8: You Are (Not) Alone

“I’m with you, until the very end.” – Sebastian Michaelis, Black Butler

This next tale begins an interesting series of events: three connections that began within a day of each other and slightly intertwined at points over a weekend, but then branched down different, mostly dissimilar paths. (Chronologically, she’s the second, but when has that ever mattered here?)

I met Caitlin at a convention, during a dance. (I met Jasmine during the same dance, but I’ll get to that another time.) My friend Daisuke had recently been through a breakup, and I hadn’t had any meaningful female interaction since Stacy, so he and I challenged each other to do something outgoing and Leeroy Jenkins our way over to various women in formal wear. There were varying levels of success and failure here, but one of the better attempts involved a brunette in royal blue, incidentally the prettiest girl in the room. We danced a couple of times (you know, as that first detail would suggest), and it still astounds me that we interacted past a single song when I was spacing out through much of it. I was initially so lost that her friend was convinced that I’d been on drugs. (The actual reason was that I was both cheating on my usual, low-carb routine and cosplaying a character with a sweet tooth. I consumed more sugar in 3 days than I would’ve otherwise had in weeks. Needless to say, I was in an unending cycle of rushes and crashes that entire weekend.)

We traded tastes. After confusion at each other’s cosplays, she urged me to see Black Butler, and I urged her to see Death Note. She introduced me to (delicious) Japanese candy, and I introduced her to DDR. (Since then, she’s roped me into seeing How to Train Your Dragon, and I’ve still been trying to get her to see Star Wars. Sadly, the latter has yet to happen. It’s a shame; I’d have liked to test out watching them in the Machete Order with someone who’s never seen them before.) Eventually, we traded secrets as well. Our conversations at first were pretty casual, aside from her very emphatically telling me within a couple days of meeting that she wasn’t looking to date anyone. Granted, I wasn’t either, and since by this point I’d already noticed that she’s a lot more traditional than I am, the point had become moot just on the grounds that it’d be a terrible idea. Anyway, our interactions were generally friendly and surface-level until my typically bad timing led me to talk to her when she was in the middle of some personal troubles — specifically, a falling-out with a close friend that pretty closely echoed what happened with Emma. I told her what had happened, and eventually came to realize that we were pretty similar, if several years off. (Essentially, she’s a lot like the way I was as a college freshman, straight down to the fact that she apologizes more than Shinji Ikari.) She was never quite so much of an outcast as I was, but for different reasons she didn’t have much more interaction with people than I did, so she’s dealt with some of the same issues. Our shared fears of abandonment led to have an oddly symbiotic dynamic. She knew that she could tell me literally anything without having to worry about that the way she would with other people; meanwhile I knew that I had some room to relax, regarding my more attached tendencies, because she doesn’t consider leaving as an immediate response. (The latter was something of a double-edged sword; I knew I didn’t have to worry that she’ll just leave, but I did have to worry that if I wasn’t careful I could fall into old patterns, just because felt safe with her.) However emphatic each of us was about not looking for anything, feelings developed anyway. It was the sort of thing where a relationship would have made no sense (if only because of wildly different outlooks on life, let alone love), but both parties clearly wanted one. There was one instance where it almost happened: we spent most of a night wandering the city completely lost (my fault), and kept stumbling across places with the sorts of views you’d want to share with someone. As overwhelming as this was, nothing happened – yet. After I took her home we sat in my car for an hour or so, talking about everything and nothing, and eventually we ended up in the subject of Emma. Before I could start rambling she covered my eyes with her hand, and before I could voice my confusion she covered my lips with hers. I was overjoyed; I knew this wasn’t going anywhere, but that moment felt ecstatic both for reasons both obvious and otherwise. (The latter is her secret and not mine, so we won’t get into that.)

Still, we followed through on our refusal to follow through. We said our goodbyes that night and carried on the way we had been. She met a guy not long after, and slowly the dynamic changed. Things that she’d ignored, like how I regard closer friends as a whole, became issues. She stopped being around quite so much. And it’s not like I didn’t expect some of this; it’s just that on some level I’d thought that, even if it affected our ability to see one another, it wouldn’t do much to the dynamic itself. That was stupid. (One would think that, ever since Ramona making it a lot more noticeable that my emotions have a way of creating blind spots, I’d keep that fact in mind a lot more readily.) Needless to say, this hit me with a lot more knockback than I’d expected.

I’m still sort of crazy about her, and surprisingly without the emphasis on “crazy” this time. I’m not hung up on any remote possibility of it becoming something. In fact, we would never work, but I don’t care. Truthfully, even her being involved hasn’t mattered that much to me. What does matter to me is that having someone who’s here, and not so much someone who’s mine. And there’s something about no longer assuming that I need to be with one person who can be everything (or even being convinced that “the one” exists, necessarily) that makes it a lot easier to grasp, both on intellectual and emotional levels, that I don’t need things to turn romantic just because I care about someone. (Incidentally, this is the first time I’ve really had feelings for someone since acknowledging this possibility that I’m poly. It’s been interesting, noting that I don’t feel threatened at all by there being a relationship until the possibility of it creating real distance comes into play, as it did with Emma.) It’s a bit of an oversimplification (since there’s some romantic inclination that just isn’t a priority to me), but the best description I’d have for my feelings about her would be friend-love. Even so, she’s been an exercise in self-control for me. Knowing she won’t just disappear comes with knowing that’s no reason to act like an addict. If anything, my feeling safe with someone is a lot of what causes me to get that way, because I stop feeling like there’s a risk that it will fall apart if I fall into the habits that tend to make it fall apart. Paradoxically, she was both the reason I worked as hard as I did to maintain a balance and the reason that balance was an issue in the first place.

Eventually, Caitlin also started seeing it as problematic. Now she thinks I’m too attached. And in fairness, she’s probably right. Though, her ideal is that I just purge whatever feelings I have for her entirely, as if that were such a simple act. (Everything you’ve read here so far would suggest otherwise – Yuki in particular.) But while I question whether going to that extent is truly possible, what I feel doesn’t have to dictate what I do. By now I’ve actually figured out some methods of keeping a handle on things, and it’s shown in that I’d had some success (albeit small) in backing off without the intense feeling of withdrawals that usually come along with that. I managed to go just over a week without making any attempt to get in touch with her, something I’ve never done before without basically driving myself mad. (Since more recent events, I’m on day 14.) More so, was the one who initially brought up going low-to-no-contact for a while, another first. But even then this wasn’t actually enough. At the point that we had talked about catching up (part of my intent being to discuss this and try to clarify where boundaries had changed), I was met with stalling, with non-responses – you know, the sorts of things I should’ve probably picked up on as a pattern, but didn’t. (See also: Kim. More on that later.) At this point, things are actually no-contact for the foreseeable future, and I’m not really sure anymore what to do about all of it.

Caitlin witnessed most of the year or so that’s passed since the chaos that started me on this path, and in a way the point in time at which we met has made our friendship interesting, on an intellectual level. She’s both the first person I’ve had any sort of feelings for since Stacy, and one of the first people I’ve really gotten close to since everything involving Ramona (excluding Daisuke and crew, which may be a tale of their own at some point). To that point, the things we bonded over are issues I couldn’t even clearly define a year ago, and between the details I’d already started to sort out and the timing of my meeting her she’s become something of an accidental experiment in how to maintain some degree of sanity as I connect with someone. As for what things have become now, her calling me out is the unfortunate push I needed to address my existing concerns. It’s not something I can do solely for her, in that no matter how much progress I make, if I address my obsessive tendencies entirely because of my obsession, then internally nothing has changed. (This was actually something I’d intended to touch upon separately. I’ll probably expand on it in the future.) After all, there’s a certain contradiction in detaching from someone entirely on the wishes of the person you’re attached to. On some level, instead of it simply being for her, it has to be something I’m doing for myself. That said, the time I’ve spent with her has shown me a lot about both what’s gotten better and where my current limits stand.

I’ve come to a conclusion (for now) that my attachments have a way of displacing each other, like a fighting game that keeps shifting its balance as new characters are added to the roster and old ones are dropped. (Don’t ask me for a tier list, though; I’m not Smashboards or Shoryuken. All I know is that Emma was OP until pretty recently. Oh, and that rebalancing Ramona’s terror to reasonable levels might take until Super Player One Paradox Legends 3 Ultimax Arcade Turbo Extend.) As an interesting example, speaking of Emma, I’ve found that I’m not really thinking about Emma quite so much anymore. That said, It’s a bit premature to say that won’t resurface, and even if it doesn’t I question if it’s any better that I just have someone else occupying my thoughts in her place. After all, when someone catches my interest that tends to happen. (Because new is always better, or something?) But it’s still intriguing to me to notice how my obsessions seem to shift. (This isn’t limited to people, either. I’m the same way with bands, games, movies… you name it. Granted, these aren’t quite as destructive. Super Smash Bros. sure as hell isn’t going to leave.) In either case, this sort of fixation often happens on autopilot. It’s the thing that occupies one’s mind when nothing else does, not just the thing that distracts from other things that are present. This is big. You see, if obsession were a conscious thing, that one could simply turn off, I would’ve never gotten to this point (in a broader sense, not just one involving her) to begin with. Essentially, my mind is prone to gravitating toward one or two default subjects, that will act as a placeholder for whenever it isn’t occupied. (Generally it’s the current object of my affection/depression/apprehension. As implied above, if there isn’t someone specific, historically it’s defaulted to Emma.) It doesn’t tend to require a trigger or anything particular attached to the thought; rather, things like “I wonder what Emma’s up to?” will appear independently. Given enough time in such a state, it becomes a tangent that I find myself dwelling on. (Usually this has turned to me trying to call Caitlin, or Amber, or Jasmine, specifically because a conversation requires some degree of active attention.) I find myself wondering if most other people have a sort of autopilot though that they default to, or if this is specific to obsessive types like myself. Where Caitlin’s been involved it’s been less… delusional about the nature of things, at least, but ideally I need to find something different. Specifically, note the choice of pronouns. Maybe it doesn’t necessarily have to be a thing (it could be a place, after all), but the minimum requirement is that it’s not a person. (As an aside: I’m now at a point where, when I do unconsciously think of Caitlin, it then triggers musings about how I need to find a new autopilot thought. It’s amusingly meta.)

These kinds of attachments come from openness and from trust. A lot of what brought us closer to begin with was that each of us had an awareness of how much we both hated to see people leave, and trusted that the other wouldn’t turn around and do the same thing. We trusted each other with secrets, and with damage. Arthur Aron’s experiment on how to fall in love with anyone comes to mind here, as the entire thing consists of shallow questions that slowly become more personal. Even Stockholm syndrome comes from a place of vulnerability, albeit a much less voluntary one… A lot of my own tendencies come from some feeling of emotional safety – that, whether because I’m strange or because I’m sort of screwed-up, someone isn’t judging me. (It also explains my attraction to nerdier girls.) Someone like her, who understood exactly where I was coming from with all of this, was like a walking bundle of stress relief. Whenever she was around I could relax, completely, and that utter lack of anxiety was something I could never seem to get enough of.

When I started this I was going to write about how, as difficult as this was getting, I wasn’t totally fucked. Evidently, I was wrong, at least for now. I’ve also said that I was getting better. That one’s not completely wrong, mind you, but clearly I’ve overestimated myself, given what I mentioned earlier about her showing me my own limits. It’s not that I don’t think things with Caitlin can be salvaged, but most of all that would take time, rather than any action on my part. For that matter, keeping the hell away from all of it and letting things (more so, letting myself) calm down for a while is a very active sort of inaction, if anything. Assuming I can pull that off without the aforementioned self-maddening, it also shows (even if only to me) that something’s getting better, whether it looks to be or not. Of course, there’s still the puzzle of how these problems progress so far to begin with…

It’s amusing, in a way; even in handling these kinds of collapses, Caitlin and I share parallels. When things went south with her friend she told me that things would probably get better with time and space, but that in the meantime it was really difficult not to reach out again. You might notice that this is basically the same thing that I’m telling you. Whatever the case, what was working before obviously isn’t now, and I can’t really say for sure how much trial and error it’ll take to get that right a second time. Balance is sort of a moving target. I actually had a decent handle on things for a while, but my biggest mistake here was assuming that what happened with Caitlin’s other relationships didn’t change things with me, and somehow letting myself be surprised that it went beyond just not being able to hang out with her as often. Relationships – and people – are more fluid than that, and expecting that someone will be a constant historically hasn’t gone too well for me. To that end, feelings aren’t a thing you can consciously or directly change at will, but you can change how you handle them. What’s key here is that it’s a process, and that one that needs to be subject to reevaluation as things change, internally or otherwise. Either way, things won’t settle enough to justify revisiting them for a while, so for now all I can do is try to solve the problems that are in front of me.

Skye: It’s always tough to lose people you care about.
Hunter: Secret to that? Don’t get attached.
Skye: Tried that. It didn’t work — for you either.
– From Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Heavy is the Head”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *