Paul Malikkal

Blog Post

Shadows

Paul Malikkal

Over the past few months, some particularly self-destructive crushes have inflicted quite a bit of destruction on my mental landscape (as they tend to do). While inspecting the damage, I began to consider how susceptible I was to these volatile infatuations. And I identified a number of romantic behaviors I’d been exhibiting for years. Overnight, my role in my own romantic woes became painfully apparent to me. Luckily, around this time I heard Chromatics’ 2015 single “Shadow” in the second episode of Twin Peaks: The Return. Hearing this song comforted me, by showing me that these behaviors weren’t unique to me. Its lyrics provided me with a way of defining and rationalizing the phases of these crushes and brought me to a new level of self-awareness regarding romance. If I could graph the evolution of a crush on a graph, it wouldn’t look like a straight line, nor would it build to a peak and drop off like a plot diagram. It would be an erratic, wavy line with several peaks in valleys that are located in close proximity to one another. During a period of infatuation, I fall head over heels, cool off, and then regress constantly. However, it’s much easier to express these phases chronologically, as I’ve done below.

1. The “Shadow” Phase

The singer’s use of the word “Shadow” in the opening address hints at how her love interest exists in her mind. Like a shadow, her conception of him/her is based on a real person, but it’s a rough sketch rather than a detailed portrait. This isn’t a song about a lover or even an elusive object of affection. It’s a song about a concept. After an interaction piques my interest in a certain person, thoughts of that person start to creep into my subconscious. Smitten, I form a conception of them based on what little I know. Thus, a “Shadow” is formed.

2. The “Picture [In] The Frame” Phase

The singer’s confusion in the song stems from the dissonance between her conception of her love interest and this person’s true nature: “ I took your picture from the frame/And now you're nothing like you seem.” The “Shadow” has become a blank canvas, onto which she’s unwittingly projected everything she’d like this person to be. It’s not difficult for me to imagine what this projection process looked like. I’ll be wandering around a grocery store, bored out of my mind, and I’ll start imagining what it would be like if I ran into my crush. I start to hear the conversation I’d have with this person in my head. I know it’s just a daydream, but I want it to be real so badly, that I’ll momentarily delude myself into thinking that it is real. I unconsciously continue to add more fictional attributes to this “Shadow ” during these seemingly harmless daydreams. Consequently, my conception of the person begins to feel more real to me.

3. The “Pretending That We’ll Leave This Town” Phase

The singer’s belief that her crush reciprocates her love makes her more susceptible to the fantasy that she’ll be able to transcend the limits of her unsatisfying circumstances: “At night I'm driving in your car/ Pretending that we'll leave this town” Repeatedly winning the affection of my deceptively realistic “Shadow” in these daydreams makes the possibility of doing the same in the real world seem all the more plausible. And once I’ve convinced myself that I’m capable of winning my crush’s affection, the belief that I’m capable of accomplishing other things seems less far-fetched. And as a result, I fall down a slippery slope of self-delusion. This may also be a symptom of the irresistible fallacy that a long-term relationship with my crush will completely reinvigorate my life. I think things like “if only she felt the same way about me, then I’d be happy,” And I envision a version of the future that would be unattainable, even if my crush did reciprocate my feelings. In fact, when I play scenes of a potential relationship with my current crush in my mind, it’s not myself I imagine, but another “Shadow”, this time of myself. I’m less inhibited, and far more charming. The circumstances surrounding us are picturesque. These scenes are tantalizing, they make me drunk on just the possibility of their possibility. And it sells me on the illusion that all I need to actualize this fantasy is my crush’s affection. And then I begin chasing not only an imaginary person but an imaginary version of the future.

4. The “Standing on the Shore” Phase

The singer searches for traces of her “Shadow”, but when she calls to it there’s no answer: “You're in the water/ I'm standing on the shore/ Still thinking that I hear your voice/ Can you hear me?” All this obsessive thinking sustains the illusion that I’m actually interacting with my crush when in reality I haven’t spoken a word to them in weeks. And this makes running into the person I’ve been fantasizing about for a month earth-shatteringly perplexing. I’m obviously happy to see them, but I’m also shocked that this person I thought I knew, is nothing like the “Shadow” that exists in my mind. I’m unable to accept this discrepancy, so I continue searching for some shred of evidence that I haven’t dreamt in vain. I long to know that this “Shadow” I’ve fallen for isn’t as incongruous with its real-life counterpart as it ostensibly seems. It’s at this point when I understand how harmful my obsessive thinking really is. This attachment to the “Shadow” inhibits my ability to form any kind of a healthy relationship with my actual crush. Rather than accepting the person as they are and getting to know them, I’m just hunting for signs that they are who I desperately want them to be. And their qualities that contradict the qualities of their “Shadow” (typically most of them) register as disappointing inconsistencies, rather than real and often admirable qualities.

5. The “Just a Stranger’s Dream” Phase

After my attempts at reconciling the fantasy version of my crush with their true self have failed, I have to confront the reality that I’ve fallen for an illusory “Shadow”. This realization requires quite a bit of adjustment. Even if I successfully court my crush, I must undergo a period of adjusting to who they are, and forgetting who I’d like them to be. However, a relationship provides a tradeoff. I exchange my projections, for a relationship with a real, flesh and blood person. Their real attributes outshine their “Shadow”’s attributes, just by virtue of their reality. But when my feelings are unrequited, there’s nothing to console me after this harsh realization. I’m left in a state of disbelief like the singer: And now you're just a stranger's dream/ I took your picture from the frame/ And now you're nothing like you seem/ Your shadow fell like last night's rain.” I just have to accept that I’ve hoped in vain and that my hopes have misled me. To me, the most disturbing part of this revelation is the awareness that it may have been my attachment to these hopes and projections that led to this missed connection. It seems entirely possible to me that my crush sensed that I was trying to reconcile their true self with my “Shadow” of them, and found our conversations unsatisfying as a result. And perhaps this is to blame for the missed connection. I wallow in self-loathing and wonder if I’ll ever be able to fall for a real person, or whether I’m doomed to a love life consisting solely of pining for mental projections.

6. The “Take Me Down” Phase

Time goes on, the feelings fade, but they never quite disappear from your psyche. Months after an infatuation has worn off, I feel a sense of nostalgia for the period of time when a relationship with my crush seemed tantalizingly possible (obviously this doesn’t apply to situations in which I’ve managed to successfully woo my crush). Though in hindsight I realize that those daydreams were beyond destructive, I deeply miss the hope that fueled them. Occasionally, I indulge myself and recall the endless hours my spent with my “Shadow”. The singer does just this when she invokes the name of the “Shadow”, asking it to return with her to the dreamscape: “Shadow, take me down/ Shadow, take me down with you/ For the last time.” The life-giving hope that someone cares for me the way I care for them can imbue rather hopeless periods of my life with a sense of purpose. That’s why this kind of hope dies hard. And that’s why months after the feelings have worn off, I fondly reminisce about what was actually a turbulent, anxiety-filled time. Reliving those fantasies is what I assume having a shot is like for a former alcoholic. You now realize how harmful it was for you, but you also remember how euphoric it felt, and how badly you needed that euphoria at the time, regardless of how illusory or transitory it was. Frankly, I’m sick of this happening every few months like clockwork. I wish I didn’t fall for people this easily and this intensely. I almost wish I could take back all those hours spent obsessing over people I didn’t know. But I can’t quite bring myself to the point of regret because beneath all that selfish, immature desire laid a heartfelt yearning to know and understand someone. And I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of.

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