I’ve alluded to my doomed marriage several times on various social media websites, sometimes with a bit more detail, but more often than not, it was quick quips about how he is an asshole and a narcissist. It’s easier that way. A lot of the vulnerability I feel stems from my no good, very bad decision back in 2010 to marry a man that I’d only known a few months, and poking fun at that monster instead of actually understanding it was a way I coped with the trauma and with certain aspects of myself that I’d rather not pay much attention to.

That is to say, it’s going to get raw here.

Although there are many starting points I can use to begin this self-examination, I am going to have to go back to when I was a young preteen, maybe even 13? I am not too clear on the exact age, but that’s not really the point. I was told by my father, a man I had long believed loved me for who I was, that I would never get a boyfriend/husband unless I changed fundamental aspects about myself. Instead of helping me find positive outlets for what could be considered detracting qualities, I was told I was much too loud, much too opinionated, much too difficult, much too self-centered, much too willful to warrant someone wanting to be with me as I presented myself. I’m paraphrasing here, obviously, but I cannot tell you how deeply that affected me. Hell, how deeply it affects me now, twenty damn years later.

Throughout most of my teenager years, I was ignored by most of the male population, so after privately lusting after them – this was before I realized I was bisexual – well, actually pansexual, something I didn’t realize until I was in my 30s – which, good god, opened up another can of worms that I’ll have to discuss more fully in another installment – I built a wall around me. I didn’t need them. I didn’t want them. I was fine by myself. I was often sarcastic and dismissive when I was approached by most people, and it wasn’t as if I was bullied. I just didn’t fit into the “popular” crowd, which sounds so cringe-y now – I was not an athlete, no matter how much I tried, and I didn’t think much of my artistic abilities – hello, imposter syndrome! – so I resorted to choosing rather isolating extracurricular activities like writing and reading, not that there is anything wrong with either of them. I had trouble finding commonalities with anyone, let alone boys.

It was this sincere need to be loved as Jennifer, not some fabricated persona that managed to match all the supposed cultural indicators of what a woman was supposed to be, that led me to fall in love with my now ex-husband, who I’ll just call Keith. We met rather inauspiciously at a Valvoline, where he was the assistant manager, and after just a few months, I had been completely absorbed into his gravitational pull. He was charismatic, attractive, and encouraged me to be the woman I was. He would praise me when I voiced my opinion and couldn’t stop bragging about how good his soon-to-be wife was at watercolor painting and writing. He discussed my faith with me without being dismissive of my more liberal interpretations and often composite beliefs formed from various religions, even admitting that I had challenged him to think about things differently. That was what I wanted: acceptance and appreciation.

And he knew that. He used that vulnerability he’d read off of me from the second he met me. Over the next five years, he would whittle me down and remind me that no one else loved me – not even loved me like he did, but that no one else loved me at all. I was completely alone and beholden to him. And sometimes, he would lament that he’d chosen poorly, that I was just another display of his lack of judgment, because I was clearly the worst thing that had ever happened to him. He was just repeating what my father’s words had instilled in me: that I was insufficient and should have changed myself to be a better partner.

For all their faults, my parents do love me, even if I have to remind myself of that sometimes. The past several years of Trump and the GOP have made this exponentially more difficult, revealing ugly sides to both of them, normally very kind-hearted if not sometimes somewhat misguided people that are stressed for various reasons. But too often, Keith’s voice pops up in my head: I was right, see?

I reverted back to the isolationist policies of my youth when I left him back in 2016. I pushed people away more than I did accept them, out of fear that they’d just use me like Keith had and out of a belief that I just had horrible taste in companions. I didn’t even trust people who I had known for years and had never shown me duplicity. Anyone who showed an interest in me, even in a friendly way, was automatically suspicious, and their motives, no matter how nebulous, to me were going to eventually turn malevolent. So I retreated. Work was a way I could engage with people without actually making any sincere attempts at creating friendships, and there was a nice, anonymous solace from joining online communities, like my cat group on Facebook. It allowed me to kind of dip my toes in fellowship again without the commitment, and although it was nice for a while, I began to long for what I did back when I was told I would need to alter the fabric of my very being: I want to be loved, not just in a romantic way, and I want to be able to accept it. That is what I’m struggling with now. I still don’t entirely trust myself and vulnerability is terrifying but the loneliness is starting to take over. I am not an island, no matter how much I’d like to be, and I’m hoping that, by at least talking about it, I’ll be able to move past – or obliterate – some of the roadblocks I’ve placed in my way.

I think that’s all I can handle today. It’s hard to look at things like this and see where you’ve been both wronged and wrong at the same time, and for someone who holds themselves to an impossible standard, you just come out of revelations feeling like complete shit, so I think I’m going to study a bit, do another one or two of my Xena challenge entries, and then yoga.

Damn, feelings are stupid.

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