When I was in my twenties, I used to joke that I was attracted to the exact wrong person for me. Gay men, straight women, anyone who was taken, or someone who was simply not interested in me*. If I walked into a room with 100 people and 99 were eligible dating partners, I would inevitably beeline towards the one who wasn’t.
In my late 20s/early 30s, I declared stridently that I didn’t want to be in a relationship. I was an independent woman, damn it! I didn’t need no (wo)man to make me complete. Of course, underneath it was my terrifying hunger to be in a relationship. I was told all my life it was the only thing that mattered, well, along with squirting out children, of course. It was confusing because I was also told I WOULD go to college, but at the end of the day, I better be married and have children.
Side note: When I turned 26, my mother started pushing me to have children. It reached the point where I began dreading talking to her because she would bring it up. Once summer when she visited, she mentioned it every goddamn fucking day. Her comment when I turned 26 was that she had my brother at that age. My immediate (internal) response was, “I’m not you, thank god.” I have been fortunate that I realized fairly early (21 or 22) that I did not want children. It was such a relief when I finally truly realized I did not have to spawn, I nearly cried. My mother did not stop trying to get me knocked up for the next fifteen years. I only relate this to underscore how much pressure I felt to marry (implicit in the preggers convos) and have children. The only time I ever had an impulse to have children was after my mom had been nagging me for days about it, and I thought, “I should have a kid just to shut her up.” Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that having a child to please my mom would be a recipe for disaster.
I want to be clear. I was not a great girlfriend back in the day. I was too clingy and too eager to merge into one being. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of social support for a woman offering endless emotional support without receiving any in return, especially twenty years ago. In addition, there is the idea that you’re supposed to be the ‘cool girlfriend’ who is ‘chill’ and doesn’t get upset about, well, anything. It’s a neat way of keeping a woman firmly in her place (in a het relationship). Still. I fell into many of the traps of het relationships of that time, and I was not my best self in those relationships.
Many times, I was just desperate to be in a relationship, any relationship, because my self-worth hung on what my partner thought of me. I put up with a lot of shit that I shouldn’t have because I thought I didn’t deserve better. It was a vicious cycle, and I didn’t know how to get out of it. Hell, I wasn’t even aware of the problems for a long time. Once I became aware of my own issues, it was hard not to see it in myself all the damn time. I worked hard on it through a lot of therapy, but some of the issues are so deep.
Side note II: I see the same issues in my mother. She caters to my father to such an extreme, it gets my dander up. She’s always been a distant orbit to his planet, and it’s become even worse since he’s had major health issues. He’s all she can talk about, and I have to forcibly change the conversation if I want to hear anything other than my father this, my father that, my father blah, blah, blah. She and I worked together on a chapter in a book recently, and that was a refreshing change. Several emails/phone calls without nary a mention of my father!
My last relationship, the one I went into after a lot of personal work, was a disaster. I thought I’d be with that person for the rest of my life, and it only lasted a few months. It was emotionally abusive, and there was a moment when I thought it was going to cross over into physical abuse. I’ve read quite a bit about red flags, and there were several in that relationship. One was him harshly putting down all my opinions if they did not agree with his own. Another was him pushing to get serious way too fast. I fed into it because I thought that was what you did. The third was him pushing his insecurities off onto me. An example: he did not like that I had bigger biceps than he did. Another was that after I told him which actors I found attractive, he negatively spiraled because they were not typically handsome men, so what did I think of him? He was controlling, insecure, volatile, and (I did not find out until later) an MRA in disguise. In short, he was a mess, and I was extremely fortunate that he dumped me four months into the relationship (because I wasn’t the ideal partner he had envisioned me to be).
It messed me the fuck up because I felt like complete shit by the end of it. My BFF says I would have dumped him soon because I was already voicing dissatisfaction, but I think that’s giving me too much credit. I have a habit of holding on to the bitter end and beyond, and I am not as sure I would have dumped him if he hadn’t done it first.
That brings us to now and my current feelings about romantic relationships. Let’s get some basics out of the way. I still don’t want kids (which is good because I’ll soon not be able to have them), and I still don’t want to get married. I don’t want to live with someone, but the reasons why are complicated. The easiest reason to explain is that I really like my space. A lot. I’m the happiest when it’s just me and my cat. I get antsy when there are other people in my personal space, and there are very few people I don’t feel this way about after a few hours.
Side note III: I really dislike the American narrative that being in a romantic relationship is a natural progression of growing up. That if you don’t partner up, you’re somehow deficient/not grown up. As a woman, there are added implications of desirability and fulfilling your womanly duty as well. There’s also the whole compromising and sharing, blah, blah, blah.
I agree that part of a relationship is compromising, taking the other person into account, and not always putting your own wants first. This is another reason I don’t want to be in a relationship. Even that reason is split in two. First reason for this reason is because I’m the one to give to the point of breaking when I’m in a relationship. I give so much emotional and financial support, it drains me. There’s a question Captain Awkward often asks her letter writers that really resonates with me. “Do you think your partner gives 1/10th the amount of thought to this issue as you do?” This was for partners (usually women) tying themselves into knots to please their (usually male) partners. The answer, of course, was no.
I’m one of those women who has been taught that I’m responsible for the emotions of others, and it’s something I haven’t completely broken free from yet. It’s one reason I’m introverted, though not the main one, because I still have a hard time saying no. Secondly, being told what to do and feel all the time as a child has caused me to rebel against giving up any part of my autonomy. Put these two things together, and it’s not a good combination. I feel like I have to give in to my partner, but I resent it at the same time.
I have traits of Borderline Personality Disorder, and I know that I don’t have my issues under control. I swing from hot to cold, and while I’m getting better at not externalizing those emotions, I still experience them. I have fear of abandonment/rejection, but I also resent having to spend time with people. When I think of living with someone in a romantic relationship, I feel suffocated.
So where do I stand on romantic relationships now? I don’t. Have a stand on them, I mean. I know I don’t want a live-in, long-term, monogamous relationship. Not only do I not want one, I am not equipped to deal with one. But, the latter does not preclude the former. They are both equally valid reasons I don’t want that kind of relationship. Americans love things to be binary, and the reality is that emotions are rarely that. Things can be true for many reasons, even contradictory reasons. Such as, I don’t want to be in a relationship because I feel constrained in one AND I don’t want to be in a relationship because I lose myself too easily in them.
What I do want is sex, but that’s another post for another day.
*Or interested in having sex with me but nothing more.