Father Tony

The Naked Boy Giver

Filed By Father Tony | January 08, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: advice column, end of relationship, gay advice, gay relationships, letting go, relationship advice, relationship troubles

I'm making a bit of a detour this week to comment (with owner's permission) on an irresistible post I read at a blog called Naked Boy Chronicles

Here's the post abbreviated:

I have a problem letting go

I did not see the Boif this trip around.

He was insistent on seeing me and I asked him to please respect my wishes and leave me alone. I told him I was not ready yet, I am still hurt over his leaving me. So he respected my wishes and left me alone.

I just felt that seeing him would bring me down simply because he had to leave again. It was like giving someone a gift and then snatching it away. I didn't want to set myself up for that.

I felt it would be a case of him mocking me and showing off and him telling me about his wonderful life now and how he has everything now and how he never had anything here. He should read all the earlier blog posts, he had everything here: Love, respect and all my possessions and money. But mostly love.

He actually told me on the phone one time that he had nothing here and that's why he left. He said I had everything and he had nothing. Can you imagine how that made me feel? Nothing? I thought I was something.

I thought I gave him everything -- especially unconditional love. I used to joke about him leaving me and tell him that no one would take him and that after five minutes of him, they would return him. And I loved the thought. The thought of him being mine forever and always returning to me.

My problem is I get attached to people and make them family. I don't have one of those weird families that quarrel. I have a big Italian family. We outright yell, scream and go crazy and in five minutes, it's all over as if nothing happened. He and I were like that, we argued all the time, but never held a grudge.

I am not used to giving up on family members and just having them out of my life. I don't live like that. He is like family to me. I can't get over that he is gone. That's my problem. I can't let go.

Dear Naked Boy,

There are a few things in your post that caught my eye and called to mind not only my own experience of love, partnering and friendship, but the frustrations expressed by others who have felt what you feel.

There are three issues here:

  1. Learning to argue like an Italian family.
  2. The merits and demerits of letting go and/or grudging.
  3. Learning to listen when someone tells you that he/she is not getting from you what you think you've been freely giving. In your case, love, respect, possessions and money.

Let's dispatch the first two rapidly, and zero in on the third one because I often find it to be the cause of failure in relationships.

My husband and I come from families that are polar opposites when it comes to self-expression. In his family, that which is never spoken is most significant. In my family, everything is spoken (shouted), devaluing every word and making it necessary to sift through the carnage for what truth may be had. In our own relationship, we have learned each other's language. He has become more expressive. I have learned to shut up occasionally. It is good that you and the boif were able to accomplish this.

I have observed a disturbing tendency in several of my acquaintances to "let go" of friends and lovers when navigating the rapids. I'm with you on this one. I've tried to be true to my belief that once you acquire a friend or a lover, he or she is, in some real way, yours for life with no disposability. (I've discussed this previously in this column so let's skip it for now, except to note that if not letting go equals merely pride on your part rather than personal responsibility, we're not really on the same page. I suspect Eleanor Rigby had her pride.)

Let's look closely at your astonishment when the boif told you that he felt he had nothing with you. You felt that you had given him everything, most importantly, your love. One might wonder how such a drastic miscommunication could take place. I think it happens often, so don't be too hard on yourself. Instead, get the tools needed to avoid a repetition of this. (I know a man who repeatedly scuttles his love affairs with bouts of righteous anger about all he has given his latest lover and how it outweighs what he has received in return. He has turned himself into one of those interstate weigh stations, flagging down potential partners and bitterly ticketing them when the scale is not to his satisfaction.) Surely there were some signs that the boif was dissatisfied with his status in your life. Were you totally surprised when he quit you? It's OK to say yes. There is no villain in this relationship, just two men talking to each other through a foot-thick but transparent glass wall.

If I might again speak from personal experience, twenty-five years ago, when my husband and I were a new couple, we had to overcome big differences mostly related to age. I had seen more of the world, been fortunate enough to have been force-fed an extensive education, had a career path and more money. It became obvious that it would be necessary to show him that all of those things were small compared to what I had found in him. It was also obvious that he would have to develop a distinct set of achievements that would keep him from simply subscribing to my life. It became clear that we needed to pursue and share new things that neither had in his separate past. We both had anxieties and fears that needs to be abandoned. There were times when this didn't work out, and the fault was variously his or mine, but I learned that when someone expresses pain or dissatisfaction with the balance of a relationship there is no point in presenting your case for personal generosity. You can't change how he or you feels. You can only clear the table, reach across it, take his hands and try new ways to resolve the dischord. I think it's the score-keeping that I wish folks would abandon. And I think I would send that message to your boif more than to you. It is very often the one who feels he is getting nothing of his own who needs to be reminded that a loving couple is not a set of opposing combatants or strivers. You are both supposedly on the same side of the net.

Money and possessions are a fascinating indicator of trust and relationship strength. My husband and I have separate bank accounts and shared bank accounts. We have access to each other's money and assets. I don't suspect that either of us has any secret stash of cash (although I'd be delighted if he were to surprise me with such a disclosure given the fact that my early retirement has me saving the coupons from Bed Bath and Beyond). We long ago lost track of the different levels of "equity" (dowries?) we each brought to the partnership. In the earliest months of our relationship, my friends urged some caution about money. His friends cautioned him not to invest much in me because I might dump him. Happily, we ignored them all and worked it out in a stumbling but progressive way that to this day does not preclude some haggling over who should pay for what. Every couple does this differently. The important thing is to make sure that both parties are feeling satisfaction with terms and processes that evolve over time. (This applies not just to money, but to all personal investments such as time and sex.)

I am convinced that you really wanted the boif to be happy and satisfied, but he wasn't, and opportunities to rectify that were left unattended. Again, this is not a criticism of either of you. It happens all the time, and it is what keeps counselors in business.

I hope that in your next relationship, you will not be hesitant to share as freely as you have in the past, but I suspect that you will be more skillful as a gift-giver so that the presents you wrap and place under the tree will not gather dust.

I can see that I haven't hit my targets herein as well as I had hoped to, and I am hoping that the readers' comments that follow may be of value to you. From what I've read of you, I think you'd make a fine partner/lover/husband.

Readers, please weigh in with your own advice and lessons learned.

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I used to joke about him leaving me and tell him that no one would take him and that after five minutes of him, they would return him. And I loved the thought. The thought of him being mine forever and always returning to me.

Even as a joke, this raises a big red flag for me. It's telling one's partner that they're worthless. Adding that to the fact that it sounds like everything the partner "had" came through or from the author, it sounds like a recipe for dependency, low self-esteem, and a problematic relationship. It sounds like ending the relationship is what needed to happen.

To some degree I think that "keeping score" can yield useful information. I have had friends who take, take, and take some more, giving very little in return. It's useful to observe this and modify the relationship so that the scales aren't so dramatically imbalanced.

It's also important to consider whether there is an unwillingness or an inability for a person to give. The two are very different. Those who are simply unable to make a certain type of investment (such as financial) often find other ways they can give (such as emotional support). I may not have been able to afford the perfect gift from Tiffany, but I can bake a fine cake, create a special dinner, and work hard to make my man feel special on his birthday, which could prove to be an even greater value to him, because he can see I'm doing my best with what I have. But if I'm simply unwilling to go to those efforts, because my attention and energy is elsewhere, I'm just lazy, or whatever, then I would not be surprised to find my man unhappy with that situation.

Discerning what is happening--keeping score--can be essential in evaluating what a relationship needs. But I also agree that it can be destructive. It's like the statistics on the TV news. Numbers can be manipulated to say almost anything. It's critical to keep in mind that this information is only a small part of the big picture. As you say, at the end of the day, it can be irrelevant who has given what to whom, if feelings are hurt and love is no longer burning bright. For me, I try to always stay in the black in terms of giving (in all senses), while simultaneously expecting nothing in return when I achieve this. It's the expectation that is destructive, i.e., "I did this for you and now YOU OWE ME."

I did this for you because I wanted to, first and foremost. It made me happy at the time. My reward has already been received. Anything else I get back is gravy.

"I thought I gave him everything..." And yet he thought he had nothing.

One aspect of our very long relationship that took us too long to figure out is the "currency" of love. We must give love in the coin of the realm. How does your partner perceive love?

For me, it means doing what I want without having to report every move; gifts of chocolate instead of frying pans; and him listening instead of giving advice. For him, it means telling him when I'll be home; gifts that are "sensible;" and cooking healthful meals. I am freedom, he is security. We could hardly be more different. Our gifts to each other—in actions or in wrapping paper—must recognize what is important to the other.

When you give another "everything," is it what you would want or what he wants? Ask yourself and then ask him.

When you give another "everything," is it what you would want or what he wants? Ask yourself and then ask him.

Very wise, Birdie.

"I have observed a disturbing tendency in several of my acquaintances to "let go" of friends and lovers when navigating the rapids."

This is interesting, but can be tough to put into practice, especially if that old friendship is of a codependant nature. Often, the only way to maintain such relationships is to continue to play a 'role', and that can be very draining.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 9, 2009 8:32 PM

Or you can grow past co-dependency which, after all, only thrives as a two-sided game.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 9, 2009 8:34 PM

Rita Mae Brown is famous for saying, "An army of lovers cannot fail." I've always thought that that should be amended to, "an army of ex-lovers."