Charlie the cat is long and lean
The color of the night
And his eyes are green
He likes to snuggle…*

Charlie, being Charlie

With Charlie, snuggling is a fairly formalized proposition. If he doesn’t invite himself, I do so by patting the bed next to me three times. He then waits what he considers an appropriate time–varying from a few seconds to a couple of minutes–to demonstrate that he is, indeed, his own cat and not responding to any orders. Then he hops up and walks back and forth a few times, purring. My position has to be just right; if not, he waits until I’ve completed my part of the ritual. Then he curls up so that his rear feet and head are in one of my hands, his body firmly pressed against my other arm and chest. Purring ensues, usually tapering off into little snores.

Charlie pretty much invented snuggling himself. He’s a creature of rote, as most cats are, but also teaches himself “tricks” like this one. All it takes is a bit of cooperation and approval, and he’ll repeat something. He taught himself to respond to “lay down” (for some reason, “lie down” doesn’t work as well), “up,” “down,” to play fetch (when it suits him), comes when called–more often than not–and will probably come up with something new any day now. He’s a bright cat, but of course he’s not reasoning all this out: he’s taking something that’s already in his repertoire and formalizing it to coincide with a sound from his human because it gets him something he needs or wants.

I think most of us “higher” animals have a need to be close to others, whether of our own kind or a species that we find matches itself to our needs. Whatever the reason(s), social, protection, warmth, or what-have-you, it seems pretty important to most of us–even those who aren’t good at it.

We’re also good at picking up stuff that doesn’t work. Maybe even better, depending . . .

I’m not good at intimacy. I can count the number of folks in my life who have known the Real Me on one hand, with fingers left over. I’m much better with cats, generally speaking, than with people.

I’m that way for a number of reasons: lack of modeling as a child, lack of socialization with other kids, fear of ridicule (see lack of socialization), having been taught to suppress emotion, stuff stemming from my addictions (some of which originated in early childhood) poor self-esteem, evidenced as intellectual arrogance, sarcasm, and pushing people away when real feelings rise to the surface. No doubt there’s other stuff that could go on the list.

The issue common (I believe) to all addicts, “If you knew who I really am you wouldn’t want to know me at all”, is right up there, too. That’s despite 28 years of supposed “recovery” from some addictions, and five years of pretty concentrated work on some others, including treatment and therapy. It seems to be working finally. Slowly.

My fear of getting close is based on abandonment: people die, they are sent away, they move away, they push you away for all sorts of reasons. Even though I’m in my eighth decade and most of the people in my life have been welcoming and accepting, I have to fight my instinct to withdraw constantly because of those relatively few times when it was otherwise, or seemed to be. Rejection hurts. Ironically, my fear of it has made me an expert at doing it.

Over the long run, though, avoidance hurts more. It has prevented me from developing friendships that would have enriched my life and allowed me to enrich other people’s. It has destroyed or damaged “romantic” relationships, greatly assisted by my tendency to find lame ducks with similar issues. I’m working on replacing avoidance with openness, but I am definitely a work in progress.

Does any of this ring a bell? If you’re reading this page, I’ll bet it does. I didn’t write this to whine, I wrote it to let you know that there are a lot of us out here, instead of “in there” with the other kids. We were not molded thus by our own choice, but almost exclusively by the examples of others who most likely didn’t make their own choices either. We were rendered power-less, and tried to regain some of that power in the wrong ways–ways that didn’t work and never can.

Only by looking deeply at the choices that were made for us and those we made as a result, only by rejecting those that haven’t worked for new concepts of ourselves that fit better into other folks’ lives, will we become the loving friends, partners and parents that we are capable of being.

Dig deeply. Work hard. And, in the meantime, be thankful for the snuggling. It’s something, anyway.

*Thanks, Jimmy, for The Tennessee Stud and all the others.

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