine summers ago, talking to my then-husband’s therapist while he sat next to me. I was asked to describe what it felt like to send him back to Ireland while I remained in the States and I told her ‘it was like cutting off my hand to save my arm,’ and burst into unexpected tears. The last time I saw him was in the Dublin airport on July 10, 2002, beneath the ironically titled ‘Departures’ sign. I hid my puffy eyes behind huge Bono sunglasses and wondered when, or if, I’d ever see him again (and I never have, in case you were wondering). I had loved him with all the fierceness and depth I had, which is to say, copiously and without reservation. Our love affair scaled heights and reached very dark depths and burned a layer off my skin and changed who I am permanently. When I left him, the pain was so intense it felt like drowning, or being unable to get air. I thought I’d never be the same again.
But I was. Well, maybe not the same, exactly, but just fine any way you slice it. The sun came up and it went down again and life went on, and now when I think of him I feel only a small, benign affection and a sense of puzzlement and having been so enmeshed in anyone or anything. I look at pictures on Facebook of him and his long-term girlfriend (adorable) and his daughter, now four, and I realize I don’t know him at all – at this point I feel that I know his girlfriend better than I do him, and I wish nothing but great things for all of them, but honestly, after all that Sturm und Drang, I can’t see what I was so worked up about and I sense a little egg on my face.
And it’s not just him; it’s every boy (or girl, or cause or situation) I ever felt quite so heated (positively or negatively) about – it’s all faded into the fabric of my experience and isn’t even cause for the batting of an eyelash any longer. This is not to say I forget – I’m Irish, after all, and thus can hold a grudge for decades – but I have learned that no matter how poignant or wrenching a given relationship feels, usually once the initial agony of leaving/being left is over, it’s pretty much a cakewalk and I feel embarrassed at having been so bothered about the whole thing.
This is not to say it’s okay to pour it on and then bail because hey, time heals all wounds and it’s all good in the end anyway. There’s a larger lesson than here, one about remaining mindful of the currents of emotion and how swiftly and deeply they can sweep us along into dangerous waters if we aren’t firmly anchored in the richness of our experience and self-knowledge. I have learned about myself that (like God!) what I giveth I also sometimes quickly taketh away, and that I have the capacity for making myself look and feel like an ass and making other people cry while I’m at it. I’ve also learned that no matter how acute the angst or how desperate it all feels while in the thick of it, with time it will end up as nothing more than a chapter in my textbook, so to speak.
I have made promises I can’t keep, and told others I was someone I wasn’t – and those weren’t lies, they were just misrepresentations originating from a lack of self-awareness. My intention is to move forward at a more reasonable pace and depth and with the knowledge of self that I can be little loose with my emotions and the need to check that tendency. I see how I’ve wasted so much energy that could have been better directed elsewhere, and I want to remember to hold steady and feel the earth beneath my feet, even as my head gets lost in the clouds.