Peterson's recent post on emotional dependency got me thinking about my own issues with intimacy. My current life circumstances would have to change dramatically were I to find myself in a serious dating relationship, and as such I've made no efforts to search for anyone that I could pursue a relationship with. Yet I have to question how much I'm simply respecting the terms of my employment, and how much I'm using that as an excuse to avoid having to let somebody get that close to me.
Not that I can lay all the blame for my relational issues on ex-gay ministries, which have been as much a help to me as a hindrance in that regard. Long before I knew much of anything about the ex-gay movement, I started building the walls that have become as much a trap to me as they are a barrier to others. Even the evangelical culture that I grew up in can't take all of blame, though the attitudes I absorbed and took to heart in church on a regular basis consistently rewarded and reinforced my tendency toward withdrawal. Over the years my defense mechanisms have become so instinctive that I often fail to notice the things I do to keep people at arm's length.
There are a handful of people that I've allowed to get close to me, but even the deepest friendship is a looser and less complicated bond than marriage. As much as I think that I want a life partner, I find myself questioning how I'd handle actually having one. Celibacy hasn't exactly been the wonderful state that so many married heterosexuals try to convince gay people it can be, but it is a lot safer. The thought of being completely naked with another person - physically, emotionally and spiritually - is actually rather scary.
The old tapes that still force their way through my head from time to time don't help, either. Even knowing that they're completely untrue, it takes time and conscious effort to overcome the residual fear that still accompanies them - fear that no intimate relationship I pursue with someone I actually find attractive could ever work out; fear that any man I fall in love with will turn out to be an amalgam of every bad stereotype I was taught about the "gay lifestyle;" fear that I'm emotionally deficient and constitutionally incapable of building and maintaining a stable relationship.
Few churches actively set out to be incubators of fear and self-loathing, yet in practice many of them still encourage secrecy and distrust. Even in this age of accountability partners and support groups, many evangelical churches are only safe havens to the extent that one adheres to every last line of dogma and speaks in the correct Christianese dialect.
Developing healthier relational skills is a steep uphill battle at times, especially in a world where most people don't have the patience that it takes to work past those old emotional barriers. I'm slow to trust others - sometimes glacially slow - but that doesn't mean I've given up trying. Some things really are worth the effort.