Have you ever had the feeling that you’re a needy, emotional burden to everyone around you? That even though people constantly tell you they love you, that you’re great, that they want to hang out, and that they really care about the relationship, you find it hard to believe them? That, secretly, they all find you just as absurd, annoying, and overbearing as you find yourself? That one day they will all leave you, and you’ll be completely alone?
If you know this kind of mind-crushing neurosis all too well, then I’m so sorry. I hope you are doing ok, and not curled up in a gutter somewhere listening to Evanescence on repeat (totally been there). If you haven’t personally experienced what I’m talking about, then let me introduce you to a very common social reality for people who are same-sex attracted (though certainly not exclusive to them!). I will be speaking from personal experience, but I have heard numerous, similar stories from other gay men and women. But still, this is not applicable to everyone.
In the middle of the second semester of my Junior year, I wrote a list. In it I detailed the thirty things I was sure my friends hated about me. (If I do say so myself, it was an admirably incisive compilation of personal defects.) But how did I land myself in such darkness when I really was surrounded by truly dear brothers and sisters who loved me?
A large part of it was that I had ingested early in life the poisonous lie that I was unlovable. Growing up attracted to the same sex in a society that is often overwhelmingly homophobic can lead to some pretty terrible image problems. It was so easy to believe that I was disgusting for having these feelings, that I carried some atrocious blight in my chest that marked me for a deserved isolation and shame.
This potent stigma was not simply erased by one good coming-out experience… or two, or three, or twenty. It spread to almost every area of my life and became a part of my very identity. Years of believing lies about myself could not be undone by isolated moments of truth. Rather, the fear had to be slowly worn away by daily affirmations of worth and the consistent, pursuing presence of those who cared for me.
In his excellent book Love is an Orientation, Andrew Marin talks about how one of the persistent questions in a gay person’s life is “Will you leave me?” Men and women who pursue same-sex romantic relationships are afraid their actions will cause their family and friends to abandon them, while men and women committed to remaining single are afraid that everyone around them will make no room in their lives to include them, consigning them to the lonely hell of watching happy families flourish from behind a one-way mirror. The latter nightmare was my own.
It is unbelievably important to be a relentless and affirming presence in the lives of gay friends and family. Often the entire weight of a terrifying future bears down on their present life, turning small social barbs into serrated spears, innocent silences into damning judgments.
I’m not saying this is “ok” – relationships are not meant to bear the weight of limitless anxieties of the unknown – but it is common and must be born out in love. People working through scary issues of great social significance are frequently aware that they are unreasonably “needy,” which only compounds their sense of guilt and shame. I felt like a crazy person for being unable to trust even my dearest friends. At one point I even collapsed outside of my apartment from sheer mental anguish, having exhausted myself trying to figure out the state of one of my friendships. I was sinfully anxious (says Captain Obvious) and had made it impossible for him not to fail me in some ways, but healing only began to come when I admitted that I wasn’t entirely crazy for feeling like that.
You see, one of the most horribly difficult things I have ever had to do is actually admit my closest friend had let me down me in very real ways. It took a whole month of a therapist and two mentors arguing with me for me to finally say, “Ok, maybe he let me down a little. I mean, maybe. I guess, if you put it that way, I dunno……..” So I had to talk to him about it, or else.
Do you know how stupid hard it is for me to tell someone (who I am afraid thinks I’m an emotional lamprey) that he isn’t treating me like the friend he claimed to want to be? It’s about as difficult as licking my elbow. Some people can do it naturally (freaks!) but I would require surgery; in this case some serious heart surgery. But here’s the thing, by being willing to, one more time, go to him and graciously express my disappointments and confusion I was showing that I trusted him and believed he was who he said he was.
Now, I’d had conversations like that with him before with little effect. That’s what made it so difficult! Everything in me wanted to think he only kept humoring me out of some sense of obligation to make sure poor, insane Jordan wasn’t totally alone. Because I didn’t totally trust him, I prefaced each previous conversation with an “I’m sorry I’m so burdensome and certifiably insane” clause. When you doubt your own worth, it seems too risky, too dangerous, to let blame fall on anyone but yourself.
The tone of that final discussion, though, was different; I didn’t qualify my pain with declarations of self-inflicted delusion. I finally let go of the burden of trying to manage both sides of the relationship, and was simply honest. He could have hurt me terribly in that moment. God knows I half-expected it. But you know what? He rose up and bore the responsibility for his actions, for his part of the relationship, and committed to working through the tension with me. It’s weird how relationships are so much healthier when one person doesn’t feel like he has to carry the weight of the whole thing.
I was graceless to myself by internalizing the blame for everything, and I was graceless to him by refusing to treat him as the friend he wanted to be for me. Our mutual willingness to admit our faults during that conversation, to let responsibility lay where it should, and to forgive deeply, were all essential components to me finally breaking free from that cursed cycle of self-loathing and mistrust. The purpose of being honest about who sinned, and how, is ultimately that there might be true forgiveness and reconciliation, not so that one person is vindicated and the other shamed.
But I couldn’t have made it without his help. He had to apologize for some legitimate mistakes and he had to make a concerted effort to change behavioral patterns that were unhelpful. Praise God, he remains to this day as one of my absolutely closest friends who has been with me through almost the entire process of coming to grips with my sexuality. He consistently points me to focus only on Christ and shows me through his actions how life-giving it is to be selflessly inclusive and encouraging. I owe him a lot, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without him. I asked him for permission before posting all of this. (If you’re reading this, man, I love you so much and think the world of you. Thank you.)
I hope this has been helpful, somehow. Relationships are surprisingly resistant to summary. To clarify:
– Gay men and women are often plagued by fears about the future that amplify the anxiety surrounding present relationships.
– Such fears can be sinful, though they are largely uncontrollable, and they are frequently validated when friends actually fail (which everyone will at some point).
– Both people need to be willing to do some uncomfortable things to move toward healing. The person who feels abandoned must refuse to believe the lies of worthlessness, trusting the friend if he says he is committed to the friendship, and acting accordingly. The other person must be patient with the recurring anxiety and be willing to apologize and make a real effort to move away from harmful behavior.
– Both people need to be disciplined enough to ask for wise counsel, and be mature enough to be the first to apologize (though, honestly, one person will almost always be too apologetic).
– Moving forward is a matter of both people committing to greater openness and humility
I am definitely no relationship guru, but these are just some small things I’ve learned.
Relationships can be the greatest barrier or the greatest asset to a healthy understanding of God. My friends have shown me love beyond anything my early fears permitted me to dream. Their endless hugs and affirmation were central to me finally believing that God loved and affirmed me and was holding me in his arms. It wasn’t always easy, and almost never painless, but I wouldn’t replace them with anyone (you know who you are!).
 Somewhere in there I grew to hate that analogy.