A desire I felt ashamed of: I had wanted my first long-term therapist L to attend my college graduation. When I stood on the auditorium stage receiving an award in 2017, I thought less about the work I had put into my academics over the past few years and more about the effort I had spent in my therapy with him. I felt fine that L had not attended, though I had always perceived my desire to see him there as too needy or too much in some way.
“I totally get why he couldn’t attend, because of ethics and stuff,” I said to my current therapist over Zoom a few weeks ago. I had never told anyone about wanting to see L at my college graduation before this. “I feel some shame though that I had wanted him there at all.”
“Thomas, it’s completely normal and makes sense that you wanted L to be there,” she said. “You two really cared for each other.”
When my therapist shared this, I started to tear up a bit. She and I then talked about how as a child I had been denied my ability to want things, especially certain forms of care and protection from my father. Before my therapist validated the okayness of my wanting L to attend my college graduation – that that desire even spoke to the strength of our relationship – I had not realized just how much self-disgust I still felt about it.
Though my relationship with my father played a role in my issue with this desire, I also at times equate wanting connection with danger based on broader societal forces like patriarchy and amatonormativity. At times I think about the many men I have met with unresolved intimacy and communication issues and shudder at the thought of trying to forge any form of connection with them. Or I ponder the ways in which some of my more femme friends and acquaintances have settled for men or lack self-love independent of their male romantic partners and I cringe at the thought of that ever happening to me. Beyond these qualms, I do value my independence on its own merits, my ability to cultivate a meaningful and values-aligned life without needing anyone else’s input.
I recognize, though, that independence and interdependence can coexist. That I can name what I want from others and if no one else can fulfill it, then I can work toward what I desire on my own. That I can have boundaries with people and even if I let them in, I can still withdraw my consent if I feel uncomfortable or taken advantage of. That desiring affection and connection does not make me weak, especially because at the end of the day I can always give those things to myself.
In a lot of ways, my relationship with L acted as an example of what a healthy relationship could look like, though of course minus the therapeutic framework. Over the past couple of weeks I have both had some amazing conversations with friends and have already met some emotionally passive aggressive and non-self-aware Boston Gaysian men
yes, without having yet moved to Boston, don’t ask me how, beep boop meow. Despite these men eliciting some emotions of sadness and frustration from within me, thanks to my loving bond with L, I know that not all men will interact with me in heinous ways, that indeed men can practice healthy communication and relationship skills, even if those men seem rare.
Toward the end of that therapy session a few weeks ago, my therapist asked me what it would have felt like for me to tell L that I had wanted him at my college graduation. When she asked, I said something along the lines of “oh, he probably would’ve been fine with it” or “even if he hadn’t shown up I would’ve been fine.” Self-denial at its finest: people can’t hurt you if you don’t let them in.
My therapist smiled, I think because she knows that I do value and take action to form deep and authentic relationships with my closer friends and with myself.
Then, she said, “He likely would’ve been touched.”
Where do you land for yourself in terms of wanting human connection and valuing your independence? If you have gone to therapy, have you ever reflected on the course of that experience or your relationship with that past therapist or therapists later on? General reactions to this post? I have wanted to write this post for awhile though finding housing in Cambridge/Boston has like sucked up so much of my time amidst research projects and other life tasks. Glad I could make time for this and hopefully will post again soon, hope folks are as well as possible until then!