Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Tie

Steven and I split up in 1999 after five years together. It was awful for me. I really struggled with the fact that it was over and had a hard time adjusting to being alone. I went to a therapist for a while, and she gave me some wonderful help. First, some background:

I learned a lot from my mother when I was growing up. Most good, some bad. One of the bad things I learned was an incredible passion for martyrdom. I think my father called it the "woe is me" complex. Her primary tool in this quest for sainthood was selflessness. And by this, of course, I mean hardcore, cross-dragging, ball-and-chain-wearing, palm-bleeding selflessness. This trait usually manifested itself like: "No, no, YOU take the soda, sweetheart, I don't need one." "Honey, it's more important for YOU to have [insert meaningless object here] than for me to have [some other meaningless object]. I mean, I LOVE you."

Turns out, this wasn't exactly a healthy lesson to learn. All that time, I was learning the behavior, but not seeing what was truly going on inside her head (I was a kid after all). It was only after Steven and I split up that I started figuring out that there's really no such thing as selfless giving. Consciously I gave, subconsciously I needed (and never got). For me, this created intense internal conflict.

In our five years together I gave Steven everything I could give: my time, my money, my affection, my support. And while I never verbally asked him for anything in return--in fact, I'm sure I verbally insisted on NOT getting anything in return--somewhere deep inside I needed something back. When I didn't get it, I felt hopelessly unloved. Unfortunately, the net effect of this was to create an
insurmountable chasm between us. I felt like he didn't love me, and that began to manifest itself into other, completely inappropriate ways of lashing out at him: "Why can't you put the goddamn dishes in the dishwasher?" "Why can't you learn to spend money responsibly?" Etc.

So my therapist helped exposed all of this to me, which in turn led me to embrace new behaviors that I'd previously never even dreamed of. Like, for example, nurturing myself. We started with a tie.

Therapist: What's the last thing you did to "treat yourself?"
Me: Treat myself?
T: Yeah, like doing something nice for yourself. A reward, a treat. Or even for no reason at all--just to make yourself feel good.
Me: Um, I'm really not sure. I went to the movies this weekend.
T: Bullshit. That's not nurturing. I bet you bought the ticket for whoever you went with.
Me: Yeah, I did.
T: See?
Me: Then I don't guess I HAVE nurtured myself lately.
T: Well that's a nice tie you have on. Where'd you get it?
Me: [Laughs] It's a cheapy from the outlet store.
T: OK, well here's your homework: When we're done, you're going to get in your car, drive directly to Neiman Marcus, and you're going to pick out the nicest tie you can find. I don't care how much it costs. In fact, it better be expensive. I know what you make and you can afford it.
Me: I don't see how that's going to help me.
T: If it doesn't, you can take it back.
Me: Fine.

I scanned the ties at the counter at Neiman Marcus. Gucci, Brioni, Zegna, Ferragamo. I didn't know shit from shinola, so I asked for help.

Sales Guy: Hi there, can I help you?
Me: Well, I'm on a mission to buy an expensive tie.
Salesperson: Well we have a few of those. [Laughs].
Me: Will you help pick one out?
S: I'd love to. Who's this for?

Then, a long pause.

In a matter of about 30 seconds, I thought about Steven. And my mom.
I thought about how hard this was for me to do, and how every bone in my body was rejecting the thought of a $300 tie. But then I thought about what it represented: Me, loving myself first, before others. Oh god, this was hard. And then it came.

First, the lump in my throat. And then, tears. A LOT of them.

Me: [Practically bawling] The tie... [More sobbing]. It's for ME.


At 12:13 PM, Blogger athens said...

Great job! You should post a picture of yourself wearing it. :)

At 2:19 PM, Blogger David said...

That's a great lesson, thanks for sharing.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger The Accidental Boyfriend said...

That's... that's just beautiful.

At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Uncut Boy said...

that's "Chicken Soup for the Gay Soul" material ... however i think ur shrink blew gift of giving out of proportion. People sometimes give for no other reason then to make other person happy.


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