Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Most Personal Reflection Yet: Communication

See the very end of the post for an update 4/25.

Something huge happened just a few short hours ago that I don't want to write about here (let alone think about or be living), but I think I need to both because my friend the psychologist said I need to document what I told him and to get it out. I'm going to try my best to be honest and objective, even if I look bad. Normally, I write things here that could bother people and don't really care how I look, but this is really personal...one of my biggest fears with writing this and talking to people about this is that they won't understand or believe my perspective, which is what I think is at the root of the situation I'm about to tell you anyway. Please try to understand.

So here it is:

When you have any sort of relationship with someone, no matter what that relationship is--working, friends, acquaintances, study partners, casual dating, long-term relationship, married, etc--communication is one of the most--if not, the--most important aspects. It just is. When communication breaks down, all kinds of problems arise, and any problems that were already there get worse. As bad as I am about expressing emotions and as hard for me as it is to do that, people in my life are important enough to me so that when it's necessary I will make an effort to communicate even if it's difficult for me. Usually, what's comfortable for me is writing. As I've written several times, approaching people is difficult for me, and sometimes this is even true with people I already know. Writing makes everything so much easier for me.

Sometimes--despite all your good intentions and your desire to be heard and to make things right--people just don't want to listen to you or give you a chance. I made the mistake of trying to make LA Girl listen, even though something was telling me maybe I should back off. I only ever did this through writing, mainly several e-mails throughout the school year. The one time that was different was recently, right before the Virginia Tech shootings. I had talked to my "therapist," and he suggested that I write this person a letter because the more personal touch might help. He can testify to the fact that I commented several times that I really feel like I am bothering her. I talked to him about how, despite wanting to work out whatever was wrong between the two of us--which I'm still not entirely sure what that was--I didn't really know what else I could do. Admittedly, she had been ignoring the e-mails I had sent her, which I should have just taken as a response in and of itself.

So, in a sense, I was ready to leave it alone, but that's why I wanted to talk to him in the first place. I wanted to tell him about the situation that I've, more or less, described throughout this blog to get his thoughts and possible advice. Had he said to leave it alone, then I am pretty sure I would have. But I think he could tell that finding some way to talk things out with LA Girl and work things out was really important to me, and I believe he agreed with me that when you have a problem with someone you should just talk to each other about it. Essentially, his advice was to keep trying to open the lines of communication, that he didn't understand why I felt like I was maybe going too far by trying to get in touch with her, etc, and he gave me several ideas of ways I could approach her, including the letter. Most, if not all, of the e-mails I sent, I don't think she read. He asked me how often I had been writing to her, i.e. daily or along those lines, and I said that I hadn't been writing that often. So then, he assured me, I wasn't stepping into any serious troubled territory, nothing to worry about.

I didn't agree, I still felt kind of uneasy. But this was something that was really important to me, so I figured I could try. After all, what would she really do if she didn't like it, other than tell me what I'd been waiting to hear all this time...which was either, "Leave me alone" or "Okay, we're cool," or just continue to ignore me. Last year, I got an "Okay, we're cool" when I kept trying to get her to listen to me, but never once in all the time I've known her have I gotten a "Leave me alone." With that in mind, I also kind of thought that I was just repeating what worked in the past--if at first you don't succeed, try again.

I want to make two things clear here. One is that I don't blame my friend the psychologist for the rest of the story that follows. This was set in motion long before I brought the issue to his attention. I blame myself, and I blame LA Girl. He gave advice, but I didn't have to take it. In fact, I really could have seen what happened coming, in all honesty, and I will write more about that in a second.

Two is related to one of the main purposes of this blog, i.e. discussing the difficulties of being queer and coming out for me. As I've mentioned before, I don't have any gay people in my life, and I really would like to. Furthermore, it has been difficult for me to meet any queer people in person that I do feel like I can have a friendship with or relate to, and I felt that she was the first queer person I met that I could relate to and would want to be friends with. This was the person who really got me started thinking about being queer, coming out and trying to learn more about queer people, and that is a huge deal to me. That's why it was important to me that, if I did something wrong, she'd tell me so that we could maintain a friendship. If she didn't understand that, I understand because I never actually told her how important this was to me or why, and it wasn't like we were anywhere near best friends. If she sensed that I liked her as more than a friend and had a problem with that or thought that was why I wanted to associate with her, I can understand that, too.

What I don't understand...is calling the police on me rather than just taking five or ten minutes to either write me back or speak with me directly like a mature adult about what I could have done so bad to make her not want to hear from me bad enough to call the police. The police! On me! Man, you don't understand. I have never written a threatening word to her. I have never followed her--in fact, I never see her and have barely seen her over the two years I've been at this university! The letter, I felt, was nice, not something that should make someone feel threatened. Again, I understand if she wanted me to leave her alone, and I could have picked that up from her refusal to respond to my e-mails. But, again, she never said leave...me...alone! And I honestly think that, regardless of any indirect signals you're giving someone, that is the first step you take before you go to the police!

And I mentioned I could see this coming, but I never exactly saw having the police call me to ask me to come to their station or if there was somewhere else they could meet me. What really made me worry about anything like that happening was the Virginia Tech shootings, particularly since it happened right after I left the letter for her. By the way, where I left the letter was a place she had willingly showed me so that I could find her when I wanted to--I have an e-mail she sent me that says just that. I have never gone there after she showed it to me, nor prior to placing the letter there. I can understand if she was freaked about my showing up there, but, as I said, there was nothing threatening about the letter or anything else I had said/done. When the shootings happened, some news came out about how Cho had been bothering these two women and writing them...and something just made me freeze, literally...got cold and panicked. What if, G-d forbid, the shootings put the thought in LA Girl's head that I might actually hurt her or someone else? But that's crazy, I thought...I've never said or done anything to make her think I would hurt people or that she should fear me.

That is probably the most painful thing about all of this. As my friend said when I called him immediately after talking to the police, the exact opposite was true--I wasn't trying to hurt anybody. I thought I had hurt her, and I was trying to find out what I could do to make things better! I thought she felt like I unfairly alienated her, and I was just trying to make sure that she understood that was never what I wanted. And I asked my friend to tell me what exactly is "stalking," because that word is tossed around so much, so carelessly, by people. And he said, "What you did is not stalking." He said stalking is, essentially, following people and being everywhere they are and saying things that make them think you would assault them; it's not writing e-mails and sending one letter. He said, "She overreacted." And, most importantly, asked, "How did the police react to you?"

When I thought about how the police treated me--a white guy, to boot--I started feeling a lot better, like maybe my friend was actually right. I absolutely do think I have some blame in this. But his making me talk about the police illuminated so much for me--the guy acted like he really didn't think what I did was a big deal, just that since she complained it was his job to make sure I was informed of what she wanted so that he could file a report. As my friend pointed out to me, the fact that the officer asked me if I could come to the police station or meet him on some corner rather than his just coming and getting me says a lot about how much of a threat the police, even after Virginia Tech, believed I was to this woman and everybody else. When he called me on the phone, told me he was with the police and heard my reaction, he actually just kind of laughed in a way that was like, "Oh, no, no...don't worry, I just want to talk to you about a little something, no big deal." And then the way that he talked to me was kind of like, "You've really got no problem with us, she just doesn't want to hear from you."

But my point is...it really...did...not...take...a...damn...cop...to...tell...me...to...back...off! She should have done that! Instead, I had to walk to meet some cop, scared to death the whole time that, all because of some woman who would never just tell me why she was mad at me or to leave her alone, I had just spent two years in law school and would never be able to practice law! Because when he called me and asked me to meet him, I pretty much figured this had something to do with her. And practicing law really was my one and only worry. Never once did it cross my mind that maybe people could find out I am queer from this. Every...single...question I asked him related to whether or not this was going to be something the Bar Association would have to find out about. I seriously never knew I cared that much about being able to practice law, but apparently I do, if that was all I could think about in those moments.

And when he answered those questions, he was telling me how she didn't want to file charges or anything else that would hurt me...as if I'm supposed to be grateful for that? Again, I understand after Virginia Tech the desire to be cautious or whatever it was, and that I should have just left everything alone after getting no responses, but seriously. It has become clear to me now that, apparently, we are seeing whatever happened between us from two totally different angles with my having seen it as a misunderstanding that we could have worked out if we just talked about it. However, that would have been helpful to know before she really hurt me by going to the police, and that's really all I had been trying to get from her--"what are you seeing that I don't?" And then after you have that little talk with someone, you want them to go away, you've made it vocally clear to them that you want that and they still won't, then...that's when I can understand bringing the cops in, perhaps even if it's just e-mails and a letter.

For my part in all of this, I truly am sorry, and I asked the cop if he would tell her that, as well as that I will leave her alone. If she felt threatened, I feel horrible about that, as that was never my intention. If I had known she didn't want to talk to me this bad, I would have stopped trying to be friends a long time ago. It just goes to show that everything she said about gay people supporting each other and how she likes to help out a gay person is bullsh!t, at least with respect to her. But, to be honest, it also just falls in line with what I already thought about gays anyway, not that I want to generalize every queer person. And apparently, I'm supposed to just let people who are important to me go the next time we don't see eye to eye and they decide not to respond to my e-mails, which is an extremely disappointing thing for me to think that I might have to do in the future just to be careful that something like this doesn't happen again.

I don't necessarily want to say anything bad about LA Girl, but it was helpful to me to hear my friend say that he felt like the problem was more with her than with me. Again, I should have left it alone. Hopefully, I've made clear where I was coming from and why I didn't leave it alone. But what I really want to make clear for anybody reading this is please be mature, please face people and please handle problems yourself the right way.

All this reminds me of how women oftentimes will break up with a guy without letting him know that. I met a guy last semester while this was happening to him, and I felt bad for him because I have been there. And I've mentioned this to women before, and they always point out how men do this, too. I don't think men do, in general. I think women give men their phone number and the guy never calls or just stops calling after a while...but this generally doesn't seem to be after a relationship has actually developed and been in process for a long time. You might have had sex, but that wasn't any sort of lengthy romantic relationship. No, this guy who got dumped had been dating this girl for about two years or so, and I just thought the way she went about it was so girly (because this is not the first time I've heard anything like this in relation to a woman) and punkish. The guy was just trying to do the same thing I was trying to do--had come from another city, brought her flowers and wine and everything, trying to apologize for something that, as far as I could tell, he hadn't done wrong.

I don't know if people who handle ending various types of relationships like this do it because they don't have the guts to just face someone and be honest, worried about hurting their feelings or a confrontation...but, in my case, I really don't know how you think calling the police would be any better. Things just don't have to go as far as they do sometimes, if handled the right way. So if you have any personal business with someone that needs to be taken care of, please...no excuses, just take a few minutes to be straightforward, and you can disclaim just about all the blame for anything that happens after that.

Update: After having time to sleep on it and a day to think about it, I do think I understand better now why she called the police, given the Virginia Tech situation--assuming that's why the letter and the situation resulted in her going there rather than talking to me. I was just saying the other day that there should be a way to report anything that might seem like it could turn into something serious later without having authorities not take it seriously...not that I think the officer is taking what happened here seriously, but he allowed her the opportunity to be safe rather than sorry. I completely understand that. It is still just incredible to me that anyone would ever think of me in this way, and I do hope she wasn't seriously worried I would hurt her. I still think things didn't have to go this far, that she could have just told me to leave her alone prior to my even sending the letter.

Part II here.