A young lesbian who I casually know paid me a high compliment today.
“If I were to ever go straight again,“ she said, “it would be for a man like you.”
Liz is married — to a woman — and I have no expectation that she’s looking to start a relationship with me. I laughed at the unexpected comment and asked her why.
“You listen when I talk,“ she said. “And when you listen to me, you ‘get’ what I’m saying. You don’t look at me like you’re not even listening or you didn’t understand. You don’t even know me that well, but you ‘get’ me better than any man I ever dated. And that’s what I always wanted from a man. I wanted to be heard and understood.”
I think Liz is perfectly normal in her craving to be understood. The fact that she’s felt so little understanding from the men in her life is an indictment of our culture. We’re surrounded by more people than ever. We have technology that allegedly connects us more than ever.
But many of us have ever felt as alone as we do today.
I’ve felt misunderstood for most of my life. It started at home with a father who desperately tried to mold me to be like him. It continued in school with my young peers. I didn’t quite fit with them. My dysfunctional home environment — and the abuse we suffered there — pushed me to be like a little man in a boy’s body.
I fit better among adults than with children. At least with adults, I knew how to play the role. Adults admired me, but it was the sort of admiration you might have for a talking dog. They didn’t know quite what to make of me.
I wasn’t one of the kids and I also wasn’t one of the adults. And that feeling of being trapped between worlds with nobody to trust — and nobody to understand me — is something I carried into my adult life.
That was my path to feeling alone among the masses but there are many other ways that others have arrived in the same position.
It seems more common for people to have grown up with the feeling that they fit somewhere and everything felt pretty normal. But at some point, a lot of people have the sudden realization that they don’t know how they got to where they are, at least in the emotional sense.
It’s as though they flowed along with what seemed to be the norm for their social group — and then they suddenly realized something was terribly wrong, even if they had no idea what that is.
My friend Liz came to the understanding that she wasn’t getting the understanding she wanted at a fairly young age, based on what she told me today. I don’t think it happens to most people until they’re in their 30s. By the time most hit their early 40s — or thereabouts — the inner whispers that something is wrong have turned to a rousing and urgent chorus that won’t leave them alone.
At that point, most people numb themselves. They turn to whatever is their form of addiction. It might be alcohol. They might make jokes about their wine consumption, but some of their friends start to realize it’s more than a joke. For others, it’s work. If they work hard enough, they don’t have to notice what they’re feeling. Or they can throw themselves into the lives of their children, telling themselves that they’re great parents because they’re sacrificing everything for their kids.
But people who take these various paths are all doing one simple thing. They are stifling their emotions. They’re doing whatever is necessary to make sure they don’t hear those inner voices screaming that they need change — that they need to be heard and understood.
A few people — a small percentage — jump off the hamster wheel of a numbing life. They face the pain of feeling alone. They face the fear of the changes they need to make. And then they take whatever steps are necessary — some big and some small — so they can quit pretending they’re living the sort of lives they wanted to live.
Those of us who are different — and who have come to understand that we want more than what our culture is handing us — need each other. We will never be a majority, but there are others out there like us.
In the most literal sense, we are wandering among masses of lonely people — and we’re looking for the one or two who might understand us. Some people are great fits for certain others. Some would mix like oil and water.
I’m still moving through this world alone and I’m looking for someone who fits. Maybe you. Maybe not. But there’s someone who’s looking for me, too. I just don’t know where to find her.
I am achingly tired of traveling this world alone. Maybe you are, too.