...and what I learned from it.
July 2007 - July 2009: If any relationship could be described as "passionate", it was the one I had with Stringer. Both of us attacked life with gusto, and once we accepted that we had feelings toward one another that were more than just friendship, we threw ourselves into the courtship wholeheartedly. We both knew that it was too soon after things ending with Black Luke for us to be getting in deep, but affection developed quickly. Stringer knew all about the intensity of what I felt for Black Luke, and, wanting to be there for me as I continued to work through the difficult end of that relationship, he listened to my weeping and crying and soul-searching as I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. It was, in a way, very strange that I was talking to my new boyfriend about my previous one, but Stringer had also become my best friend, and he was patient and caring as he continuously offered me his shoulder.
Stringer didn't tell me until much later how difficult it had been for him to hear me cry about another man, but I can only imagine what that put him through. He was falling in love with me and he could see that I was still in love with Black Luke. My feelings for Stringer were different from what I had known with Black Luke, but they were no less real. I remember talking to him about it at the time: how Black Luke had told me that he loved me, and that perhaps the word "love" meant something very different to each person. Black Luke telling me that he loved me might have meant a certain type of affection that was nowhere near the all-consuming comfort and desire that I felt for him. I found a quote in a novel that I was reading at the time that seemed to sum up these thoughts neatly, and I shared it with Stringer:
"Do you want to hear an interesting fact?" said Jo. "Eskimos apparently have over fifty different words for snow. Snow's really important to those guys - I suppose it's because sometimes the difference between one type and another can mean the difference between life or death." She paused and laughed self-consciously. "You know they've got words for dry snow and wet snow, fluffy snow and compact snow. They've got words for snow that comes down fast and for snow that comes down slow - they've thought of everything."
"That's a lot of snow," commented Rob ... "So, what's your point?" ...
"Well, its like this," replied Jo. "If Eskimos can come up with fifty words for snow because it's a matter of life or death, why is it that we've only got one word for 'love'?"
- Mike Gayle, Brand New Friend
Thereafter, as my feelings for Stringer grew even stronger, I would look at him and begin to feel the urge to tell him I loved him. Remembering how that had ended up with my last boyfriend, I shied away from it, but when I would look at him and see his eyes soften with affection toward me, I wanted so badly to tell him how I felt. I knew it was a different type of love than what I had felt before, but I definitely felt it. When I shyly explained it to him, and he acknowledged his own reticence to speak those slightly terrifying words, we began our tradition: rather than saying "I love you" when that strong urge hit, we would simply say, "Snow." It was our secret language, and no one in the world could know what it meant to us. I called him my Snow Prince; I was his Snow Angel. It was lovely to mean so much to someone again, and to feel the same way about him.
We had fights. As passionately as we felt for each other, that passion bled into the other parts of our lives. When either one of us felt strongly about something, we reacted hugely: Stringer usually with anger; me most often with tears for fear of losing him (hey, Tears for Fears - I never got that before!). He would yell; I would cry. Then I would yell and he would get defensive and more angry. We wanted to be together desperately, and every time that was threatened, we didn`t know how to contain all our emotion. He would back away from the conflict - sometimes very literally, leaving the house and storming down the street in an effort to walk off his agitation - while I would follow, desperate to fix whatever had gone wrong. He needed space to work through how he was feeling and to calm down; I was terrified that any separation would become a permanent one, so I hounded him until he was feeling even more agitated and upset. It left both of us exhausted and emotionally wrung out, and as time went on, it happened more and more often. After every conflict, we would rush back together, filled with apologies, explanations, and hope for the future. I looked for signs, in him and in the world, that we would make it work, despite the age difference, but deep down I think I always knew that it wouldn't work out the way we wanted. He was just starting out in his life, and I had already lived so much of what was ahead of him. The balance just wasn't there.
We spent nearly two years entrenched in this passion - loving each other, frightened to death that we would lose each other, railing against our age difference and the fact that where we were in our lives just couldn't mesh. We broke up, we got back together, we finally decided that we were done...and then raced toward each other again. It was as though we were magnets that were constantly changing polarity - being forced away from each other, then inexplicably drawn back. This blog post does not touch on the ever-increasing intensity of our fights and breakups, but through it, I felt like I was going crazy. I acted crazy. During one of these particularly bad fights, Stringer let it fly: "You're crazy! I honestly think you are crazy!"
I felt as though he had punched me in the heart. He had hit me where I was most sensitive: the truth that I was most terrified of. Memories flooded back. High school, when I had huge rages triggered by nothing much worse than being disciplined by my parents, where I would writhe on the floor as I screamed before curling into a corner and sobbing that no one understood me, while they stood helpless and bewildered. All the relationships I had been through as a teen, going from one man to another in order to feel less empty inside, never feeling right, considering suicide when I was betrayed yet again by someone I cared about. Days of wandering around unable to feel much of anything, because I had thrown a huge emotional fit where I screamed until I felt like I had broken inside, then snapped and walked around unwilling to speak, unable to focus, undone. My marriage had been more of the same, marked by massive emotional disturbances on my part, huge overreactions to little things, days when I punched holes in the wall with the enormity of my pain and frustration. All my attempts to fill the spaces inside with destructive behavior, throughout my teens, my single years, and my marriage, hoping that something would click and I would finally feel whole, and right, and loved. And here I was again, throwing a fit and unable to contain the depth of my emotion and the strength of my reaction. Stringer must be right. I must be crazy. Despite the fear of being stigmatized, it felt like a puzzle piece settling firmly into just the right place, and it didn`t upset me...it just created a strong need in me to figure out what was wrong with me, and how to fix it.
This could not continue. I didn't want to find myself in another relationship that was ruled by warring passions, and I knew that a large part of the blame lay within me. I began to make lists of what triggered these all-encompassing, hugely reactional episodes, so that I could be on guard against them. I went to my family doctor and explained my issues, and, based on what I described, she thought that perhaps I may have bipolar personality disorder. I began to read up on the disorder, wanting to understand what had ruled me for so long. I began to mark a giant red "X" on my wall calendar for each day that passed where I did not have a "rage" reaction. Slowly, the calendar began to fill with red. Stringer accompanied me to sessions with a counselor, where we tried to piece together what could be wrong with me. As my need to discover why I was the way I was grew, I was more and more able to see that my relationship with Stringer wasn't working. We were no longer making each other happy, and the disturbing, overly emotional reactions on both our parts were happening more frequently.
After a tumultuous and eye-opening two years, it came to an end, although it did not die easily. The relationship was over, but Stringer and I both still clung to it. Finally, we let it fade, and I continued working through what I had come to recognize was something that would affect every relationship I attempted from that point on if I did not attend to it now.
What I learned: Stringer's pursuit of nursing as a career inspired me to change careers, from insurance to health care, and he helped guide me through the process to get to where I am now. I am grateful for this every day when I go to work, and now that I am in the nursing program at school, I am reminded of those first days when I would drive Stringer to school and drop him off with a kiss. I don't know if I would be in this program and working toward maternity nursing if it weren't for Stringer's encouragement and inspiration.
I also learned that red flags are important. Stringer and I probably lasted a lot longer than we should have; all those breakups would have been unnecessary if we had stayed broken up the first time. I'd like to think that I learned that once you recognize a relationship is irreparably broken, you should leave it and not try again time after time, but in the context of my rather drawn-out breakup with HB, I would have to say that I did not learn that lesson. Age difference wasn't necessarily the killer of my time with Stringer, but the fact of us being in such different places in our lives - and a certain level of maturity disparity - was part of what did it. When you're 49 and 38, eleven years probably doesn't make that much difference, but when you're 32 and 21, you feel it. I knew that from the beginning, but I didn't listen. Part of me wanted to beat the odds. Hey, my grandparents had a 15-year age difference (Grandma was fifteen years older), and they met when Grandpa was 21. He never looked at another woman for the rest of her life, and hasn't since she died five years ago at the age of 92. I looked at my grandparents and thought, hey, it could happen. But, at least for me and Stringer, it didn't.
And, of course, near the end of my time with Stringer, I learned that I had a personality disorder, and I learned how I needed to begin to deal with it. But that, dear readers, is a much longer story, and one for another day.