Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Complexities of Love

I admit that when I first met Chris, I was excited about what was happening to me.  But I'd felt similarly excited about what was happening to me when I'd met men prior to Chris, hoping and believing in my heart that each one was the right person, the one I could embark on building a life with.  For so many different reasons, that hadn't happened.

So when I met Chris, on that warm summer evening of June 13, 1992, I was excited, but I was also cautiously optimistic.  I'd always thought I needed to find someone who was younger than me, perhaps much younger.  Most of the other men had too much baggage. They'd been in relationships that had broken up badly.  Or they had expectations about what they wanted in a partner, and no one would ever measure up.  Or they still hadn't dealt with some of the junk they came with because of something that had happened in their pasts.    

Chris was younger than me, by nearly ten years.  And, even on the evening we met, I knew he was different.  There was a sweetness to him that none of the other men had had.  I was later to find out that he'd had almost no experience with other gay men, which I believe to this day worked in my favor.  No jaded queen, he.  Chris was genuine, and sincere, and innocent in a good way.  No baggage.  We could create our own history as we went along.  That is, if what we had continued long enough to have a history.

If I could use just one word to describe myself during those early days of Chris's and my relationship, hands down the word would be insecure.  Several weeks into what we had, I knew Chris was the young man for me.  His parents had done an amazing job of raising him well.  I knew I could trust him, that he was honorable, that his heart was in the right place.  And he and I thought the same way about the most important things, and were different in other ways that kept things interesting but didn't present insurmountable obstacles.

In other words, I wanted this man, and I wanted him badly, but I had no precedent for finding the right man and keeping him.  So I kept thinking that, at any minute, Chris would catch on to me.  He'd see something in my character or make-up that would put him off, that I would be the very thing I didn't want myself in a partner.  And I worried that whatever it was would compel him to push me away, ending the possibility of a future together when it had just started.

A few months in, wonder of wonders, Chris and I were still together.  In fact, we'd spent so much time together--virtually every evening after work and every weekend--that I couldn't see myself without him.  I didn't want to see myself without him.  The thought of that paralyzed me.  How could we be so compatible, have such a great time together, and not be meant for each other?  In the back of my mind, I still felt it could fall apart for the most arbitrary of reasons.  If he no longer wanted to be with me, I knew that was it.  I'd learned this lesson before.  There would be nothing I could do.

So I wanted to know that Chris was not only physically connected to me but also emotionally.  I felt that if he'd already begun to invest in me and us emotionally, we'd have a greater chance of succeeding.  I'm not proud of it, but I started testing him to see just how much he wanted to be with me.  I'll go one step further.  I started testing him to see if he loved me.  More than anything else, I wanted to be loved--even though I had only just started down the rough road of loving myself.  

Did I love Chris at that point?  I doubt it.  I kept asking myself that, but, because I'd had so little experience with love, I didn't know how it would feel when I was in love.  Instead, I think I was totally infatuated with him.  Or I was totally infatuated with what was happening between us.  Finally, finally, I had someone special in my life.  I knew for a fact that Chris was one special young man.  And, yes, I felt a sense of superiority in relation to my single friends, who envied me because I had an attractive and attentive young man in my life.

One day, I found a small, hard lump on the left side of my torso.  I was so upset.  I thought, you've got to be kidding.  Just when I've found the man of my dreams, I end up with a tumor that could be cancer.  This can't be happening.  I couldn't wait to tell Chris. Not only did I need his empathy and consolation, I also needed to see his reaction.  If he took the whole thing lightly, maybe that would tell me he wasn't as emotionally invested in me as I was in him.  On the other hand, if he was upset, perhaps I'd have what I needed to prove that Chris was really mine.  Like I said, insecure.

We got through the lump episode.  Chris gave me what I thought was an appropriate amount of care and  attention, and I went to see the doctor.  Turns out it was nothing more than an accumulation of fat cells and not cancer after all.  I was most grateful for that diagnosis, but, at the very least, I came out of it knowing that Chris was there for me, and that what happened to me made a difference to him.  It was something, some kind of commitment to us, and I was happy to have it.

Somewhere along the line, I told Chris that love was a curious thing in my family.  That my parents, sister, and I probably loved each other, but we'd never told each other, or shown it in any demonstrative way.  So I told Chris that I needed us to be different.  I said that I wouldn't play any games with him.  If I loved him, as I thought I was beginning to, I would tell him and show him.  I hoped that if I was honest with him about my feelings toward him, he's be the same with me.

Love's a funny thing.  You can't force it.  You can't make it happen if it's not there.  And there's no getting around that.  But I thought that if I showed and told Chris I loved him, he'd feel comfortable showing and telling me he loved me, too.  I admit the first few times I told Chris I loved him, in those first heady days of our relationship, the words probably sounded forced.  I felt uncomfortable saying them because they were foreign to me.  To that point, had I ever told anyone that I loved him?  Nope.  So I had to get used to the feeling of the words myself, and I had to prepare to hear and receive them from someone else.

I upset Chris several times.  When I told him I loved him, and received a noncommittal response in return, I out and out asked him if he loved me.  He looked pained by the question.  I saw confusion register on his face.  And discomfort.  And hurt.  I had his back against the wall.  I was asking for an emotional commitment from him long before he was ready to give one.  And there were several occasions when I had to console him by telling him we had time to figure out how we felt.  Secretly, I hoped that he'd come to feel about me the way I thought I felt about him.  I believed that the longer we were a couple, the more likely he was to come around and profess his love for me.

But what was really going on here was that I didn't want to invest any additional time into our relationship if there was no hope that he would ever love me.  I was already thirty-two, I knew what I wanted most of all from another human being--namely, love--and if Chris was either unwilling or unprepared to love me, then, I'd be devastated, no question, but I'd have to cut my losses and move on, hopeful to find what I needed from someone else.  I prayed that wouldn't be the case.

I always believed that when Chris became older--that is, when he hit the age I was when we met--he'd mature as I had, he'd become more comfortable with the concept of loving someone else, and he'd be more willing to tell me he loved me and to show it more readily.  I remember saying that very same thing to his sister, Connie, shortly after she and her three children returned to Canada from New Zealand to live.  I told her I loved her brother, that I thought he had a wonderful spirit, but that it had been challenging to get him to commit to me emotionally.  All I could do was hope he'd come around.

Alas, when Chris turned thirty-two, nearly ten years after we'd met, the words "I love you" still didn't come easily or readily to him.  Instead of telling me what I wanted to hear, he did one better and showed me.  A job opportunity came up for me in Victoria, a city Chris had made clear in the past he didn't want to move to.  Later rather than sooner, we had our heated discussion about what we'd do as a couple, and there was the real possibility that our relationship would come to an end eight years in.  It wouldn't be the first time a gay couple had split up when one person wanted to go one way, and the other wanted to go another.

We moved to Victoria in August 2000, and, eventually, moved back to Vancouver in April 2009, once I'd quick my full-time job to write, and Chris won a supervisory position.  This time, I didn't want to leave Victoria and move back to the big city, but I did because there's no question in my mind that, after nearly seventeen years, I love Chris, and I couldn't imagine life without him.  Living in __________ would be far better than living in Victoria, alone, back to square one in terms of finding the love I always wanted.

I'd like to write that finding love was easy for me, that it was the proverbial fireworks/love-at-first-sight scenario, but it wasn't.  I had to wait until I was thirty-two to have the opportunity to know and feel it.  And even when I believed the opportunity was there, I couldn't be sure it would ever happen.  There are always two people in a relationship, and you may know--or not--how you feel about someone else, but you can never truly know for sure how someone else feels about you.  Particularly if that someone has had little experience with love himself, and isn't comfortable saying the three words or physically demonstrating how he feels.

There's a huge risk involved in loving someone else, and we never know where taking that risk will lead us.  We could get hurt, big time, but we could also find the real thing. Sometimes, love doesn't come to us exactly in the form we'd like it to.  It isn't all romantic movies and swelling music and explosions.  In real life, love is more complicated, complex, elusive.  But, without forcing it, you'll know when it's there, in whatever form it takes.  You'll know when you feel it toward someone else--without having to ask yourself if you do--and you'll know when someone else feels it back.  And, believe me, there is no greater feeling on earth.  It makes everything else you go through to get it completely worth it.  Trust me.

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