I’m going to suppress my poetic tendencies and try to keep this simple and schematic, recognizing it may clarify but it won’t do justice to the experience.
I have a guiding principle I’ve followed as a therapist and in my own life “You work with what comes up.” I’ve learned by experience to assume whatever my mind or anyone’s mind is doing (excepting people who are psychotic), it has an adaptive purpose that, if understood and struggled and cooperated with, leads to progress toward wholeness, acceptance, engagement, and reconciliation with existence. An example would be flashbacks and intrusive thoughts about trauma. The natural tendency is to view them as bad and try to escape or avoid them. The healthy way to view them as the psyche needing to digest the experiences and come to valid conclusions that resolve guilt and shame and lead to strength and resilience. Easier said than done, of course.
So, this “episode” I’ll call it just happened unexpectedly, involuntarily. It’s what came up. First question: What is it? An obsession? Infatuation? A teenage crush? A burst of love? A midlife crisis? If I have to put it in a box, I think it fits more into the last two categories, a burst of love and a midlife transitional challenge. I believe it stems from a universal human longing for connection and completion, something I’ve always felt since a very early age. Some lucky person gets to be the object of ones longing. It’s also about coming to terms with limits. The longing is something perhaps one seldom or never really satisfies. A brilliant and funny novel I read a year or so ago, Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy (a psychiatrist before he became a novelist) talked a lot about this longing. Do we ever transcend our separateness? Yes and no, but that’s a subject for another time.
Why now? I spent years under the crush of responsibilities modern adults in developed countries contend with, something that is basically unnatural, nothing at all like what our species dealt with until very recently. For all its benefits, a lot gets suppressed, often popping us as episodes of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and so on. Now, having slogged through and completed the basic tasks of modern American adulthood- raising children, stable marriage, successful career leading to financially secure retirement, etc, I find I’ve won the game- I have free time on my hands and few constraints on what I can do with it! Instead of sitting back, drinking beer and watching TV, those things I suppressed, the unresolved needs for an ideal level of intimacy, creative expression, and the celebration of joyous erotic abandon come to the surface against the backdrop of the ticking clock of aging. What is one to do? Say “Oh, well” and suck it up? Slip away from the secure existence put together over long years of effort and go party oneself to death in the company of strangers? Or try to find a meaningful way to meet those needs as much as possible while honoring core values?
Why you? Well, just because. OK, for two people different in a lot of ways, we truly have a great deal in common. Plus you’re very likeable. And endearing in so many ways. And smart. And I have deep respect for what you’ve overcome to be the person you are. Me, I’ve got an unusual capacity for appreciating others and a seemingly endless supply of affection I need to channel somewhere. (Keep in mind, as well, the most admired and beloved person in my entire life is my mother, an unassuming farm girl from Alabama who didn’t accomplish anything much the world would take notice of. I also think about her fondly every day.)
Finally is all of this good or bad? Being as honest with myself as I’m able, I believe it’s good. One indication is it has made me more appreciative of the partner I have and more motivated not to take her for granted and neglect being generous in giving of myself. I accept her like she is and cut her lots of slack on things I used to be resentful of. So, if I spend a lot of time thinking about this other person and the issues connected with her (especially how I can be a positive force in her life within respectful boundaries), and that seems to be leading me to be more able to accept the limits of what I can accomplish and get in this life while engaging passionately in things like music, and writing, and teaching, and helping other friends, and getting into better health habits, and laughing at my Don Quixote-ass self, where’s the bad side of it? This will all work itself out one way or another and I will continue just to trust the process, not knowing how that’s going to happen, because it’s what’s worked so well for me so far. Insecure person I sometimes am, I’ve been prepared for months to just go away if you ever said this has pushed you too far. I’m glad it didn’t come to that and grateful you’ve hung in with me. But then, why should I be surprised? After all, you’re the best.