There are awkward conversations. And then there are conversations you would do anything to avoid. There will be a whole tranche for each of us that fit into this latter category. For me they start something like this:
“Danny, what’s your worst ever dating experience?”, or maybe, “When did you have your first kiss?”
I can’t answer them.
This week I had one that ended up along similar lines, but I didn’t see it coming. For some absurd reason I started a blog last summer and chose relationships as my specialist subject. I had opinions and I wanted to share them. Whether anyone was listening was comparatively unimportant, and if they were I planned on ignoring them. That illusion was shattered the moment I walked into church and saw the people who had shared my post or commented on the blog.
I was writing about a subject people cared about and wanted to talk about. Just not out in the open.
Except I had made the charge out into the open as a forlorn hope to furnish my waiting audience with advice and expertise. Soon the unofficial church relationship blog took on a life of its own. Every other conversation I had was on the issue, drinks became informal focus groups. Emails, tweets, messages and comments all came in with dilemmas of what to do, and asking that I replaced my discursive conversational style with some didactic answers that would help tackle these tricky waters. They wanted to know what to do.
A couple of my more distant readers even thought I might be married.
My writing changed my real relationships, there were things I expressed in my posts that I had left veiled to all but a very few, which now stood between us. For some that was a conduit which encouraged more blatant displays of attraction. For others it was a stumbling stone that made me out to be something I was not.
It changed me. It made me take stock of my feeling towards other people. It forced me to act with integrity, and act in the way I was exhorting others to. In particular, it meant that I had to tell someone I was attracted to them. And that was the end of that.
Because I’m not married, and I’m not in a relationship. I’m not an expert with years of experience to share with my loyal readers. Nor do I even have catastrophic mistakes to learn from and walk away a stronger man. Because I’ve never been in a relationship.
It’s something I avoid admitting. It’s a frailty I do my utmost to cover over. I’ll massage the truth, avoid the topic, change the conversation, revert to conceptual, abstract, answers, all to escape admitting the complete void of romantic life experience between me and another.
Yet I write about relationships.
This conversation earlier this week, partly provoked by my writings, partly guys sharing a drink in the pub: I was asked for my game plan for prospective relationships. ‘When do I show my hand and ask her on a date, when does dating become a relationship?’ Interesting questions, questions about which I have already pondered and plan to ponder more. But questions to which I have no anchor in reality. Answers that are based on other people’s experience and my own efforts of speculation.
I don’t know if I lied in answering the questions, I certainly was evasive and have lied before in response to such an inquisition. If I recall I tried to massage conceptual thoughts into an account that appeared to be my own without explicitly acknowledging as much.
The stigma that brands me and pushes me into my corner of shame is as present in the church as it is throughout the wider world. When I was 18 it was an embarrassment, when I was 21 I discovered more people in the same boat than I could have imagined. Now I’ve maybe engaged in a grand exercise in deflection to mask the truth. And I knew it could not hold. This confession has been brewing for a while: I’ve hinted at my inexperience, inferred the absurdity of my supposed expertise.
Maybe I had hoped it would never be needed
–that I would find the girl of my dreams in the comment threads. Or someone would see my writings and declare their love for me. I desperately hoped for things to be different than they were.
I have a life of experiences. I may not have a litany of disaster dates. I may not be a Christian gone off the rails with a story of redemption from sexual hedonism to share.
I have what I am. What lies behind me and remains today around my feet. I have the challenges of singleness and the frailty of a history I am ashamed to bear. I can share from the pain I feel, the fear I know, the love I want. I walk a road of wounded souls and I am as fragile as any.
[photo: Hannah Yoon]