I fumbled for the phone. Which was ringing. Loudly. Over and over. I squinted at the clock. It was 2:00 in the morning! I didn’t recognize the number. I answered it anyway. “Hello?” I asked through a sleepy voice. “What in the hell is this about you going out on 35 dates in 35 days?!” the voice on the other end boomed! My heart stopped! My eyes opened wide and I jolted straight up in my bed! Without missing a beat, I asked “Why in the hell do you care?!” There was a long period of silence followed by the sound of his laughter. “I’ve missed you baby,” he said. He was drunk. I slapped my hand to my forehead. Was this seriously happening? It was like I was a freshman in college all over again!
It had been 15 years since I last heard his voice. I met him during our freshmen year of college when he was up from JMU visiting a friend at GWU. We were walking through campus to a basketball game when he reached out and held my hand. I looked from our hands, clasped together, up towards his eyes and smiled. He had the most crystal clear blue eyes I had ever seen. He looked like Steve Sanders. And right there – in the middle of the street – Steve Sanders kissed me.
“Steve” was my first real boyfriend. I was a freshman at GWU. He was a freshman at JMU. It was a “long distance” love affair, confined to weekend visits and summer vacation. I was head over heels. He wasn’t. So why did I stay? I blame Projectile Dysfunction.
Now, I’m no expert on psychology but, from my limited understanding, it appears that there are multiple theories of “projection.” My interpretation of these theories is as follows: A) An individual has certain traits within themselves, most likely lurking in the dark corners of the unconscious, that they wish to avoid. In order to avoid, or deny, these negative traits, they instead project them on to someone (usually their partner) and attribute those negative traits to be coming from their partner; B) An individual has an idea, again usually rooted in the unconscious, of the type of person that they wish to be with (friends, lover) and they project those ideas of their “perfect person” onto another, ignoring all the while that the person does not have those traits and, also, ignoring the person’s genuine self; and C) The same as A and B, except that, by projecting, the person being projected upon actually believes these things to be true about themself and, in fact, starts to display those traits – although not genuine or authentic to their self.
All of the theories seem to agree that projection is inevitable. The concern is when one can’t pull back the projection and separate the reality from the fantasy.
I don’t know if these theories are accurate. I can’t tell you if they explain “why” I project. But I can tell you that is exactly what I did with Steve. I projected all over him. And fell in love with a distortion of reality. Unfortunately, young and in love, I wasn’t ever able to pull back my projections and never saw Steve for who he really was. I only saw what I wanted to see. What I wanted him to be. Until he called me at 2:00 a.m. on September 15, 2011 – 15 years after the day he left me crying and broken-hearted. It was as if someone turned the projector on full speed. I saw scene after scene flash before my eyes. The mean things he said. The lies. The cheating. “You were horrible to me, Steve,” I said into the phone. He was quiet. “I know,” he replied. “We were young. I was immature, at best. I’m sorry.” And he really was.
In his blog post of September 25, 2011, titled, “ASK JAMES: Threesomes, Success…and More!” James Altucher calls me a “total love addict.” “I.e. you meet someone and project all sorts of stuff onto them that’s not there and then you fall in love.” I never saw myself that way. But, from my previous phone call with Steve, and the revelations that resulted therefrom, I knew James was dead on.
This past Friday, I met Jess McCann for lunch and to catch her up on things that happened in the weeks following the end of my 35 Dates in 35 Days Project. The conversation turned to a few of the men from the 35 dates whom I’ve gone out with again since the end of the Project. Specifically, two of the men. As I answered her questions, I took time to pay attention to the words that were coming out of my mouth. And in that instant I was able to see that I was turning on the projector, yet again. Projecting things onto these men to make them what I wanted them to be. To see what I wanted to see. Instead of seeing them for who and how they really are. But this time, I was able to stop. I was able to pull back the projections and separate my “fantasy” from reality.
I am not implying that what I saw once I pulled back the projections was bad! Not at all. All it means is that I am able to see these men for who they are, right at this moment. Instead of mirroring myself in them, I am now able to relate to them. And by doing so, our relationships, however they progress, will be genuine and authentic. I no longer suffer from Projectile Dysfunction. My projection is still there but under control. It just took swallowing a slightly bitter pill.
As for Steve, I ended my conversation with him that evening with no clear understanding as to what prompted his call. Until I got a text the next day. Turns out Steve had read an earlier blog post where I listed the Top 5 Loves in my life. And he wanted to know which number he was.
He didn’t make the top 5. But he did make a blog post. I even gave it the title he wanted.
“Once you realize that the world is your own projection, you are free of it. You need not free yourself of a world that does not exist, except in your own imagination! However is the picture, beautiful or ugly, you are painting it and you are not bound by it. Realize that there is nobody to force it on you, that it is due to the habit of taking the imaginaryto be real. See the imaginary as imaginary and be free of fear.”