There’s a question on OKC that’s been bothering me for some time:
How often are you open with your emotions?
The answers range from always down to never.
I’ve answered and re-answered 3 or 4 times now, and every time I find myself selecting rarely as my answer, I just know I’m going to get marked red for it by most of my potential matches. I feel compelled to explain my emotional reticence, both with reference to my INTP personality type – I don’t really do emotions – and by talking about my fear of making myself vulnerable.
“Why are you afraid of making yourself vulnerable?”
I just am – OK. This is not something I should have to explain.
I found some of my old diaries in a box when I was clearing out the spare room, and in typical “let’s find something to do that isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing” fashion, settled down to read them.
Several days later …
They cover the period from 1995 to 2001, which was a pretty eventful time for me. I started the first one when I’d just finished working for the Post Office (for the second time), and the last one came to an abrupt stop – I think there must be another one somewhere – when I was living on my own, with Sam and Milly, and finally coming to terms with the consequences of choosing responsibility over freedom.
It covered the time when I was coming out as a lesbian, and it was a very difficult time. It’s far enough in the past that the hurt is long gone, but there were times when I felt so sorry for the confused young woman who wrote those diary entries.
Coming out is hard, especially (with the benefit of much hindsight) when what you’re doing is not exactly right for you. I was in a relationship at the time, a sweet and innocent relationship with a kind young man, close to my age, who may have wanted sex, but was willing to let me take things at my own pace. Although how long that would have lasted, I’m not so sure.
I had already been in love a few years earlier, with a woman – my boss, in fact. (If you have read my OKC question answers, you may be aware of my tendency to confuse love and lust, and you may question – quite rightly – how I knew I was in love. All I can say is that I knew. When I compare that feeling with the lust-mistaken-for-love I felt for others, I can see the difference. Once again, hindsight’s 20/20. It was unselfish love, the kind of love that would have tried to keep itself hidden forever, if only I could be near her, and hear her voice, and smell the delicious scent of her perfume every day. It was the kind of love that filled me with joy when she and her husband finally achieved their dream of becoming parents.)
Those feelings, and my notable lack of success with men, had already led me to suspect I might be a lesbian. When I developed a massive crush on a female country singer at the end of 1997, my suspicions were confirmed. I told my boyfriend the truth – a real case of, “It’s not you; it’s me,” and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – and set out to enjoy my new life as a lesbian in London.
A few months later, when I fell head over heels in lust (but mistook it for love) with the DJ at a local line dance club, my messy downhill slide began.
Let’s call her Sue. Not her real name. Of course not. The way she and my friend, Allie (also not her real name) treated me doesn’t really merit the anonymity I’m giving them, but this is about me, not them. I might have wanted revenge once, but nearly 17 years have passed since the shit really hit the fan, and I’m long past feeling the need to lash out and retaliate, but the hurt and betrayal do leave scars.
Allie was also a lesbian. We had dated briefly, and I had quickly realised she made a fun friend and drinking buddy, but she and I were not couple material. (I found out later that she had different ideas.) I confided to her my feelings for Sue, and she encouraged me, and helped me make plans to get closer to her.
The next few months were a rollercoaster ride. I changed jobs and moved towns so I could spend more time dancing at the venues where Sue worked. Allie and I found our way into her core group of friends, and we started hanging out together outside of dance nights. We had established that she was single, but had no way of knowing if she was straight or gay. There were hints, perhaps, that she was a lesbian, but also hints that she might not have been, and I spent my life alternating between highs of joy and excitement and lows of dark depression, as one moment she drew me closer, and then immediately pushed me away.
Allie continued to be encouraging and enthusiastic … until one day she wasn’t. Even my diary doesn’t reveal the change happening. One day, I just wrote:
“I’m supposed to put my feelings for Sue in a box and lock them away forever – so Allie says. I’m supposed to find someone to love (or at least someone to sleep with – ed) – so Allie says. I’m supposed to accept the fact that the chance of anything happening between me and Sue is zero – so Allie says. Fine. Life goes on. I’ll deal with it, like I’ve managed to deal with everything else. I’ll join another (dating) agency. I’ll listen to a really depressing Reba song and go to sleep.”
Sue confronted me angrily a few days later, telling me she was straight, and that should be very obvious. I foolishly denied everything, not knowing Allie had already shown her all the emails we had exchanged where I talked about my feelings for her, and not knowing she had told her everything I had ever said.
Questions were raised about my sanity – Allie said, “She thinks you’ve got a screw loose.” I was told people were afraid to talk to me because of my mood swings and for fear that I might blow up. I was closed, and put up walls to hide behind. (Of course I was – I was trying not to scare her off by being too open about my feelings.) Thinly veiled threats were made. Sue asked me why she shouldn’t have taken me outside and beaten me up – “Because I’m a fool,” she told me.
Hang on a minute!
Let’s look back 17 years. All I did was fancy her. All I did was talk to my friend about it, and try to find out if there was a chance she felt the same way about me.
I was told to leave, and I went – back to the safety of my parents’ house. I was in the process of buying my first home, but I pulled out a few days before completion, so I didn’t end up living just a few streets away from Sue. But I couldn’t stay away for ever, and financial circumstances forced me back several months later. I started dancing again, and soon began to meet people I knew from Sue’s venues.
“She’s so silly,” they told me. “She’s her own worst enemy. She drives everyone away.”
She had argued with, alienated, or banned, practically every keen line dancer in the county. Her venues were almost empty now.
Some more time passed, and I learned Sue and Allie were a couple.
Looking back I wonder what I could have done differently. How could I have avoided all that pain and devastation? For months, I was afraid that Sue was right. What if I did have a screw loose? What if I wasn’t sane? Maybe that was my problem. How could I avoid stumbling clumsily into a situation like that again? How could I avoid all the hurt I had obviously caused? Maybe it would be better for everyone if I was dead.
How could I have avoided becoming that confused and tormented young woman, who poured out her soul in the pages of a diary because she had no-one else she felt able to talk to?
There was only one way to protect myself – to close myself down, to not talk to anyone, to not trust – so that was what I did. I learned how to appear open and friendly on the surface, but to keep the real me, and the real depths of my feelings, buried somewhere deep below.
I’ve spent most of the years since trying to find my emotions again.
The truth is, shit happens. Everyone has a past. Everyone makes mistakes, gets hurt, and usually gets back up again. But we also all have scars, even if they’re not visible on the outside. My scars are no more nor less important than anyone else’s.
But they’re my scars, they are memories of pain, and they do affect my life now.
Getting hurt sucks.
(Photo: Line dancing can be a lot of fun.)