I: ENOUGH PEANUTS

[Nota bene: This story is in four parts, and parts I-III are pretty grim, but there’s a happy ending. Also, there is a lot of smoking and no small amount of tears.]

I’m making Friday night plans with my brother Caleb. He’s saying we could stay in and watch a movie, or go out and get some drinks. “Or,” he says, “if you want to — and if you don’t want to, that’s fine — some of the guys are getting together to play basketball. We could do that.”

Do I like basketball? I’m not sure. It’s hard to tell whether you like something when the thought of it makes your stomach twist into knots. Some people would say that makes it easy to tell, right? But I make things complicated. Maybe, I think, it’s like someone who is allergic to peanuts, but actually loves peanuts, only he doesn’t realize it because every time he eats them, they make him wish he was dead. Maybe if I just eat enough peanuts, I’ll teach myself not to be allergic to them.

But maybe tonight, dealing with panic is a little bit much, so I say, Let’s stay in. I hang up; but I start to think about it, and think about it, and think and think andthinkandthink until I call Caleb back on my way home from work.

“Hey, so, um. I’m thinking, yeah, let’s go ahead and play basketball instead.” I’m trying not to hyperventilate.

“…Really?”

“Yeah, I want to,” I lie.

“Because, you know, I really don’t care. I really don’t.” He doesn’t.

“No,” I say, taking a deep breath. “I mean, I should. I’m a little terrified. But I want to because I’m a little terrified.”

Caleb pauses, triangulating my neuroses. “You know,” he says, “you’re going to have plenty of chances in life to be terrified. You don’t really have to look for them.”

“Hm,” I say.

“So, Let’s stay in.”

“Um,” I say. “Okay.”

“You can eat here. We’re having enchiladas. Unless,” he says, “you’re terrified of enchiladas.”

II: BETTER THAN BASKETBALL

I know I’ve told that story about Caleb before, but it’s been on my mind because of something my friend L. said last weekend, when I visited DC for a mutual friend’s wedding. I was hoping the trip would be a way to get away, to give me some breathing room from my Terrible Situation.

Oh, the Terrible Situation, I can tell you about that now. It goes like this: after a year of living alone, I moved into a house with two other guys last February. Things started out beautifully. Somebody to come home to! Someone to eat with! Someone to chat with at odd moments! Someone who’ll bring their friends around — more people to meet, more people to know!

All this was true, and all this was good. I became surprisingly fond of both of them in a very short time, S. in particular. Then fondness turned to admiration. For me, it’s a short step from admiration to envy, and from envy to neediness, and jealousy, and all the rest of it. There’s a certain kind of admiration that makes me reassess myself, and the everything I used to consider good about myself, to frame my entire life in what-if terms: would I be more like him if I hadn’t been so scared, or so wounded, or so lame…Those of you who have been there can connect the dots; the mind has mountains.

And then when their college friends visited, which they seemed to do in a steady stream — seeing them interact with each other, watching their comfort and hilarity, would drive the knife home. This is what you want, says the old ἐχθρός, and this is what you will never have. Manifestly untrue, as Sal gently pointed out to me later in an email, but somehow I couldn’t call the right memories to mind, couldn’t think of a time when I had ever been at ease with anyone.

I set myself the impossible task of being as comfortable with them as they were with each other — I’d will myself into it — despite the fact that they’d spent every day together for four years, and when I failed I blamed myself, called myself socially inept, a hopeless loner. I knew it was crazy, and I couldn’t stop. Before I knew it I was in the deepest funk I had seen in a decade.

I didn’t think this was going to happen. I didn’t want this to happen. So I did all the right things. I talked to Father T., opened up to friends, wept and prayed and wept some more, read and meditated about the peace that comes from absolute trust in God. My friends couldn’t see why, if I was so miserable, I didn’t just leave.

But they didn’t understand! This was my way out from loneliness, and more than that, a way to get good at what I had always wanted to be good at: being comfortable in the company of other men. It was a second chance at I’d missed, or thought I’d missed, over and over again, all through homeschool and high school and college.

This was better than basketball.

It would get better, I kept saying. And it did. But every time it did, something would happen: some party where I felt left out, some imagined slight in conversation that snowballed into a full-blown self-pity session, some night when I would be bone-tired but couldn’t fall asleep because I envied the sounds of cheerful conversation downstairs — and I’d be right back where I started. But I couldn’t leave! That would be admitting defeat, that would be throwing away this beautiful opportunity that had dropped into my lap. I should be able to deal with this.

Give me more time, and I will get it right.

[ Cliffhanger!!! Continued tomorrow. ]

18 thoughts on “Moving Out, Pts. I-II

  1. Joe K.

    You’re the only person I know who’s ever talked in any serious detail about these types of things. By “these types of things,” I mean, I guess, the attachment-envy-selfhate cycle a person with SSA goes through when around people of the same sex.

    I’ve spent a significant portion of my life being depressed for the very same reasons you describe here. I’ve spent another significant portion trying to remedy that depression. I wonder, all the time, if SSA and “these types of things” are Necessarily connected. I then wonder, all the time, if there is any remedy if they are in fact necessarily connected.

    This, I think, is the reason this blog is special. It does something to answer those questions.

    Until tomorrow.

    Reply
  2. Tara S

    Why do we have such neuroses in the first place? “APPROOOVEE OF MEEEEE…..”

    Envy, though. I think you just blew up my mind. Envy? Is it envy of the reciprocal social comfort I perceive other people to share, that bends me into anxious knots during my Crazy Time? “HERE, LET ME APPROPRIATE THAT FOR YOU. YOUR GROUP DYNAMIC WOULD LOOK LOVELY ON MY MANTEL.”

    Reply
  3. Hallie

    Well, would you look at that. The star has up and reformed his ways. ;)

    In all seriousness, though — I’m happy to hear this story has a happy ending…and that you have such great friends. Try to see in yourself what they see in you. You’re a cool cat, Steve.

    I’ll continue to keep you in my prayers, friend.

    Reply
  4. Iggy

    Steve,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. As a man with SSA, I totally empathize with the feelings of being left out of something that other men just automatically seem to get. I have often found that the men that I am attracted to tend to have very strong friendships and more often than not, it is their camaraderie that I secretly yearn for.

    God bless you my brother and keep fighting.

    Reply
  5. Victor

    Hey Steve,
    sorry for my unsolicited and, as I now realize, absolutely stupid advice. And keep on fighting (and blogging)!
    Victor

    Reply
  6. Emma

    I just found your blog recently and I can’t stop reading. Your authenticity leaves me SO humbled. Thank you for all your honesty, its so hard to find Catholics anywhere willing to be open about this kind of stuff. I relate in a big way. To ALL of this. I’ll be praying for you.

    Reply
  7. Rebecca

    “And then when their college friends visited, which they seemed to do in a steady stream — seeing them interact with each other, watching their comfort and hilarity, would drive the knife home.”
    Just how I felt, watching my sister with her friends and thinking of my one friend whom I can’t see in person.

    Reply
  8. Ida

    The story of every roommate situation I have ever been in. Not because of SSA, but HFA/AS – mild autism, complete with face-blindness, social panic, and “asexuality”. It’s not even that my wires are pointing in the wrong direction, there’s just no current through them. There’s an entire world of interactions and relationships and desires that I can observe, understand the existence of, and desire to be part of; but I have no idea how to go about it, there’s a bad connection someplace.

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      That’s amazing, Ida. I’ve always been fascinated by Autism & AS and felt a kinship with those who experience them, partly because we seem to have a fair amount in common; especially this sense of being shut out of a world that other people seem to inhabit so naturally. I’ve often suspected that much of my family & I are somewhere on the spectrum.

      Reply
  9. John

    Steve, I’ve been following you on and off for a while now. I can’t tell you how much all of this resonates with my own experience. It is inspiring to read through your posts with such solidarity. BTW, thanks for mentioning that workbook CLEAN OF HEART. Haven’t been able to finish it yet, but hope springs eternal! I promise to keep you in prayer. When you get the chance, please pray for me as well. And keep up the writing! You’re doing a world of good for me and many others I know who are following you.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine » Seven Quick Takes, Vol. 6: Fill ‘Er Up

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