no man an island

Loneliness, or the fear of abandonment whenever I was dating someone, have been reoccurring themes since my childhood.

I’ve never regretted the decision to cut out my parents for the sake of my mental health, but that still means I lost the only people who had a responsibility to help and accept me (as terrible as they were at living up to that). It was a necessary but traumatic choice. Then I had a falling out with my ex-bestie, which came about after I realized he wasn’t the type of person I needed or wanted in my life, and further robbed me of stability. ____ became my best friend after that (even though I was extremely reluctant to label her as such after my experiences), until I finally stood up for myself and she decided she didn’t want to be held accountable for her actions. Heather and I compared notes afterwards to discover she was avoiding me every time I was in a crisis1. I’ve had a lifetime of significant relationships with emotionally ignorant people who would never apologize or admit that they’ve ever hurt me.

Then there’s Pat, who acknowledged he was a being a poor friend for not staying in contact the last time I spoke with him. Maybe it was the fact that I was crying that pressured him into promising to call me more often. That was about seven years ago, and I haven’t heard from him since. I’m still mourning my relationship with Shawn for the same reason; a person who literally saved my life who no longer has time for me in his. Relationships with positive people whom I loved and looked up to, that withered when I stopped initiating contact, leaving me with more questions than answers. Relationships where I’ve done nothing wrong and still suffer a loss. Part of me can’t help but feel confused, and scared that anyone in my life may disappear simply cause they’ve lost interest.

Surviving the fallout of each experience meant I came out with really messed up expectations whenever it comes to other people. Even now, it’s hard for me to feel safe, no matter how close I am to someone.

My first truly secure relationship — one where I could express difficult thoughts and feelings without being blamed or abandoned or invalidated — started in my mid-30s with Heather2. When my depression and colitis kept me isolated the last few years, I was particularly worried about being overly dependent on her. At the slightest hint of trouble, it felt like my world was coming down because she was my world3. When I turned to other people for help during my lost weekend, I soon realized I have a wonderful network of friends and family.

Jesse has become a huge part of my life, and it constantly surprises me that such a prolific artist (and a person for whom introversion is most comfortable) makes time for me. Ever since we reconnected a few years ago, he’s the only person with whom a day is assumed to be spent together. Most Saturdays we jam or watch movies or play games4, and he adds to every experience by being a person who offers a ton of intelligent insight and criticism. It’s an extremely fulfilling relationship where I not only feel liked but also loved (a distinction I’ve only made in recent years). He’s also a fucking great listener; when I’m relating my troubles to him, he literally sits on the edge of his seat to turn his attention to me. He’ll even get in touch with Heather if he believes I’m in trouble. With Jesse, I finally get to live out a part of the childhood I’ve always wanted, with ally siblings and cozy co-op nights. My days are a lot brighter for it.

I still see Trolley and Aaron on occasion. They’re busy with their lives and don’t quite relate to my struggles, so it’s hard for me to go into them without a lot of explanation or backstory. I tend to provide the guys with simplified versions of events, and they remain concerned nonetheless. I’m glad to still have them as friends after all this time, not necessarily because we get along particularly well but because they’re good people; something I cherish and value greatly after recognizing how exceedingly rare that is.

Even though I can’t remember the last time we hung out, Tiana and I have kept up our correspondence. Sometimes it feels like there’s a barrier in our relationship because there’s such a huge imbalance — I need her more than she needs me, and we prioritize each other very differently — but I never let that get in the way. I’m simply happy to have her in my life in any capacity, and that’s helped me learn to adjust my expectations of people. She’s also one of the few I respect who’s also willing and able to challenge me. It’s not always pleasant, but it’s a good way of making sure I don’t live in an echo chamber, and she’s always gentle and respectful about it.

I try to catch up with Darren about once a month. Whereas most people will fit me into their schedules, he’s one of the few who’s willing to make time to talk no matter what he has going on. This has been especially important during times of crisis when I’ve really needed an ear, and by doing so he consistently proves how important I am to him. I also value the fact that, as a child of the Chinese culture, he understands the source of my damage (and perhaps as a consequence, my idea of love).

Heather G remains an interesting pillar in my life because her innate equanimity means she doesn’t understand the depth of my emotional issues or struggles. But she’s the most serene, peaceful, empathetic person I know, and in difficult times (especially conflict) I always ask myself “What would Heather (G) do?” or “How would she behave?”. She’s also extremely accepting and non-judgemental, and through her I’m learning how to show myself compassion.

My aunts and uncles have become surrogate parents (and Heather got some unexpected in-laws) after they reached out to me a few years ago. As people from a different generation, I can’t exactly relate all the details of my life to them, but I can tell them I’m suffering and they know how to care. I make it a point to reach out to them on special occasions and visit any time I’m in Toronto.

Finally, I’ve still been seeing my therapist on and off as needed. He’s an important part of my support network cause he helps me refine the edges. When I’m pursuing my goals — reducing my anxiety; getting over someone; becoming a more secure, independent person; learning to be a graceful loser; getting comfortable with difficult emotions — I can always turn to him for guidance as a neutral party who makes sure there are no fallacies or biases in my logic. This is especially important when I’m trying to figure out myself or my relationships, cause it’s sometimes hard for me to understand what constitutes appropriate behaviour after surviving so much abuse5.

  1. During a particularly bad day a few years back, Heather asked her to send me a text in support. She replied, “Jeff and I don’t text”. Not only was that completely untrue, it was a really shitty excuse for her to do nothing. []
  2. I’ve since learned a great deal about the qualities that make a relationship healthy and successful. Consequently, my standards have risen. []
  3. Part of my venture into polyamorism is because I want to expand my support network. I’m interested in having more people care about me, perhaps cause I’m eternally trying to fill the hole left by my parents. []
  4. We tend to be into multiplayer adventures/rogue-likes or single-player narrative stories. []
  5. He was one of the first people to say, “I’m sorry. Thank you for letting me know.” when I once explained how frustrated he was making me. It blew my mind to discover that some people respected others enough to apologize for something as simple as that, and are willing to change their behaviour. []

2 comments

  1. Think you’re expecting too much from people. People have their own goals and life, sometimes they can’t give you any more just because you need more. Plus, it’s definitely possible that it’s your fault… it’s not like you want to be like this, but you are and that’s difficult for people.

Leave a Reply