Cabot O’Callaghan describes the “hard way” to emotional intelligence.
See the sleet that rests upon
The quiet street we’re standing on
Is it time to go away
And try again some other day?
‘Cause these are words we use to say goodbye
These are the words you use to say goodbye
—Beck, Say Goodbye
I started to write this, to write about love and then I thought to myself, dude, this is all bullshit. You don’t know jack about love. All you know is how the absence of love feels.
Most of the time I’m afraid I’m making a big mistake by expressing how I feel. You know, the Real ways, the vulnerable ways. I do it anyway. I’m a male in a world where men are expected to be stoic and sure. It’s a load of crap. The dominate culture gives little importance to nurturing emotional intelligence and compassion. We would need far fewer therapists and medications if we gave a shit. It’d be a different world.
It’s so easy to see. The fight is never over though. I have to shake the disease every day.
I’ve been though many trials in my 46 years of life and feel that I’ve gained emotional intelligence with every beating along the way. Some of the tribulations were uncontrollable and many were self-created. The hard way is my path. But there are parts of me still stunted by old wounds in deep ways, in ways that make me feel like a child. Because I am.
Like romantic love.
I’ve avoided it most my life. Now I’ve found the courage to stand at the edge of love’s pool. Instead of wading in I dove straight into the deep end.
I don’t know how to swim yet.
There’s a lot of talk about boundaries in relationships, both platonic and romantic: What’s “healthy,” how much we should share, when we should share it, how much time one should take to develop a relationship. Maybe this is true, it probably is true, but what I think happens instead is people withhold their unflattering parts until a bond has been made. Then the revealing of the shameful parts of ourselves plays out like some feathered fan burlesque show.
That feels disingenuous to me. That’s why I lay it all out from the start. I feel more often than not, fear and shame keep us from revealing our weaknesses until it’s to late. We want to be loved yet we don’t think anyone will if we show up naked. There’s also denial, the ugly parts of ourselves we refuse to see. That one can be a seriously destructive bitch.
You know what? Fuck all those crippling things. I won’t let them beat me.
If we own our shit, it loses its power. It may still be a part of us, but awareness keeps it in check. We might falter, but we won’t fail. We won’t suffer needlessly. It requires us to be brave and being brave isn’t comforting. It’s scary.
I mean, I get why laying it all out like a creepy flasher is probably a bad decision. It could be emotionally scarring to the poor woman on the receiving end. She could bolt. But wouldn’t that happen anyway, after considerable emotional investment? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. Maybe my good qualities would win over the bad. Maybe love would conquer fear. And if she didn’t bolt, it leaves me in a vulnerable position to be manipulated. I hand over the strings to my heart on day one.
I tell myself if I do unfurl myself, no matter how many wounds I might take, I can find the kind of love that lasts, something worthy of the term “true love.”
I thought I did. I thought I found my puzzle piece, my reflection.
I still think I did actually. Unfortunately, due to matters both personal and situational, it would have been a challenging bond for even seasoned love warriors. I popped some circuits. Probably all of them.
It was inevitable, I guess. Zero to a hundred is thrilling but short-lived. It’s clear we both have growing to do, the kind of growth that we can’t do together. And man, it hurts like a motherfucker.
I’m furious at the Universe right now. How dare it do this to me. It’s like it said, “Here’s what you can have. But not yet.” I don’t want to give her back. Choking in the cloud of that utterly sad frustration, there is a part of me that thinks of the quote from the novel Fight Club:
I wanted to destroy something beautiful…I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every endangered panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground.
No. I don’t want to transform my pain into wrath and bitterness. I don’t want to be destructive. Love is at my core. I just have to sit with the sadness, the emptiness. I just have to let it have its way with me, accept it.
A chilling fear blows through my bones thinking about it. An awful legacy lurks in my family that I want no part of.
The O’Callaghans die alone.
My grandfather. His wife abandoned the family. He never remarried. Mom disowned him before I could ask him if he ever loved again. We didn’t go to his funeral.
My great aunt. She never married. No children. She may have been a lesbian, but if she ever loved someone it went unsaid.
My uncle. Homeless, riding trains. No one knows what happened to him. Did he ever love someone?
My mother. She tried. Married three times, divorced three times. She gave up after that. “I still love him,” she said of her last husband—more than 20 years after their stormy marriage ended.
Mom asked me once after my divorce, “Have you ever been in love?” I thought about it for a moment. I had certainly been smitten by a couple of women but things ended too quickly, or never went anywhere to begin with, to know if it was love. “No, I don’t think so,” I replied.
She looked at me and said, “Well I hope that you do get to experience that, even if it doesn’t work out. It’s a really great thing.”
Shortly before she died, she said that she never felt loved.
I remember a carved wooden plaque we had hanging on the wall in our house when I was young. It was the kind of thing you see nailed to a post front of a house or above the entry. It read:
Just below that was carved:
Mom was trying to distance herself from the legacy too. I don’t want to die alone.
And then, after I thought I was done writing this, I had the strangest revelation. I felt profoundly relieved. Relieved? At first I thought my madness was complete. How could I feel relieved with a heart smashed to bits? I laughed. Tears streamed down my face.
The pain and frustration was gone. I was still sad, but it was now tolerable, appropriate.
That’s when I realized just how much torture I’d put myself through trying to hold on to this precious woman, to make things as I wanted, as I thought they should be. I was barley able to function day-to-day as my mind railed against reality. Desire makes you mad. Crazy mad. More than I ever believed. I wish I would have been brave enough to let her go before things fell apart, that I could have been content with simply knowing she existed.
Ah, but the hard way doesn’t work like that.
We’re all mad here. No more right, no more wrong. The Universe can do what it does best. Which is Everything.
Motherfuckin’ bad wind came, blew down my home
Now the green grass grows
Bad wind came, blew down my home
Goddamn goodness knows
Where green grass grows there can’t be wrong
And goodness knows, there ain’t no right
— Jane’s Addiction, Ain’t No Right
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