Regret, Masochism, and How To Stop Time Entirely.
5 years ago I forced myself to sit down and try to process what goes on inside of me during heartbreak.
Reading back now, I realize how catharsis isn’t so much born of new understanding, but of greater compassion for our enduring points of despair which continually rearrange themselves over the course of our lives. Sure, people can change. But if we can’t first afford ourselves the love that’s been deadened by its confusion in another, our changes behave more like ricochets that spin us into alternate universes of the same tired fate.
The type of lifelong joy I now dream of is that of the smile I might give at an ex’s wedding ceremony—a smile whose confused regret is outsized only by the joy of that confusion’s wonder. This to me is the type of whole joy we come to long for only when our fear of letting go is trumped by our ecstatic flirtation with time.
We’re all just passing through—why spend life yearning not to be human when solace is found in humanity’s embrace?
– Danny/TL&TW/December 6, 2015
I’m writing this post as a kind of letter of forgiveness to myself– largely in hopes of my grasping onto a catharsis that would bring me much needed peace.
All of us have had that relationship whose end equates to our longing for the beginning. Chances are, that’s most of our relationships to at least some degree: a finale of regret and rumination (or Hell’s version of classic R&R). Though everyone seems to have their own way of coping and moving forward. I know for me, it involves a lot of blaming myself and visualizing past instances of blissful intimacy with more color than the real thing. The trouble is, this method unnecessarily prolongs my mourning– especially because I’m against ‘rebounds’ (at least in theory)…
…Am I the only one saddened by the prospect of it requiring a contrived hook-up to lift ourselves out of the sorrow of our previous relationship? With these rebounds, we accept– consciously, even– that we are investing a fictitious affection in the reboundee. We bring with us an uncanny optimism, or naiveté, really, that is as absurd as it is sacred. It says, with our pervasive doubt suppressed: I still believe in intimacy, in love.
How precious this feeling is. And if only I can find it as factual. If I refuse to pursue a rebound, then, how can I shake off my sorrow? Time is the easy answer. I once said to a friend during his moment of discouragement, “You don’t want time to heal what was once real [but you must].” If only people were better at taking their own advice. But as I mentioned, my method involves endless rebuke, and the kind of ruminations that paradoxically manage to arouse me while giving the sensation that my penis is shrinking.
What kinds of ruminations might these be? The obvious ones are the dreams of her being intimate with someone other than me. But wait, those thoughts don’t arouse me– although they definitely give me the sensation that my penis is shrinking. No, I suppose the bulk of my ruminations are comprised of my present self visiting my past self– while in the presence of her, of course– and demanding me to awaken from my shade of indifference. I wish to freeze and unlock a moment’s time by the magic of objectivity and hindsight and to say, “Wake up, Danny! You have everything! Put aside your discontent; look next to you!” Alas, to do this would be to defy an unalterable law of our lives– things’ transitory nature. Milan Kundera wrote in what is now my favorite book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, that “In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia…” I will presuppose, then, that in the sunset of a good thing, we yearn to have it back. Either way, we fucking miss what’s gone. We’ll even miss our broken heart, because as long as we’re pouring salt into our wounds, we’re masochistically satisfied with the wound’s presence; because its being means that we’ve temporarily defied things’ transitory nature.
Even while my reluctance endures, my sheer exhaustion from holding open the doors of time will eventually propel me to move forward, ever so slowly. I have got to discover a new way of coping– something that steers clear of both ‘time to pretend!’ and stopping time entirely to brood and examine it. I guess this would also be a good time to say that I’m not one to have a ‘girls night out!’ either. Damn. I’m not intelligent enough to be as cynical as I am. My inability to reconcile what I hold true– the pain of regret and neglect– with what I believe to be false– the comfort of a rebound and friends’ well-intentioned distractions– is leaving me isolated—if not physically, then in my head, certainly.
Enough abstraction. What is it, exactly, that I regret? Perhaps answering this will arm me with enough sound logic to climb myself out of the emotional trenches. One thing, to which I’ve already alluded, is immediately apparent: I’m sick of lying in the shade of my indifference. Further than taking people and events for granted, I’m sick of being unable to rise above a despondence that leaves me only partially there—in conversation, in lovemaking, and most importantly, in my support of her. Ironically, I believe this to be the same detachment that helped attract her to me in the first place. I can hope not. “We can never establish with certainty what part of our relations with others is the result of our emotions– love, antipathy, charity, or malice– and what part is predetermined by the constant power play among individuals.” Just as we hope and probe to find that our significant other’s attraction to us is ingenuous, I’m continually devising methods to discover the source of my emotions and ensure my candor (perhaps in vain).
There’s my first lesson, right there: if you don’t want girls attracted to you for your mystery, then try to be more in attendance with her. I can’t be this nitpicky with myself, though I can try. How about, lesson #1: she can’t read your mind, so you need to show it. That’s about right. Plus, I think I kind of enjoy the fact that many girls see me as mysterious—considering I was an open book through high school, and open books are no fun for starry-eyed girls who seem to simultaneously want both the unknown and what they expect. Or is it that they expect the unknown and to be able to change him when he arrives? After years of adolescent heartache, I’m fairly certain it’s some form of combination. In any case, I seem to have gone from one extreme to the other (as I do in many aspects of my life). Well in the future, if I’m going to be closed-off, I sure as hell better learn when to open up.
Post-logic, the dull pain insists. I remain in the trenches. It’s a good thing I can only hold open the doors of time for so long. And throughout all this time, I’m supposed to keep telling myself that if it were truly any of these nitpicky things that drove her away, then I should be happy it is so. But what reasons do most significant others have when they part? A kind of culmination of nitpicky things that drive one or the other away. A good end to a relationship could then be characterized as a mutual acceptance of each other’s nitpickings. Perhaps I’m afraid of what lies beneath: an individual knows, viscerally, when a relationship is no longer possible. More unsettling still, it is not possible for the other to understand the instinctive feeling. Yes, I believe this to be the most unsettling regret and rumination of them all. I’ve parted from another in the past without explanation; and in my coolness, it was impossible for me to see that what lie on the other side was neglect and misunderstanding.
I had remained cool with her even while the torches burned, signaling the end of our journey. She said to me, “When people at work ask me if I have a boyfriend, I say no, because I don’t, but I can’t help but think that I do…” Later, I would come to dread this moment as a crux of fate and locus of my regret. That was when I was supposed to chime in with “But you do have a boyfriend!” Instead, I held my breathe out of the fear of a long distance relationship. Was fear my inhibition? Or was it my turn, first, to know viscerally that the relationship was not possible. Does it matter? I often worry I may never be able to discern between my instinct—too often wrapped in our fears that we are beckoned to overcome—and my intuition—a kind of divine insight that we too often ignore, or to which we don’t know how to listen. My sadness burrows. Even our instincts, which are usually the best guides we follow, are simply veiled primitive fears, manifested in our gut. Perhaps I need to stop yearning to be superhuman and accept that our desires, and ultimately our lives, are shaped, above all else, by our fears. In the meantime, I can see that one of my life’s greatest callings and challenges is to develop my intuition, and distinguish between it and my instinct. This may be the closest we can get to escaping humanity and getting closer to God—whichever aspect of the same end you wish to emphasize. Amidst all my banter, I’m further convinced of the intractable world of Kundera in which human beings are deprived of a proper context for their humanity. “Now we are longtime outcasts, flying through the emptiness of time in a straight line. Yet somewhere deep down a thin thread still ties us to that far-off misty Paradise…The longing for Paradise is man’s longing not to be man.”
Indeed, I’ve prayed for forgiveness for my shortcomings, to see each other’s lives with clear vision, and to understand why the relationship had to end as I was beginning. Which of her nitpickings and fears signaled the crest? One night, she was kind enough to visit me in my dreams to try and explain. She looked shy and sincere, and all I could remember of what she said upon my awakening was something to do with clouds. Something like, “being with you was cloudless, and I needed to be in the clouds.” I can’t help but hope she’ll come back someday and again explain so I can get it right. Whether she revisits me or not, I’m bound to her. Years in the future, in my dreams, when I’m again visiting a nostalgic scene from our past, I’ll again be reprimanding the Danny of the past. I’ll ask him why he must remain so despondent. Only then will I tell him that I’ve held open the doors of time, time and time again, and having been on to the next heartbreak after the other, “suffice it to say that you are already happy……Now.wake.up.”
Apparently I say ‘suffice’ in my dreams; I’m more badass (and far less mysterious) than I had thought.
– Danny/TL&TW/September 17, 2010
Pentagon City, Arlington, Virginia