For weeks I’ve had this blog post percolating in my mind. I had several false starts trying to find the right words and tone to the post, but I just couldn’t find a way to frame it or articulate.
Now I’ve found a way, and it comes in the form of one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time.
The film is called “Call Me By My Name,” and it’s about 17-year-old Elio, on the cusp of adulthood and discovering his own sexuality and identity, who falls in love with his father’s graduate student, Oliver, who’s come to spend the summer at his parents’ house in Northern Italy.
Neither of the two men identify as gay, and the story doesn’t even really address it—that’s totally not the point. The story is about two gorgeous young people falling in love so purely and authentically in one of those fated moments that comes along in a lifetime only if the two people are very, very lucky. It’s a moment that is meant to be brief and exist only in a certain time and place, but will have a heartbreaking and permanent effect on those involved.
At the end of the film (*spoiler alert*), Elio’s father delivers this great monologue about love and emotional loss. He’s sitting with an absolutely crushed Elio, who’s just said goodbye to Oliver, knowing he’ll probably never see him again.
While his father tells him that normally in this circumstance as a parent he’d want his son to just get over it, instead he encourages him to take as much time as he needs and just be grateful to have felt something.
“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new,” he says. “But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!”
Heart over head
I watched this scene–sobbing, of course, not just for the beauty and truth in it but due to something that happened recently in my own life—and realized what an important message it is especially in the time in which we’re living.
There’s a huge movement these days to live in the present and to let go of anything—particularly people and relationships—that cause us stress or pain or aren’t “serving” us right now. (Those “woke” people love to talk about how something isn’t “serving” them. Like life is one big long endless dinner out at a fucking restaurant and they are a VIP customer.)
This movement, in my view, presents life as a series of lessons to be learned and of moments that are meant to be fully enjoyed in the present but then let go of as soon as they are over. This “letting go” includes a rapid release of any feelings you might have had about the person or situation during that time.
These days the common spiritual guidance is that it’s all about the mind controlling the feelings that we have. It’s about having the right “reactions” to the things that happen to us and not getting carried away emotionally by any of it.
I understand how this is actually a really valuable and useful way to look at life, especially if you believe we have only one go-around on this planet and shouldn’t waste time over-analyzing or over-complicating the difficult situations that arise in our lives. And it’s actually super necessary to people who have truly horrible shit occur in their lives if they are ever to move on and continue living at their best potential.
I understand why we have reached this phase of the human condition—I suspect social media may have something to do with it–and while I do recognize some value in it, I also see it as a bit dangerous and sad in terms of human evolution.
I personally am a lover, a feeler, an empath, a “highly sensitive person” and probably, in the eyes of some people (ie, ex-boyfriends and my dear old dad, the latter of whom loves me anyway especially because my mom was similar), a complete emotional basket case.
To say it more politely, I’m not afraid to feel extreme emotions, both happy and sad. I can be the person who laughs the loudest and most authentically at the drop of a hat. On the flip side, I can also turn on the waterworks and cry like (in the words of an ex who witnessed it) “someone’s died” even if a situation in another person’s mind doesn’t warrant such full-blown melodrama.
The plight of the sensitive person
These days, there are a number of opinions about people like me. Some people are becoming more aware of sensitive people and trying to be more understanding of them. Part of this is to understand that sometimes what may come across as a “bad mood” or bitchiness is actually just a reaction to the energy or situation at hand, which can cause unnecessary stress to more sensitive people than it does to people with stronger minds than empathetic tendencies.
Others–and I find this more than case in a lot of the spiritual and psychological guidance out there–are trying to promote the age-old method of “mind over matter.” They encourage people to use their minds to control their emotions so as not to let them get out of control.
It might be an over-exaggeration to say that people in this camp see feelings as something to be squashed or buried, but to sensitive folks like me, this is exactly what it feels like.
So I mulled over for awhile how to write this post, and then I saw “Call Me By Your Name.” And here I am, with my flying my emotional freak flag, to put forth a grand defense of sensitivity.
Actually, I think this film–and the world’s embrace of it–comes as no accidental backlash to these current modes of thinking vs. feeling. That it involves love between two men in a world that also remains widely homophobic is also quite a triumph.
The use of men in the film (and the book from which it was adapted) also is interesting to me, as is the fact that it’s Elio’s father who encourages him to feel and not bury his emotions at the end of the film.
This is because in my experience as a deeply sensitive woman, usually the men I am in relationships with have a hard time understanding the depth to which I can feel. (Opposites attract, of course, and perhaps these relationships are meant to help me learn and grow.) I’m not saying this situation isn’t the opposite as well in many cases–with the man being more sensitive than the woman. I’m just speaking from my own experience.
Relationship and emotional patterns
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me in my relationships that I’m the kind of woman who makes all the mistakes the relationship coaches tell women (and some men) NOT to make–don’t give away too much about how you feel, don’t smother with attention or affection, don’t let your emotions get out of control, don’t show more emotional toward him than he has shown toward you.
I’m guilty of all of these things in my relationships, generally, and, since I also have that wonderful tendency to attract men who aren’t emotionally available or who tend to bury their feelings–which is a fair chunk of men in my age group due to the way people in their 40s were socialized as children, I reckon–I tend to eventually drive anyone who dares to get close to me away.
Here’s my typical pattern: Man is keenly interested because I appear to be a cool, independent woman (which I am, to an extent). Man shows interest and I act coy and “play the game.” Man shows more interest and I begin to get emotionally attached.
We seem to have a healthy and reciprocal level of attachment for awhile. He starts to lose a bit of interest when I return interest at the level he was showing me in the first place, thus losing my mysterious, cool-woman status. I panic, get super-emotional and proceed to act like a fucking barnacle and cling onto man for dear life, even if he starts acting like a shithead.
He begins to pull away more and tells me he “needs space” or wants to leave. I start to beg him not to leave and cry uncontrollably when I should just say, “That’s fine, honey, take all the time you need, I’m fine on my own.” He runs for the hills (in the last case, literally) as fast as he can.
The scenario ends with me left to lick my wounds for as long as it takes, watching films like “Call Me By Your Name,” listening to songs by Lorde (thanks to my friend Helen for this recommendation) and writing blog posts like this one.
Some things must change but some will stay the same
Yes, I know I need to get my shit together a bit in terms of this type of relationship and attachment style, and I’m working on it. (Maybe it will take 46 more years, but what better time than the present to start trying to make improvements to myself?)
Then again, as I look at the mistakes I’ve made in my relationships and own up to them, there is one thing I refuse to beat myself up for. I refuse to apologize for having deep feelings for someone and for being willing to love them fully and express them.
Yes, I do agree that I need to take better care of myself and love myself more so I don’t give all my love away so fully to someone else. I understand that no one is responsible for how I feel but me (even though that’s also no excuse for someone to treat me badly or act like an asshole–that’s on them), and I get how intense feelings can drive some people in my life–both men and women, both lovers and friends–to not want to be around me because of whatever shit is going on for them.
I understand all of this, I really do. At the same time, I don’t think I’m ever going to stop feeling things and stop loving so deeply and authentically. And damn it, I don’t think I should have to.
OK, so I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I scare people with my intensity and ability to feel and to turn deep emotions on and off like a faucet when some people can’t even begin to process that level of emotion in a lifetime what I can do in an hour.
I also know that this ability to feel deeply also is responsible for a number of my most winning qualities. I’m funny, creative, intelligent, understanding, compassionate, empathetic, generous and willing to listen to or do favors for friends at the drop of a hat when they need me.
And while it always, of course, takes me some time to heal, I’m also someone who knows how to forgive–because no matter how much it seems that someone has “hurt” me, I can always eventually understand my own responsibility for feeling in that particular situation as well as his or her perspective.
I will always welcome someone who can meet me halfway or on the same level back into my life even after what seem to be irreparable blow-ups in our relationship. In fact, some of these reunions have in the past been the most beautiful to me.
Right now I’m going through a personal healing process, and I’m grateful to remarkable pieces of art like “Call Me By Your Name” for showing me that it’s OK for me to be exactly as I am.
And though it’s taking me some time to wrap my head around it in my current emotional state, I’m slowly becoming damn sure of this: There will eventually be someone in an intimate relationship who doesn’t run away from my deep ability to feel. Instead, he will understand it, embrace it, love it as part of the deep, authentic person I am–and maybe even decide to stay.