The Dichotomy Of Love In A World of Impermanence
Written by Kate Dulhunty Guest Ponderer
I’m an anxious lover. Hyper-vigilant in many moments.
In vain, I drape this identity around my neck. I know why I’m like this, and it’s for these reasons I’ll want to hold you just as close as I’ll want to keep you far away.
Twenty twenty would be the year I’d turn 30 and do a whole lot of things. I’d convert a van, bend myself through a 21-day yoga teacher training and travel to a few more continents – all while freelancing. And then Covid-19 absorbed these plans, and I lost my steady freelance income. I ended up living in a coastal town in Victoria, where I’d spend the isolation period.
For the first time in a long time, I had little to do and lots of delicious time to spend in the potency of moments. Even the flightiest of moments became the only ‘ever-inhabitable’ places I could comprehend. I’d started seeing someone too, and restrictions on who we could see meant I was in something steady and accidentally monogamous – something I’d been avoiding for some time.
Photo credit Kate Delhunty
I met him at his yard sale in Bondi when I was 19. He was selling vintage, and I was in town to see a gig.
It took us two years, until when we’d both moved to Melbourne, to finally go for ‘that drink’. I don’t remember much about the date, just a feeling.
There was no kiss, no follow up. I liked him, but my past experiences told me he was too kind; suspiciously calming.
During the two years between meeting him and going on a date, I was in a relationship with someone who became abusive. I kept it quiet for a long time, as people didn’t quite know what to say.
A new friend of mine once responded, ‘I can’t imagine you in a relationship like that’, and I reflected on how abuse and violence were somewhat normalised in my upbringing. The three women who raised me – my mum, my step-mum and my sister – had each been in abusive relationships during my lifetime.
Relationships and abuse arrived snugly arm in arm to pleasant occasions and, to me, love was tender like a new bruise.
It wasn’t the mistreatment that made me want to leave the abusive relationship I was in.
I wanted to move away, travel alone and feel life’s depths without him, on my terms. For years after, I fed the spark that stayed alight with quick fixes and cheap thrills. I lived many short lives until post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety slipped into places I thought he could never reach, including new relationships.
Photo credit Kate Delhunty
In dating situations, I was deeply anxious… avoidant at times.
I’d wear it like a cloak made of the fur of a slaughtered animal to avoid closeness or a state of vulnerability. I made PTSD and anxiety part of my identity. While it was very real, I fashioned it so that it suited me when I wanted. With it, I escaped the permanence I feared.
While managing my mental health has become a priority over the last few years, my lovelife in 2019 involved a self-destructive safety net of people I could ‘see’… something I’d sabotage potential relationships with. So this thing, this accidental monogamous thing I was in during isolation, felt unfamiliar.
Somehow, I adapted and softened to a routine of buttery banana bread and Seinfeld and wine and walks and sex and ciggies with the babe I’d met in Bondi eleven years earlier.
And then, restrictions began to ease and the person I’d spent so many slow mornings with returned to work and opened his own vintage store.
I remained unemployed, without a safety net, and I anxiously craved comfort that what we’d developed would survive the isolation period.
Impermanence was prevalent and painful, as palpable as fleshy touch, and harder to escape than the permanence I’d formerly been fearing.
A dichotomy of surrender and self-preservation emerged: how to immortalise this intimacy with someone while also keeping my sense of self?
Photo credit Kate Delhunty
How do I keep anxiety at bay, insecurities from seeping in?
Was there a lesson on permanence to be learnt from 2020’s abrupt derailing of plans and its demand for us to adapt to isolation and then the just-as-sudden attempted return to ‘normal’? Was there any comfort in guarantee? Was there ever?
Is ‘guarantee’ a convenient illusion? In a time of restricted living, I began to ignore the limitations caused by the trauma-informed identity I’d created.
Only ever now, I repeat to myself. Because flights get cancelled. Viruses mutate. Restrictions lift. Intimacy and moments drip through fingers like glorified pearlescent goo. Love, plans, states of being – everything – can only ever be held like they are now.
I hold myself upright and admit: ‘alright 2020, you big sci-fi fruitcake of a year, I’m with you now.’ I admit that I’m an anxious lover, but I no longer want to wear it like protective fur over my collarbones.
I don’t want my life to be determined by the meaning I give to my past traumas, the false permanence I give my identity. There’s a soothing safety in the quality of holding something – anything of this gorgeous world – just as close as keeping it far away, and looking at it like it’s brand new, and about to slip away.
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