At my last session, my therapist suggested I read Hold Me Tight. Hmm, I thought. Didn’t a man I was dating two years ago (who I referred to at that time as The Pirate in my writing), buy me a copy?
Turns out he did, and I had read a little of it. I remember finding the premise, that attachment is a basic human need, convincing.
Reading it now, I think one reason I didn’t finish it is that I think at the time my main criticism of the more avoidant partners was that they were rude.
I struggle with feelings of guilt, which erode my confidence. What the book does for me that it couldn’t do before meditation, therapy, and a few more relationships, is give me a name for the behavior I feel guilty about.
I’ve been thinking about why I’m not closer to my friends. Why do I want so badly to put all my emotional needs on one person? I decided to try to get closer to my friends. To be more vulnerable with them. I went to see my friend, let’s call him Trippy, with this intention. I think of myself as incredibly vulnerable. Trippy and I made a sex tape for my OnlyFans which he uploaded while I vaped some DMT. But there was a moment that night when we were talking where I suddenly felt very self-conscious. I worried that I was being off-putting somehow, and that thought distracted me from the moment and made me want to retreat to sort myself out emotionally somewhere private. Something about that moment, trying to be vulnerable and then watching myself act avoidantly, broke something loose for me.
I feel bad about not returning my friend’s text messages. I feel bad about doing it because, what if they need me? What if they’re being clear that they need me right then and I don’t get it because I am ignoring people’s texts at the time? They know I’m not someone who can be counted on to respond when they need me. I know that I’m not someone who can be counted on to respond when the people I love need me. I feel incredibly guilty every time I don’t thank my friend for subscribing to the paid version of this newsletter, I don’t text that new, cool girl I met who I want to be friends with about meeting up. I don’t tell my lover about my insecurities.
I realized I’m avoiding people because I don’t want to let them down. I’m so afraid that I’m bad and selfish and unreliable that I avoid other people to make sure my badness doesn’t screw them over. I’ll let a few people in, and only so close, but only if they constantly make it extremely clear to me that they want me in their lives.
What Hold Me Close has done for me, and I’m only like 20% through the book, is to be able to see that behavior as “avoidant,” as opposed to bad and selfish and unreliable. I mean, it’s both. But I’m not doing it only because I’m a bad and selfish and unreliable person. I’m also doing it because I’m absolutely terrified of making people uncomfortable without realizing it. I’m absolutely terrified of letting people down. And I’m absolutely terrified of being alone in my feelings and not realizing it. I’m afraid if I tell my lover my insecurities they won’t find me attractive anymore. Again.
I keep asking the people I date to be in love with me. What does that mean? In Hold Me Tight, author Dr. Sue Johnson writes that essentially no intimacy can occur without vulnerability. I think intimacy is vulnerability. And that part of vulnerability is allowing people to inflict emotions on you. What I want is to allow someone to have a huge impact on how I feel. I want to give someone the power to bring me to new heights, and new depths. I’ve done many a drug, and so far nothing compares to being utterly vulnerable with someone and having them enthusiastically accept me.
When I first tried to read Hold Me Tight, I wasn’t ready to re-experience the full range of emotions falling in love elicits. I didn’t trust myself to not become codependent.
I’ve always loved the lyric in Live Again by Better Than Ezra:
I love it when we fight
It makes me think
At least you still care
It felt so fucked-up though. So codependent and unhealthy. I got it but I hated myself for getting it. But I think back on my relationships after reading a whole fifth of Hold Me Tight, and I remember being so pleased when one of my exes would lose his temper in our arguments. I knew we didn’t make any progress when that happened but it still felt like progress. Some say the opposite of love isn’t hate, but apathy. Any strong emotional response assured me that I was not totally alone in my feelings.
Part of the reason I’ve wanted a partner, and hierarchical polyamory, and have put so much of my emotional needs on whoever I’m dating, is that I can’t imagine being so vulnerable with more than one person at once. It’s so hard with just one!
I’ve wanted it both ways. I’ve wanted to feel stable, self-contained, and safe. And I’ve wanted to hop back on the world’s biggest emotional roller coaster.
I think if intimacy is vulnerability, and vulnerability is (among other things) allowing people to inflict emotions on you, then intimacy requires immense confidence. That you’ll be okay if your feelings aren’t reciprocated. That you’ll survive finding yourself alone in your feelings.
And that codependency is actually the opposite of intimacy. Codependency is sticking around when the emotional rollercoaster becomes ride you don’t enjoy on net and that’s likely to remain the case indefinitely. Codependency is lacking confidence that you’ll survive finding yourself alone in your feelings.
More than anything, more than to be in love again, I want that confidence. I want to know and be known. I want to show my insecurities, my self-conciousness, my weirdness to the people who I can trust to tell me when they need me, when I’m making them uncomfortable, and when they want me to leave. I want to let people have the chance to hurt me with the confidence that whatever happens, I’ll be okay.
But first, I guess I’ll finally finish the book.