Sixteen Jens, ten Jennys, throwing shade at her
In the spring of 1978, when I first started keeping a journal, I was in love with a classmate named Veronica. At least, I thought I was in love with her. It's what I called it. What other name should we give to a feeling so powerful? In my very first entry, I wrote of the experience of standing next to her in a crowd of our classmates. It was at the Spring concert, and in the close quarters, her forearm brushed against the back of my hand, and I described what went through me, experiencing that contact. I wrote: "I felt as if a giant ocean wave had been poured into my head and had cascaded to my feet." I was swept up in a tide of hormones, a sailor so in love with the sea that even the prospect of drowning did not disturb me. I thought she was beautiful, and to be sure, she was a very pretty young lady. I loved the sound of her voice, and her laugh. I liked her name. It's not a common name. She was not one of "twenty-seven Jennifers." The name intrigued me. The name is from the Greek, and it means "true image." I looked it up, pursuing my fascination. It had a classical appeal, while not being common, and it's four syllables felt good in my mouth. It was my belief that she wore it well. It always seemed to me that she stood out, in many more ways than just her name: in how she acted, in how she spoke, in how she carried herself, how she looked at things. I think I was impressed with what I perceived to be her ability to have both a kind of quiet reserve coupled with a warm engaging style. She didn't seem flapable, and yet, she wasn't walled-off, either. I was fascinated. Actually, I was obsessed. What else should I call it? It seems to me that we fall in love with people who exhibit or exercise a certain set of virtues, in patterns of their actions and mannerisms that uniquely speak to something in our own souls, for better or worse. Veronica was the unwitting possessor of an unclaimed lease on my heart for at least three or four years. I never showed her the place, much less, offered her a key, and so it stood empty, and haunted only by my fantasies and daydreams. Even after she had transfered to the other high school in town, after her freshman year, and gone from my sight ever afterward, she was frequently on my mind for the next couple of years.
I had no idea what to do with my feelings. That's a recurring theme with me: what in the hell am I supposed to do with my feelings? Even today, that is a question that frequently bedevils me. I never regarded my emotions as reliable motivations to action. However powerful a motivator our emotions can be, merely having feelings gives one no insight into what specific actions one should take in response to their inspiration. I read in those old pages of mine a deep longing need to tell someone about what I was feeling. I never expressed it like that, explicitly, but eyes thirty nine years older have learned to perceive meaning in the whitespace. Why did I want to tell someone? I'm not exactly sure, even now. I noted that I couldn't, as if it were merely obvious that I wanted to do so, and I felt the need to spell out why I couldn't, in the pages of that now ratty notebook. I wanted so much to tell someone and I couldn't, and I felt the need to write that I couldn't on that page, to preserve it somewhere, to "get it out of me," in a sense. We are so powerfully moved to share our unique perspective on existence, and to experience the unique perspectives of others. This is the essence of loneliness. This need to trade from our unique vantage point in existence and to value and be valued, is at the core of what we are. It's entwined through everything else we are and do. I spent/spend, so much of my life thwarted in my pursuit of those "spiritual values."
I spelled out why I felt I couldn't share. I didn't want to be teased or ridiculed, no matter who did it, or how "gently" it was done. I guess I thought that if I couldn't tell anyone what I was feeling, and couldn't figure out what to do with my feelings, having hurt, embarrassment, and wounded pride would just be even more feelings with which to deal. Whether it was realistic or not, I felt very alone and isolated. That too, is a pattern with me. Although its details have gone through the sea change, the pattern is still recognizable. Reading my childhood gushings, I found some part of me thinking: "Idiot." Damn. What in the hell, Dude? Why does part of me feel embarrassed, that I was moved so? Why self-disdain? Why police myself so harshly? My parents would never have criticized me so bluntly, unless they were really angry, but there it is. In their usual condescension, and in the way that they acted towards me, that is the impression that they gave me. I didn't want to be "less" in their eyes, a second-class being, merely because of immaturity and having feelings. To me, being an adult came to mean, among other things, that one controls and suppresses the powerful desire to share one's feelings. Sharing feelings is the way that we can be manipulated, controlled, and somehow, regarded as less significant. We call this feeling that accompanies our efforts to share, "vulnerability," because to offer to share your unique perspective on existence is to run the risk that what you have shared will be disvalued by the person with whom you want to trade. This disvaluation is what David Schnarch describes as a perceived challenge to our identity or our integrity.
I was not valued for my feelings. I didn't want to be thought "cute," or "precious," or precocious. Sharing feelings of attraction for someone is, or was, a sure way to invite belittling from my peers. I realize that I got the same impression from my parents, although they didn't outright ridicule me, most of the time. They still seemed to be "looking down on me." They were no help, at least in that regard. I learned defenses against vulnerability. Even at the age of fourteen, I understood, and was writing about insulting people and "being silly" as cultivated defenses. It is notable that I didn't exactly understand against what it was I was supposedly defending. I had written that my mother believed me to be somewhat immature (for my age?) due to my defenses. How is that for irony? Who was it that was exacerbating my perceived need for defenses in the first place? That's all the better that she could offer though, the perception that I was somewhat immature. Telling my mother how I felt always seemed to be giving her tools and an invitation to be intrusive. I always felt as if I had to worry about what would come back to bite me. On top of that, my mother's actions only confused me. She supposedly loved/loves my father, but they fought, very often violently. I couldn't make any sense of that behavior. What did she hope to accomplish with how she behaved? Was I to be asking her about love? She was in love, supposedly, with a man she couldn't stop denigrating, one she couldn't stop trying to manipulate and change into someone else. I'm pretty sure that I intuited that discussing feelings of love and attraction with her, in anything but the most abstract senses, was a good way to end up more confused about my own feelings, rather than enlightened.
My father was no help. He was/is frequently dissociated from his emotions — at least, the ones that bother him or trigger him. When he feels awkward, he resorts to silliness and trite bromides. His TrueSelf is definitely not in charge of his conversation, then. He would say things to me like: "A stiff dick's got no conscience." Usually, I understood what his aphorism or bromide meant, but much of the time, I was at a loss to see what relevance the comment even had to the matter at hand. OK, so being aroused and attracted to someone was often an opportunity to slip one's conscience and do something one would later regret. I'm pretty sure he's talking more about himself than he was to me, in situations like that. Hell, my problem was in trying to figure out if even the most tentative of actions would produce any kind of valuable return at all, or end up hurting me. Foolhardiness is not a sin to which many would ascribe me. My father married my mother, and from what I saw, was faithful to her. He married a woman who took frequent opportunity to throw his past and his background in his face, and shame him, despite his best efforts to eschew and distance himself from the more dysfunctional behaviors in his family of origin. Talking to him about any kind of sanity in love and attraction seemed like digging up stuff in an onion field with the hope or expectation of finding an orange. There was no help there.