During this amazingly diverse trip, I have socialized with and befriended more total strangers than I ever do normally. This is for two reasons: 1. My opportunities for socializing with people I know back home are limited by the 8-hour time difference between Italy and Utah, and 2. I've had many more chances to get to know strangers than is typical for me, because of staying in hostels. Being an extrovert, I've taken advantage of almost all opportunities to socialize with people I don't know at all. It feeds my emotional needs and my personality in a way that nothing else can. I thrive off the energy of getting to know people, hearing their stories, and forming emotional connections with these same people. Although my happiness doesn't depend on others, it is built up by fostering healthy relationships with other human beings. That leads into the main point of my post today. So, even before I left on my trip, I realized that I would be involuntarily creating a tremendous, unprecedented amount of space - both physical AND emotional, mind you - between my friends and me. Part of me really liked the idea of this happening, because I figured maybe a "hard reset" on my friendships is exactly what they needed. That was my logical part talking. My emotional, extroverted side of myself panicked a bit, exclaiming, "NO, NO!!! I can't let my friendships be without attention for that long! Am I crazy?!" But, having booked my flights already long before this, I had unknowingly forced myself into the situation. So, despite having major qualms about leaving my friends behind "unattended", so to speak, I realized I had to face the unavoidable reality my trip had created long before now.
The connection to the whole LGBT+ Mormon thing? I'm getting there... ;) ;) Once life plunged me headfirst into this supposedly terrible quandary, I basically braced myself and told myself I'd just do what I could to maintain my friendships. But with almost every day being packed with activities, getting to know new friends, figuring out the next leg of my trip, etc, etc, etc, well - I didn't really have a lot of time to keep up. At times, I would call my mom or dad, and maybe a close friend. Everyone else? They fell completely through the cracks where our lives simply could not align. This taught me something super important - what it feels like to be so innocently and blissfully busy that people I love are on my mind, but beyond my reach. As I've heard it put in a movie a while back, "I think that sometimes, people forget to love each other. That doesn't mean that they don't love each other, though." That statement has always deeply resounded with my heart, because I have sometimes felt neglected by my friends. Despite my therapist telling me that it is because of differing priorities, schedules, energy levels at the time of attempted communication (such as a text), it didn't really sink in. As a gay Mormon man, I need platonic, emotionally intimate connection with other men to move forward in the happiest & most fulfilling way. Without that connection, I experience much greater difficulty in living the virtues Christ wants me to, most especially the Law of Chastity. So, bringing it back to center, if I feel ignored, rejected by, passed over by, or otherwise pushed aside by my male friends, it can create difficulties in peacefully & happily living a Christ-centered lifestyle.
The firsthand experience of learning what it's like to lack time, energy, motivation, etc to reply to and/or reach out to those I love has opened my eyes. I've not been wanting for sufficient empathy and love towards my friends, to where I've become angry or resentful about their lack of reciprocity in our communications. I can handle some texts that aren't replied to, or a phone call that seemingly goes unnoticed. But sometimes, a friend will go what feels like FOREVER without responding. And that, my dear readers, has been very, very problematic up until just recently. I've always maintained the philosophy that if you love someone, you will make time for them. And, I've always been right. Not to stand up on a soapbox, because me being "right" lacked some significant insight. People do indeed make time for those they truly love, but life can shove some major, major roadblocks in the way of that. Hence my statement earlier about people simply forgetting to love, instead of not loving at all to begin with. Unfortunately, because of the intensity of my emotions at times, I got caught up sometimes in the latter way of thinking - that lack of reciprocity automatically meant some kind of lack of love, or even worse, a lack of being lovable on my end. Wrapped up in this toxic, vicious cycle of thinking, I could grow quite miserable on some days, feeling unloved and/or unlovable. I can assure you, it is a dark and dismal place to be. For the LGBT+ Mormon who literally needs that same-sex connection, it only compounds the problem, which is often accompanied by other difficult issues like mental illness, addiction, and the like.
My message today is simple - step outside your own shoes of life experience for a few minutes, and step inside the shoes of a busy friend. You may not understand why they put their boyfriend/girlfriend first, or invite out other friends to do things, or even why they favor time with their family constantly, never seeming to have a second thought for you and the friendship you guys share. I know. I get it. I've watched all kinds of social scenarios play out with friends, which leave me wondering what I've done wrong, how my friends could be so "insensitive" or "mean" or even "heartless". Yep, I've total wondered those things, and even worse than that. And you know, I honestly believed I had taken my feet outta my shoes and put them in those of my friends'. Some perspectives, however, can only be attained through one of two avenues: intense, highly visual meditation, or firsthand experience. They both accomplish the same purpose - you get to journey down an unfamiliar, difficult path that happens to belong to a person or people that you love very much. And, if you pay attention and open your heart, something wonderfully eye-opening occurs. You finally can see with your heart what someone else has been going through, and then your heart softens to where you want to cut that person some slack. You wholeheartedly, vulnerably plunge yourself into this mutually messy, broken, imperfect human experience we all share, and it leads you to say from your heart, "I have been in this place before, and so I will be, at the very least, kind."
I realize that we, as LGBT+ Mormons, have chosen to offer up the sacrifice of our passions & desires for same-sex romance and physical intimacy on a daily basis. It hurts sometimes, and we yearn for something to ease the ache, to fill the void it leaves in our hearts for something more. I testify that as we follow the counsel of this beautifully simple scripture, we will find what we virtuously seek after:
"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." - Luke 6:38
Give others the benefit of the doubt. Give them the empathy, compassion, and divine perspective our Savior has into all our lives, which believes the best of everyone and only judges when it has to. Give other children of God forgiveness when you discover they haven't been as true to your friendship as you would have liked, and give the grace of second, third, and fourth chances to those same friends when such grace is mutually beneficial. And more than anything, give pure love, God's love to those who least deserve it, or even just those who are tired and trying to love as best as they can. And, I testify that those we love will give back in time, often when we do not look for that love, or expect its reciprocity. :) <3 I love you guys... Until next time. :) <3