Thursday, September 02, 2004

On the Couch

What I would have said to my analyst today (if I had one):

BF and I met while juniors in college. One of her oldest friends was my college housemate (VDF) and when BF would visit, she and I had an instant affinity but it didn't develop a life of its own until VDF got married. As I've found to be true at most of the weddings of my closest friends, there's usually someone (if not someones) who becomes a friend-made-at-the-wedding. Friends of friends are --- not surprisingly --- often cool in their own rights. In any case, after VDF's wedding (she's since divorced), BF and I finally started keeping in touch with each other.

She moved to the city where I live the year that all hell broke loose in my first marriage. It would be another year until my ex and I separated and yet two more finally to divorce, but those years became the cement of BF's and my friendship. She rocked and rolled in her own relationship turmoil, while I tried to hold valiantly to my sanity while being lashed by the tempest of divorce. We stood by each other through all of that, but what we really did, more than that, is make sure the other one was also still having fun. Lots of fun. And feeling good about herself. BF and I were masterful at keeping each other's self-esteem and self-compassion quotients up.

It was, without question, an amazing time of our lives.

We managed to fall in with a group of great single people, and fortuitously, more men than women. We, all of us, were good friends more than anything else. Though occasionally, after too much dancing and drinking, there were odd romantic skirmishes, they rarely yielded too much drama. Unless BF had fallen back into the vortex with an old ex, or I had pushed at D too hard --- and then, well, inevitably, then there was bound to be some drama.

D was one of our circle of friends, and from the outset he and I had something special -- an inexplicable recognition of each other that was profound and eerily comfortable but provocative. From our very first conversation, D and I went deep diving into each other's minds and hearts. There was no time for swimming at the surface, looking cute in our swimming suits. We had stuff to talk about.

There was never a question for either of us that there was something inevitable between us --- just a beaten-to-death point of disagreement about when to act on it. I was feeling released from too long a life of walking on eggshells and being careful, feeling burned by the mistake of marrying someone who, it had turned out, once I stopped being so careful about being myself around him, didn't even like me. My creed was "BE HERE, NOW." But D saw me as burning my way along a path of rediscovering my sexual identity as a result of my divorce, and he was still bringing his own to a close. And, there was definitely some part of me that was like a boy-crazed schoolgirl during that time, ridiculously self-disclosing and honest with D about my crush of the moment and the surprise of feeling so intensely touch-hungry after years in my marriage of feeling touch-indifferent. In any case, he was unwilling to risk being mistaken for a crush of the moment and instead was aggravatingly cautious about how much and what kind of time he and I spent together --- and very candid about why. He wanted to wait until I seemed to have settled down into myself. In hindsight, it was a good call on his part --- at the time, he was the only man (besides J.K.) who could send me reeling into new (non-divorce) drama.

D joined our circle of friends through K. K lived across the street from BF, and D's and my first conversation took place one night when we tagged along with K and BF on the third date the first time they got together. D had gone to law school with K nearly 10 years earlier and the two of them had seen each other through first marriages and divorces, as well as some infinite hours of music shopping and all the highs and lows associated with that (unless this is your thing, that might sound overstated, but it wouldn't to D and K). K and BF broke up very shortly after that third date. But K and BF managed to stay friends and the four of us, along with another 5-6 central characters formed a rag-tag kind of family who saw each other through various relationships of various intensity and managed to make each other laugh on a regular basis and fill empty hours with companionship and fun.

"Fun," I think is an underrated value. Dedication to it exclusively can be unhealthy, obviously. But I think having fun as a staple of one's life is a hugely helpful thing. It keeps all kinds of bad things, especially self-pity and loneliness, in check.

In any case, yesterday, learning BF was pregnant not only made me jealous because I so much want to be, but because, totally irrationally, it took me back to a night over four years ago, when K joined BF and I for our weekly Friday night margarita and carnitas. BF and I often held court at this restaurant every Friday night, inviting anyone and everyone who wanted, to join us in "putting ourselves 'out there'" as single women who otherwise felt daunted by singleness (geeks, yes). It was the one weekly commitment we had to each other, though we typically saw each other everyday. It was often the highlight of our week, and full of adventures. It was rare that we weren't joined by someone from our group, if not the whole group. It was equally rare that someone, BF, me, or one of our "guests" didn't end up taking home the phone number of some new "prospect," who sometimes even got absorbed into the group for some period of time. We'd talk and laugh and get just enough drunk to really enjoy dancing freely at the blues club blocks away. It was the end of the workweek, the beginning of the weekend, the kick-off of what was inevitably two days of hanging out at the river or each other's homes, seeing movies, going out, cooking together, BBQs, whatever. It was the beginning of the weekend's fun.

The night K showed up with BF they'd been sleeping together again for a month already. Up until that night it had simply struck me as a great convenience for BF (and K, who was/is also a very good friend of mine) to have such a good friend with whom to scratch a mutual itch. It was of no other consequence. We sat down at the table and ordered our alcohol and food and all was good. It was fun, we were laughing, we were doing "our thing," I thought.

I realized it was all different, however, when BF moved away from K and said, "Since this is really my night with Phoebe, I'm going to sit on her side of the table."

Suddenly, I realized "our thing" was over. They were a couple, not two friends scratching a mutual itch for each other. And BF was having to make a point that I was still "as important" as K. And, K didn't take it well. Not because what BF was doing was unnecessary but because he expected to be most important.

Instant displacement.

I wasn't jealous that she was no longer single --- I honestly was happy for her. I like K a lot, most of the time. And even when I don't like him (because he can be a sarcastic jerk sometimes), I love him. He has a huge heart under that sometimes crusty exterior, and he, like she, is family. But I was jealous that I was displaced, even though I knew, even at the very moment, that while my role was changing, my importance to BF was not.

Now, I am not a classically trained student of psychology by any means. I think, fairly, one would have to say that I am an untrained non-student of pop-psychology. But I'm thinking, as I reflect on the fact that yesterday I felt something so similar to the feeling of having been displaced by K that I may have some issues, here. Clearly, I carry some expectation of being replaceable, vulnerable to the belief that the people who love me only love me until something better comes along.

Maybe I have some deeply-seated unconconscious belief that unless I have something unique to offer, I will lose to whoever else can compete. With BF, my feeling displacement is not about the baby she's carrying --- I want BF and K's baby in the world. I can hardly wait to meet him or her! I get a flush of physical giddiness thinking about it. I already love this kid, even if "he" is making BF, sick as a dog right now, this little mischeivous brat has captured my heart as surely as "she" has my imagination. My feeling of displacement is about all our other friends from whom we've both been feeling slightly alienated who are either pregnant or have just recently had children.

My fear is that I have nothing, or at least not enough, to offer BF on this next part of her path. I worry that she's moving into a phase that is about issues I won't be able to relate to. As much I want to be there myself, I won't be obsessed with my own little one's every subtle shift and development, needing to talk ad nauseum to other people who know about such things. Ironically, I worried about this in reverse... that if I got pregnant and had children and BF didn't, that then we would drift apart because of a divide in experience that would make our former intimacy impossible.

We've already experienced such a time to some degree --- not even with K, but with D, with whom I left to travel the world for a year after our marriage, leaving BF behind and a wake of difference in experience that's been incredibly hard to bridge again. But we were just beginning to.

When K came to dinner that night it was the same --- when it was just sex, I could have cared less. He was not competing with me there. But when I realized that he was going to assume the role of her daily companion and confidante, the fun-maker, and loneliness-battler, that's what hurt. Somewhere deep inside me was the conviction that I could not compete with that and would be shunted aside, pushed outside the circle.

Now I'm worried that BF's other friends, the ones who know what morning sickness feels like and how to alleviate it, who can advise her on good doctors, help her anticipate symptoms and next phases, who can be helpful to her on this next part of her path --- well, I cannot compete with them. And honestly, the worry this time about being pushed outside of the circle is that not only that I'll lose BF, but I'm going to be the only one left out here. That I'll be out here standing alone.

It sounds like I need to have some fun.

With that, I think my time is up for today.