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Coupling

Coupling

I am 49 years old, and since coming out at the age of 18 in 1979, I have been in three significant relationships. The first ended after 16 ½ years, the second lasted 10 years and 5 years in my last. My first two previous relationships ended for the same basic reasons; my inability to be honest, my inability to be monogamous, and a pattern of dishonesty throughout the relationship. I am fortunate that I have been able to have some degree of ongoing, present day relationship with both of my former partners; however the hurts and the resultant emotional damage linger and prove to be a barrier to any deep or lasting friendship. In retrospect, there are many things I could have chosen to do differently in both relationships, though that is no guarantee that the outcome would have been different. In both prior relationships, my partner and I attended couples counseling which ultimately served as the platform for dissolution of the relationship.

Very few of us gays and lesbians have been fortunate enough to have had homosexual parents who could model for us the ideal gay or lesbian relationship – caring, growing, fun, mutually supportive – all within the context of a burgeoning gay culture. Most of us were stuck with parents of the heterosexual variety – good, bad, or indifferent as mates to each other and parents to us, but no help at all in fashioning our gay love life. Lacking marriage manuals, parental guidance and models of conjugal bliss on film and television, we’ve had to “wing it” when it came to putting together workable love and life partnerships. Intimate relationships are a tricky business at best. Without the sanctions and supports of society’s institutions (no positive messages at all), same-sex coupling presents a special challenge to the courage and ingenuity of lovers trying to build a life together.

At times, that challenge involves the same hassles that bewilder every couple trying to make a go of it. At other times, it involves bedevilment seemingly reserved only for gay lovers in an uptight and intransigent straight world. Same-sex couples?

“Unnatural”,

“Unsanctionable”,

Unconscionable”,

Immoral”,

“Sick”

“Immature”,

“Can’t work”,

“Won’t last”,

“Doesn’t count”.


These are the negative messages that I believe undermine, subvert and scare us into pale versions of our dream of love. Sometimes, I know from my life experience, I internalize these types of messages and once the tapes of these messages begin to play in my mind, they work against me from inside.

“I’m immoral”,

“I’m sick”,

“I’m immature”,

“My relationship can’t work, won’t last, and doesn’t count.”

I find myself undermining my own efforts by echoing society’s baseless pronouncements about us. Too often I allow these clichés to become self-fulfilling prophecies. The prophecy of doom comes true, in turn; reinforcing the clichés and making them seem as truth. I have swallowed these untruths and the cycle becomes complete. If I, along with my fellow gay and lesbian peers am ever going to bring order, reason and sense to our lives as gay people, we must learn to interrupt that cycle. We must learn to find our own homophobic messages. We must become alert to their presence in our thinking, to the ways in which we merge them into our view of ourselves and other gay people.

“It was so gay of him,” I heard someone say recently when describing the inconsiderate behavior of a peer. I believe we must catch each other at this, work together to break the vicious cycle. Only then will we be able to really honor our deeply felt need to love and affiliate with persons of the same-sex. Only then can we learn to believe in the rightness of gay love relationships because they are, for us, the morally correct, emotionally healthy and socially responsible ways to live our lives. Many nongay people would argue with this statement I have just made. Some gay people would probably even argue with it. Going against prevailing beliefs is always threatening, even when doing so is ultimately to our advantage.

Why Couple?

What is the motivation to be in a coupled relationship in the first place? Why do it? When my last relationship ended in August of 2009, I promised myself that I would wait two years before considering a committed relationship. But a little more than a year into the “single life” finds me bored with shallow contacts cultivated through online “hook up” sites.  Is it that subconsciously I believe variety to be the spice of life and satisfy that need through hookups? Courtship is exciting. But the freedom and independence of being single for the first time in my adult life felt good too. So why couple up? Am I just afraid of being alone?

The reasons I feel for coupling are very much the same in the gay and nongay communities and they produce the same problems. Being alone has never been a valued condition in American society, being paired is, and the pressure to do so is almost as great in the gay world as in the nongay. So, people seek coupling because:

It’s important to find a partner so others (and you) will know that you can do it

Searching is boring – all that small talk game playing, insincerity, superficiality.

Searching is risky. You can get set up, ripped off, done in by strangers who don’t know or care about you.

Searching is time-consuming. I could be building, earning, learning, planting, painting …doing.

Searching is nerve-wracking. You can be put down, found out, written off. Singles are socially out of it – unsafe to have around a carefully homogenized couple’s scene.

Loneliness feels bad.

When the partner search is motivated by such pressures, chances are the selection process will be short and probably short-sighted. That’s not a disaster, since the willingness to work on a relationship can overcome such a beginning. The real problem is that short-circuited partner selection too often results in the fallacy of “if only I had a partner, then . . .” turning into the follow of, “now that I have a partner, I will . . . “: be loved, involved, safe, using my time constructively, emotionally supported, socially sought after and lonely no more. And then you aren’t. At least not enough, not often enough.

Each time I have entered into a committed relationship, I have invested my partner with enormous, usually unwanted power over my life. Few of us hold up under such a burden. If it has to be because of my partner that I feel adequately loved, meaningfully engaged, safe from the cruelties and crudities of boors and evil-doers; if it because of him that I will be enabled to meet the intellectual and creative challenges of my potential, feel comfortable in your dealings with the world, invited to the most desirable parties and freed of the pain of aloneness, well, I don’t think anyone can handle all that responsibility. If all of this is happening in the underground of a relationship, we don’t have a chance to deal with it, to become aware of it, to understand it, to express how we feel about it, to divest ourselves of the awful responsibilities of it. So, we have to find a way to make these implicit expectations we may have of one another explicit.

What I have learned I must do is open awareness of my own and my partner’s expectations and learn to communicate about them. This is particularly important for gay and lesbian couples whose relationships have to be made strong from within, since the culture without contributes so little to our stability. So how do we get to our fantasies and illusions about each other? Here’s one approach that I have begun to consider:

Every human relationship is flawed. Each person brings to the relationship a plethora of accumulated behaviors, good and bad. Also brought into the relationship are tools and coping mechanisms that may be current or, outdated. In my present relationship each of us has brought major health challenges as well as mental illness. In all of my relationships, past and present, I found it frightening to fight. In my mind, discord might be signaling the end of the relationship. The tape in my head plays, “Can’t work. Won’t last. Doesn’t count. And we’re dancing to their tune again!” But turning away from conflict is turning away from reality.

Denying anger, until it explodes unexpectedly at a later date, is bewildering and potentially very damaging to a relationship. Dealing with it as directly as possible, when it is happening, is strengthening though it may be painful and frightening to do so. Fighting is a necessity in a thriving relationship. Fighting fairly and to the finish is essential to the continuing growth of any partnership.

Unfinished fights are usually aborted because of fear of losing or fear of exposing hurt feelings or concern over letting go of one’s emotions totally. Most of us have experienced these fears at one time or another. But unfinished fights leave the participants tense and anxious. If I may share with you what I have found to be true in my life, if you feel tense and anxious when you stop fighting, your fight is probably unfinished. You should continue trying to work through to the finish – that is, until the real, underlying issues are confronted.

When my earlier partners and I experienced a good fight, we as partners were aware that we were risking ourselves and we were willing to experience the discomfort that brings resolve to the conflict. In a good fight, we trusted each other enough to be honest about our feelings, about our grievances and what we want to be different in the future. The good fight ends in negotiation, with both of persons being clear about what is being asked for about change. There is accommodation on both sides. Nobody loses. Everybody wins.

We must be willing to fight with each other to discharge the tensions that relationship building inevitably brings. We must be willing to fight to work through the control issues that are part of every partnership. The more openly these issues are dealt with, the better chance my next partner and I have for a lively, satisfying, and enduring life together.

Much of what I have written about so far applies to both male and female couples, for that matter, to nongay as well as gay couples. There are some ways, however, in which liaisons between two women and between two men are unique. I believe these differences are, primarily, outcomes of the ways women and men are differently socialized in this society.

With only three primary love relationships in my history, all of which ended in very negative ways, I have been able to come away from those relationships with some new knowledge of myself, and the intricacies of being in relationship. In the minds of my former partners, I will never be able to get out from under the thoughts they may have of me, or their reactions triggered from their experience with me. However, I know that people can and will change. I have. And along with this change comes my perception of how to make a relationship work and that is what I am happy to share openly with you.

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Saving Yourself

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark.  The real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light. —  Plato

FORGIVE THE PAST!

LIVE EACH DAY FULLY!

BE EAGER FOR TOMORROW!

“Forgive the past by releasing the pain; it will only hurt you and others. Live each day fully by forgiving the past and looking forward to tomorrow; you can’t change yesterday or tomorrow without changing your actions today. Look forward to tomorrow by building and sharing you love to help you meet your goals.”

LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF BEFORE YOU CAN LOVE OTHERS!


Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – Amy Winehouse

mark-candle

Tonight you’re mine completely.
You give your love so sweetly.
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes.
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting treasure
or just a moment’s pleasure?
Can I believe the magic of your sighs?
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Tonight with words unspoken.
And you say that I’m the only one, the only one, yeah.
But will my heart be broken
when the night meets the morning star?

I’d like to know that your love
Is love I can be sure of
So tell me now, cause I won’t ask again
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Yeah

— Amy Winehouse

The beginning of a new relationship brings many questions to mind, especially when both individuals have to take care of their own needs first.  To love another, one must first love himself.

Gemini ~ Naturally Bipolar and Anxious

 

I am bipolar and within the last year or so, have begun to experience severe anxiety and panic. In late December I had meltdown of incredible proportions. The extreme anxiety disorder is new for me; haunting me for a little more than a year now. Anxiety so strong, and triggered by the actions of my partner. For several years, he has promulgated a new behavior, “Babe, I’m just running up to the 7 Eleven to get some cigarettes; I’ll be back in twenty-five minutes.” As he walks out the door I always say, “Take your cell phone with you,” which he already has in hand.

That promised “twenty-five minutes” turns out to be days that he is away from home, not answering his cell phone or even calling. I refer to it as my partner “going missing.” My reaction begins with worry. Then I may happen upon something on the computer exposing the person he would be meeting and what they would be doing. A friend of mine has a husband who has nearly same behavior. She calls this type a “player” explaining that these types of men want to still run the streets, cheat on their partners or spouses. The “player” behavior is incongruent with the committed relationship my partner and I have. This friend’s advice to me was to be proud that it is me he eventually comes home to, giving me parts of himself his hookups never see. To this I say, “bullshit.”

Player my ass. My worry then turns to anger. I can’t sleep. I start calling my partner’s phone over and over. He calls it “psycho dialing.” The anger then turns to tears. I cry as I wander through the house, “What did I do wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong.” My speech becomes so slurred and difficult to understand that it has been described as though I had a stroke. Lately, I noticed a pain in my chest along with a rapid and what I describe as “fluttering” heart. Irritability for me is a sign that I am swinging toward the maniacal part of bipolar. Then deep depression, laced with that wicked anxiety and panic. I began taking a prescribed anti-anxiety medication called Ativan. I was eating it like candy.

This most recent December meltdown grew so out of control I felt as though the only way to be free of it would come through ending my life. I have been in this cold place before and placed a call to the behavioral health crisis line associated with my health insurance. I was referred to the Maricopa County Hospital. There I was checked out and cleared medically and it was suggested I sign myself in to St. Luke’s Behavioral Health. I’ve been there before too. St. Luke’s worked for me before. Back in 2005 I nearly ended my life with a mantra in my head, “I hate my life, I hate my life.” After two months they helped me see the world differently and I left there with a new mantra, “I love my life, I love my life!” I felt safe returning there.

I worked hard over the next three weeks, finding that each time I told my story, I felt more at ease and could see the flaws in my relationship. I realize the degree of my co-dependency and made a commitment to attend CODA (a twelve step group for co-dependents). I was placed under the care of the psychiatrist who followed me last admission. He wanted to take my treatment further than I agreed to last time. In my first admission, he suggested ECT (Electro Convulsive Treatment.) I refused it then because of the loss of one’s short-term memory as a side effect of the treatment. But this time felt different to me and I agreed to begin the treatment.

Look In The Mirror – A Poem by Christopher Eshenbaugh

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Look in the Mirror

Look in the mirror.
I gaze deeply at the image of me;
A man who is troubled by mental relapse;
“sick-in-the-head” behavior problems,

Caution, code red!

What a deceiving image I see.
Is this reflection really of me?
I look like a man who is strong and keen,
but deep inside, I feel ashamed.
I cannot control the anger built inside of me;
Anger I have for things I should just let be!
Anger even built towards me.

Who is this coming from behind me?
A man who’s reflection joins me.
My partner, my love!
Do you see the monster I call me?
I have hurt you in many ways;
please forgive the words I say.
Forgive me for hitting you
and calling you those trashy names.

I am scared of myself. Can you help me
out?

“I know I love you without a doubt.”
is sung from his beautiful mouth.

I am blessed to be given his love and affection.
I must not destroy this reflection;
the two of us, side by side.

I am reminded that this man stands beside me,
willing to continue, right here at my side.
I must not make this a wild, scary ride.
I will change my reflection starting deep inside.

Copyright 2007

Christopher Eshenbaugh

All Rights Reserved

A Process of Learning Life’s Lessons – What’s Up With Those Incredibles?

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ere we are, Mark and Christopher. Two individuals, who are very much in love with one another and who for the most part, began our relationship treating one another with respect, compassion, and empathy.  Between us there is a vast amount of education, street smarts, creativity, persuasiveness, and many more qualities that are just too incredibly numerous to mention here in this blog.  In the beginning of our relationship, some friends and acquaintances started referring to us as “The Incredibles” from our outward display of confidence when facing such an abundance of adversity. Our calm and confident exterior merely masks our inner insecurities and anxieties.

We define our union as one which consists of a unique love; a love that can be honored as that “once in a lifetime, love of your life” experience.  With this intense love comes also a naiveté that creates an expectation in each of us that has us making up in our heads that by simply having found one another, making a commitment and by living a life which , though somewhat complicated, would at least afford us an easy rhythm.  But that is not what we have created up to this point in our lives.  We have created our own drama.

Each day, we face the remnants of our previous lives, misdirected anger, domestic violence, our battle and recovery to our addiction to crystal meth, financial setbacks created by our inability to budget, medical issues associated with our HIV+ status, mental health issues and our all around poor choices.

Since our path isn’t “revealing itself” by screaming, “Hi! Here I am!” we are striving to stay open to finding our path for ourselves. Once we feel we are on the right path, we plan to figure out how best to stay on it. The correct path will lead us through life and the lessons we are destined to learn and we will grow.

Through my blogs, I hope to share all of the drama and all of the challenges we have faced, and are facing now.  For some, the experiences that I share will be difficult to understand because our life may be very different from others and may leave the reader feeling unsettled, uneasy or uncomfortable.  Hopefully, readers will be able to discern a process of awareness, attempts to rectify or improve the situations by using new and more effective tools for coping. The rewards for facing our issues and choosing healthier solutions have so far included a raised and more heightened sense of awareness, an evolving definition of our own spirituality, a growing feeling of balance and stability, an easier rhythm to life, financial stability, less of a feeling of being “lost, alone and afraid”, synchronicity and a trust in the Universe’s ability to care for us.

As promised on my primary introduction page on WordPress, the posts I make will be nothing short of a pure and rigorous honesty. Pure honesty about the lessons I am learning and a life I feel I am beginning to master.