(This series will be way better read from beginning to end, rather than the end to the beginning.)

Long ago, my love was smugly avoidant and entitled. I was an arrogant little sexual aristocrat totally certain of my hotness. I wanted “love” but I only understood it as desire, satiation, and friendship. I was unaware of any lack of perception in myself and felt that mostly, I was always right about everything. Getting whatever I wanted seemed like the universe functioning correctly. I was as contentedly self-involved and selfish as a cat and almost as innocent and guileless about it. I didn’t lie about who I was or sneak around, I legitimately believed I was a special exemption. For a certain period of time, the world seemed to agree.

All the men in my family are on the ADHD/ASD axis and we all begin life with an emotional astigmatism about the meaning and value of other people’s feelings. We aren’t narcissists who don’t care, we are shortsighted moles who don’t notice it. We don’t lack emotional depth, we lack emotional depth perception. It has to be shaken into us.

This is not an excuse, just background. I’m no less culpable for this impediment, just likelier to fail.

I asked relatively little of love and received far more than that in return. At this superficial level, I was loveable and did deserve it because I was handsome, sexy, smart, and funny. I was of high value in a low-value economy. Love at this level is better written as “love” and better understood as a consumable experience like cocaine or a carnival ride. If it was a planet, the gravity would be low and bouncy. We would only have first names.

When my first marriage (11 years of the “selfish innocent” phase) failed, the concept of deeper and truer love formed in me, and my soul walked in that direction as if it smelled food cooking. I entered a different economy of love where the person I really am was small change. I could be high value again if all I wanted was a thrill, but down here everything cost more and demanded more true value, more purity of essence. This was the only coin accepted for anything worthwhile. True value meant possessing the ability to love with natural reciprocity, belief in a bright future, alone or together, and honest faithfulness.

I need to explain that. a digression

Faithfulness isn’t a promise to never change, or silently bear some misery to the end of time. It is recognizing the heart of your person as deserving of respect, truth, and kindness above your need to play any other game. If you decide to play the game anyway, you disclose the truth before you begin and allow them to leave you to your play without being made into fools for your convenience.

Sneaking and lying to have an affair is exhilarating fun, sometimes tortured and desperate, sure, but it’s a thrill. It’s a goddamn suspense movie…with lots of fucking! You experience hair’s breadth escapes, clever gambits, desire and tension, tension, tension. It’s emotionally cinematic and a natural choice when your life feels flat as roadkill.

Faithfulness in its smallest, most basic expression means not choosing that exciting game over the dignity of your person’s heart. The minimum standard means not dragging them behind you in a gaslit fogbank while you see if you prefer being with someone else. Two directions are one more than you can walk and hiding your betrayal till all the details are comfortably settled is way, way colder than merely deciding you have to leave.

Hellscape, a Place for Learning

In place of that coin of true value in me, there was scorched earth unworthiness. My capital was counterfeit. In my center was a shadow of self-loathing. It may have formed in me during the early childhood bouts of severe depression that tortured my little boy soul with the acid of self-hatred. Maybe it was a function of the neurology I inherited. Certain quick-fire, critical thinking mental styles lean toward self-hatred. Either way, I was a perfect storm of these traits as a child, beginning at age 7. I had no defense against full-on hate-yourself depression. I was one with it. That blistering radiation did things to me I can’t fully comprehend even today. I did not have the kind of traumatic or abusive childhood typically assumed for that kind of depression. I had defensive pride and self-value but deep internal damage shaped the path of my waking life from down in the unconscious darkness.

There was a massive, solid black, radioactive moon inside me. It was so overwhelming that my conscious mind refused to know anything about it.

Following that path now I had objectively failed at love with someone who adored me and who I had loved with every bit of what depth I did have. I broke her heart and ruined everything by being my honest self. I had had endless confidence in my selfish vision and pursued it all the way to the ground. There, my grief was a firey, smoking, bomb crater.

I was shocked into awareness of the depth and value of love for literally the first time. I became aware of my personal guilt in a disaster that murdered love. You know those dreams where you’ve killed someone or committed a terrible crime and the dawning horror and shame at the weight of your crime build to a scream like a factory whistle? That was my inner life in the aftermath, an inner emotional Chernobyl, month after month.

And that is how I finally learned a thing I needed to know, that is what it took.

The truly intransigent, and the super naive, must observe the nuclear immolation of their conceits to recognize their errors.

I now had a conception of what things cost, and how terribly much there was to lose but I didn’t grasp why this had happened. Surely next time I could just behave differently. From here I left to seek out true love and happiness while carrying this unworthiness inside. I carried the inevitable defeat of my dearest hope with me everywhere.

I didn’t understand that being loved can’t fix the belief that you don’t deserve love. It just makes you uncomfortable.

If you meet your ideal love and you can’t accept what they are offering, that’s a tragedy, not a dream come true. Find the antidote, heal the wound, then seek love.

If you don’t heal yourself, you’ll merely be bringing your true love a pretty basket of thorns. Worse yet, you’ll be convinced they are beautiful flowers and that she was selfish or mean not to take them.

So why didn’t I do the right thing? Because I had no clue what the real problem was. If someone had mentioned it to me I would have said: “No, that’s not it…” The problem is that we assume we know enough. We glance around inside our hearts and minds like lazy night watchmen and don’t see anything to worry about.