I've been reading a lot of romance lately. I don't know what started this change in my reading genre - possibly Heartstopper - but I actually enjoy a good love story now and I'm clearly not ashamed to admit it. Also, rather unsurprisingly, there's a lot of really good gay romance out there to be read. Now, some of it - quite a lot really - gets a bit steamy (well actually really steamy), but I'm okay with that too from time to time. Some of it is a bit to "angsty" for my liking, but you have to take books one at a time - not all will be to your taste. Just like most people though, I do love a happy ending!
The best part is that there's loads of it available for free - or for cheap - on sites such as Tapas.
I do think it's odd though, that I like reading about love and romance, as I don't really relate all that well to the whole romantic attraction thing. Thinking about it, I begin to wonder if I should class myself as "aromantic". That's one of the meanings for the A in LGBTQIA+ - the other being asexual, which I'm definitely not.
Like every term on the queer spectrum, being aromantic can be a matter of degree. Most people, myself included, are not totally one thing or another. I'm most comfortable these days defining my sexual orientation as gay, but for a time I preferred bisexual, as I do have some attraction to the opposite sex - just much more towards men than women. Being aromantic isn't an orientation and can mean different things to different people and isn't an all or nothing state of being. See HERE.
So, for me, I can and do feel physical - or sexual - attraction, even though I don't feel it strongly and never really had a crush on anyone as a teen. I don't, or at least only very slowly, feel any kind of emotional attraction or romantic feelings for someone, even if the physical attraction is there.
Coming back to fictional romance, I can now see why some of the protagonists have a hard time with that big declaration of love. Saying "I love you" in a romantic situation is a big deal for many, and possibly an even bigger thing for someone who is - knowingly or not - aromatic.
When I first told someone that I loved him, it was because I though I was losing him. I told him that I loved him as a way to make him understand how I was feeling - of course - but, also, as a way to articulate what I though I was losing. Now, I know he didn't feel the same way, but for me, even thinking about our relationship in terms of love was something of a difficult concept to grasp.
We'd been in our comfortable, fairly casual, mostly uncommitted physical relationship for a couple of years. I really hate the term "friends with benefits", but in some ways that does describe what we had fairly well. When he decided he wanted to step back from the physical side of our relationship - he wanted to be straight (or at least thought he did at the time) and was going to date a girl - I spiralled because I though I would lose my friend as well. It actually took me a while to realize that I was actually in love with him and he was breaking my heart by - in my mind - abandoning me and what I thought we had.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson may have been genuine in his feelings when he wrote " 'Tis better to have loved and lost" when speaking about the sudden loss of a dear friend, but most scholars accept that he was talking about brotherly love, not romantic love. That's "brotherly love" in the sense of friends and family.
Whatever Tennyson thought, having one's heart broken is a very real and painful thing. I took more than two years to recover to any real degree. I needed therapy and I needed medication, to deal with the associated depression and anxiety. This despite the fact that we soon returned to our normal friendly, beneficial relationship status.
I had taken years to fall in love with him - or at least, years to realize that I loved him - and only moments to have my heart broken by him. There is no blame here. He said and did what he felt was best for himself - and maybe even for me - at the time. I cannot and do not blame him for being him.
Our relationship was never quite the same afterwards. We still sometimes needed each other physically, but we just seemed a little distant. Very slowly, we drifted further apart and finally just stopped even contacting one-another for several years.
When we did, after a long break, finally talk to each other again, it was a very different dynamic and it was clear that much had changed between us. He was gay, out, open and in a long-term relationship. I was still me. It is possible to still be friends after being more, but it really is difficult and almost seems to be too - I want to say tentative, strained, anxious - forced. He did make me realize that it was okay to be gay though and that helped greatly with my own decision to come out and be more comfortable with myself.
So, I might be aromantic, but given time - and, of course, the right person - I can feel love and be in love with someone. Sadly, that also means that I can have my heart broken.
Heartbreak turns into heartache in time. For me, just as I was so slow to love, so am I slow to recover and the heartache remains - perhaps for all time - as a dully remembered pain deep inside my chest. Sometimes, the related depression wells back up to the surface and, perhaps for a few days when the nights are long, dark and lonely, I feel the heartache more strongly and struggle to think of the good times rather than the bad.
The worst part is that, having loved, I now miss the feeling. Even if, for me, the feeling can take so long to develop, I sometimes wish I could feel love for someone again. All my other anxieties and fears make this highly unlikely - I'm never going to get out there and socialize, am I - but now I have a few nice romance novels to lose myself in when the need arises.
Tennyson may have been right, but a part of me still thinks that, if I had never fallen in love with someone, I wouldn't now have to live forever with the heartache of losing him. And, sometimes, randomly, it does still hurt - and I hate that!
Therapy is HARD
This is one of the hardest posts I've written in some time. Any that are tagged as self therapy or mental wellbeing are deeply personal and emotionally draining. I'm afraid that that's the point of what makes them therapeutic. The writing process here gets this stuff out of my system and, ultimately, I find this helpful. even if no-one reads them, I still have the knowledge that I bared my soul to some degree.
Writing about this man who played such a big part in my emotional and physical life is also hard. I'm very conscious of not saying too much and have even gone back and forth for several days now, unsure of whether to post or delete this. Wellington may have said "Publish and be Damned!", but I don't seek damnation or notoriety. I don't just write a stream of consciousness and press post. I, hopefully, pick my words carefully.
Very few people even know that there was anything more than a friendship there and no-one knew at the time. There doesn't need to be a name here. It's not my place to say. If he happens to read this, I hope he understands that it's a commentary and not a condemnation.