Previously unpublished. Originally written on:
February 2, 2014:
When I was younger, I wrote a few bleeding heart essays about my hopes for the future in the realm of my own bleeding heart. The titles don’t really matter anymore. Many of them were speculative, ideas I had about love, the fulfillment of it, what it is, what it should’ve been, and so on. They were written during an exceptionally depressed period in my life—a time when I was supposed to know what I wanted, made cautious advances into trial and error, attached myself to pointless devotions, and never really knew which side was up. Years later I should know something by now. But I don’t. I know nothing. I’m 37 years old and I know absolute jack.
I used to write these kinds of essays to find some kind of peace, a chance to blow off the steam that pressured my heart into bursting. I had desires I couldn’t quench. Writing about it kinda helped, kinda left me with an insecure hope that maybe something will change now. And the steam would lift a bit, and I’d feel better. But it would always come back. In time, I learned how to ignore it. Pretend I don’t care. Eventually, my pretend became real life. I stopped caring. I stopped believing that the future I had wanted since I was a kid was even mine to have.
I had this belief when I was a teenager that I’d start my family at 21. My parents were 21 when they married. Both sets of grandparents were in their early twenties. My own sister, who is 16 years my junior, is now engaged; she, too, is 21. I thought that was my time. I thought the prayer I had started when I was 17 would come to fruition by then. I even had a glimmer of hope when I had gotten the opportunity to meet a woman who, after just two weeks of casual friendship, would somehow steal my heart away in a way that no one else before her ever could, and I was 21. Then a month into getting to know her, I had finally found out about her boyfriend. Even after many intense nights in prayer over the four years I had begun praying for God to put someone worthwhile in my life, I was stuck with a deep interest I could not act on. But I still had hope that circumstances would eventually change. I still had hope that I’d have a chance to say how I felt, if only I had just ridden out the waiting until the very end. I had waited four and a half years for that relationship to end, and when I finally had the opportunity to say something, I did not get the response I had hoped for. I had lived four and a half years in what we now call “the friend zone.” Back then, I had no idea that was a thing.
Why am I dwelling on a hope that had ended 12 years ago? Why should I care? Those feelings I once had are long gone. The friend that I had hoped I could grow with had since found and married another. That door was never open, but it had since closed so tightly that not even a termite could get through. Why did I, in spite the warning from many friends, hold on to something that was hopeless? Misplaced faith, perhaps? Did I think God would change her heart for me? Since when did He start infringing on His own gift of free will? I had to accept the fact that it was never meant to be, and if I had an opportunity with anyone else during those four and a half years that I was purposely ignoring (which sadly I can think of only two who were of any interest to me, and I’m not even sure they were single—the pattern in those days was if I was interested, they weren’t single), I didn’t take it. I still don’t know if I had made a bad call, or if I had simply made the only call I could. College was a hotbed of dead ends for me. Why am I dwelling on the past? The past is supposed to communicate with our future so that we can make a different, and hopefully better choice. Unfortunately, my past isn’t speaking to my future, because so much other randomly confusing crap had clogged the phone line during the years in between.
It has now been twenty years since I started asking God to provide someone special to take my side and join my life—literally, just one. I’ve never believed in random or shotgun dating. Even when I was 13 and stupid, I was still thinking of my future and the consequences of wasting my heart on someone who didn’t deserve it (aka, anyone I wasn’t going to spend my life with). Yes, I was a shy kid who was afraid to ask someone out. I had two elementary school crushes, both crushes lasting about two years, and neither crush shocking me with an ounce of courage. I was a friend to both, and that was comfortable to me. But expressing my heart—not a chance—too scary. Thanks to my deadly combination of shyness and forward-thinking, I had blown the opportunity to receive my first kiss at the age of 12 when a girl I had never met before or seen since had intercepted me in the front yard of my neighbor’s house, began to flirt, and asked me if I had wanted to kiss her. It was a thrilling question, certainly, but strange considering I was just going next door because I had forgotten my key, and I needed to get the spare from my neighbor, and I really wasn’t expecting to have someone coming onto me just fifty feet from my front door. Yet, there she was, the nameless girl, who I don’t remember being particularly cute, chatting me up, wanting me to take her to the beach, and, well, I don’t remember everything she had asked me or what I had responded to. I just thought, “I gotta get out of here before this girl steals away my first kiss.” So I left. Then I immediately blamed the episode of Full House that addressed the topic of first kisses for stealing away my first kiss. To this day I think allowing whatever was going to happen, if the girl was even serious, would’ve encouraged me more in my teenage years to take those risks that I had never actually taken, and maybe I would’ve had my partner beside me by the age of 21. All speculative, of course. I also think letting the girl take that first kiss away from me would’ve made me too comfortable in my teen years to sample the buffet line and weaken my standards, as many who start dating young seem to do.
I don’t technically regret that missed opportunity. As I said, I have no idea whether the girl was serious or just playing a game with me. Even as a 12-year-old, I didn’t understand teenagers. But, sometimes I do kinda regret it. What had I forfeited by rejecting her? What life had I closed the door to by listening to my fears rather than listening to my curiosity? What about the elementary school crushes? The second crush took place during the early dawn of my adolescence. What if I had spoken up about it before that last day of school (which I missed because I was sick, and the girl who I liked, who, on the second-to-last day of school had asked me if I was coming tomorrow, I never saw again)? Maybe I dodged promiscuity. Maybe I dodged what Lifehouse calls a “sick cycle carousel” of bad choices and callous feelings by avoiding that first kiss as a 12-year-old. I know plenty of people who have taken that curious leap early in life. Many of them have since jumped from relationship to relationship to relationship like rabbits jump from carrot to carrot. I guess they’re content. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? Culture teaches us to experiment. We’re made to satisfy our curiosities until we find something we like. Isn’t that why we’ve got ten thousand religions as opposed to one? Isn’t that why we can commit to our spouses as long as someone better doesn’t come along in time? As a culture, I think we’ve stopped caring about the baggage we carry because we no longer seem interested in guarding against the acquisition of yet another bag.
I don’t know if avoiding that risk was actually smart. Maybe I avoided all kinds of baggage, but maybe I also avoided the path that would lead me to my dreams coming true. I’ve since taken risks that I might’ve been afraid to take when I was younger. My brief stint with online dating sure helped with that. Talking to strangers does not normally fit into my comfort zone, and talking to them with the intention of maybe dating just complicates comfort even more. But online dating forced me to get comfortable with it. Sadly, however, it didn’t change my circumstances. There were very few that genuinely appealed to me. Only one of those few had actually spent time getting to know me, and she lived eleven states away. She decided she wanted to stay single just three months after we had begun talking to each other. Apparently she had never gotten over her ex, who had dumped her ten months earlier, and didn’t think a new relationship would fix it. Whether we were building a relationship or not, she didn’t want to invest any more toward it, for the sake of her spiritual or emotional healing. After waiting years and years for someone to take me seriously (after that summer day when I was twelve), I couldn’t believe my ill luck. I had truly liked her. The only one I had any real interest in, in all of Internet dating. That moment, as far as I know, was my first step onto the pirate ship plank called “the friend zone” with her. And we had met on an Internet dating site! Honestly, I don’t know that skipping that first kiss at 12 years old had actually changed anything.
Why am I dwelling on the past? Why do I care about those moments long out of reach that have no more concern for my life? Those circumstances are over. They can’t hurt me worse. I’ve since healed from each of them. Why do I care? I’m dwelling on the past because time is flying by so quickly, yet so little has changed since those days. I’ve been silently struggling with the crippling fear that soon I’m gonna be too old to enjoy the beginnings of my own family and still live long enough to watch yet a new generation begin. I have to cast that thought out of mind if I’m to prevent it from crippling me. It’s the only way I can handle it. It’s not like I’ve had much power to change it or encourage it. To make a family requires a partner, and that is not something I can just make happen. Pretty much every attempt to invite someone new into my life ends with someone else (or something else) stealing her away. Often, the thief is her own strict unbreakable rules that make no exception for me or the time that she gives to other matters that she makes more important than me. Sometimes it’s just the cold, hard truth that she prefers another man, maybe a bunch of other men, to me, and that man decides the iron is hot, so he strikes. Whatever the case, it leaves me hopeless. That sucks. I care about the moments that are long out of reach because history repeats itself all too often, and that also sucks.
I’ve grown tired of caring about this. I’ve grown tired of wanting it. Truthfully, I haven’t lost anything by rejecting that kiss when I was a kid, or ignoring the potentially good women in college because there was literally one that had my full heart and focus, or taking chances where chances shouldn’t have been taken. I think I’d still be where I am today regardless of those curious risks. Long ago I had prayed that God’s will be done in my life. Long ago I had prayed that God would find me just one to love, to grow with, and to spend my life with. I imagine God has taken those two prayers seriously. But that’s okay. I’ve invited God to help me with my choices. He is, after all, the only one with the ability to see the consequences of my choices completely. Every new friendship with a woman of quality, especially those that begin by “coincidence” (read: God’s bringing us together for a purpose), inspires me with a little more hope toward finding that one. But I don’t say anything. I don’t act. Why? Because I’m afraid of loss. Because the few times I’ve taken that deadly chance, I’ve taken the knob in hand and slammed the door in my own face. I didn’t risk that first kiss that summer of 1988. But I have risked expressing my heart to those I’ve believed in, aware of the pain that would follow if that woman rejected me and consequently decided she was finished getting to know me, and I have since taken that pain that I knew could come, multiple times. Maybe the problem is that I don’t acknowledge life for what it is: a series of choices that have positive and negative effects, where the positive effects are rewards and the negative effects merely expose a bad fit for what it is.
Maybe I shouldn’t be callous about any of it. Maybe I should care. But maybe I should also not be so afraid of making potentially catastrophic chances. Maybe I should also just be who I am, say what I have to say, and stop caring about the hurt that might follow. Maybe life doesn’t just pass us by like a freight train. Maybe life is too short to care about the pain that comes with risk and uncertainty. Maybe, for those women who did mean something to me back in the day, I should’ve just said something early on and gotten it over with. Maybe I would’ve lost them sooner, but the pain would’ve been less than what I actually experienced. Funny how too much caution can sometimes make things worse than they need to be.
Anyway, I know my thoughts on the matter are a bit scattered, but that’s just how relationships make me feel: scatterbrained. I don’t know how anyone can make any sense of them.