Category Archives: relationships

There is no fear in love

Palouse Barley Fields, by Victor Szalvay.

Palouse Barley Fields, by Victor Szalvay.

You might say I’m something of a late bloomer. At least, that’s how I feel sometimes. As a teen and through much of my twenties I was so hunkered down just trying to survive that I never really learned how to thrive. Still trying to figure that part out.

In any sort of love story there’s the guy, the girl, and the problem—the thing that gets between the lovebirds. It might be a rival getting in the way. It might be a secret engagement, or a terminal illness, or (most often!) plain old miscommunication. In a sense it doesn’t really matter what “the problem” is. It just represents the possibility of love being unrequited, the possibility of being disconnected, lost, and alone.

I find that in my own love stories, when there is no apparent problem dividing us, I simply invent one. Why on earth would I do that? Because as much as I might fear that disconnection and aloneness, I fear more what will come with closeness. My gut tells me the wildest things about the women that I date: “If you get close to her, you’ll be punished for expressing preferences or ideas that she doesn’t like.” “If you get close to her, she’ll become sick and dependent and you’ll have to carry the burden of all her problems.” “If you get close to her, she’ll only love you for what you do for her, not for who you are.” In the stories I tell myself, these things are “the problem.”

Except that they aren’t. Not at all. I’m blessed to date amazing women. Really, truly, I am always more impressed the more I get to know them. And not a single one of those things my gut tells me, is true about even one of them. They are fears, plain and simple, left over from a trauma long past, but intruding cruelly on the beautiful present. And so I’m left in the ironic situation where the closeness, the intimacy I yearn for is also the trigger of painful memories.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear

We all want to be connected, to be close, to be in love, to love. I think it’s as vital to our souls as air is to our bodies. Without it, we suffocate.

But sometimes we fear. Sometimes we’re afraid to breathe. One way to read the scriptures is that once we have perfect love in our lives, such as the love of God, then fear will be cast out. Another way to read it, though, is that casting out fear is a prerequisite for love. We cannot love until we cast that fear out of our lives. Until our ability to trust, to have faith and hope in God and others and ourselves, is greater than our fear. Until we accept that we cannot control every outcome, that we must accept risks, but that it is worth doing so.

Do I believe this? Do I believe that the wonderful people in my life are worth the risk? Is it worth some small chance of the worst happening, to be able to join my heart with somebody wonderful and build something beautiful together? It’s a bit of a step into the darkness, I suppose. But once we’re willing to step into that darkness, we are no longer mastered by our fear of it. I think it’s worth the risk.

P.S. What do barley fields in eastern Washington have to do with anything? While I can imagine a deep metaphor relating Ice Age floods and agriculture to relationships, basically I felt this post needed some kind of a visual—any visual—and that’s what I came up with!

Susan

I keep postponing this post, but the postponed, post-pondering, shall now be posted!

By the way, thanks to everyone who reads this blog and comments on it. I’m not so sure I would read this stuff if one of my friends was putting it out; you all are very good to me. Okay, here goes….

The first part of this is a post I wrote but never published about three weeks ago [i.e. sometime in June]. The second part is about a dream I had on July 2nd. The third part has my thoughts on what to make of it all. I imagine the first two parts might make me seem like a hopeless sort of fellow, a sort of Cyrano de Bergerac. Maybe that’s true, but I hope that by the end you’ll see that I’m really trying to be reasonable!

This post is really long, so I won’t be hurt if you don’t read it. But it does detail one of the most profound challenges in my life—a puzzle I have yet to solve, if it is indeed solvable. Should you choose to undertake to comprehend the most knotted enigma in Josh Hansen’s heart, I wish you all luck!

I. A Difficult Experience

One of the hardest experiences of my life happened early in 2007 when it become clear that my wildly-inflated hopes of dating my friend Susan were ill-founded. At the time I maintained a blog just for my family, and I wrote a lot about my feelings there. But I’ve never mentioned it on this blog; in fact, since two years ago I’ve hardly mentioned it at all to anybody. And so, in the spirit of my recent post on trying to develop greater emotional openness, here are some thoughts about an experience I still can’t seem to figure out.

To me, Susan was beyond amazing. Very few are the times in my life when I’ve felt such joy simply spending time with someone, yet this was the case with her. She was basically everything I had ever dreamed of—she was smart, kind, fun, full of thoughtful faith. And did I mention she was beautiful? I fell, and I fell hard, maybe sort of like that time when I was a kid and I jumped up to get the monkey bars but missed and just landed on my back on the ground, knocked out for a few seconds. Except it was actually me, myself, that fell this time, not just my body, and it took me a lot longer to come back to a sort of dazed consciousness.

We did things together—studied, shopped, ate food, went on dates—and I guess I started to get ideas that weren’t exactly supported by the “facts on the ground.” So soon came the bitter anguish of hopes unfulfilled, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I had never felt that sort of disappointment before, because I had never quite wanted anything so much or from such a deep and hidden part of my heart—from the place where you tuck your most vulnerable dreams away to protect them from unnecessary harm. I started writing poetry. I wrote a quasi-autobiographical short story. I struggled to come to terms and, eventually, in spite of my friends’ and family’s support, I just went numb.

I became subtly bitter over the ensuing months. I never outright just said, “I hate my life, how could this happen to me?” or whatever. But I became kind of moody and fatalistic. It seems strange that that happened, since I’d endured heartbreaks in the past. Maybe this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I don’t know.

Susan was very sweet and patient with me as I tried to bring my vision of things into line with reality. Soon I went off to Spain and was happily distracted by an international adventure there. But I could never really stop looking back and wishing that things had been different. I was sad, and simply couldn’t figure out how to get un-sad. And I still feel that way, a bit. It certainly has diminished over time, and I only occasionally reflect on it now. Yet I still wish it had been different. I still can’t seem to get over “what might have been.”

For the record, there really wasn’t any notable fault on Susan’s part. In fact, what got me thinking about Susan tonight was hearing this song, the lyrics of which she gave to me as a sort of benediction on our friendship, summing things up positively. She was very thoughtful, but just sort of got some tough luck (or something) running into this guy who was so ready to latch his heart onto an impossible dream.

I wonder why it’s still a big deal for me, and why I’ve felt so frozen in place for the last two years. Am I still holding on to something? Have I not mustered a bona fide forgiveness in my heart? Or is it just that I will always be haunted by the dream, until I find a waking reality brighter than those Siren memories?

II. The Dream

This is a dream I recorded after waking up on July 2nd:

Last night, a striking dream. I was at a tilled field belonging to Susan’s family. Her parents were there, and Susan and some of her siblings, and a lot of their friends were there. It was some kind of party. I drove my truck there, but I felt like I just showed up, since Susan didn’t seem to have invited me.

Her dad and her mom each in turn came over to me to talk with me and to have me help harvest something. I never talked to Susan, but kept glancing over at her, seeing that she saw me. But I had some time with her parents.

Eventually, as I completed the task her parents had for me [maybe it had something to do with asparagus? something weird like that], it became clear that my time was past and I was no longer particularly welcome. I saw another guy with Susan. It felt like her parents had arranged things that way, so that potential suitors and competitors would not overlap. But it hurt to see her with the other fellow.

Her parents liked me. Brittany Johnson (what was she doing there??) pointed out that Susan’s dad came over to me to talk to me [somehow meaning that he thought I was a cool guy]. But even though I apparently found favor with her parents, that guaranteed nothing from Susan herself. (It’s the dating system, not courtship or courting, that’s the reigning regime these days, after all.)

Knowing that Susan is returning from her mission next month seems to have me thinking about her again, strangely. Actually, she seems to be on my mind often. I know there is still a secret hope within me of something working out. I try to kill it, but I’m not succeeding as that imaginary reality seems so much nicer than actual reality.

I guess I’m still in love with her. Or, at least, with a memory of her. And, though I have invested in relationships with other girls since, I have not yet been “in love” again….

I am still a prisoner of these feelings. I do at an emotional level wish something would come about, but at a mental level I don’t know if I really want that, and I am quite confident that it won’t happen. Oh God, please help me to move forward. Bless me to fall in love with somebody who will love me in return. Or help me to be able to choose to love.

Maybe, when she gets back, I’ll see her and realize she’s not that great, or at least not for me.That would be good. But maybe, if I see her again, I’ll just remember how much I like her. That would be terrible.

This is ridiculous! I’m stuck in the past. I moved on, but my heart didn’t. Where are you, my heart? Somewhere lost at sea.

III. What To Make Of It

Funny how in the first part I said I only occasionally reflected on Susan, but in the second part I said she was often on my mind. I think part of the problem is that maybe a week and a half ago I was doing a little bit of cleaning (gasp!) and I found my old planner from around that time. Looking through it brought back a lot of old memories, some rather painful, including a tragic poem I wrote on one of the planner pages. That put her in my thoughts again.

Overall, I think I am too “woe is me!” and not enough “it’s time to get on with life.” Does it really make sense not to let go of an old hope until finding a better one to replace it, if that old hope was actually quite hopeless? How did I become so doggedly Romantic (in the 19th century literary and philosophical movement sense, not in the modern meaning) about things?

In terms of a search algorithm [zone-out time, everybody], keeping Susan as my ideal and not exploring other promising opportunities that fall short of that ideal is like having a bogus, impossible-to-beat Best Solution So Far. A bad BSSF would render your whole search worthless. Of course, it would also make the search extremely easy, since you’re already convinced you have the best so you don’t try as hard to top it. [okay, I’m done talking about algorithms.]

Anyway, if I was Susan and I read this post, I would be disturbed by the fact that some guy was still thinking so much about me. Well, I’m disturbed by that fact, too! But really, this post makes it seem a lot worse than it is. I’m not obsessed with her. I honestly don’t think about her that often—just occasional “Man, I wish that had worked out” or “Hey, she’s coming home in August”. It’s more like I brushed up against a rose, and I still carry one of its thorns in my side—a slightly-painful reminder of a beautiful person, drifting through my memories.

[Note: reading this again as I go to finally post it, I realize that at the time I wrote it I had Susan on my mind an unusual amount. Since then she’s gone out of my thoughts again just as she came. Such is capricious memory. -Josh]

Overheard in the Atrium

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Ah, the good old HBLL atrium. Sorry, this picture was the best one I had.

In a nod to my friend Emily’s recent post, I’m going to describe something interesting I observed in the Harold B. Lee library last night.

There I was on the first floor of the atrium, the big, three-story glass enclosure with trees and ferns and seats for studying. All was peaceful, I was happily being semi-productive, and in comes this couple. They sit down in the armchairs about 35 feet from me. They started talking, pretty quietly, but in the coffin-quiet of the library late on Saturday night I could hear just about every word. And it was quite the conversation to overhear.

It was a DTR. An agonizing, lopsided DTR. For the uninitiated, DTR is BYU/Provo/Orem/lots of other places-speak for “Define The Relationship”1. This guy was a manly man, with a deep bass voice that carried far. The girl started trying to explain why she had wanted to talk. She was just about to get to it when a text message or something came in on her phone, so to stall she went off on some tangent. Just do it! I was thinking, though I’m certainly guilty of the avoid-the-point-of-the-conversation-by-talking-about-something-else thing.

Anyway, when she finally got around to, it was some blather about how she just thought maybe like there was maybe perhaps possibly something he was looking for, but she didn’t have to offer… and how glad she was they were friends, but… and how this and that and, oh! how strange! but she was just thinking…. As she tried explaining what was going on without actually explaining what was going on, the guy responded with these perplexed, bass-rumbly questions that she answered with equal vagueness. On about the third approach she decided this method was doomed to failure, so she set out to use a radical new approach: the honest truth! (gasp!)

“So, okay, I’m just gonna be really honest with you. We’ve been doing all this stuff together and it’s been lots of fun, from how you were treating me at the party I could tell you were way more into it than I was, so I thought I should talk to you about it.” I don’t remember her exact words, and it was still really vague, but the dude started to sort of get the hint. His string of follow-up questions and almost pleading were still in that deep bass voice, but now it was sort of gravelly and strained, like he wanted to keep the emotion out of his voice but couldn’t manage it. Been there. Done that. I started to really feel sorry for the guy, because he was clearly in deep and was taking it like a heavy blow.

Dang, what can you do in that situation? You’ve fallen deeply in love with someone who will never love you back, in your mind the relationship is what you hope it can someday become. In other words, your perception is totally disconnected from reality. And the other person has no clue, or maybe suspects but doesn’t want to just come out and say, “Hey, I’m not interested!” Anyway, I was really tempted to go over to the couple in the throes of non-relationship and say to the guy, “Dude, I’m sorry, that’s rough. But it’s obviously going nowhere. Let go!” I guess that’s because I wish somebody had done that for me the last time I was in his shoes. She had the wisdom to eventually tell me very clearly to move on, but the heartbreaker last night seemed to not yet understand the importance of a clean break.

That was rough for him. It was rough for me, back about two years ago. Maybe it’s a bad sign that I haven’t really been in love since.

  1. I’ve been in the BYU bubble for a long time now and don’t really know how widespread the use of this term is. It clearly goes beyond BYU (see 1, 2, 3) though I mainly see it in sites that seem to be overtly Christian—probably an indication that the DTR corresponds to groups that practice more traditional types of dating, like we LDS and other socially conservative people []