I’m not sure why it is, but I tend to find the boys that are damaged. Damaged or oblivious. Hopeless. Helpless. I’m not sure why I’ve always had them in my life. But I have, for as long as I can remember.
Not damaged or hopeless in bad ways, mind you … just … sad ones.
These men are examples, but there are so, so many more, stretching so far back.
The friend who proposes to the girl who pushes him into it. Who reaches out to others to know if she was as good as he could expect. Who then marries the girl he’s not sure he loves because he feels obligated. All the while longing for the one who made him feel alive. Knowing that all he had to do was say “stay with me” … and she would have been there. But he chooses the “respectable” thing over his heart.
The friend who blushes when, while in his room, I pick up a quote tag for a “diamond ring”. Who, when asked what that was all about, says “Well, it’s something I’ll get around to next year when she graduates, I guess.” Who then hides the tag and spends the next few weeks complaining about the girlfriend. Who, on more than one occasion, as referred to the girlfriend (a sweet enough, if very young, very rough, and very naive girl) as “the best I can expect to do.” Who regularly tells me that it’s a good thing my best friend and I are both committed, as otherwise he’d be put off by us … that we are both “way out of [his] league.”
The friend, facing down thirty, who has never been in a real relationship … at least not one that lasted. Who finds someone who appeals to everything he is, and then pursues her less-perfect friend, for the fear of rejection. Who has multitudes of female friends, who don’t bother to look at him, preferring the comfort looking through him has brought. Who, on a long walk, looks at me and asks what he’s doing wrong, that he is still alone.
The friend who, after a bad breakup, comes over just to spend time. Who halfway through a movie is overcome with loneliness and needs to hold onto someone. Who, when I fall asleep near the end of the movie, leads me to my bed, tucks me in, kisses me on the forehead, and lets himself out, only to sit in his truck and cry. Who cries for the memory and emotion simple innocent contact can trigger, and for the fact that he doesn’t know if he’ll ever have it again.
The friend, not yet out of college, who begins dating the girl who pays attention to him only when his roommate (otherwise attached) is around. Who sees he is being used, but goes along with it. Who forms an attachment, as she was his first, and lets the game of together-when-convenient continue every few months for three years. Who proposes to the girl a month into their latest together-moment … because he can’t imagine being without, not her, but the feeling of being loved, even falsely. Who misses, or ignores, all the signs that say she is already cheating, and has no intention of stopping.
I’ve always worried about these guys. At times, it’s felt more like a job than my actual JOBS did. Being there, being the strong one, worrying for them when they don’t have the knowledge or sense to worry for themselves.
It’s exhausting. Both emotionally and physically.
And after some serious thought … I’m not going to continue. Of course, I still care for my friends, and will be there when they need me. Support and loyalty are non-negotiable. But the worrying and worrying and worrying until I’m utterly heartsick for them? It’s not healthy, and it’s not helpful for me, or for them.
So how do I stop? It’s been a part of my nature for so long that I don’t even know where to begin. How do I switch from all-consuming worry to simply wishing them well, truly hoping everything works out, and being there to celebrate when it does, and pick up the pieces when it doesn’t?
It makes me feel like a terrible person. To say that I can’t be what I’ve always been for my friends-in-need. But at the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that this is what I need to do. But where does that leave me?
It feels like I’m fighting against my very nature. Because try as I might, there is nothing so heart wrenching to me as the sight of a single tooth-brush in the home of a man who has absolutely no business being alone.
But if I keep up, I’m going to end up breaking my own heart.
* All photos taken along the waterfront in Astoria, just before Irene cleared out. The rain had stopped, the wind was still fierce, and the clouds were magnificent. The water level was nearly 3 feet higher than it had been 24 hours prior. The still turmoil of the photos is a good representation of what’s going on in my head, right about now.