Jason and I like to talk. Sometimes we talk for extended periods of time (um...more than an hour) and I feel guilty because I think that's time he should be spending with his family whom I adore. But the thing about it is that when we finally stop talking and I reflect on what we've said (this is when the chat venue is very handy, because I can look back at our log), or on feelings I've experienced (this is when phone conversations are invaluable, because nothing can replace the spontaneity of the human voice or laughter), I learn something. Every time.
When Jason and I met for the first time, I was overwhelmed because not only was I meeting someone for whom I'd developed a great love and trust, but he was sharing with me something he prized about all else--his family. I met those amazing people and felt it an incredible privilege, and then became aware that in spite of a year of getting to know Jason virtually, learning who he was in person was a completely different experience and one that left me feeling as if we both had taken a few steps away from each other so that we could make room for the newness and necessity of becoming familiar with the "real" person. We had the luxury of spending a lot of time together, and by the time our families said good-bye, I felt that the online familiarity was in place once again, enhanced by the reality of an actual meeting. It was for me, a lovely experience.
I realized later that a similar thing had happened when I met AtP, Tolkien Boy, and a few other online friends in person. I'm not sure why it seemed so much more apparent when I met Jason--perhaps because we had been online friends for a longer period of time before we were finally able to meet in person. As I've thought about those experiences, I've come to understand that one can never fully know a person in a virtual setting. There's something about being together physically that lends a depth to any relationship that cannot be attained in any other way.
When I'm actually in the presence of those I love, I'm communicating like crazy--and not necessarily with words. AtP and I can say nothing, but burst into laughter about some hilarious secret we both inherently understand. Last time we were together he asked, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" "No," I answered obstinately, and then we continued the conversation because I was thinking the same thing and he knew it. Once when Tolkien Boy and I were together, I was feeling a depth of love and gratitude for him that was unusual and overwhelming. He understood that something was deeply affecting me. He said nothing, but allowed me to have those feelings without embarrassment or awkwardness. There was something profound in having such respect shown for my emotions. And during my "actual" visit with Jason, in spite of being distracted by an adorable toddler who got into one scrape after another, I found myself learning more about the different levels of who he was aided by my prior virtual knowledge. I went away with a three dimensional appreciation of a friend I already knew and loved.
The opportunity to develop close friendships online and at some point, seal them with physical proximity seems like a win/win situation. Given my problematic background, it's not. While I'm continually amazed that I've been blessed with such patient and loving friends, there is a large part of me that also feels incredible stress that there are people who care about and are interested in me. That stress has been steadily increasing since last May.
I can't elucidate exactly why the stress is present. Therapist has gone through a long complicated explanation about it more than once. I try to listen, but it's difficult not to feel that he's listing my deficits and that I should have done something to make myself more "normal." Things I remember:
1. If, as an infant and child, my physical and emotional needs were left unmet by the caregivers (especially my mother) in my life, I have no inherent understanding as an adult of how to allow others to meet my needs in any relationship. Naturally, my marriage is an exception because after a million years, you kind of figure things out--thank goodness, Darrin says.
2. Because those needs weren't met in my past, I don't trust others, or even want others to do so now. This is a misleading statement because instinctively I want my loved ones to fill my needs, but intellectually, I see myself as having no needs at all. To acknowledge that I can't take care of everything myself indicates weakness.
3. I have grown up with the belief that people love what I do, not who I am. For once, my friendships are challenging my beliefs. That's stressful.
4. I have complicated processes that allow me to have people feel close to me without actually trespassing into the vulnerable parts of me. Jason and I discussed how people often have very close friendships, but don't enjoy frequent contact with each other. But when they come together after extended periods of time, they take up where they left off, feel no distance in their emotional connections, and just enjoy the intimate time together. I have similar friends, but I enjoy being with them because they allow me to retreat behind the persona I've created--the one who listens to their life stories and reminisces about past memories, but adroitly dodges personal questions that might allow intimacy in our friendships. I feel very comfortable and safe in such a setting. But both Jason and Tolkien Boy agree that's probably not a healthy friendship. Under Therapist's dictatorial guidance, I have identified most of the tactics I use to imitate close friendships without actually being a part of that relationship.
There's more--always, but that's enough for now. But in our last conversation, Jason mentioned something that rang true to me. It seemed to help me understand on a different level why I feel stress and fear in friendships that are filled with love and security.
me: I thought I could figure things out. I though I'd understand how to let people come and go the way other people do. But I don't seem to be able to get it.
Jason: So, what do you find to be the area of most tension, then? Because you seem to be okay with friends that you don't see regularly (and some of my closest and dearest friends are those)... is the area of most tension the time when regular contact turns into infrequent contact?
me: Well, that's the problem, I suppose. Those close, dear friends are extremely comfortable to me because they know nothing about me--and they really don't want to. They love that I listen (and so do I), and they are satisfied with short uninformative answers to their questions. And I've become adept at entertaining with a story which seems full of personal information but actually says nothing.
Jason: Okay, we're talking about something different than I thought then, because I definitely understand that. A one sided friendship, really. And some of my dear friends are a one-sided friendship, completely.
me: Yes. But it's such a relief to be with them. They don't ask me questions that make me hurt inside.
Jason: Ah. Yeah, friendships like that are pretty stress free. More so, I'd imagine, for you. It's like you can just play up the caricature they see you as, entertain them, have good laughs, and then move on. I always feel that they know just this piece of who I am. A piece that they find entertaining.
me: And I don't really miss them. I'm glad to see them, but separating is okay.
Jason: Yeah, exactly.
me: Then I have The New Friends (people I've met in the past 2 years). Each one seems to have filled a role in which they've helped me over a hurdle of some sort. They know who I am. They love me. And being with them makes me feel incredibly vulnerable, sometimes sad. And yet I feel tied to them. I miss them. I just don't understand this.
Jason: It sounds like the friendships of the last two years are some of the more real friendships you've had--ones where you actually care if they love you--where it's not a take it or leave it arrangement. I'm imagining that's where the vulnerability comes in. To allow yourself to really connect with someone leaves one very vulnerable. And the phenomenon of being sad when you're with them is probably the knowledge that such a satisfying, real contact will have to come to an end. And not just sadness that the friendship will end, necessarily. Sadness that you have to say goodbye in that very instant, kind of, sometimes. But with a knowledge that it's not the end of anything, necessarily. Is that getting there at all?
me: Yes, definitely. I also think part of it, maybe, is that for once in my life (and this is pathetic) I feel valued because I'm me, I'm real, and it doesn't really matter what I do, these friends will love me. That's a new thing for me.
Jason: Oh absolutely. And what a terrifying thing to think that that might go away.