On Being Too Much
The most painful thing ever said to me was said during a breakup. Trite, I know. Of course breakups hurt. But this specific one was the third and final time being broken up with by the same person. We’d finally tossed aside the notion that this relationship could ever work. And while we watched this broken, burning thing snuff itself out, he said something that stuck with me for a long time:
“You deserve someone who feels as much as you do.”
Years of my pain, my insecurity, my resentment, summarized. I waited so long for this guy to somehow prove he loved me as much as I loved him, always running from the ever-present possibility that maybe I just loved more than him. In general.
But suddenly I knew for sure. All at once he actualized my fears, while his heart beat stupid fast (I know because when I hugged him that day his pounding chest told me it was coming - he has a tell-tale heart. And a thing for Poe, actually.) His words were black magic and they lifted the spell of ignorance I had cast upon myself.
Somehow, through all of the pushing and prodding, the feeling crazy for caring so much, the disappointment in myself more than anything, I realized that his parting words confirmed my fear; I realized that those words could easily be translated to, “you feel too much. You are too much for me.”
I have always, always, feared being too much.
Not just romantically. Too much across the board. I am too loud. Too honest. Too sweaty, probably. I come on far too strong and I can’t help it. I know this about myself, it scares me, and I pray constantly that it doesn’t scare other people.
But there I was in some anxiety nightmare listening to someone I had fought for harder than anything admitting that I was indeed too much. We had both known for a while. Despite my endless efforts, it was futile to expect a self-proclaimed “unemotional” person to somehow jive with my relentless emotional intensity.
And it sucks a lot to find out that you were right about a major anxiety. It is so heartbreaking to learn something you’ve perceived as a flaw all these years has actually caused someone to stop loving you.
It can also feel so, so shameful. You’re aware of this flaw that makes you unlovable. There’s not much you can do about it. You don’t want to hide who you are, but you want to be loved. You’re trapped, and above all, ashamed of your deep feelings.
So for a little while that’s how I felt.
But skip ahead a few months and I’m doing well. It’s December, I’m dating, and I’ve stopped feeling the urge to “accidentally” send my ex a nude. In fact, I don’t think about my ex all that much anymore. But the shame and disbelief that someone as intense as me could ever be loved still lingers.
One Friday evening I go to an art show called “Left Out: Shame, Queerness, and the Closet”, a collaboration between two people I admire - Maggie Dunleavy and David Carliner. During Maggie’s performance piece, she plays for us an audio-journal of her crying in the bath. As we all share the room in silence, over the speakers her voice begs “What if I’m too much?”. The audience sighs and snaps and nods. I time travel back to finding out that I was too much. I realize that feeling too much isn’t somehow unique to me. I feel less alone.
It’s common to be afraid of not being enough for your lovers or friends or the world, people write about that and make TV about that and there are slogans all over that remind us, “You Are Enough”.
But whether it’s because of the way emotion is stigmatized in our culture, or the shame surrounding the thing itself, the fear of intense feeling is so rarely expressed. Yet in that shared space, in that raw moment, so many people acknowledged the “too much” feeling.
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about that feeling. And how maybe I’m not alone. And how maybe there’s millions of people wandering around, feeling so intensely that they wonder if they can ever be loved for real. And it’s a pretty cool thought, because what it means is that there’s no such thing as “too much”. Feeling is a spectrum. There are people who don’t feel a whole lot and they may not totally get you but that’s okay because there will be others who match your depth of emotion. There will be people who will admire and respect it. There will be - and are - people who get it.
Besides, alone or not, I love feeling as much as I do. Sure, it has burned me badly, but the grass is so green on this side of the fence. Things are so deep and so wide. Feelings are intense and they hit me hard and I do stupid things often. But I get to love so hard, all the time. Even the depths of pain are worth it for the reaches of joy.
I know that some people don’t experience life this way. I know this because I’ve met them and they’ve misunderstood me or (usually) just haven’t liked me very much. And I get it. I’m intense. Still, while some people just don’t feel so heavily, I think many have the capacity but sacrifice it in order to escape pain. It’s easy to shut off and eschew the hurt from life by sacrificing some of the joy. Feeling deeply is fucking scary.
But it’s also really, really, fucking cool.
So I guess I will always be too much for some. But it’s a small price to pay for emotional freedom. And I’m not alone - I know deep feelers and thinkers, I have met them, and loved them, and admired their art. I know that we can connect and understand each other. Instead of being “too much”, we will be “more than enough.”
I suppose this serves as a bat signal (or maybe a butterfly signal - they’re so gentle) to others who have feared themselves. If you’ve ever forced yourself to tone it down a notch in order to be loved, ask yourself, what for? When there is so much to feel, why not feel it? Each person contains a vastly traversable plane of rich emotion, and sometimes you will be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it. Never stop exploring.