Since I started this journal several of you folks have asked me about my past. Who've I been with? you want to know. What was it like, being with them? Did they let you....y'know....do THAT to them? Did they hurt you? Did you hurt them? Did you learn anything from them? Would you do it again, if you had a chance?
So I'm going to write some entries about my history, limited as it is, and let you see for yourself. As always, all names I use here have been changed.
All of the women I've mentioned up till now have been wonderful. Laurie, on the other hand, was the first really trying relationship I'd had. Danger, there are shoals ahead.
Part 5: Laurie
I met Laurie several years after college. At the time, I was fairly active on the mailing list of one of my favorite prog-metal bands, and on nights when I was bored I could occasionally be found in an IRC chat room that was ostensibly dedicated to the band as well, but was more often just a "hang out and gab with friends" thing. One night Laurie popped in and (after getting the usual welcome from the regulars) she and I started talking. I don't even recall whether it was me who first private-messaged her, or vice versa, but I do recall my ears pricked up when I discovered that she actually lived in my area. About 99.9% of the friends I'd made through this mailing list (or IRC channel) lived scattered all over the world, so it was pretty unusual to find one who actually lived nearby.
Then I discovered that she was single (she was, as I recall, bitching about her lack of a love life) and my ears pricked up even further. Having already found that she lived in the area, I began idly wondering if she and I had anything else in common besides our love of the band. We started privately chatting and it turned out we did have a few other things in common. The biggest one, though, was that we were both very annoyed at being dateless losers on a Friday night, and so I think it was boredom more than anything else that led her to accept my offer to meet for coffee sometime. She sent me a pic and I sent one back to her so we'd know what the other looked like, and then we met to go see a movie.
To my astonishment she looked almost exactly like the pic she'd sent me. I'd met loads of people via the Internets by then, and it'd been my experience that (shock!) several of them misrepresented themselves via the image they portrayed online, or sent pictures that were way out of date or way different from the way they typically looked. But Laurie, surprisingly, looked very much like the pics she'd sent -- a tall, slim girl with straight, reddish-brown hair, a studious expression, wireframe glasses, and a shy smile. She had a "librarian chic" thing about her -- shy, retiring, a bit mousy, drab clothing, but very beautiful in her own way.
When she smiled at all, that is. I quickly discovered that Laurie was very, very quiet, and very shy, and that I did most of the talking when we were together. She was obviously very intelligent but she was so reticent about expressing herself that I had a lot of trouble drawing her out. I got to know her slowly over the weeks that followed, and other dates, but there were a lot of conversations when there were long stretches of silence -- and not always the comfortable kind. We mostly talked about music, the biggest thing we had in common, and one of the things she did when we were out one afternoon was to turn me on to a new musician I wasn't familiar with. I've since become a massive fan, bought all eight of his albums, and been to see him play three times -- one of the few good things that came out of this relationship.
I also found to my dismay that she had severe intimacy issues. When I went to give her a hug after our first real date, she stiffened up so much that it was like hugging a tree. I bent over for a kiss goodnight and she looked terrified, like a deer trapped in headlights. Now, you will never, ever catch me forcing anyone, so I just turned the kiss into a quick peck, but I left that night wondering why a little intimacy scared her so much.
It didn't improve much over the weeks to come, either. I could hold her hand when we went someplace, or stroke her hair if we sat together on the couch, but anything beyond that seemed to panic her or just turn her off like a light switch. Our hugs goodnight were always the same, and never ended with more than a kiss -- I would reach out to her, she would stiffen up, and sometimes I wouldn't even put my arms around her, just putting them lightly on her waist. A quick peck, and then I'd be off again.
I talked with her for hours, about everything under the sun, trying to make her feel comfortable. I never pushed her, never asked for more than she was willing to give, never got visibly angry or upset when she rejected my advances. In fact I rarely even made any advances, once I saw how uncomfortable she got with any kind of physical intimacy. But privately I grew more and more frustrated with the situation, and with her continuing reticence to share....well, pretty much anything with me.
I tried drawing her out. Tried asking her about her past. I asked her once if she had had a bad experience with an abusive or controlling boyfriend. She shook her head no and said it wasn't that. I tried telling her that I didn't want to make her uncomfortable and would she rather that I just stopped seeing her. I tried asking if she just didn't find me attractive. Every time she assured me that no, she didn't want me to go, and that she loved being with me, and that she did find me attractive. She just....danced around the problem every time I brought it up with her. And so I kept trying, although it was becoming apparent that in addition to emotional intimacy issues, she also had other emotional problems. Problems with depression. Problems with her family. And a self-image that was so low it barely even registered at all. I began to feel like I was going nuts with duct tape trying to fix the cracks in her personality, and nothing I ever said or did seemed to make any impression on her at all.
Still, she was beautiful, and I have a stubborn streak a mile wide, so I kept trying. And trying. Soon I was also discovering an unpleasant thoughtlessness about her. She would frequently do things that inconvenienced me or caused issues without seeming to care -- she was always, always late for everything, for example, and we missed two dinner reservations, one movie, and were thirty minutes late for one concert because she could never be ready when I came to get her. And she never argued, only went with passive-aggressive behavior when upset -- she would tell me one thing, but then act in a completely different manner that belied her words. I couldn't even count the number of times I had this conversation with her: "What's wrong?" (Long pause, deep sigh from her.) "Oh..........nothing." I don't like playing games, so I would take her at her word, but it began to grate on my nerves.
One night, for example, I took her to a large Christmas party being thrown by my boss. All of my coworkers would be there with their girlfriends or wives and I'd told her I would be very happy if she'd come with me, but that I didn't want her to come along if she wouldn't be comfortable in a large group of people, or okay with meeting my coworkers. She assured me that she'd love to go and that she'd really enjoy the night out. And then spent the entire evening sitting in a corner, talking to no one but me, sipping at a drink, and closing up like a clam any time anyone came near her or even said hello. I asked her repeatedly if she wanted to go home and she kept saying no, but when the fifth person in twenty minutes had asked me if she was okay, because she looked absolutely miserable, I had had enough and took her home. Over and over I asked her why she had agreed to go if she wasn't going to enjoy herself, and over and over she assured me that she had been having a good time, everyone had just misinterpreted her quietude. I was so upset that evening that I didn't even bother to try for a goodnight kiss, just dropped her off and told her I'd call later.
Things came to a head one weekend, after we'd been dating for about four or five months. A guitarist I particularly admired (we'll call him Johnny Rich just for brevity) was doing two solo shows in a neighboring state, one of them five hours from where I lived, the other one six hours away. I asked Laurie if she would like to come see either show with me; I'd planned on going to both and was going to grab a hotel room in between them so I didn't have to drive another ten hours back home and then to the next show. She was not free the first night, but said she definitely wanted to go the second night and was looking forward to it. That meant I'd have to drive back home, five hours, after the first show, pick her up the next day, and then drive six hours up to the second show. Annoying, but doable, and she seemed worth it; also, I really wanted her to see Johnny play.
So I drove up the first night, had a great time, and talked with Johnny after the show. Now, I'd traveled a couple of times, long distances, to see him play previously, and he remembered me, so he made a surprising offer: since I'd come so far, would I like to follow along to the next show and see that one too, free of charge? I could hang out with them on the tour bus, crash in a spare bunk if I wanted, watch from backstage, hang out with the band, whatever I wanted. I had to tell him that I wished I could, but I'd promised my girlfriend that I would come back and bring her up for the second show, so I couldn't take him up on the offer. I drove the five hours back home, got in early in the morning, and went to bed.
When I woke up, I called Laurie to make arrangements to pick her up that night so we could drive up to see the second show. Unfortunately, it seemed that she was no longer interested in going, even though she'd promised me several times that she did want to go. It was okay if I went, of course, but she "just didn't feel like it".
For the first time I genuinely lost my temper with her. I do have a temper sometimes, though I keep it under tight control. I felt I'd been very accomodating of her issues, but this wasn't the first time I had missed out on something or given something up for her. I'm afraid I exploded at her, railing about her thoughtlessness and how I was tired of bending over backward for her. I told her I was tired of her using me as a doormat and continuously taking advantage of me. I also brought up the issue of physical intimacy and wanted to know why, after four months, she still turned into a stone statue every time I tried to hold or kiss her. I wanted to know what, exactly, the problem was with our relationship, why nothing I did ever seemed to make any difference to her. There was a long silence on the other end of the line, and that only enraged me further: "There's nothing wrong? Or you just aren't going to tell me?" Another long silence, but not a word did she say. I let it stretch, and stretch, and stretch. "Hello?" I said, and she said "I'm here," but not a single word more.
I had had enough. I told her it was fairly obvious she just didn't want to communicate with me, and I was tired of being in a relationship where all of the talk was one-way. I told her that I knew there were problems, but that I couldn't fix anything if I never knew what the problem was. I told her that I had done everything I could to help her, tried to be patient and understanding, but that it never seemed to do any good at all. I told her quite a bit more, some of it very hurtful, lashing out in frustration and rage. And finally I told her that I hoped she would find somebody who was better suited for her than I was, but that I was cutting loose before I wasted any more of my time. I waited, but there was only silence on the other end of the line. She didn't even seem to care enough to castigate me for my harsh words, it seemed. I said goodbye and hung up with a bang, and that was the last I heard of Laurie.
In retrospect I know that I handled that extraordinarily badly. Yes, I'd put up with a lot from her. Yes, I'd bent over backward for her countless times. Yes, she probably did have emotional and mental issues that were interfering with our relationship. Maybe she had had some kind of trauma in her past. Maybe all of this. Maybe none of it. I don't know, because she would never tell me, would never talk with me. But I could have been more kind about it when breaking things off. I didn't have to be so hurtful and didn't have to be so pointed. There's enough hurt in the world already without me adding to it.
I also learned a few more things about dating, and a few things about myself -- not all of them good. I learned that some people are just incompatible with you, and no amount of effort will change it. I learned that some people have problems that go too deep to be healed easily, and that being with someone like that requires a kind of patience that I do not possess. I learned that, for me, intimacy is important -- friendly connections are nice, but if you aren't able to develop any emotional or physical intimacy, you'll never have more than just a friendship. I learned that although I talk about how patient and attentive I can be, if driven beyond my limits I can be extremely cruel and hurtful. I learned that if I don't keep a tight rein on my temper I can say things that I will regret for a long time. I learned that for me, life is too short to continue swinging futilely at a target that you will never, ever reach, not if you try for a thousand years. And I learned to stand up for myself and say something when there are things about a relationship that are bothering me, rather than just internalizing everything until I explode.
I saw Laurie a few more times in the years since, always at concerts or music festivals. Most of the time she didn't see me, although one of those times, her gaze did meet mine. She looked very uncomfortable and slipped through the crowd in the opposite direction, obviously not at all interested in saying hello.
I'm sorry, Laurie. You drove me nuts for months, but I shouldn't have been so cruel when I broke it off with you. I hope you did find somebody who could help complete you and salve the hurts in what was obviously a hurting soul. But it wasn't me.