Friday, November 29, 2013

Todd


Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, and together we will remember that we all walk through life with love and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, faith and uncertainty.


NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

Of my romantic relationships, I was the most compatible with Todd. He is one of the most decent, honorable men I’ve known. Some of my biggest life questions, answered or still being asked, stem from my relationship with him. And yet he is the one who is most often left out when I share my personal story. And he deserves more than that.

  
I’ve been in three long-term, committed relationships. The first was with David, my son’s dad. We were young; the relationship was volatile and did not last long. Tense co-parenting was something we did together for far longer than being a couple.

My third relationship was with a woman, Mari. Our love was incredibly strong, strong enough to compel us to keep trying even though we had fundamental differences and struggles from the very start. It was a difficult relationship.


Todd was between the two. He was generous and loyal and he took care of me. Our first official date was in a busy restaurant. I wanted something – a drink, a fork, whatever – and he gracelessly dodged people and tables to chase after a waiter to get it for me; when he returned we laughed about it. He always treated me well, and I never had to spend a dime. Later when we moved in together, Todd didn’t care whether I worked or not, or went to college or not; he made enough money for the two of us and Chris. He just wanted me to be happy and he was proud of me no matter what. He planned camping trips and amazing vacations. He had an easy and light-hearted approach to life that was uplifting and comforting to be around. I always felt safe in his arms.




I used to tell people that it took finding Mr. Right in order to be strong enough to admit to myself that I was meant to find Ms. Right. We’d been together for five years when I got a huge crush on a woman, and in my haste to knock down my closet door I left Todd bewildered and heart-broken. In my headlong pursuit of discovering this newly revealed aspect of myself, I did not look back or slow down to show him compassion. It is one of my deepest regrets in life; he deserved better from me.



I left Todd because I came out of the closet. But even though I quickly identified with the label “lesbian,” I never stopped being attracted to men. It has always been different, how I feel towards men and how I feel towards women. But the potential is there for attraction and love with either.

Any time I found myself attracted to a man, contemplating whether or not to pursue a relationship, I would compare him to Todd. I thought, if I end up with another man, that man needs to be better than Todd. Otherwise, what was the point?

I’ve engaged in a ceaseless internal argument about correctly labeling my sexual orientation. I’ve never cared for “bisexual” because I think it implies that I would be equally happy with either a male or female partner, which over-simplifies my complex and evolving feelings about sexual attraction and partnership. I also think that we are all bisexual in that given the right circumstances, virtually anyone would consider playing for the other team. So in that sense the word “bisexual” becomes meaningless.

Am I a lesbian? The term acknowledges the strong connection I feel with women; how meaningful it is for me to connect with another person on so many levels. But that label does not recognize my potential to become romantically involved with a man.

I’ve decided to stop the inner argument. Labels are meant to be general guidelines to help our brains easily categorize so that we don’t become overwhelmed with details. To identify my own preferences to myself, I don’t need a label. I like this person for these reasons, that person for those reasons. If other people insist that I label myself, that’s their business; and if they feel the need assign me a label, that’s their problem.



In all these years I’ve never stopped dreaming about Todd. Every month or so, since we broke up almost twenty years ago, I dream of him. The dreams differ in content, but the theme is always the same: we get back together. For a long time, after waking from a dream of reconciling with Todd I would be angry. I had moved on, moved far away from my life with him; why was I being tormented with dreams of him? There was no chance of us reconciling in real life. And even if there was I wouldn’t do it, because I’d be afraid that ultimately I’d leave him again.

Recently I’ve come to realize that dreams of him are less about Todd, and more about my longing to be taken care of. He eased my anxiety; he dismantled my troubles.

During our breakup, Todd told me that the thought of me living a lesbian life sounded lonely. At the time I thought he was being ignorant; sometimes now I wonder if he was being prophetic. My years since leaving Todd have been singularly lonely, including those when Mari and I were together. And it has been during these years that I have shouldered my biggest challenges. I can’t count how many nights I desperately wished someone was there to take me in their arms and tell me everything would be ok, even if it might not be true, even if the next day I would have to once again shoulder my burdens alone.

During the most difficult and lonely years of my life, Todd comes to me in my dreams and shelters me from life’s pain. He envelopes me in warmth, love and protection; he is my refuge.



Did I actually leave Todd for women? Or did I leave him because it was too comfortable, too easy to let him take care of me; that I knew I wouldn’t strive for my highest potential within his sheltering embrace? He was so good at taking care of me, taking care of us, there was no need for me to step forward, to reach.

Very soon after our breakup I started volunteering for a nonprofit with a cause close to my heart. It led to my first job in the nonprofit sector, which then turned into a career and some of my most fulfilling years in the workforce. I had a position of both authority and visibility, which gave me opportunities to express parts of my personality that I hadn’t been aware of before.

Having lost my camping and vacationing planner, I had to step into that role for myself and my son. Taking the lead was often stressful, but it was also so empowering to learn that I could do all the research and planning, then take myself and Chris on backpacking trips or to vacation spots. Later with Mari I continued to take the lead in planning activities. These are roles I likely never would have played had I stayed with Todd.

My life is vastly different than anything I could have imagined for myself. It has been far more solitary than I ever expected or wanted; but it has also been far more empowering and adventurous than I could have hoped. If today is my last day, I can die satisfied that I pushed relentlessly at the boundaries of my potential; I took risk after risk, finding the courage and determination to find out how much I could accomplish. The cost, my PTSD, was unexpected and far higher than I could have imagined. But there was nothing that could have stopped me – I needed to see how far I could reach. Great personal achievement has not yielded accolades and a life of giddy self-satisfaction. But it has brought me to a place I may not have reached otherwise, a place where I can clearly see how needlessly hard on myself I am, see my limiting self-perceptions, my fears and vulnerabilities.
 
I don’t believe I could have lived without seeking answers to my questions.

The answer is, there is no answer. I love women and I love men. I am courageous and I am vulnerable. I love my independence and I long for partnership. I want to take charge and I want to be nurtured. It is the searching, not the answers, that have been most important.

Todd provided a safe and nurturing relationship that gave me the strength to question. It was his love and belief in me that helped me believe in myself. Really, it was within my relationship with Todd that my journey of self-discovery began. So Todd deserves more than to be a footnote in my life, or the relationship that I only share with a few people. He helped build my foundation of courage from which I’ve sought to fully express and challenge myself. With every goal I make in life, every success, every knock down, every moment of illumination and growth, he is there.






Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!

6 comments:

  1. Kjerstin -- this is the most remarkable blog I've ever seen - (though I don't look at a lot --- still I've seen enough to feel this is unique.) The honesty and lack of self-promotion, and the open discussion of inner struggles seem to me to be wonderful gifts you are giving to folks who may be wondering and/or worrying about their own struggles. I guess I've known since way back to rainy, snowy, exhausting Gould/Moss camping trips that you have incredible courage and determination, but this blog takes my admiration of those strengths of yours to a whole new level. Love, TM

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    1. Wow, Tom - thank you! I've always found writing to be a way to work through inner struggles. And in sharing with others, I peel away my own secrecy and shame. This helps me heal. And if it speaks to others, that means more than I can say.

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  2. I'm with Tom. And this is such a warm tribute to Todd. I was just talking to my kids about him this morning - as always, with the utmost affection.

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    1. Thanks, sis. I'll be curious to know the context. And no surprise that you shared with affection.

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  3. Hey there Kjerstin, sorry for not having commented earlier than this. I feel remiss in not adequately supported a fellow writer friend. This was beautiful. The way to pull people in when writing is the way you do it in any relationship, being honest, but even more importantly, being vulnerable. You are skillful as a writer, yes, but the vulnerability is what makes it beautiful.

    On another note, if I may, your dreams about Todd, I would guess, are much more about the universal (and I mean that) desire we have at times to relinquish responsibility and stop being vulnerable and just let someone else take care of us. While Todd was very meaningful in your life, and as your friend I am very glad he was in it, it sounds as though he could have some co-dependent tendencies and that is about insecurity and, though we co-dependent types are often reluctant to admit this, control. Let me now say that we ALL have control issues and I am not trying to label Todd negatively, just that I don't view your relationship with him, while wonderful, in the same way you do. I would expect anyone in your position to get restless as you are too interesting, intelligent and vital to be happy in that lifestyle forever. Obviously you could have addressed this issue and remained in the relationship and your reasons for not doing that, if you truly are more drawn to women, are valid. Keeping in mind that I have never met this person, might I suggest that you may also, on some level, have known that he would not have been as open to looking at his issues as he may have seemed on the surface? Possibly, he still had some growing to do and it took your leaving him to make that happen. Keep in mind that as long as you were not pushing the boundaries for him he would have appeared to be very pleasant and well put together, because he wasn't under any stress. If you had taken the employment position you did while still with him, can you really say he would have been open to the changes that would have happened within you? If he shared the vacation planning role he would have had to compromise a lot more and, overall, had less control. Consider that this was his growth area to work on at the time. Someone always wanting to take care of us can sometimes be a reason to be suspect.
    Much love,
    Wynne

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    1. Thank you, Wynne. It's been far too long, and I was far too young, for me to be able to reinterpret who Todd was as a whole person. And that's fine, I don't feel the need to. When we met, we provided what the other wanted. And that would have been fine if it continued to work for us both. For my part, I was too "unformed" to make a lifetime commitment before having any sense of who I was. What I take from our relationship is the ways that he supported and strengthened me. And I take that strength out into the world with me, even if sometimes I long to feel as cared for as my memories suggest I was. I'm better because of him; even if he had shortcomings that I don't remember. :)

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