Fade In, Fade Out: A Tale of Gaslighting

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine and I were commiserating about connections we've made with men. Or so we thought.

It was this fascinating yet frustrating phenomenon in which each of us engaged in flirting - online or offline - with a man, only to endure the dreaded follow-up conversation in which our so-called suitor confesses that not only is he no longer interested, but that we must have fabricated the entire attraction in the first place.

I have dealt with the demoralizing practice of gaslighting before - Darwin knows I've had my share flashed upon me when discussing my hardships with sexism, misogyny, and sexual violence. Being bisexual, my forays into dating women have also trapped me in webs of deceit as my prospective partner either retreated back into the safety of her closet or the cocoon of her supercilious social circle.

But with men, it felt different. There were little, if any, societal barriers to a possible courtship, so why did I hear the same broken record each time, that awful skip shattering any rhythm that helped us ease into each other?

I think of the man I cozied up to at a party and shared my buried feelings as they sprouted from the earth in their beauty, only to watch him come to me the following day and ask to "just keep this between us."

Then there was the man who asked me out for drinks, only to text me days later to tell me that "meeting up" was fun. I told him that the date was fun, to which he responded, "Wait, you thought that was a date? You must be really full of yourself."

The man I spent a sensual night with after months of flirting, only to completely vanish from sight and social media afterwards.

The man with whom I was in a relationship for five months but introduced me to his closest friends as his “friend.” Being queer, this categorization hurt me deeply.

It’s so hard for me to declare that I'm in a relationship when there's no guarantee that there's another willing participant involved. That there’s a common thread which can’t help but string me along towards another trail to darkness, another touch unreciprocated, another ending without closure.

I thought the thread WAS me for the longest time. I combed through everything about myself - perhaps it was my personality? My introversion? My appearance? My interests? My flirtation

style? My age? My life story? - believing that there had to be something there so embarrassing, so intrinsically unbearable to bear witness to that they couldn’t find a reason to stay around. Given my history, there couldn’t have been a reason for them to not leave. If there wasn’t something within me for them to love, perhaps there actually wasn’t anything there.

I wish I could wrap this piece up in a nice little “Love Yourself!” bow. I really do. But the truth is, searching for the heart - that deserted embodiment of yourself - buried beneath years’ worth of doubt and grief is a day-to-day excavation, especially if you are the only one who suddenly hears it beating, albeit faintly. Even if you realize the men in your life were acting out of superficiality or deep insecurity, or had an unacknowledged partner (or partners). Even if the women in your life were afraid of making their attraction public. Even if you’ve found deeper, more beneficial connections with the friends you’ve made. Even if you’ve continually trudged yourself to therapy, mentally stripping yourself bare, then picking up your tattered rags as you stumble out the door each time.

But I’ll find her.

I know she’s in there.

Jennifer S.Comment