This is my entry for Week Twenty of The Real LJ Idol competition, where the topic is "Love Means Never Having to Say." I'll post an update about voting later in the week. If you haven't already, you may want to join therealljidol, since some voting will be restricted to community members. Again, I really appreciate all the support so far!
The Gryphon and I give our wedding cake two thumbs up.
The other night, as my husband, The Gryphon, was playing his favorite online video game, I asked him, "Complete this sentence. Love means never having to say..."
"Butt cheeks," he said merrily, throwing out the first nonsense word that came to mind.
"Not exactly what I was looking for," I told him. We agreed, though, that love may mean exactly the opposite; being able to say "butt cheeks," or anything else, for that matter. In fact, I have a hard time keeping secrets from him, even when they're relatively minor, such as the fact that, instead of losing weight this week, I actually gained three pounds. (I guess walking around the Philadelphia Auto Show wasn't as much exercise as I'd hoped.)
I haven't always had it so good. As previous relationships taught me, there are a lot of things that love means never having to say.
From my college boyfriend, whom I've nicknamed Leechboy, I learned that love means never having to get down on your knees and beg, "Please, please, may I see my friends and family?" Leechboy tried to mold me into his idea of the perfect girlfriend, whom he envisioned as a carbon copy of his mother, a woman straight out of The Stepford Wives. She ran a doll repair shop and enforced strict household rules about things like which towels to use in the kitchen. Using his high standards as an excuse, Leechboy gradually limited my access to my support network, people he viewed as undesirables.
I should have known it wouldn't work when he expressed concern about my friends in the Penn State Monty Python Society, that band of looneys who brightened my days with campus happenings and meetings filled with sketches and wackiness. I took him to a meeting, expecting him to enjoy it like I did, but his response surprised me. He expressed concern that "One of those days, one of those people is going to hurt themselves."
Hurt themselves? Despite our frequent complaints of pun-inflicted wounds, I was fairly certain you couldn't put an eye out with a bad joke. And as far as pratfalls are concerned, I explained, the secret was throwing your arms and legs up so that the fall looked bigger than it was. He just nodded grimly and advised me not to spend so much time with them.
It's great to live with somebody who has a sense of humor. The Gryphon often sends me silly IM's from work, saying for example, that our kitty, Luke, wants to know if he can have a pet hippopotamus.
"Why?" I ask.
"Because you wouldn't let him have a rhino."
Leechboy would not have approved of such a conversation, and few of my silly friends met his strict standards. He also didn't like how my Mom looked right through him (as a domestic abuse counselor, I'm sure she saw more than I did); or how my brother was irrepressibly enthusiastic about everything from music to politics. My sister, to him, was a selfish young teenager, and my father a prattling bore. One by one, Leechboy limited my access to them.
I've since learned that such behavior is a classic abuse technique, as the abuser gradually cuts off access to his partner's support network. Naively, I thought that, as long as he never hit me (even if he broke my things, snooped through my drawers, and used threats and coercion), that he wasn't abusive. Only years later, with the help of a counselor, did I repair the psychological damage done to me then.
You might wonder why I stayed with Leechboy for four and a half years. Americans might very well ask themselves the same question: why did we reelect Bush when he'd basically kicked the country in the kidneys for his entire first term? Well, first of all, he gave us flowers and promised he'd treat us better. Then, he played on our fear, assuring us that if we left him, bad things would happen. Leechboy used this tactic, too, looking out our fourth-floor window one day and musing, "You know, I bet a fall from here would kill me. That's what I'd do if you left." Fortunately, I eventually got the nerve to call his bluff.
Almost 20 years later, I find it amusing that the people Leechboy tried to excise from my life are still part of it, while he is not. I also admit to being slightly disappointed he didn't try his luck from that ledge. *
By contrast, ever since we first started dating, The Gryphon and I have made a point of spending time with our friends, both with each other and separately. He doesn't mind if I go away for a weekend with female friends, or if I join an old college buddy for lunch. Likewise, I support his participation in his weekly role-playing sessions. We believe having our own personal time is important, just as together time is important. No co-dependency here.
Of course, after I had escaped Leechboy's clutches, it makes sense I would fall for a dreamy hippie, The Seeker, who embraced my free spirit. But it wasn't long before I learned that his hippie nomad lifestyle masked deep psychological problems, and that the reason he drifted around wearing hand-me-down tie-dyes had more to do with his inability to focus on the real world than it did with a conscious choice. Those problems eventually tore us apart.
So I have to admit, when The Gryphon and I started dating, I watched him for any sign of mental imbalance. After we'd been dating for a few weeks, only ever meeting at my place, I demanded to see his apartment, afraid he was hiding a secret enclave, full of evidence of strange obsessions. The truth was, he'd lived in his bachelor's pad for 14 years, and you could tell. I'm sure he was mystified, as I walked through the apartment, opening door after door, that instead of reacting with horror, I was visibly relieved. As he frantically tried to explain how busy he'd been and how things had gotten away from him, I reassured him, "It's nothing." Only clutter. Love means never having to worry that your loved one is hiding deep problems that the two of you can't face together.
As you might imagine, after a couple years of living with The Seeker, whose daily behavior was so skewed, I had trouble adjusting to life by myself. In that dark, self-destructive period, where I drank and ate far too much, I met The Luser, who taught me another valuable lesson. Love means never having to say, "Where have you been? And what have you been doing while I was asleep?"
Let me preface this by the admission that I believe in karma, so I do think The Luser was partially karmic payback. Instead of leaving Leechboy like I should have, when I realized how soul-killing he was, I instead got involved with a sensitive, self-deprecating fellow writer, who exhibited surprising warmth and empathy for a self-proclaimed cyberpunk. When Leechboy found out about my dalliance, he reacted unpredictably, clutching me even closer. I stayed two more years out of guilt.
The Luser was my cat-o'-nine-tails, by which I hoped to excoriate my guilt, both for cheating on someone who I now realize deserved it and probably much worse, but also for failing to rescue someone who, quite honestly, didn't want to be saved.
From The Luser I learned many important lessons, such as "Never give unrestricted Internet access to a hard-core porn addict." Also, "Never fall asleep and leave your credit-card information available to said perv." Also, "Never let a guy live off you, refusing to apply for a job because it would interfere with his chatroom habits." And the ever popular, "Never leave any sort of cold medicine, prescription drugs, or easily-sold CDs near a Luser."
I was in such a deep funk I didn't realize that no one deserved The Luser, even as karmic payback. While I had fallen for a sympathetic friend when I was in the midst of an abusive relationship, The Luser boldly conducted affairs, both in person and online, with whoever made herself available. I found plenty evidence of this after I finally dropped his sorry ass at a bus station and cleaned out his chat folders. I promptly got an AIDS test and painted shut my unlatchable windows, so that he couldn't return unexpectedly and vandalize my apartment or kidnap my dog.
That final night The Luser left me one more momento, slapping the glasses off my face and leaving me with a permanent eye injury (correctible with a stronger prescription but serving as an ever-present reminder of our twisted relationship).
Needless to say, living with a man who is trustworthy, honest, loyal and gentle means more than I ever could possibly say.
My final lesson in love came nearly a year later, courtesy of The Invisible Man, a long-distance boyfriend I met through mutual friends. He did have several things going for him: he held a good job, was easygoing and friendly, and wasn't interested in playing emotional games. Still, I should have listened to him when he told me that he wasn't looking for anything serious. He never wanted to get married, he told me. For nearly two years, I kept thinking that would change.
From him I learned that love means never having to say "I love you" and to hear nothing in return. Maybe he was just terrible with showing his affection, or maybe he truly didn't love me. I don't know. A couple times, I could have sworn that he said it when I wasn't paying attention, but he refused to repeat it when I asked.
I might have thought he was biologically incapable of saying those three words, if it weren't for one incident. While hanging out with some friends at Otakon, he ordered pizza for everyone. A female friend, grateful for the unexpected sustenance, chirped happily, "I love you."
"I love you, too," he said with a smile. Hurt beyond belief, I stormed out of the room.
Eventually, to no one's surprise but my own, he broke off the relationship. Since he was the one who had encouraged me to seek counseling about my past, though, we've remained friends, which is what we should have always been.
Ironically, the very same female friend would, at a later con, spark my relationship with The Gryphon. She was my at-con roommate that year, and they were working in the same department. At first, I would drop in to talk to her, and then I ended up returning periodically to talk to him, even when she wasn't there. And so, between that and late-night conversations in the hotel lobby, romance blossomed. I kinda love her for that.
The Gryphon has no trouble sharing his feelings, and in fact, for the first several weeks of our relationship, he brought me flowers every week. I eventually told him that he didn't have to try so hard; he'd already won me over. All he had to do was be himself: his silly, supportive, loyal, affectionate, sweet self. Thanks to all the love lessons I'd learned over the years, I recognized a good man when I met him. And maybe, just maybe, that's what this whole journey was about.
* ETA: Just to clarify, I think that any threats of suicide should be taken seriously, and I do NOT wish such a fate on anybody, even someone as manipulative as Leechbooy. But some amount of bitterness does linger, despite my many years of counseling and healing.
You don't appreciate the good until you've lived through the bad.