15,001 emails, covering nearly 8 years of my life. What to do? I decided to delete the early ones - perhaps up to the beginning of this year - en masse. I'm not referring back to any of the emails and haven't since the time in question, so why not?
It was harder than I thought it was going to be. I'd dip into an email, smile at the memory of the context - my exchanges with my cataloguing buddy, SA, were a particular delight, as were offlist conversations with several people I'd met online – I’ve certainly not changed in essence: analytical, cheeky, introspective. But more and more, perhaps because it is the unresolved thread from then, I found myself going back to the emails of a man I was involved with at the time. I’ve read the emails leading up to the first kiss, and those leading away from it to the end. Far more difficult and dark, very painful, but no less a pleasure.
Why? Because I loved him. No question there, looking back. Yes, I can analyse it now and think, ‘It was more about need and what I expected/needed him to be,’ but I can see the love shining through the emails as well. I recognise my tendency to affirm those I love (not just in THAT way) endlessly; the little tells in a shared foreign language; the shared pleasure in contact – talking about philosophy or daily happenings. As I read, I can feel the shared physical tells we once had: the hugs that were a little too long when we were just friends; the way I would turn into the smell of his cologne; the feel of his 5 o’clock shadow against my cheek; the little touches that scream ‘intimate’ louder than tonsil hockey in the street.
But reading reminds me, too, of how hard it was, even at the beginning. A friend of mine once said that relationship with me 'demands intimacy'; a newer friend said to me, 'You're about deep, honest connection.' They're both right; I don't do small talk for long: if a deeper connection isn't on the cards, I'm done.
But here, in a relationship that was 'intimate' by definition, the deep connection was always missing, always a struggle, only ever briefly brushed - and always by some combination of extreme reaching and walking on eggshells on my part.
In an early note to a good friend:
I don't even want him to touch me right now. There's a part of me that doesn't want to see him, that doesn't want him within a hundred miles of me right now, and another part that wants him right here.
And to another, one which reminded me that I've always tried to face things when they're hard:
You asked the right [questions], the tough ones - I need to articulate all that. And you're absolutely right, I *am* closed down at the moment, it's the only way I know to function...as is the analysis, really - it allows me to detach and intellectualise it.
I’d forgotten how early it started; how early it went from being exquisite to be in a relationship to exquisite agony. In my head, I was completely relaxed and wrapped in it until much later, but looking at the dates of these emails, the angst set in early. Interesting, that: ‘In my head.’ Not in my feelings, not in my body, but *in my head*. How treacherous that head of mine is.
But why? If, as both my friends correctly note, deep connection is so much a part of how I relate, why struggle with an intimate relationship where it is only ever fleetingly present? If I insist on it in friendships, why not more so here? Why not walk that much sooner? Because I wanted to save him. Because it was a challenge, something to reach, the Holy Grail. Because I thought he was the One, and I had to get it right – that if I just turned myself this way, sat on that tendency…it would click into place. Because being desired, being touched like that, was intoxicating. Because…
…like him, I was emotionally unavailable.
Some of my friends would argue that, would say that I’m TOO emotionally available, that I don’t draw boundaries well enough and will be there for everyone till I drop. That’s true in an intimate relationship too, but that doesn’t mean I’m *emotionally available*. Being emotionally available entails being aware of your feelings, your processes – what’s really going on with you – and with others. I have a tendency to do my emotions in my head: I have insight – but awareness, which is deeper, which pushes us towards action – is much harder to come by. I don’t sit with raw emotion easily, as has been noted; I tend to need to place a pattern, an analysis on it early to make it bearable, to feel in control. That is an indication of my inability to be emotionally vulnerable, to let go of control, my difficulty in being emotionally honest.
Wait, Irim, you’re not emotionally honest?
Not when it places me in a vulnerable position: then, I hide behind capability, intellect, the ability to help others. But no one's getting near me when I'm feeling raw: and I don't withdraw, I attack. I don't want anyone near the place that hurts.
And that's the other part of emotional availability: the willingness to be vulnerable and aware of how you and others are. The capability is all well and good, but it's the willingness that matters. Then, the willingness to be vulnerable was minimal, and choosing someone emotionally unavailable made a lot of sense, though it also made for a lot of pain, because my nature leans towards intimacy. As was said to me in my first year at uni, "You're one of those people made to go through the world two by two," and more recently, "Yes, you DO well on your own. But you're better in partnership."
Is it any surprise that I'm deeply stuck? I can be emotionally available in friendships, where the risk isn't all of me: my heart, my nature, my essence. But in an intimate relationship, it's too much - it's overwhelm: sensory, emotional, physical...and checking out, freezing, taking care of other or not being emotionally present become barriers against the terror of being engulfed and lost.
He was the same. I've been reading these letters, thinking, 'You didn't know me,' and later, 'I didn't know you,' but I think at the level that mattered - to quote Elaine Page - I knew him (and he me) too well.
And as I've remembered and worked through that, I've remembered what I learned:
- I am deeply kinaesthetic, though I tend to think of myself as more verbal. I need touch: from the little touches as a guy passes me, but even more skin to skin, whether it's holding hands, or cheek to cheek, or... If I have that, then I don't need words. I can rest.
- I have a very strong nesting - or perhaps, with a wolf totem, 'denning' - instinct.
- I love being desired and everything that goes with it. Though it isn't often expressed, sensuality is very much a part of my nature.
- He brought a lot of healing along with the pain.
- I am, truly, better in partnership.
- I can love. I can stay when it gets hard. I can make this work.
- From the way my friends gathered round, I realised how loved I was...
...though I've only begun to really feel it recently.
And over the last few days, I've learned that going back to that relationship was the best thing I could have done. Far from turning me into a pillar of salt, it allowed me to free a part of myself that had been frozen there, still chilled from the inside out by the pain.
Loving myself, applauding the risk I took to love and be involved, allowed that part to rejoin me and live again. Thawing may be painful, but it is the way to warmth and life.
And loving myself allowed me to love him by thanking him and finally letting him - and us - go.
You know who you are: thank you, and may you be blessed on the road that is yours. May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, and may God hold you in the palm of His hand.