Back in college there was this girl. She had an old school style and a voice brimming with soul. Let’s call her Amy.
I remember the first time I saw her on stage. She was singing Six Pence None the Richer’s Kiss Me, and I thought “If a guy like me could be with a girl like that…” Then, in the spring semester of sophomore year we randomly ended up hanging out late one night. When I got back to my dorm I sat down with my buddies and raved about how cool this girl was.
Amy and I hung out almost every day for the rest of the semester, and I could tell she was feeling me. Some times I’d make her laugh so hard that she’d do this thing where she’d giggle until she snorted, and then look around, wide-eyed and embarrassed like, “Who did that? Was that me?”. One day near finals week I made a move. I asked her out and suddenly she flaked. Couldn’t get a hold of her. Amy stopped answering her phone. When she finally did respond to my text she started talking about “friends.”
For the entirety of junior year I gave Amy the cold shoulder. If you were with me you ignored her. She did not eat in the cafeteria and she did not walk around campus. So cold was my shoulder that even Amy’s friends shivered when they neared me. She was a ghost and I was not a medium. Everyone once in a while I’d catch a glimpse of her and she’d look at me knowingly. Then she’d advert her eyes and have the audacity to laugh at something a friend said.
I was hurt bad. I made my best friend Ryan promise that if I should ever make that mistake again he would punch me in the face. Which he didn’t do and at the end of my senior year I once again ended up sitting on a curb furious, wondering what was wrong with me.
What I didn’t know then was that being alone, abandoned, or relationally isolated is just as painful as being eaten alive by a lion. We are mammals. This means we are relational by default. We need relationships just as much as we need air, water, sleep, and food. The only difference is how much suffering we can endure in their absence. We can’t endure a lot of suffering from suffocation. We can endure a lot of suffering from abandonment.
When we face that kind of pain, we only have a few options. One is to move toward it and try to conquer it. I’ve known a few of us who lean this way. Isolation and loneliness loom, lurking in the corners and some of us get big. Some of us get mad, and yell and shout and throw things. We blow up your phone. We come by your apartment. We refused to be ignored. Some of us do this because when faced with abandonment even tainted attention is better than none. Some of us pursue.
Some of us swing the other way though. Some of us do what I did to Amy. We shut down. We turn cold. We turn away. We say never again because we can’t take it and because we believe if you knew how much we hurt, you couldn’t take it either. I know a lot of guys who do this because if they let out their pain they are afraid they might hurt a woman. Since they’d never hurt a woman, they just keep freezing their pain. Some of us withdraw.
What I learned recently that I wish someone would have told me was this: You’re not crazy. You make sense. Some of us get cold and silent and withdraw when we feel a relationship begin to falter. Of course. Shutting down is a way of not feeling the pain which could break us. Some of us get big and demand to be heard and pursue at all cost. Well yeah. Because any way of being seen is better than being invisible.
Sometimes we switch roleson certain issues. Sometimes we switch roles even in the same argument. But there are really only two ways. Either way you make sense. You’re just as sane as I am.