Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Cruel Lash of Self-Loathing

Wuss. Candy Ass. Lily-livered pantywaist. Puling little coward. Cringing, whining, pussyboy shitfucker.

This is just a sample of the names I've been calling myself the last couple of days. I've shifted from tearful woe-is-me self pity to irritated anger at myself to elaborate justification of my actions to a certain level of acceptance that isn't true acceptance of something I can't change but simply a resting-place from the frustration of not changing something I can; but underneath all of these phases is a thematic undercurrent of plain old stupid fear. And I really dislike myself for not only harboring this stupid fear, but also for basing my actions on it.

See, there's this guy I like. I met him at my Tuesday homegroup meeting, and we became fairly well acquainted... well-enough acquainted that he lent me some DVDs. We have a lot of things in common; and the things we don't have in common, I find attractive. I also find him attractive physically, more for the really creative and artistic way he handles his "flaws" than for his degree of aesthetic beauty (which is not lacking). We've chatted superficially quite a bit, and I gravitated toward him after every meeting (under cover of the fact that he was the coffee-person for the meeting and was pretty much tied down to the coffee-bar afterward).

For several months I tried to get my nerve up to ask him out on a date, but never managed to spit it out. But now his coffee commitment is over and his schedule seems to have changed, so I don't see him on Tuesdays anymore, and haven't seen him for at least two months; and I don't have his phone number, so I can't call him (even if I had the nerve to call him).

Two and a half weeks ago, I was thinking about him, just sort of musing... and I remembered, as I was thinking about him, that he'd given me his business card a long time ago, when we were at coffee after the meeting with a group of people and discussing business cards in general. It was a really pretty card, pink and orange with a butterfly in the design, from the ritzy hair salon where he works; I kept it, but I don't remember if I gave him my card (which is a cheap print-it-yourself job but has all my contact info on it).

So when I remembered that I had his business card, I thought perhaps I should look for it and, if I found it, I should call him. This memory of the business-card episode seemed like a sign, a sign that I needed to call him. The possible location of the business-card began to obsess me.

Later that week, I was talking to my friend Lana and, though I can't remember what topics of conversation led up to this, I told her about the sudden remembering of the business-card episode and my ensuing obsession with it. She agreed that my sudden remembering was a sign, and that I should call him. And while we were talking, in my car as I was dropping her off at home, I suddenly had the clearest memory of where I'd put that card: I'd put it in my brass business-card case with my office's state-affiliate's logo on it, which in turn was in my car saddlebag, right between us under my elbow. I opened the saddlebag (I think that's what they're called, those armrest/compartments between the front seats of a car?) and there it was, the little brass case, and inside it the pink and orange card with a butterfly, bearing his name and work numbers in full. I was surprised to note that his last name (which I'd never noticed before) was the same as my sophomore-year Anthropology teacher's.

"Call him tomorrow," Lana told me. This was not a suggestion, it was an order. I whined that the next day was a little too busy, I had all this work to do, and all these errands to run, and a board meeting and everything, but I'd call him on Friday and ask him to dinner.

Of course, come Friday, I managed to talk myself out of calling. After all (I "reasoned"), it really isn't appropriate to call a person at his place of business to ask him out on a date. What I should do, instead, is somehow try to get hold of his home phone number, and call him there instead.

But I was still obsessed with the notion of asking him out on a date. I even talked to my sponsor about it, and she agreed that all these sudden memories about business-cards meant that I should ask him out... not that they were a collection of "mystical signs" but that I apparently was obsessed with him and should investigate the possibilities. And though I'd missed my Friday December 17 deadline, I decided that I would get his home phone number, call him up, and ask him out to dinner some time before the end of the year.

So where to get the number? I tried to think of various people who might have it, but nothing came to me... until I remembered (quite suddenly, you see the pattern) that his sponsor is a friend of mine, and I could ask this other friend for the phone number. I would even tell him why I wanted it, and could ask this other friend's advice on how to approach the problem of asking this guy out on a date... as well as ascertaining whether or not the guy is already seeing someone.

Christmas got in the way, though, and I put the dating issue (as well as everything else in my life) on hold until afterward. But then Christmas was over, and though I toyed with the idea of asking him to dinner on New Year's Eve, and to the Living Sober dance afterward, and toyed with the intention of calling him on my birthday, I didn't make a move. I didn't even call the friend to get his phone number on my birthday, even though I had the remarkable excuse of calling to wish him a happy birthday (the friend and I have the same birth date, though he's a year younger). I also thought that, if I didn't get his phone number, perhaps I could call him at work and make an appointment for a haircut (I needed a haircut anyway), and I could ask him then; but that struck me as both sneaky and pathetic, so I ended up getting my hair cut at Supercuts (since my last haircut was bad, my next two will be fine no matter where I go, so why spend the money?)

But the next day was Tuesday, I knew I would see my friend, or even perhaps the guy I like, at my usual homegroup meeting; I could address the issue at that time, either by talking to the guy I like, or else getting his number from the friend who is the-guy-I-like's sponsor.

This is getting difficult without names... I'm partly obscuring the names of people directly involved because I know all these people through AA, and there's the whole tradition of anonymity in AA; but on another level, it's also because I don't want anyone who knows the parties and also reads my blog to know whom I'm talking about. But I don't like to be secretive, and I've already salted my narrative with sufficient clues that people who know everyone involved will probably figure it out if they put their minds to it, but I still need to maintain people's anonymity... so we'll call them Gus (the guy I like) and Sol (the friend who is Gus's sponsor and who has the same birthday as me)... I'll also go back and change my girl-friend's name to Lana (I don't actually know anyone named Lana, which seems a shame).

So anyway, I got to the meeting last night, hoping to see Gus and, if not, determining to ask Sol for Gus's phone number. But of course, neither Gus nor Sol were there. I felt absolutely crushed.

Naturally, I started feeling sorry for myself. I went to sit down, and the person in the next seat told me he was saving that seat for someone; then when the secretary was looking for people to read various things at the start of the meeting, he passed me over... now, neither of these things meant anything, people save seats all the time and there are only three things to read and thirty people in the room... but I felt rejected. And as always, when I feel rejected, or even feel the possibility of rejection, I also felt the sensation of every rejection I've ever experienced in my long and rather rejection-ridden life. Within a matter of seconds I felt utterly wretched and might have burst into tears if not for my WASP self-control.

About fifteen minutes into the meeting, Sol showed up... but by then I was already so well-launched on my pity-party that his arrival didn't cheer me up at all. In fact, soon after his arrival, I was beseiged by the sudden urge to flee the room. I don't know if you've ever had that feeling, that you wanted to either run like hell or else find a dark room and go lay down in a fetal position on the floor in the corner, but whatever you do you can't bear to be around all these people. I fought the urge, because I know from experience that you simply cannot flee an AA meeting, someone will follow you and ask if you're OK. We're nosey that way.

So I wrestled down the urge to flee, reasoning that it was irrational to feel so rejected just because the one guy was saving a seat and because the secretary didn't ask me to read. And so I didn't flee, but I did start a preliminary bout of weeping (where my eyes watered a bit but didn't produce actual tears) right about then.

The weeping was less about the sensation of rejection I'd already experienced and more about the self-pitying realization that I simply didn't have the nerve to ask Sol for Gus's phone number. In my typical manner, I rehearsed what I'd say, and thought through all of Sol's possible answers, and though on a rational level I knew that it couldn't actually hurt to ask, I knew on a gut-instinct level that I simply couldn't do it. I was too afraid of too many things: afraid of rejection, afraid of appearing foolish, afraid of getting hurt, simply and inescapably afraid... and it wasn't even the kind of fear like a fear of falling or a fear of being buried alive, where your heart races and andrenaline pumps into your system; it was the sad, dull fear of knowing that the possibility for pain and embarrassment is greater than the possible rewards. The kind of fear that keeps you from making a dentist's appointment, or from changing jobs, or from dancing in public. A coward's fear.

And as I sat there, my heart pressed with the burden of this cowardly fear, I realized that there was another guy in that room on whom I have harbored a crush, whom I tried for over a year to work up the nerve to ask on a date, to whom I gave my card once but he never called me (but then, I didn't ask him to call me for a specific reason). And there was another guy at the meeting on whom I have a crush, though I have ruled him out as possible dating material because he's far too good-looking and therefore well out of my league. To make it all that much more weird, I realized that both of these guys live with Sol, as does the last person I fell in love with. It always comes back to Sol, somehow.

But that's neither here nor there... though it's an interesting coincidence that all these people are connected to Sol, the point is that during the meeting I was faced with more and more memories of my puling cowardice in regard to romance, and my heart became heavier and heavier. In a neat twist of fate, the topic of discussion at the meeting was "We shall not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it"... neat, because I was absolutely inundated with my past, every past rejection and every past failure in even making my romantic wishes known to the object of those wishes, and shutting the door on all that painful feeling would be an undreamed-of luxury.

When the meeting was over, I tried to flagellate myself into asking Sol for the phone number, but though I circled the room and came back to Sol time after time, I never managed to work up the nerve to ask this simple stupid question. When I finally did get away from everyone, not letting on that my lethargy was anything more than post-holiday depression, and got into the steamed-window hidey-hole of my car, I really cried, letting it all out and just feeling super-duper sorry for myself.

I snivelled all the way home and curled up in a blanket in the living room and watched television until I couldn't keep my eyes open, then went to bed and cried a little more. The next day (Wednesday) I started writing this story, but it got too long and I couldn't deal with the pain after four hours of writing about it, so I went back to the television and its electronic opiates. I watched Latter Days and cried, and then I watched Saved! and cried some more. Now, Latter Days is a love story and has lots of feelings, so crying at the end of that one was sort of acceptable... but Saved! was a comedy, and though it had some touching moments, it wasn't supposed to be a weeper. But then I was feeling so sorry for myself I probably would have cried at a National Lampoon movie.

But after all that crying, I got angry with myself. I hate snivelling like that. But I can't hold on to anger for very long, and I reached a sort of irritated acceptance: I am a coward, especially when it comes to the possibility of making myself ridiculous, and so I am not going to call Gus because I'm too fucking scared. And so passed another day in front of the television with a big bag of candy my niece had left behind (I must have eaten a pound of sugar at least, but those candy Legos tasted so good, not to mention the Gummi sour watermelon slices and the little candy pacifiers).

Then this morning Lana called me, and during the course of our conversations she inevitably asked about the status of the Gus Issue. I told her all about it, and she directed me to call him today and just ask him out for coffee before the meeting I plan to attend tonight. She understood the fear, she'd felt it herself, but reminded me that there is no way to get around fear, the only way to get past the fear is to just plough right through the middle of it. Just fucking DO it was the message.

And though it helped to have her cheering me on, this was in essence no different from the autoflagellation I'd done at the meeting trying to make myself ask Sol for the phone number. It was nicer, and more helpful, but in the end I still don't think I can do it. I simply haven't got the strength to plough through this fear.

I wish I could end this tale by telling you that I called Gus at work and that he's meeting me for coffee and that it didn't hurt at all. But I'm sorry, I have no happy ending for you today. I still hate myself for this stupid cowardly fear, but I very simply lack the inner resource right now to get past that fear. I'll spend some time today praying and meditating, and I hope that God can grant me the strength I lack... but to tell the truth I don't have much faith right now, either. I'm just too spiritually tired.

So I am going to go back to bed, maybe read a book, or just flip through some magazines or watch another movie, and try to shut down the engine of fear and self-recrimination and self-loathing that has been churning away and burning so much fuel for the last couple of weeks. And maybe I'll see Gus at the meeting tonight, and maybe I'll talk to him. Maybe not, maybe I just need to take the pressure off myself.

I don't know. Anyway, thanks for listening. You're a pip!

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