I’ve been thinking a lot about romantic relationships lately, in part because I’ve been reading a shit-ton of the Captain Awkward’s archives, and it’s not surprising that she focuses heavily on fucked-up romantic relationships. She’s a woman, and most of the people who write in are women. I see myself in many of the letter writers, and who among us has not found herself in a relationship thinking, “What the fuck am I doing here?” And, even acknowledging how fucked-up it is, have stayed? I’m sure most of us can relate to this, and it’s the bulk of Captain Awkward’s letters. Sure, there are some letter writers who truly have incompatibilities with their partners, but it’s mostly that they’re in a toxic relationship and are trying to either convince themselves that they are bad partners who just need to work harder/grow up/be more generous, etc., or they’re trying to convince themselves to leave. The latest letter on fucked-up relationships hits Captain Awkward BINGO, and it’s fucking depressing. She thinks she needs to work harder? B! She thinks she needs to grow up? I! He treats her with disdain (‘accidentally’ giving away her clothing when he was donating his is the most egregious example)? N! He controls her to a ridiculous degree and makes her feel like she’s the controlling one? G! Is she sneaking around in secret to do her laundry? O–wait a fucking minute. She’s sneaking around to do her laundry in secret because he gets mad. Not that she’s not doing his, but that she doesn’t wait until he deigns to do hers (and ruins it when he does it which is just short of never). That’s B-I-N-Get the hell-Out of there!
Captain Awkward is wonderful as an advice columnist. She gets right to the point, but she shows endless compassion for the letter writers. She gives great scripts for difficult situations, and her GIF game is on point. I know she gets burned out from all the shittiness she reads (understandably), but she doesn’t let it show in her answers. One thing she’s pushing back on is the idea that relationships take work. Or rather, the kind of work they take. In another letter, the letter writer (LW) details all the recent problems and how her girlfriends are like, “At least you have a boyfriend”, when it’s clear that he’s just not into her any longer, and Captain Awkward said this:
There’s this Hollywood & Glossy Magazine narrative we have that privileges having a (heterosexual) relationship over being alone (no matter the quality of the relationship) and that puts it on the woman to do the emotional work of keeping the relationship together by having the big serious talks and speaking up about feelings and stuff. And I use the word “work” on purpose. We hear that “relationships take work” and what they mean is “women’s work” – the work of reading magazine quizzes and carrying the emotional water and looking pretty all the time and finding ways to “drive him wild” in bed and cooking new recipes and making excuses.
The commentariat is all over it, saying it shouldn’t be work in the ‘I hate my job and have to do it’ kind of way, and it should be work that both partners participate in.
I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but when I read it, something in it clicked in my brain. I’m tired of being the one to monitor, gauge, and try to improve the temperature of a relationship. It’s tiring; it’s not fun; and it doesn’t put me in a sexy mood. I don’t want to be my partner’s mother. Hell, I don’t want to be anyone’s mother!
Reading all the letters of broken hearts and asshole partners (and, sometimes, the LW being an asshole) just solidifies my belief that I don’t want to be in a relationship. Yes, ideally, the work would be more of the ‘toilet paper under or over’ dilemma or, ‘Hey, can you do your fair share of the dishes?’ ‘Yeah, I can do that!’ conversation, and one member of the commentariat said the work has to be willingly done by both partners.
Let me make a weird comparison. There’s a game called Hyper Light Drifter. I first heard of it because it’s been compared favorably to Dark Souls. It’s a gorgeous game with heart, and I can see the Dark Souls influences, though the connection is tenuous at best. I played it for a few hours, getting lost in the environments and really enjoying myself overall. And yet, every time I thought about playing it again, I just…didn’t want to. I would think, “I should play HLD. I really want to play HLD.” Then I would find something else to do. This went on for a week before I admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to play HLD. There’s another game called Hollow Knight that I loved, loved, loved. It’s a Dark Souls-performer hybrid with an adorable rabbit-bug as the protagonist. She has a trusty rusty nail as her starter weapon, and I adored her. The game is hauntingly beautiful, and I spent many hours just wandering around the environments. Unfortunately, there was a point I reached when I just wasn’t good enough for the game any longer. I could probably get good enough to continue, but I would have to put many hours into perfecting my craft, and did I want to do that? My answer was a very sad no. See, I’m terrible at platformer, and I only was drawn into this game because the platforming was light in the beginning, and the rest of the game was so solid.
If the comparison to romantic relationships isn’t obvious, my feeling for HLD is like being with a great partner who is the perfect fit for you on paper. They’re thoughtful and kind, good-looking and a great lover, they make you chicken soup when you’re sick, and they massage your feet when you’re tired. Your friends think you hit the jackpot by ‘snagging’ this partner, and you nod your head in agreement that, yes, yes, they are so perfect. You tell yourself how lucky you are to be with them, and you try to convince yourself that you’d be silly to break up with them. And yet, there’s a niggling in the back of your mind that you’re just not happy with your partner. You try to quash it, to convince yourself that you’r being silly, but the voice won’t go away. In the end, you break up with your partner, though you feel silly for doing so and your friends all tell you you’re nuts.
In contrast, my feelings for Hollow Knight are more akin to being with someone you really love. They get your jokes, and they don’t mind that you’d rather stay home snuggling on the couch than painting the town red. They understand that you have a thing for David Walliams (ahem) and don’t mind it if ask them to talk with a British accent for sexytimes. You go watch documentaries with them because you love them, and, hey you might learn thing or two in the meantime. You could not be more in love, and you can imagine being with them forever. But then they realize something that makes your relationship change irrevocably, say, they really want to have a child, and you would rather throw yourself in the Thames river and drown than squeeze out a spawn. In the end, this is an obstacle that cannot be overcome, and a breakup is inevitable. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it serves my purpose.
I’ve realized that at my age, I’m not willing to put in the soul-crushing work that some relationships require. That’s a good thing, but those relationships seem to be so common. My parents have been together for fifty years, and they’ve been through hell and back. Many years were dark and turbulent, but now, they’ve forged a relationship that is satisfying to both of them. Is it dysfunctional? Hell, yes, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Would it be a relationship I would want? Hell to the fucking no. But, it’s what I know. The flaws of my parents are embedded in my DNA, and I don’t think I can escape my heritage enough to be comfortable in a romantic relationship.
More to the point, I’m not sure I want to do the normal work you need to do in a healthy relationship. I don’t want to play nicely with someone else, and I certainly do not want to be with someone 24/7. I grew up being taught that my worth is all in what I give to other people, and I’ve come to really chafe under this belief. I resent it sometimes, even though I’m getting better at setting my boundaries. When I think of meeting someone and being in a monogamous relationship, I heave a small sigh instinctively. It makes me feel oppressed and depressed, which is not a good mentality to have if one wants to couple up.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m rationalizing not getting out there and trying to date. Even if it’s true, though, isn’t that a good enough reason not to do it? A romantic relationship should be a positive in your life, not a negative or an obligation. It shouldn’t be an albatross around your neck, which is what it feels like it would be for me right now. Is there a tiny part of me that feels like a failure for not being able to sustain a romantic relationship? Yes. I’m not good girlfriend material, and that’s not a great feeling. But, more importantly, I don’t want to do what it takes to make myself a good girlfriend if it means being yoked with someone forever.
I’m still muddling it out. Reading Captain Awkward has helped in another way. There are many polyamorous people in the commentariat, along with aromantic people as well. I’ve always felt uneasy with the hetereonormative monogamous coupling paradigm that permeates our society. At any rate, I’m not in any hurry to find my One True Love, if that even exists.