by: Heather Fawn
Rummaging through one’s psyche, wondering if the embodiment of a sinking ship must go down with it……
Call it age, call it biology, call it bone-crushing reality. Taunt me with I-told-you-so’s if you must, but just know that what I am about to tell you doesn’t end my trauma. Not yet anyway.
I’d like to quietly rescind what I said previously about marriage and babies.
Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m not trying to recant the heartfelt and vehement honesty behind the bachelorette speech, just the misinformation behind it. You see, I was under the impression that my choice of suitor decided my fate. When really, it was my preference. Which is different than choice.
Let me explain.
Simply put, I am, as I have said, drawn to a certain type of person. The open the cabinet doors and never shut them type. The go to college for 12 years and never decide on a degree type. The “I just don’t know what I want” type. Trust me, I don’t wish that kind of preference on anyone; and it’s certainly not a choice to walk boldly into traffic simply because I’m chasing after someone on a stolen Huffy. It just happens. Over and over again. Similar to how one runs on a treadmill. Sure, I change the incline, the tempo. Sometimes I sweat through my shirt, sometimes I felt the burn in my quads, but I keep running the same race. That one where I never win.
Why? Why, oh, why?
Honestly? I am going to get in so much trouble for this, but I have to be truthful…
Honestly, it’s because I’m kind of…afraid of men.
This is really new for me to acknowledge outright. It’s also embarrassing, and tragic, and devastating.
This can be easily broken down. You don’t even need a degree in psychology: my image of men has been severely warped by the men responsible for my well-being and security growing up. My dad and my step-dad especially. My parents’ male friends. These people abused me, neglected me, excluded me, humiliated me. A vicious cycle. The more “manly” or masculine the man, or his attempts at appearing so, the greater my negative associations with those “role-models” in my childhood.
So I thought I’d step outside that insidious, burning ring of disappointment, keeping it in the corner of my eye but all the while unknowingly digging myself a new hole. I thought I was choosing a different kind of person. A “diluted man”, for lack of a better term. Their masculinity wholly non-threatening in appearance and attitude.
The thing is, though…I think these guys all had a bad impression of men too. If their dads had even been present in their lives they certainly hadn’t done their damndest to instill a healthy sense of masculinity in their sons. Stories range from absent parents to parental neglect to random violent acts with no discernible lesson to be learned. Not exactly the kind of upbringing that is going to set anyone up for a healthy love life, whether the impact of the damage done was latent in showing itself or painfully obvious.
So here I was, broken but on the mend, dating broken (ish) men wanting nothing to do with any kind of radical self-insight. Men who found all kinds of ways to either fill in their cracks with cheap plaster or ignore that there were, in fact, any cracks at all. I was basically partnering with giant children. Which is not in any way supposed to be a dig except to outline the irony of such a circumstance. If you’re a little kid, you’re fun and adventurous and you think that you’re invincible. But you also, secretly, don’t like the opposite sex that much. Not really. You have no idea what to think of them. To ask a child to try to figure out the enigma that is a man/woman while their lives are still filled with action figures and comic books is just preposterous. You’re dead in the water.
This is not even to say that there is anything wrong with children, or that more mature adults aren’t also giant little kids, deep down. But there is a certain wisdom that comes with figuring out how to own one’s adulthood. Not to have it all figured out, which is nearly impossible, but to be able to face being 5, 10, 15 years out of one’s mom’s house with the tenacity to grow and change and sort through one’s shit. I just seemed to have found a giant impasse sorting through my personal inventory of ugly and constantly tripping over my different partners’ inventory while trying to tidy my own.
As to my accountability: what was I doing with people like this? Well, they seemed a reasonable amount of wrong. In that they, in theory, wouldn’t judge me and my volumes of glossy issues. In that I thought I could find side-kicks instead of soul mates. Turns out, people who only want to acknowledge some of their inventory aren’t very open to acknowledging yours. Also, I was still hitting this wall where each significant other basically said, “There is no way in hell that I will be your side-kick because you’re a girl.” This attitude came up again and again. I don’t think it was sexism or misogyny, exactly. I was just looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place.
A couple of times, I thought I came close to a side-kick, but then something ridiculous happened, every time. My standard for the type of guy who, at face value, seemed nothing like the men I was raised by, turned out to be just the kind of hands-off, non-demonstrative, scared, avoidant dudes who would further sully my idea of the kind of relationship I could actually manage to get off the ground.
Even as I write this negative spin on my experiences, I know that I do not hate men. For my entire life, I’ve wanted men to not hate me. Approval-seeking? Absolutely.
The question, however, has not been, “Am I good enough?”
The questions have been loud, shrieking, screaming, pleading: “Do you see me? Am I here?” Followed by, “Affirm my existence! Treat me in a way that says I am a real person! For reasons unknown I am putting my cards on you!”
So the idea, it seems to have been, was to choose men who are the least capable of acknowledging my full humanity, since they could not acknowledge the entirety of theirs, and then be exceedingly failed. Ironically, I have chosen partners because they were literally dripping, drenched, covered in humanity. Their imperfections glaring and glittering in the harsh light of reality. I could see them coming from a mile away. I wrongly assumed that this clear sharing of imperfections would be a bonding experience that could bring me closer to another living being. And while I have certainly gotten to see people under a microscope once or twice, I wouldn’t say I’ve had a “life-affirming” experience.
I haven’t given a really masculine-type dude a fair chance, ever. I haven’t usually even kept this type of person in the realm of possibility, and seem to have avoided entertaining ideas about their romantic suitability. The idea has slowly become more appealing lately, though this is just one layer of the bullshit of my childhood that I sift through. It does not mean that I believe that a manly man will solve all of my problems or that they aren’t, below the surface, unlike the other people I’ve been with. I’m simply saying that maybe I’ve eliminated potentials due to a weird bias that has nothing to do with reality.
Lately, however, I’ve had the opportunity to be around really masculine men, and it’s honestly pretty threatening. An alpha male type of personality, if genuine, is a strong, grounded, respectable human. But an unbalanced alpha male caricature was the literal waking nightmare of my early existence. It’s going to take me awhile to be around a more “out” type of masculinity without feeling at least a tiny bit afraid. Which is, honestly, a horrific concept. Is that really what I want to say out loud? That’s like being racist, or homophobic.
“My name is Heather, and I find a certain type of regular everyday Joe to be frightening.”
Ok, enough of this rummaging through my psyche. Back to my original statement.
I have, frankly, come to a standoff with my biology. I believe a recent relationship with a “scary” alpha type was partially responsible. Whether this had anything to do with his more overt manliness is questionable. If anything, he did help me to stop fussing so much over the whole concept of men. In that perhaps masculine men are approachable creatures who aren’t going to beat me up (don’t even get me started on how ridiculous this concept is because I already know). More urgent, however, is this novel idea that maybe I could find an equal to reckon with. Which is a great jumping-off point. To where, I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve got my bathing suit on in spite of myself.
This person, in addition to wearing man-pants, was just the kind of person I wrote about in “Biohazard” who could turn my entire bachelorette world on its head. He showed up about a year ago but I wouldn’t have much to do with him, the poor guy. He was articulate but intense and I thought I couldn’t deal with it. Then time passed, and I came around.
But you know what? He turned out to be, shockingly, appallingly, to my utter dismay, just as rigidly ungenerous and unable to do the dirty, back-of-the-house work of sifting through his inventory as anyone else I’ve ever committed to.
So although I am glad to have been questioning the validity of my prior fears about men, I am now shaken to the core because the fact that this person, even for a glorious second, shifted my leanings about marriage is sad and frightening. For a brief time, my ovaries were again running the show. They tell me things that get me into trouble, it seems. I followed them back to America. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have any answers. I burned my drawing board.
Abruptly, at this visceral level, I feel compelled to pay attention to what happens next. Because if I am the embodiment of a sinking ship, maybe I have a duty to go down with it, and swim with all the fish in the deep blue world of indifference. Maybe if I allow this ship to sink, a new, superior one can be rendered.
A friend of mine recently told me that I am, “super gullible”. I lamented that I must be hard to watch. But also very entertaining. There is no happy ending here. Not yet, anyway. I don’t know the rest of the story. I just know that it’s just as fucked up as it was before, and probably, someday, it could be better. Less resembling a farce. Small comfort, but I’ll take it.