. . . Like a Hole in the Head

Do you realize how difficult it is to need someone?

I was raised, an only child, to be incredibly self-sufficient and independent. By the time I was eight I was coming home to an empty house, preparing my own snack, doing my homework and chores, and often even starting dinner before my parents were home. I did not mind it. I do not have the knack of being lonely and in fact require space and time to myself on a regular basis, so this arrangement suited me.

I had many acquaintances but few I would call friends. This is because friendship would require an intrusion on that time and space I held so dear: people coming over to my house, or my going to their houses, or having to meet somewhere and interact in some way. I was not the teen who giggled over the phone. And it wasn't that I didn't like people, or even that I was "shy" exactly. I could and would converse if and when I had to. But I was disinterested in people my own age and gravitated toward my teachers and adults in general.

Was I awkward? Sometimes, in some ways, same as any adolescent. Eccentric in the fact that I did not work to fit in. I simply didn't care enough to take up my time with that kind of effort. I wore hardly any makeup (something that has saved my skin as I age), didn't much worry about clothes so long as I was comfortable. I was smart and knew it, though I did not flaunt it the way some of the other kids did. Graduated 18th in a class filled with bright minds; the administrators had to take the grades out six decimal places to rank us all. Was accepted to every college and university I applied to but chose the state school because I'd seen the campus once when I was young and had fallen in love with it.

I made my first real friends in college, people almost as strange as I was (am). It was as an undergrad that I was diagnosed with Asperger's, something I'd never heard of, and it made little difference to me to put a label on it. While it perhaps explained a lot, it didn't change who I am. I'd always been myself up to that point and I continue to be me now. I know no other way to be. (Well, I can fake it. But only when I have good reason. Otherwise, why bother?)

But this post is about relationships. When I was in elementary school, it was fashionable to have a crush on someone. I did not. But one of the other girls in my gifted class urged me to at least name someone. I picked a boy at random and endured the good-natured teasing from others that I supposedly "liked" this boy. Truthfully, I didn't feel anything one way or another.

It wasn't until high school that I had my first crush, and it was terrible. What an awful feeling, to suddenly be interested in someone when you've spent your life so uninterested (well, aside from an academic interest in others, I suppose—I was a peer counselor, after all, and found the psychology of my fellow teens quite fascinating). I'm not even sure why I fell for this young man, a year older than me, but it made me so very aware of myself in a way I'd never been before: how I looked, what I said and did. It cracked open something in me, like a dragon having lost a crucial scale so that some of the tender flesh is exposed, just enough to slip in the sword. He didn't like me back, of course, and I made a fool of myself that entire year, was relieved to go back to not caring once he graduated and went away to college.

There were other boys. Boyfriends. People who, unaccountably in my view, wanted to spend time with me and take me out and even kiss me. But none of these others broke through. I was my own person, whole and complete, and felt no need for an addition. Years of being self-sufficient and independent had built me into a fortress.

Later, as an undergrad, I came to like someone so much that I began to entertain the idea there might be someone in the world I could gladly share my time and space with. This was a marvel to me. Here was someone I could picture long evenings at home with. And all the angst of my high school crush was subtracted here because, though I wanted to look nice for this person, I found I could be myself around him quite comfortably. No need to act out. It turned out, however, we were better off as friends (and we still are friends to this day).

So where are we? The high school crush was a wracking desire that lacked depth or bond. The undergrad relationship was really a comfortable friendship that did not leave me exposed and vulnerable.

But do you know what it means to need someone?

It means to find someone who fills the gaps you never even knew you had. Someone who sees you for who you are and loves you as is. Someone who excites and terrifies you at the same time, who makes all your molecules dance and tingle. They make you feels safe while you explore the dangerous emotions they evoke in you, like holding your hands as you wade into water so deep you don't know how far down it goes or whether you'll be able to swim.

You are necessarily vulnerable when you need someone, and this is what I find most difficult. It requires a lowering of my guard. This need is proof that I am not so self-sufficient and independent. That I am not so disconnected, for this tie binds me to at least one other. In order to be accepted, one must first open oneself to potential rejection. That has until now always been a matter of choice for me, but need forces me into the open, out of the safety of the trees and into the clearing.

And I find that I enjoy this strange bondage that is also freedom. Because not only do I need him but he needs me, and I like that—it gives me purpose. I fill his gaps just as he fills mine. He seeks my affection even as I seek his. There is balance here. I want to hold him and guide him just as much as I need him to do these things for me.

It is a complex system.

It is a feeling both terrible and wonderful.

It is freedom from oneself under the protection of another. And freedom to be oneself while protecting another.

It is confusing to someone like me who is used to understanding. I know myself and generally comprehend others, but this is different. It is unexplored territory. Possibly treacherous but also thrilling. And no matter how things fall out, I will come out changed in some way for it. That more than anything is the most difficult to imagine. I have been this way—me—for so long. The idea of being me, only different . . . It seems impossible.

But this is life. No one leaves the way they came in.

So now I strip down and dive in.

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