They say that hindsight is 20/20. It isn’t. We each have our own perspectives, shaped by our experiences, filtered through our fears and hopes. What follows is not the truth, but it is my truth.
For the past few years I’ve tried, haltingly and with many errors, to learn and grow and become a better person. I wasn’t exposed to the teachings of the introductory philosophers and psychologists, those taught in every introclass; e.e. Hume, Plato, Freud, Descartes, Skinner. It was upon a chance encounter with William James’ Principles of Psychology where I started to see how a scientific, analytic mind works that I began to follow my road as a psychologist and philosopher1. It was over the course of fifteen years, four universities, and one combat deployment, that I began to piece together some things in practice. I developed a Humean spirit, a love of Spinoza, a desire for the application of Aristotle, the depth of Jung, and sought to tie them all in together into one coherent form. I found that Stoicism afforded me a firmness of strength in the daily challenges of life. Everything was a challenge to be welcomed for the tempering of my own virtue. I fell, I bled, I suffered, but in the end I learned from it. And then I fell in love with the love of my life and things went to shit.
I am forty-five years old. I am not new to the effects of the heart. I’ve thrown my emotions into the wind and have buried them under stone. Since my return from Iraq I have struggled to learn to connect with people again, to lean on people, to be at ease with my own shame (deserved and undeserved), and to be patient with people. It isn’t easy. If I could state one principle to keep in the forefront of any transition from pain, I would recall the Epicurean emphasis on friendship2. Many studies and the experience of many people point to the vital need for strong social bonds. This is, I posit, is more foundational for an individual’s survival than food or shelter. Reason in brief: Given that one has food and shelter one may still find life unbearable and meaningless. Given that one one has strong social bonds, meaning is more easily infused within life while the problem of finding food and shelter is undertaken.
This is a hard pill to swallow for an introvert like me, someone who is quick to run from social engagements and interaction. Yet, as I’ve monitored myself over the past 15 years I’ve discovered that I do crave people, meaningful connection, to see and be seen. This need plays a large part in why I post online and I still fondly recall the glory days of Livejournal, before moving on to WordPress, where I met a couple of dear friends. Still, nothing really replaces some friends together around a campfire, beer and/or whiskey in hand, telling stories and slapping each other on the back.
I got better and better at connecting with people, in experiencing my emotions, at feeling desire and love again, even to the point of feeling a broken heart, something that I cherished because I was afraid it had become impossible for an ice-held heart. Yet the gods know that that which is the source of our strength may also be our weakness. The essence of Superman, his Kryptonian cells, are also weakened by Kryptonite.
I met the most amazing person. If I had to draw her up from scratch, listing all the things I hoped for in a partner, she was it. She was beautiful, smart, analytic, military, had grit, self-reliant, appreciative of the small things, had hard edges (she cursed and drank), had a love of the outdoors, was not a Christian, was not held back by Puritan beliefs, and was fierce and uncompromising in values. I met such a person in October of 2015 and we started dating. The next six months were among the most intense of my life.
She entered my life and changed the horizons completely. She was the sun of my solar system, the moon in my night skies, the polaris of my stars. Quickly and deeply did I fall in love with her. She was, and is, the love of my life. I wanted to raise a family with her. I readily gave up all of my goals of attending a local graduate school, my love of the Pacific Northwest, all of my former long-term plans were now without power. Nothing mattered save only to be with her, wherever that might have been. We talked about leaving Oregon, about leaving the U.S., about going anywhere. I readily agreed to it all. I only wanted to be with her, to have her in my life, and I was ready to count myself fortunate to work an assembly line and come home to her3.
Somewhere, along the way, I lost my self. My friends made her jealous? I’d quit talking to them. A type of response made her angry? I’d quit using it. Whatever made her unhappy, angry, irritated, uneasy, uncomfortable, sad, anxious, questioning, or anything at all that was negative, was quickly and summarily cut out of my usage. I did this because she was the most important thing in my world. I wanted nothing more than for her to be happy and content. When she was unhappy she would use words indicating that things would not work out, that our relationship was fated to end, that nothing mattered, and so on. Whenever I professed anything positive, whether it was love or support or understanding, I was told I was mistaken, love wasn’t real, I wasn’t really in love, nobody really stayed, things always ended, and more. Every support I gave was seen as either parroting, as for my own welfare (I say good things to make myself feel good about being a supportive person), or not heard. All in all I was constantly told I was not loving and attentive enough, and all of my efforts were insufficient, inadequate, untrustworthy, manipulative, narcissistic, and more. I was pushed away at ever opportunity, save the last weekend we were together when she leaned on me heavily and I cherished it.
This is where I was at. I was unable to determine what is good or bad, helpful or not helpful, nurturing or not, because I’ve lost my own balance. I had taken as the measure of all things to be her emotional response. This is, to say the very least, an unhealthy state to be in. I was warned by several friends to egress the relationship. This is, in the end, very poor advice. Because I loved her deeply, completely, the last thing I want to hear is leave. So many of my friends quit offering me their support, and what were left I felt like I was a broken record for talking to them about my woes… another week another tale of how I felt unappreciated and pushed away by the woman I loved for the 100th time. I isolated more and more and had less social support to draw perspective and strength from.
Then it happened. Another rough week of guarded texts, of me trying to figure out what I was doing wrong to make her angry, and it became clear to me that she was suicidal. I was one step from a panic. I was three hours away, training soldiers, had no support enabling me to leave, and yet I ran to my supervisor and said I’ve got to go and I left. I let others handle my responsibilities. I did not care. My love was suicidal and I drove to be with her.
The next 36 hours were very hard. I cried my heart out. She laid on the bed, uncaring, unfeeling, telling me that all of my statements mattered not, nothing mattered, that life was meaningless, that she was going to have her daughter’s father take custody so she could eventually die. She was formulating a plan. I laid on top of her in the bed, my heart breaking around her, begging her to stay with me, to not give up, and she asked why and my answer was that we were building a life together, we’d live together and raise horses and chickens and goats. She didn’t care. She said it was meaningless, that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t matter, that our love didn’t matter, that none of it lasted. She was tired, had nothing left to give, and would kill herself regardless of what I did. Nothing that I had read, none of the philosophies or psychologies helped me. No answer to thewhy or the meaning or purpose was received. Everything that had helped me in my times of desperation were now falling on deaf ears. She didn’t believe in a purpose and she didn’t believe she could create a purpose. My own sense of right and wrong, of purpose and meaning, had become her and I found myself unable to answer any of her accusations about the pointlessness of life. She was nihilism incarnate.
I was in a panic. I called friends and people who could help. This pushed her further away from me. She resented me for it. Left the room from me. Wouldn’t talk to me. I tried to find ways to get her help but also keep my contact with her. I called in her ex boyfriends and lovers to help. Anyone at all. I wanted her alive.
I had to leave or be brought up on charges. I made the drive back to work, almost turning around several times to return to her. I called my own friends for help, people that I had cut out of my life because they made my Love jealous. They offered their love and support for me and gave me little support. I was still scared. I listened to some podcasts in philosophy on suicide, one of which was a Stoic podcast. It helped bring a bit of clarity to me. Every time I had talked to my Love I was told that I didn’t get it. When I asked I was told I shouldn’t have to ask, or that I was told and still didn’t get it, meaning I was either stupid or I didn’t care, and that she was never heard by me. After a few hours of trying to calm myself down, I sent my love a video stating my love for her, for my support for her decision, and my hope that she would not do so alone. In one conversation with her I broke down crying telling her how it broke my heart that she was planning on doing this thing alone, to please let me be there. Never mind how much seeing her do this would utterly destroy my heart, imagine that for a second, the love of your life kills herself in front of you and you were powerless to stop it and have to watch it. More important than how much it would hurt me was the idea of her doing this alone, as she stated she would do over and over again. At least she would be with someone in her last moments, I thought.
During this time she was approached with a variety of means of help, including in-patient treatment. All of these were strongly rejected by her and she looked at me and pleaded to please don’t let them take me. I had to swear to her that nobody would take her while I was around. When she heard this she would relax on me and rest. Later, as she came out of the two week depression she was in, she attacked me forcibly for allowing her to plan to kill herself, for supporting her in that decision. She again claimed that I didn’t get it, didn’t understand her, didn’t want to know her, didn’t care to know her, and couldn’t listen.
Eventually I left her, again. I had professed my undying love several times to her, yet was pushed away many times. Yes, I left, but it was a healthy response. I knew, deep down, that it was better for me to leave than to stay. This was an unhealthy relationship on all accounts. I was not my better self with her, I was paranoid, jealous, and quick to react. I was always doubting myself, shame was constantly visiting me (from me and from her), and again I was ready to give up everything that I loved to make her happy. It didn’t bother me that she never returned the favor, offering to change her life for me, her goals, her dreams. It didn’t matter. My life was measured by her emotional state. And it changed with the wind.
At the end I was so lost that I had developed a plan of suicide of my own. I had transferred 1/2 of my SGLI to her (the other half always staying with my sister). I recall that one day my troops were training behind me and I was off in the grass, bringing my mind to ease for the act of killing myself. I had a plan, go out into the wilderness with a gun. I sat and meditated on it for thirty minutes and that same Stoic calm that saved me well before our relationship was found again in this instant. I was ready and was a hair’s breath from getting up, leaving training, and driving away to fulfill my plan.
This same time that I was just about to go, we began to text each other in a long battle. She attacked me viciously, she hated me, and she accused me of many wrongs against her. I apologized for all of it, appeasing her as I’d done so many times before. She didn’t relent. She pushed harder, attacked more, was more spiteful. After thirty minutes my defenses could take no more and I attacked back. We had a vicious battle for the next thirty minutes, calling each other the worst of names and throwing accusations effortlessly. Later, in another conversation, she then said it would be nice to pretend one last time that we could make it work, to have a nice weekend. I was on pass and I drove to be with her. We went to the beach. We had a great weekend. I told her I wanted to marry her for a year and a day in the Pagan style. I thought this would show my commitment and yet not spook her, as she had loudly voiced disdain for the word marriage many times before in a way that made it clear to me that it was a deal-breaker. She agreed to the Pagan marriage and I was overjoyed. I thought that we had gotten past the worst of it, that we could truly build a life together. And still I was willing to give up everything, the area I love (PNW), my friends, my family, my dream of graduate school, everything and anything so that I could be with her.
It was short lasting. One text message where I responded to her text that she wanted another piercing with the question of where and a guess on my part, was received by her to mean that I didn’t like anything that was not pierced. Another argument ensued, again I was told that I what I was feeling wasn’t real, what I said was a lie, and the same lines she always used. She was the one that was able to define what things meant. I was always never listening to her, never open to her words, never giving, never anything but a narcissist manipulator. If this is the case, I am the worst narcissist in the history of narcissists manipulators, being that I let go of all of my friends, was ready to leave my beloved Oregon, ready to quit dreams of grad school, always changing to what she needed or wanted, always moving away from what she hated/feared/scared of, always gave every spare dime I could for her. I am a lousy manipulator. She became the center of my emotional and ethical world, which makes me the worst narcissist. I am sorry, that was a rant. I am still bitter.
This is not an attack on her. I love her, still. I have a great amount of anger and bitterness regarding the past six months. I gave everything to ensure our relationship would work. But it failed because of me. When she is conciliatory, which is rare, it is a half attempt, like this: I’m fucked up and it’ll take a champion to be with me. So if the relationship doesn’t work, it is because I am not a champion, not because she actively tried to ruin it.
It is now eight months later from our meeting each other. I am not sure what I learned yet. It is still raw and I am still angry and bitter. Is my philosophy so fragile that I so readily gave it all up when a personality like hers came along? That is pretty weak and speaks volumes about my own development, or lack thereof. For a moment I thought that I had what I had always wanted, a deep love, a family, a foundation to build on. I could see images of making funny waffles for our kids, of late night lovemaking, of sitting on the porch in the summer evening, of growing old together. There were many moments in the past couple of months where I felt really loved by her, that she accepted me for me. I told her my deepest secrets, exposed my emotions to her, was as vulnerable as I could. Even though she would later throw all of these back at me as a weakness, I cherish still the moments lying in her arms, letting my clenched soul relax into an embrace of love without judgment.
I’m not sure where I will be in the next few months. Will I harbor a distrust of others? Will I not share my feelings as freely as I did with her? Will I write off the idea, the hope, of growing old with someone? Will I again believe in love? I don’t know. I must re-read what I wrote a year ago as good advice.
I’ve started to revisit philosophy again. The question of why live is back on the docket as I begin anew some re-reading of existentialist philosophers. I do not wish to forget the pains that I’ve felt the past eight months, but to keep them alive so that when a philosopher claims that x is the point of it all, I might hold it against the backdrop of heartache and see if it illuminates. Perhaps things had become too comfortable for me, too easy to point to a witty quote as an answer. Philosophy and the science of resilience, if it is of any use, is to be applied for times such as this. In the middle of the fire is not the time for a firefighter to ask about theory. Yet many forget to revise their plans and beliefs after the fact. I hope to do so now.
I want to love. I want to have a love where I can share the totality of my being with another person and for them to see me, and I to see them. I want them to actively bring out the best within me, pushing me and angering me when necessary, but always loving me. I want to be the sort to do that in return.
The love of my life said that it would take a champion to be with her. It is evident that I was not. I cannot fault her or blame her, however this entry might read. I am grateful for having met her, for having loved her, and for her having loved me. The question for me now is what am I to do with this experience?
- I am good at neither. I have a sample size of one, me, and am prone to mistakes more so than insights. I try, as best as I may, to uphold the spirit of both. ↩
- For an enjoyable read on “THE STOICS AND THE EPICUREANS ON FRIENDSHIP, SEX, AND LOVE” visit here: http://www.themontrealreview.com/2009/The-Stoics-and-the-Epicureans-on-Friendship-Sex-and-Love.php ↩
- I do not believe that workers on an assembly line to be any less form of work. For a short period of time I did assembly line work in constructing cabinets. The monotony of the task was taxing on me and I found solace in reading GRE prep books during our scheduled breaks. It isn’t a lesser form or work, it is merely different, a sort for which I am ill-suited. ↩