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There was once a time in my life where I would have done almost everything online happily not thinking it was different than other ways of connecting. The internet is no longer the shining star in my life instead being relegated to a bit part in the play of my life.

In the beginning, being online felt glorious. I could dip into a chat room and speak to WHOEVER I wanted without fear of rejection. Every question could answered without fear of unfair judgement. I could be a brimming sex pot one moment and the next a highly intellectual gamer. As a young gay kid in the south I saw life a very specific way: act as straight as possible, go where you're wanted, and keep safe by staying home (usually in my room). I wanted to be outgoing, sexual, and popular. The internet was teaching me that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted and those goals felt more attainable than ever.

I didn't really date much in high school being closeted and all, so the internet really blossomed for me when I left home for tree-lined Tallahassee and my first year at Florida State. I met my first boyfriend online in the AOL local M4M (male 4 male) chatroom over the lead up to the school year. It was just as I had always imagined with jaunts around campus, meeting his friends, and staying over at this place. A few months later I was walking aimlessly around campus with tears streaming down my face because he had been fooling around with some other dude we both knew. Shortly after, I was right back online to start it up all over again.

And I definitely kept it up. For almost two decades. All along the way I would think to myself "Why do I keep doing this when it makes me feel like shit? They don't want what I'm offering and there don't really seem to be people who are looking for what I'm looking for" ignoring the fact that I was putting myself in environments that weren't aligned with what I wanted. Couple that with low and misinformed self worth and you've entered my old pattern of dating. The ignorance of youth told me that if something wasn't happening the way I wanted than it was my responsibility to right it. I had to communicate differently, open up more, close up more, be more intellectual, less intellectual, more sexy, more "interesting" whatever the hell that means. It was even more exhausting to live it than it was to just type it.

This need for a more perfect conversation permeated into my offline relationships and friendships that began online. The more I dug in to connect to the people around me the further away from myself and what I wanted I seemingly became. I was constantly editing my thoughts and actions to keep people around even if I felt they weren't right for me, doing more for others than I would consider doing for myself, and stretching myself so thin all I could do when I was alone was lay on the couch and mindlessly watch TV. I could be standing in front of someone I cared deeply about and couldn't say the things I most urgently needed to say because I didn't want them to leave me even if that would have been healthier for both of us.

The struggle continued for years while I came to grips with the information my voice inside was shouting. First, I learned to hear the voice. You'd think it wouldn't be hard because of the shouting, but somehow I thought the yelling wasn't for me. I am reading now how nonsensical that is but it's where I was at. Slowly I began to trust the voice in small situations while also building my own self confidence.I would still actively ignore the voice drumming up plans to work around what my inner knowing was telling me so I didn't have to walk the bumpy road it was laying out ahead of me. My first big moment of listening 100% to that voice was when I left my job of over ten years, and after that the realization hit me like a tsunami. You CAN listen to that voice and you CAN also trust it, so I began really leaning into trusting myself deeply.

So here I am rounding third base nearing the end of my third century on this planet. I am actually aware of the "this isn't right" feeling in all my relationships: inner, familial, platonic, and romantic. Trusting myself urges me to say things that I've never said before and to act in novel ways. I listened to this knowing as I deleted Tinder from my phone about six months ago. I was listening when I deleted Hinge a couple months back finally realizing that online dating was only exacerbating my negative patterns of throwing myself at men to make them love me even in the absence of any sort of return on that affection.

I've continued hearing my inner knowing when I decided to stop having relationships based around texting and to cultivate a deeper and more thoughtful level of interaction with those I care about. To put in work motivated by not fulfilling some requirement on what I was told a relationship should be like but how I wanted to have a relationship. Texting feels on the opposite side of this somewhere near a monologue that I probably didn't sign up for and a subject no one asked me if I cared about. My tendencies to create stories around what is said is minimized because I can actually interact with who's talking and clarify if I'm spiraling out.

When I take the opportunities that are presented to move from text into something more personal, like phone or video chat, it's still shocking to me how much more engaging and fun it is to talk with the very same person I was just begrudgingly texting with. We both feel it. I can be open in my most authentic way and others have a tendency to respond in kind if they can meet me there...and paying attention to who can, or tries, to meet there tells me where I should spend more of that precious phone, video, or in person time. The era of the internet star known has Henry has ended.

"Relationships" would be the theme of 2020-2021 if I were to name it.

My relationship with self was my primary focus. I was in a lot of pain in my life. Work was tough. I felt more alone than ever. I was constantly tired, cancelling meetups with friends, and found it really hard to get out of the house. I would have rather been someone else at that point because being me hurt so much I didn't know what to do. I am thankful in that moment I was insightful enough that I got a somatic therapist. This brand of therapist focuses on the connection to the body and getting familiar with understanding how the body informs your digestion of what happens around you. I was so disconnected that I had no words to explain how my body felt when I was asked at moments in early sessions.

When I finally got used to getting in touch with those feelings and letting it elevate what my mind and other senses were experiencing life started to feel very different. I was already a deep analyst of others as a protective mechanism growing up and I had learned to please people and predetermine what they want to stay safe and loved. It was at this time that the depth of my pain really started to be felt. I realized just how lonely, disconnected, and anxiety ridden I was. As a lover of information, this was great news for me because then I could start working the problem with this new insightful companion I met called my body. I had lots of pain in my life but there was one that had the largest mental footprint: Work.

It was so all encompassing it intentionally gave it proper noun status. I was an extremely hard working employee that loved to please. I walked into work a people pleaser and it was happily lopped up. I had a growing sense of pain over the years that had grown so loud that it was the dominant conversation in my head. At work, I was an anxious mess inside most days and works exceeding hard not to let it show. I'm sure so of my coworkers would be surprised to hear how I would go to meetings and become so anxious just being there with the possibility of speaking I'd sweat completely through my shirt. To add insult to my injury, I struggled to take care of myself out of work and still thought about work in preparation for Monday morning.

I started to realize the issues I saw as problems were, in reality, my gifts in the wrong context. I saw my hurting as a symptom that I was doing something wrong, something that needed fixing but it was my deep sense of what's right alerting me that I was out of alignment. I grew to learn that I was completely ignoring the more nuanced messaging my body was urgently trying to send to my mind. I'm amazingly skilled in analytical thinking, and it's driven most of my success in my work. I could no longer ignore or sideline the communication from my body I so clearly heard. The hurting was an internal cry for help. A cry that I was used to hearing because it was the same language I would hear from the child in me still wanting things that hadn't been addressed.

Then, I opened my work laptop and realized I couldn't do it anymore. I learned too much to go back to the way I was successful before and my inner knowing was certain I needed to explore to find my new way.

So I resigned.

It was hard, but the day I was done there was a euphoric feeling of possibility and confidence I had never felt before. I saw new avenues where they had previously been overgrown paths so real that I could almost touch them in my mind. With this new space of mind, that connection to body deepened and the clarity of connection to my wanting inner self increased. I knew right away one thing he had been longing for most of my life: to be heard and understood. Historically, I've felt this most with my friends. I was able to show them a side I didn't feel able to with family tied to my identity as black, gay, and nerdy. Casting off work, which was my internal basis of my identity up until that point, allowed more space to consider what I also wanted and needed from my friendships.

I had a long list of people I'd consider friends but then I'd think about who I felt truly saw inside of me and understood the list was way shorter. I began thinking about working through why I felt so distant from so many people that I historically felt really close to. That work started a walk all the back to my early life story. I was abandonment early in life by my father never to hear or see him again, and I have a long history of people I care deeply about leaving me and never speaking to me again for reasons I'm not told. One of my first major friendships left a mark on me specifically because of this loss. I know he's special in my life story because I remember his name: David.

I was in kindergarten/first grade and lived in Greenbelt, a suburb of Maryland. David was a white kid my age who lived in my apartment complex. I remember my school being right down the hill from our apartment so I could walk to school so David and I spent a lot of time together. We used to read scary stories in the dark closet of his parents bedroom with a flashlight, and even discovered Playboy for the first time together. We sat by each other in class, and had cubbies next to each other where he'd talk about his love of the Jets (his dad's fave team). We moved at the end of that year across town and I felt afraid that I wouldn't talk to David again. We exchanged numbers as kids do, but I quickly lost the number in the move. I have vivid feelings of that day. I went up to my room and looked out the window on a very picturesquely sunny summer day and cried sending out mental thoughts hoping they'd reach him so he'd reach out back to me. We never spoke again.

I now realize how that leads me to adult Henry doing whatever I can to make sure no one ever leaves me again. I was "okay with whatever" so often I lost sight of what I really wanted or how to ask myself that question. It was painful to realize that this permeated all my friendships ever since that day I cried for a friend that I lost to circumstance. I took this as part of my work to first decide what I wanted from a friendship, search myself for those who's friendship I felt deeply, and to let them know how I felt about it. I was terrified because I had that history of worrying about someone leaving me in the back of mind thinking everyone would be done with me for being how I was. My expectations of failure were way off, and I've deepened a number of my close friendships into something more beautiful and complex than I could have imagined.

All of this brings me to this moment. I have never, and I don't use that word lightly, felt so completely in alignment. So much of how I move through life runs first and foremost through my internal filter of what I want in a way that I could have scarcely imagined possible. I feel connected more than ever after also realizing my dislike of texting for the negative impacts it has on my connection to who I'm talking to, and I am delighted daily by the wonderful humans that surround me. We exist together, are appreciative of each other, and teach each other through our lived experiences without judgement.

When I think of a possible future romantic relationship I know this same qualities I feel from my friends and family MUST be present. The depth of my other relationships has shown me that a new way of relating to others is not only possible, it's achievable and feels way better than what I'm used to. There's so much excitement in knowing what is in store for me, and what I have in store for him. This aligned self I've revealed is a nuturing caretaker who's polishing his dad skills every day. This future partner is gonna a super lucky dude and I know we'll share that deep love and understanding with our family.

Paired Musical Selection:

Something is becoming clear to me: trees are aware in a way that I've never really considered. And now that I'm considering it, coupled with the reading I've done on consciousness (the latest being Conscious), I find that our definition of what consciousness is will determine what we see and where we see it.

I'm a year or so into my journey into a budding vegan primarily as a diet. The health benefits are clear and works directly against my family history of hypertension in my favor. The tenets of being vegan as a way of life, like wearing vegan fashion, has been a slower transition than moving to a plant based diet. I don't believe in totalities when it comes to human behavior and I can't imagine humans work like that by the definition. We have quirks, "off days", mental storms, and many external factors that can sway our internal machinations so my vegan behavior isn't total. I have the occasional egg, and eat honey, but I'm cool with it.

My plant based cooking has taught me so much about how resilient and intelligent plants can be. I'm still amazed at how cut herbs in water on a windowsill will stay fresh longer, new plants can be propagated from cuttings of an older parent plant, and the fungi/plant kingdom symbiotic relationship in earthly natural ecosystems. What plant diversity could we be losing with out well meaning plant based activities similar to conservational mindsets in the animal kingdom?

This all leads me to wonder if the future of humanity, and our relationship with the planet, is one devoid of the currently defined natural sources we now know.

Considering my thoughts on the treatment of animals, which is based on sentience and right to life, I've often considered if I could give the same privilege to plants. The more I learn about fungi, and now trees, really reveals more deeply alive than I could have previously imagined. Trees can scream when they're in need of water (source: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, p. 48), are well known at this point to share resources for the good of an entire forest, and nurture young trees.

I notice that us humans like to put our own human experience on EVERYTHING (and I could write a whole other blog post about how we see the possibility of contacting and appearance of non-earth lifeforms through this human lens showing our lack of creativity) but I still believe there is way more to know about sentience and what it means for lifeforms other than us that will continue to define how we, as human culture, interact with the rest of the natural world.

Yeah, I know. I'm talking about saving the natural world by going "the most unnatural": all manmade and there's a long history of convincing people organic and natural sources are best. I hear mixed emotions on GMOs (learn more about GMOs here), I can't say I know many people that prefer synthetic textiles to their natural counterparts, and the thought to most of consuming something like flavored Soylent drinks to fulfill all nutrient requirements make many people cringe. Even my own internal alarm went off because it felt wrong from the start but, the more I pondered it, I found a surprising future where I could see myself living happily.

Picture it with me for a minute. Engineered clothing that is customized to the wearer in style, look, function, and feel. The clothing would be hypoallergenic, contain sun protection, and could even be programmed for skin conditions or routinely distributing medication. Cuisine is driven by a new breed of chefs using chemistry and other techniques to create unique flavors, textures, and designs. The planet's wildlife is supported and stewarded the most intellectual horsepower: humans. Homes and cities exist in harmony with it's surrounding landscape and uses energy derived from sustainable and renewable sources. Our lives would be indivisible from doing actions that don't cause harm to the planet including packaging, travel, the whole shebang.

I'm pretty sure I'm described the skeleton of a possible ideal future in my current mind. If I were to live for close to 150 years, as some research is suggesting currently technology is walking humanity's lifespan capability, I would love to live in this future.

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