Ask people to tell you why they love you. Granted, it’s a very, very embarrassing thing to do. It’s whiny, indulgent, mildly pathetic even. Especially in such a heated political climate where sensitivity and understanding of other people’s very real and very serious pain is demanded of us. It’s the type of request usually relegated to funerals. Therein, people willingly speak up and share why you matter to them basically because you’re dead, and your value, by virtue of your absence, is suddenly brought to light. This outpouring of love is one of the only privileges of being dead! And still, in my comfortable very-alive life with many privileges, I sometimes sink to the bottom of my own psyche and discover it’s full of terrible, destructive ideas that lead me to feeling desperately and hopelessly alone.
I got very drunk last Friday. It’d been some years since I’d been drunk in that fashion—two and a half to be exact. But it had been a long, dark week of discomfort. I was really angry at myself for having given SO MUCH attention to men who did nothing to earn it. Nothing! In fact, they did so little, that to even call my relationships with them “relationships” or “affairs” seemed humiliating stretches. That rotten truth made me horribly furious and disgusted and my stomach knotted. Curiously, it also made me heavy and lethargic. My apartment started to get messy, I was binge eating carb-y stuff. I felt LAZY and kept writing that word in my journal: “Lazy, lazy, lazy…”. I WAS TIRED OF SELF-HELP. Exhausted of fixing myself. Drained of “healthy” coping mechanisms. I wanted to surrender to the very untidy corners of my life. This was a state of anti-repair and disarray, a sticky, slippery portal down to the place in myself where I’m just really fucking disappointed.
It was too much. I needed a bloodletting. So besides the food, and eventually the alcohol, I picked up my other guaranteed weapon of choice: an unavailable man. I began to really ignore the object of my obsession and instead of just maintaining our light detachment (which I’d peacefully been doing for a few months), I aggressively ignored him, forcing a blunt silence between us. He clearly noticed and quickly reacted, making himself very present and really getting in my sight lines. This charged up the hungry ghost even more, and when a bottle of wine was passed around, I poured myself three full glasses in quick succession.
Loose. Tipsy. Drunk.
Obviously I didn’t stop there. That lead to more wine, then beer and cigarettes, which lead to a bit more beer, some whisky, and finally two random make-out sessions with strangers. Ghost still not satisfied. All I wanted to do was obsess about the man object, roll his actions over and over in my head, blow life into the ghost, warm my whole body on it, form my pain around its elusive contours...
Then the hangover. This was a part of drinking I’d clearly forgotten. The hollowed out, tinny, life- force-draining lethargy. The wobbly feet and foggy brain. The death wish, the sweaty sleep, the corpse body. The barely shower. The puke-y, room-spinning stumble. The Netflix as pretend companionship. The living nightmare. A state of nearly-dead.
As close to the ghost as one can humanly get.
But in the dark, with the lights off for a few days, there was quiet. A bottom. By Sunday evening of that broken weekend, I had no other urge but to openly ask people to really love me. I wanted to open my heart to all of me, even the ugly shit, and in order to open it, I would need to bathe it in love; love from real people who might really love me.
Be a disappointment to someone you care about. Like a real selfish piece of shit. Be honest with yourself about why you made the decision (rational or irrational) to be shitty. Process privately. Tell this person you're sorry and really mean it. Acknowledge your shittiness. Listen to why they're disappointed. Let them be angry. Don't make excuses but ask how to repair. Repair.
I have become quite expert at avoiding being a disappointment. There are a bunch of simple ways to do this: spend a lot of time alone, traveling, in foreign cities, with strangers. Tell people up front what you’re capable of (the “no-surprise approach”), be supremely pleasant, pliable and amenable, leave parties and events early, constantly mirror people and their feelings and make them feel heard, drench people in compliments and notice things about them no one else notices, leave every person feeling that they’ve either been very, very seen, or very, very impressed.
Around my birthday each year, this avoidant tendency becomes exaggerated because involving other people in plans to celebrate my life is awkward. I grapple with the duality of this specific type of disappointment: first, the humiliation of being single on your birthday and having to invite people to do things they'll feel obligated to do because it's your "special day". And then having to initiate all the plans and arrangements yourself. This year, I once again hesitated to reach out but finally gave in and texted a girlfriend I made this summer, a woman I really love and trust who also happens to be my neighbour (double friend bonus). She said she’d love to host me and would get a cake. She’s the type of friend who shows up and does the hard stuff even when she’s tired: shares meals, talks, listens to music, reads poetry. Someone whose opinion I respect a lot. Someone I love.
So how did I manage to NOT avoid being a disappointment this year? I showed up to her house late and stoned, unable to carry on a decent conversation, full of self-loathing, paranoid, in a weird manic state, and left early before we could even cut the cake. I trembled in my bed for a few hours then managed to have a bath. I couldn’t sleep so I descended down an Instagram wormhole before finally drifting off, still buzzing from asking for affection on my birthday, opening up the biggest, ugliest wound and witnessing as many people put real love on it.
The wound was salved but still pulsing like a paper cut. I fell asleep.
The next day, my friend told me she was really hurt and embarrassed. I apologized and asked how to repair it. She asked for space. Disappointment is intimate af because it means someone cares enough about your shitty self to be disappointed in it. It means someone actually had expectations for you and it may even mean their expectations of you were very good and will help you be a better person.
If I want intimacy, then I must be willing to sometimes be a disappointment and let someone see all of me. It also means that I must open myself to real love, and return that love to the people I choose to have in my life in the ways that they need to be loved, honouring the gestures that matter to them.
Avoid relationships with people who don't like to hurt you. These include people who run at the first sign of making you unhappy, hurt, disappointed, and sad. An example of dialogue, held say yesterday, between a person who wants intimacy (love addict) and another who doesn't (object of obsession):
Addict: "I'm sorry, I know I react in extreme ways toward you, but I'm hurt by how you treat me."
Object: "Don't be sorry. You can react in whatever ways you want, you can be whoever you want—intense, expressive, needy, it's YOU, be you, really, you’re perfect, but I can't stand to make you feel pain."
Object: "Please don't use me to be hard on yourself."
Addict: "Maybe that's what I'm doing. Being hard on myself."
Object: "Yeah! So stop doing that! You’re perfect!"
Addict: "Okay, yeah, thanks, it's my fault, I'll stop doing that."
If you share real parts of yourself with another person, then they definitely have the potential to hurt you. Because the minute you open up and show someone your insides, you show them your wounds. When wounds are exposed, and touched, they hurt. When you love someone, you show up for the hard things, the wounds, the discomfort, the pain, and you work to heal them.
Know your imperfections intimately and love them anyway. I am definitely not perfect. But maybe I’m finally willing to love and be loved.