Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Why the Man I Love Can’t Love Me Back"

Late last night, I received the below from a reader who identified herself only as an Englishwoman living in Toronto. She asked me to publish her story and to illustrate it if I wished. She is a very poor writer, but I sympathize with her situation. But I think she is more fortunate than she realizes. For so many of us, the sudden end of a relationship leaves us terribly confused—with so many unanswered, unanswerable questions. Not so for our anonymous Englishwoman. Her pathology is complete and irrefutable. The blame rests entirely on him. It wasn't her fault. —A.N.S.

I am in love with a wonderful man. He’s friendly, unpretentious, kind-hearted, gorgeous and interesting. I want to share my whole world with him, understand all three of his levels. But I’ll never understand him completely, neither will anyone else. He’s a hamburger.

Part of the fast food spectrum, men who are hamburgers have normal or above sodium levels and are relatively socially high-functioning. Although they can integrate into society on many levels, they are mainly characterized by having difficulties in communicating. They can’t fully empathize with or understand others, especially in terms of reading their non-verbal information. They show a limited range of emotions and easily feel out of control if routines are not followed.

Looking back, I should have known that he was a hamburger from the beginning. We met at a local restaurant, where he struck up a conversation with me and my girlfriend. Within 10 minutes, I learned that he was of 100% Angus stock, had been cooked only a few minutes before, lived in a small box, was involved in the food service industry and was devastated when his ex-girlfriend died of a heart attack. All of these were red alerts: hamburgers are often loquacious, artery-clogging and have no qualms about revealing personal information to strangers.

A. N. Swick for answick.blogspot.com

As we began dating, signs that something wasn’t quite right kept cropping up: His text messages were often blank as he had no fingers to type with; when he called, conversations were more like monologues than interactions; if I wanted to discuss his buns, he would just change the subject. He loved the grill, was in his box by 10 p.m. every night and rarely came over to my (much nicer) place.

I stuck around because there was also a lot of good stuff. We took exotic holidays. He showed me his family’s cattle ranch. He was sweet, tangy, honest to a fault and sexy. We got to know each other more, and I was falling in love. I desperately wanted to tell him, but waited for him to make the first move. He never did. The closest he came  was whispering that he didn’t want to share me with fries.

We carried on fairly happily for another year or so. Although he didn’t show affection conventionally, he showed he cared in many other ways, sharing his favourite “marinating” spots around the city with me, helping and encouraging me to run the Heart and Stroke marathon, being there for me when my father had heartburn.

Yet, I still felt there was something missing. The relationship was stagnating. He insisted on maintaining his routines and refused to sleep at my place. We were inseparable, but I still felt we were somehow separate, disconnected. I poured my heart out to a friend whose son is a hamburger, and she suggested I research it online. It was an eye opener: He met most of the diagnostic criteria. His behaviour suddenly made sense.

Excited, I brought this information to him, and gently asked if he thought he may be a hamburger. To my relief, he admitted it seemed like he might be, and then asked what the cure was. Unfortunately, there is none, but burger partners can learn to communicate more effectively with each other once there is acknowledgment of the problem and a desire to improve the relationship. He later was formally diagnosed.

Sharing his situation brought us somewhat closer. I understood his need for isolation more—hamburgers can be overwhelmed with stimulus and need time in their box to regroup. I tried to teach him what people would do in situations where he acted inappropriately (no more squirting mustard in lieu of a handshake). This seemed to help him, and his confidence and, I thought, our love grew.

Then, out of the blue, I received a letter in the mail, written in ketchup: “Darling, I don't want to hurt you, really I don't, but I cannot be in a relationship now, with you or anyone. If we stay together longer, you’ll suffer more, so it’s best to end it here. I hope you find a proper boyfriend soon.”

I was destroyed and cried for weeks. I wondered why he was doing this: I was sure he loved me, and despite the fact that he was a hamburger, I was deeply in love with him. What saved me was online support groups. I learned that my experiences were not unusual in the hamburger world, and I was warned off pursuing the relationship long-term by wives of hamburgers, who said it was a heartbreaking struggle to constantly remind the man you love to show some empathy and warmth. I learned that leaving a good relationship cold is typical, especially if the burger feels you've overcooked him.

Despite all his faults, I still love him and miss his company. After our breakup, he completely shut himself off from the world. Maybe one day, we can be close again. I want so badly to reach out and help him flip on the grill, to be there for him when he needs more relish, to take care of him. But first, I know I have to do all that for myself for a change.

Update: an attentive reader has pointed out that someone appears to have plagiarized my reader's letter in a shamefully maudlin and un-self-reflective piece in The Globe and Mail. For shame!

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