Here's The Thing: You're Self-Sabotaging
🎉A special Tuesday edition of Here's the Thing!!!🎉
AN ANGEL, WHOM WE LOVE & SUPPORT:
I have never been in a (healthy, normal) relationship. Ever. And it’s not because I’m socially awkward or not attractive or confident enough. I have a healthy and very active social life, I am conventionally attractive to a reasonable degree and have been told I am far too confident considering. However, I have never had a relationship and it’s not without efforts. I have had many romantic pursuits and many people I genuinely enjoyed and loved to spend time with, but the minute it gets to that 3-7th date area and it starts to get emotionally serious, I totally panic. Freeze. I start to find every single flaw in the person, start getting extremely annoyed with them and start thinking about every other person I find attractive. Most importantly, I get a physical reaction. Like, you know sea sickness? That. I literally want to VOMIT when their physical presence becomes overbearing.
I have tried to explain to my friends this, but they don’t understand and just think I haven’t found the one or my standards are too high. Like, I’ve tried ugly guys, hot guys, funny guys, dumb guys, pretty girls, smart girls, girls who play sports, girls who don’t, etc. Nothing has ever clicked. But it’s not like I’m asexual- I’m a diehard romantic! I love love! Romance is my favourite genre! I love every single one of my romantic pursuits! But I want to feel something more than attraction and infatuation, I want real love. But no person I have been with seems too do that for me. The only people I have been seriously hung up on were (2) people I literally couldn’t have, and it was a very drawn-out and painful chase for a long period of time. And then sometimes, when I would finally get near that person that I have been hounding down for so long, I react negatively and push them away or do something erratic as hell because I’m just so scared of how much I like them and they don’t and I think they’ll like me more if I play as hard to get as them. Like literally- we’re talking ‘I finally get close to the guy I’m obsessed with so I should make out with his friend and that will make him like me more (?????!!!!??????)’ vibes.
I have completely normal friendships and people whom I love and am deeply close to. And then as soon as romantic intimacy or even a semblance of sex that is actually meaningful and not just horniness comes into the picture, it’s like I get so skeeved out and weird-feeling I need to vomit. Like, I get literal nausea. It makes me violently uncomfortable to get so much as a hug and I don’t know anyone who even remotely relates. It’s not that I don’t want anyone to hold my hand, because I do very much, but at the same time I have this internal drive to stay as independent and unattached and free as possible because I am my own person of whom I find very delightful ya know??? I feel like such a strong fierce woman and then as soon as dating people you actually like comes into the picture I feel like a 12 year old. I’m just sick of repeating the same toxic cycles to myself and to others where I’m kicking and screaming but also hanging on for dear life. And I don’t want to sit around waiting for someone to prove to me love is real and change everything about my life because clearly I am the common denominator here! But mostly I want to hold someone’s hand and not throw up!!!!!
HOWDY, SOULMATE!!!!!! I am you!! We are one in the same. I could have easily written parts of this letter a few years back myself—including the nausea—however, I did not have as much… opportunity??…for smooching as you seem to have. Anyway, the good news is that I absolutely feel qualified to speak on this (then again, I speak on things I’m not qualified to speak on all the time, so YOLO, babbbyy).
To put it simply: Wanting is more fun than having. I haven’t finished watching Big Little Lies season 2 but at one point Meryl Streep accuses Reese Witherspoon of being a wanter, and I turned to my boyfriend and said, “THAT’S ME.” I am a wanter, a desperate wanter, and I always will be. Like you, I love the genre of romance. It’s mathematically impossible, but I am convinced that I read more romance novels than are even published each year. But rom-coms and romance novels are basically a crash course in want. They sell you on desire, they sell you on longing, they sexualize and fetishize Not Having. There is a reason they end as soon as the protagonists smooch or bang or marry (or declare love in a public, plot-logical, cheesy way that makes us all cringe). It’s because what happens right after you get what you want? You get bored. It’s boring. Sorry! Love is very boring!
Nothing in my life will ever be as fun to have as it will to want. Is this an almost poetic set up for failure? YES, yes it is. But there are other good, worthwhile experiences other than fun and excitement. In your twenties, there’s a massive modern push to fill the decade with As Much Fun as Possible Otherwise You Wasted Your Youth, But Also Don’t Forget to Build a Career in a Failing Economy During this Period. This pressure is suffocating, especially, I believe, for young women, who are also unduly encouraged to PROVE their independence, and their revelry in their independence at every turn. It is not enough to be ok on your own, you must preform this, lest you be branded a pathetic sap who is gross enough to want love.
Yes, it’s great that we don’t have to get married anymore. But we all overcorrected a bit in the 90s because the Spice Girls came out and we got too into Girl Power (it’s probably more complex than that, but I’m not willing to look into it). So now we’re all screaming the lyrics to Badass* Female Anthems at the top of our lungs, making sure we are always Having Fun With Our Friends Every Weekend!!! forgetting that Beyonce was fucking married when she released “Single Ladies.”
Your independence is not diminished by dating someone. Your independence is not diminished by loving someone. Your independence is not diminished by longing to hold someone’s hand or reading romance novels or moving to a new city by choice to be with a partner. Those are normal, healthy, independent choices that you get to make. And the way that we’ve narrated the choices of womanhood right now has convinced you (and me!!!) that these things somehow impugn Being A Modern Woman Worthy of Envy or Emulation.
What I think you’re doing is sabotaging yourself because you want two things which are at odds with one another in your mind—being an Independent Lady on the Go and Having a Hunky Partner to Smooch, but also having love change everything and yet being scared love will change you at all— so you fail at both. Great! Easy! No choice to be made! You neither get to smooch hunks, but nor are you really independent of the influence of Romance because you’re falling into infatuations with people over and over again. So, you’re not really on your own, and you’re not really with someone. You’re in a cruel self-orchestrated limbo that gives your brain a lot of excitement and gives you very little satisfaction.
Here’s what worked for me to help end this cycle (it’s a multi-pronged plan):
Slow down. SEVEN DATES IS NOT ENOUGH TIME TO FEEL LOVE. Seven dates is barely enough time for someone to learn how to eat you out well. I think you’re rushing things and then freaking yourself out because things are moving too fast. Of course you (and the other person!) are freaked out by the pace you’re setting!!! Slow. Your. Ass. Down. Be clear upfront with the person that it might take you a bit longer to get “serious.” If they’re ready for exclusivity and you’re not, that’s ok, just be honest. Just move more slowly. Date multiple people at a time if you’d like to and you have that option. The faster you commit, the more likely you are to set off your hair trigger response of feeling trapped and overwhelmed. And at this pace you’ve set, no one can keep up with you anyway, so you’ve set the relationship up to fail.
Design a relationship you actually want. There are no rules about what a relationship need look like. Maybe you and your partner aren’t exclusive. Maybe you are. Maybe you guys see each other only two days a week so that you still feel like an independent lady. Maybe you do long distance. Maybe you guys don’t move in ever. I don’t know! Say no to what feels bad, compromise when you can, and define a relationship based on what works for you and the person you’re with. Not based on what everyone else has done before you. If you’d never seen a relationship before, what would you do? I can’t promise your partner will be down for all of it. Some people require monogamy, or would be hurt by never moving in together. But some people won’t be. Try stuff out! Get creative!
Ride it out. When I found out that my current boyfriend liked me back I had a MASSIVE freak out. I’d just gotten what I wanted (him to like me back) and I felt deeply digested and bored by it. I barely ate. I barely slept. How was I going to tell this person who just started hooking up with me semi-regularly that actually now that I “had” him, I was over it? What could be more cruel?!!? So, I did what any normal person would do and I said nothing and chickened out of that conversation, which ended up being very very very good for me because after about 4 days of panic at the disco, my brain changed again and I wanted him desperately. This pattern has repeated itself in our relationship. Often, when I find myself dissatisfied with my life, my little bitch of a brain decides that Dating Him is the problem, the chief problem and nothing but the problem. And because I happened to chicken out in the beginning of our relationship, I learned accidentally!! the value of riding out the wave. As of yet, I haven’t had any period of time where I felt bored and listless which didn’t circle around eventually to me being MADLY IN LOVE WITH HIM SO MUCH OMFG. You have to practice this itchy patience; you have to teach yourself the difference between being bored with someone temporarily and them being bad for you.
Find excitement elsewhere. Very little is as easy to get jazzed about as having a crush on someone. There is nothing as passive and yet as thrilling. It’s a shortcut to feeling like life is worthwhile, is thrilling, is happening. But it’s not the only way to feel alive; I promise. You have to find other things that make you feel the same level of fervor. This is a difficult, sisyphean task, don’t get me wrong, but it’s necessary.
Read stories about people who have healthy, mature, adult love. These are a bit harder to find, but I recommend memoirs. Give yourself examples of love that are not centered around infatuation and excitement and the fun, heady beginning of love. I would guess that is what’s making you feel like a 12 year old. We stopped writing great examples of mature, steady love and gave women two options: 1) sappy rom-com shit or 2) aggressive horniness + career. That’s a false binary.
Sadly, you only get to do life once. There’s no way to run a control group and then test out all the other options. Sometimes you have to pick a path and stay with it for a while to see where it goes. There is cost in this choice, but there is also cost in never setting out at all. Remember Sylvia Plath’s fig tree quote from The Bell Jar; pick a fig and taste it. You can always try another if it sucks shit.
"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." — Sylvia Plath
*I want to vomit every time a woman is described as badass.