A DEAR FRIEND OF OURS:
A little over a year ago, I went on two dates with a guy (maybe three, the first wasn’t officially a date) and I was totally smitten and then he crushed me and said we shouldn’t date because “our backgrounds are too different.”
A little of my background: from age 16 to 25 I was in three back-to-back long term relationships. It was so easy, or at least easy to start a new relationship. I thought I was going to marry the last one, but then long distance and me cheating happened. It was about a year after that that I met this new guy. It was pretty much crush at first sight and everything seemed to be on track to be just as easy as (starting) the previous relationships.
I was so totally into him that I basically never got over him (though I did date other people a little). Butttt we stayed friends and a few months ago we started hooking up, because there is undeniable chemistry and he likes me but not enough to actually be my boyfriend? (I know I probably shouldn’t be hooking up with him, for the sake of my heart, but) Anyways the only reason I’m continuing the half-relationship is because he’s moving out of town soon, so there’s an expiration date. But that’s my problem now. I’m already anticipating how sad I’m going to be when he leaves. I’ve already started crying and feeling empty. I clearly have all the feelings for him and also I’m really bad at being single. These last few months have been so nice having someone to touch and I’m going to miss that so much.
Some other factors are that we both got fired from the same job (unrelated) and we’ve been able to connect over that and also hanging out a lot since we’re both unemployed. I’m starting a new temp job in a few weeks (about the same time he leaves) and that’s also freaking me out.
I just feel like a lot is changing in my life and I just want the stability I had from my previous boyfriends. Like, I feel like I couldn’t handle whatever if I had a boyfriend to come home to. I know that we could have a good relationship but it’s not going to happen and I need some guidance on how to mourn then get over it. And how not to hang on to the memory of him and not be so hung up that I can’t start a new relationship with someone else.
I think—I fear—I may be a bit ungentle in my letter to you, so please don’t read this until you’re really ready to hear something like that. Don’t read it right after you’ve gotten tough love from someone or had a minor diasspointment. Read it after you’ve just seen JLo’s Hustlers or listened to Rihanna’s Anti.
I think you like things to be easy for you, which is, ironically perhaps, making your life very emotionally difficult. You do not seem to like taking responsibility for yourself or your actions, which to be fair, none of us does. It feels very lovely to abdicate. And you, my friend, are the queen of abdication.
I know you’re likely using figures of speech for effect but you say things in your letter like “me cheating happened” and “I’m bad at being single” and “ I just want the stability I had from my previous boyfriends,” which all signal to me that you do not feel you ought to be responsible for yourself or your actions. Or even if you know you should be, you don’t really feel like doing it.
You are not bad at being single. That is not a thing. You are unsure of how to be yourself without someone’s influence/help/opinion/romantic attention. You are unaware of how to take care of yourself because you haven’t felt the need to figure that out or to do that work. This is the equivalent of someone who goes to college and doesn’t know how to do laundry because their mom always did it for them. That person is not inherently bad at or incapable of doing laundry. They haven’t learned yet.
I’m sure you don’t enjoy having to be the adult responsible for the teenager inside of you—NONE OF US DOES. I’m sure that you’d much rather someone else take the reins and give you both discipline and direction, and of course, when you follow through with their tasks, affirmation and affection. It is, after all, much harder to scrape those things out of the bottom of yourself, like the slimy insides of a pumpkin, and be a functioning, mature adult. It’s much easier to just make someone else do the work.
At least, at first. Eventually, those people cannot create a life for you, cannot shoulder your burdens, cannot make sure that you’re being productive and healthy because they are busy DOING THAT FOR THEMSELVES BECAUSE THEY ARE ADULTS. Yes, it might feel good to care for you for a moment, a month, a year, but eventually you want a partner, not a barnacle. And then they leave you. Or they can’t give you enough. (Or you cheat because it’s not that sexy to date someone whom you’ve cast as your mother and therapist).
And now you have a Double Mess on your hands because not only are you in charge of taking care of yourself and your actions—which you should have been before— but you’re also reeling from rejection, and a Rejected Self is much harder to clean up after and be in charge of than a Whole Healthy Self With Manageable Problems.
Here are my suggestions for you, and they all come from a more tough love mindset, so again, be warned:
Look into getting therapy. Not because you are an irrevocable mess of a person who cannot be redeemed through normal means (getting therapy does not mean that!). Because you have some dependency issues that you need to work on and that work is VERY VERY difficult to do on your own. It’s very easy to lie to yourself (on accident!!!!!!!) about progress when your issue is I Need to Take Responsibility More.
Break up with this guy, if you can. I know it’s a lot easier said than done to walk away from Good Dick that you’re 1/4 in love with. I know. But, the relationship does not serve either of you. It will hurt how much it will hurt, so I’m not going to pretend like breaking up with him now will make it hurt less. It will suck no matter what. There’s no way out of that. But breaking up now might mark the beginning of something new for you. For healthier boundaries. It also might help you avoid some classic traps that you fall into (e.g., over-relying on someone for emotional need fulfillment). Also, you’re already feeling like shit about it, so there is no need to prolong that feeling. Start the recovery NOW.
Stop dating people for a bit. Right now, you are looking to use the people you date to fill a hole (not like that! get your mind out of the gutter please!) which isn’t just a recipe for disaster, it’s a whole finished cake of disaster. Do not do this. You are not ready. You do not need to get over this guy so you can date someone else. You need to give yourself time to grieve this guy and so that you can figure out how to be on your own.
No one can give you stability, unfortunately. Life is unstable, by and large, and the best thing you can do is prepare yourself. Imagine life is like being in a wave pool—it’s going to be a whole lot easier to avoid going under if you bring a floatie and know how to swim. Right now, you’re grasping at other peoples’ floaties and hoping they’ll save you. (Very flawed/cheesy metaphor, but where would my newsletters be without a bad metaphor?!?!? NOWHERE, that’s where). I know you know all of this logically, but you need to work on getting to a place where you believe this.
It’s time to learn to be alone. Not like by yourself in a dark room with no help ever, but flying solo with the help of friends and family and therapists, so that one day when you meet someone else who has also Done The Work, you two can build a relationship which is actually functional and beneficial for both of you.
I promise you when you do the hard work up front, the payoffs feel a whole lot better and last a whole lot longer, because they’re actually built on something. A rule I try to follow in my own life is that if something doesn’t require work, it’s probably too good to be true. A weird example that reminds me of this in my own life is this: often, when I’m driving I see two lanes to get somewhere and one is super long and the other is super short. I think to myself, “Look at all these dumbasses who are in the long line waiting like fools. I will go in the short line.” And then when I pull out of the long line into the short line I see a sign that says Right Turn Only or Local Residents With Passes Only or something like that. Something that is the reason that everyone else is in the long line. They were not bozos. I was the bozo for thinking that there was a shortcut, for thinking I was too good for the long line. For the most part in life, there are not shortcuts, there are not ways around doing the work of self care and self love and self actualization. You have to actually…do it.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter, she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. She’s also working on a book and at least five TV pilots at any given moment. (But for real, there will be a book soon). You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.