I enjoy live poetry the way most people enjoy live music. I would imagine my receipt of it is similar to the way religious people experience a good sermon. It is deeply connective for me. Spiritual. When a poem moves me, I normally have to take a minute to pull myself together before I approach the poet. Sometimes I can’t pull myself together and I present myself in the only way I can. Transformed. Touched. Tangled in the truths we share. Sometimes they seem startled. Other times, they ask for a hug. They get it. We are one in the same.
In one of my more serious relationships, my partner called me one night offering what she thought was a great idea. She wanted me to go to an R & B concert. She ran down the list of artists and the only one I remember is John Legend. I think I zoned out during the introduction. I had already explained to her that I am different. We had extensive conversations about my anxiety and how it might very well affect our relationship. She seemed to understand. She took the initiative and found out everything she could about panic disorders. She even joined an online forum for partners of people with severe panic and anxiety. I let her know that I get overwhelmed easily. I need more space and alone time than most people. I don’t do well in crowds of new people. I’m just not like other people. She said she got it. She said we were gonna work on this together. She said she was committed to the work. But she didn’t get it.
I told her verbatim that it would take time and trust for me to attend an event such as a concert with someone. When she came up with this idea, all I could think was you don’t listen to me. You don’t get it. She didn’t get me. We were wrong for each other for a variety of reasons. But years later, I still sometimes wonder if we couldn’t match because she wasn’t dark. Darkness and light, is of course, a spectrum. And we all go through periods where we experience more darkness or radiate more light. We all have the capacity to get swallowed by darkness or reflect tons of light. But at our core, we tip the scales on either side. This is not about anyone being better or worse. It’s about being on different paths. At my core, I reflect light. But I’ve always been intrigued by darkness. I experience periods of deep darkness, uncertainty, and fear. My life gets interrupted by crying spells, severe depression, and agoraphobia. But I bounce back. Everything always evens out. Every time I go through a very dark period, I come out stronger, smarter, better prepared for the rest of my path. I don’t know how or why. I attribute it to my higher self. My spiritual self. The self I’m working towards.
It took me 31 years to understand why darkness attracts light and light holds onto dark. I never understood why I would “end up” in dysfunctional relationships and friendships as well. I initially understood it to be my attempt at resolving my relationship with my father. I would find myself with partners and friends who use similar tactics to get their point across when they’re hurt; sarcasm, passive aggressive “jokes,” humiliation, emotional black mail/intimidation. People who constantly remind you that life has been considerably harder for them than other people, but insist they aren’t victims. People who need to control other people, so they don’t feel out of control. People who never ask for what they need directly, because they don’t believe they’d ever get it and their whole identity is based on how well they’ve done in this life, even though things have been harder for them than everyone else. People who hate when you set boundaries around your own needs, because they don’t have the self esteem to do the same.
I always understood the connection. But I never understood why I couldn’t just leave these people alone. I never understood why I would see the red flags but still think the outcome would be different. It wasn’t until I stopped blaming myself, that I started to understand myself and my patterns.
There is no model for healthy queer relationships. Nowhere to go to learn that most problems in relationships and most people’s individual patterns are the result of unhealed childhood wounds. But they are. And we learn this as we go. And we take paths, based on what feels right for us. Some of us seek to find our light. While some of us prefer darkness. See, pure light seeks to see the light in everyone. So it makes sense that people who are full of light, often merry go ‘round with partners who are consumed by darkness. We’re able to see past that. Some people call it “potential.” We see things in people that no one else can see. We see things people can’t see in themselves. So we hold onto them. Keep them close to our hearts. It feels like the best thing we can do to heal ourselves. We do this with everyone we come in contact with- until we get too tired. We do this until we realize that we’ve invested so much time in other people- people who can’t see their own light- that we haven’t invested much in ourselves. We do this so much, we start to think we are dark too. That must be why we’re so attracted to these people, right?
But it isn’t. That’s why we break-up and get back together. That’s why they see us as nags. We’re always challenging them to do something they aren’t ready to do. We ask them to do things they may be unable to. Once we see the light in people, we are determined to draw it out. We think that if we can do this, it will be the equivalent of hitting the backspace button and re-doing the painful parts of our formative years. It never is though. We end up feeling like failures- as partners, as friends, as people.
It took me 31 years to understand it’s not my fault. And considering some people will never come to this realization, I’d say it was a short amount of time. You cannot change the actions, plans, or paths of other people. You can only set the boundaries on what you will and won’t tolerate. You cannot lift up the layers that prevent someone from being their best person- and you shouldn’t try. Relationships are mirrors. If you keep “ending up” in relationships or in the same relationship with a person who isn’t living their best life, you aren’t either. I don’t say this to put myself or anyone else down. I say this because the only way to interrupt patterns is to be honest about what they are. People with high self-esteem don’t date people with low self-esteem. It can’t work. We may be attracted to different kinds of people at different times in our lives. But darkness is only attractive to light for a short period. We see it as a challenge, particularly when major things are lacking- such as intellectual connectivity. Sexual, emotional, and energetic connectivity is huge. But when you don’t stimulate each other intellectually, you’re going to get bored.
So the challenge of “saving” someone fills the space. The “saver” gets an intellectual workout anyway, because it is hard work to psychoanalyze someone- whether you have knowledge in that area or not. It’s a project. It blinds us to the things that the relationship is lacking. It’s a round-a-bout way of keeping a relationship together, when there isn’t much left of it. These projects aren’t usually intentional. But they work to keep the two people engaged nonetheless. When we repeatedly date people who aren’t seemingly right for us, it’s usually because on some level, we think this relationship is what we deserve. In an abusive context, this goes for the “abuser” and the abused or both “abusers.” Nobody is happy in an unhealthy relationship. And the passion that sparks when the juxtaposition of darkness and light ignites, never holds. There needs to be more in common, than save-er and save-y. And a healthy person gets bored of this on either end. Nobody really wants to care-take long term. And nobody wants their partner to take care of them in that way. It just reinforces what the save-y thought all along- that they’re not good enough or valuable enough. Nobody wants to feel that way in their relationship. Nobody wants to feel like they can’t do whatever it is their loved one wants them to. That’s why it never works. That’s why it’s so painful for both people. That’s why you wish you could settle on togetherness or being apart. But you just go back and fourth.
“My feel for you, boy…is decaying in front me…like the carrion of a murdered prey…and all I want…is to save you, honey…or the strength to walk away…”*
We are all works in progress. We are all on different paths. We are not better or worse than each other. But we are different. And a person who finds solace in total darkness, a person who feels best when their partner is as dark as them, will never be happy with someone who ultimately seeks light. And to be clear, I am not saying that someone who seeks darkness is wrong or bad. I am saying that I have never seen that path work well for anyone. When someone isn’t happy and accepts that as their fate, when they feel more secure in a relationship where they’re being taken care of, instead of being cared for, it means they’re not taking steps to uplift themselves. They’re not seeking light. They are more comfortable in a dark place. Of course people change and darkness can surely change to light. But in the meantime, don’t beat yourself up when you cannot reveal someone else’s light. That is not your job.
You change the world by changing yourself. If you’re spending all your time and energy trying to get someone to see something you think is true, turn the mirror around. You’re the one who needs to see something. See that you’re working on the wrong person. The only person you have the power to change is you. So let your light shine. And don’t worry about the darkness that sometimes seems intriguing. The person who will hold your interest, will be full of light. It is of no consequence whether they have previously been dark. We are all fluid. But light seeks light. When you let go of the control that was never yours, you will shine. You will shine so bright, that only another person who is full of light, will be able to mirror you. To match you. In love. In longevity. In light of what you thought you deserved in this life.
*Song lyric from “Carrion” by Fiona Apple.