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. []

One comment

  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.

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