Archive | April, 2013

On being single

27 Apr

Why are you single?

Because I want to be.
My therapist once told me that a good relationship is like icing on the cake, and you can’t frost a cake until it’s finished baking. I clearly took this to heart, as it’s been nearly a decade and I still bring up the analogy in casual conversation. I’ll be 27 in a few months, and I still don’t feel like a complete person — which is fine. But given my unfinished state, I’m not sure I’m ready to inflict myself on someone else. And what if it were the right guy? He might not like me as I am, realizing how much growing I have left to do. I could squander a great opportunity — or I could wait.

(I’m talking out of my ass.)
Maybe there’s some truth to the cake analogy, or maybe it’s something single people tell ourselves to feel better. All I know is I enjoy cake and I enjoy cake batter and I enjoy frosting on a cake and I enjoy frosting by itself. This idea that one has to be fully-formed before entering into a relationship is silly for a couple reasons. One, we are always growing, so to wait until we’re a complete human is absurd and frankly impossible. Two, we grow with other people. Which is to say, we adapt with one another. A successful relationship means that the growth process has to be shared, not finished ahead of time, separately.

Because I don’t need someone else to complete me.
I resent the idea that I’m somehow lacking without a partner by my side. I want to define myself, not to be defined by whom I date. Too often with couples, you see one or both of them losing an identity. He becomes another facet of his partner’s personality. She fades into the background as a plus-one. Moreover, the constant search for someone to spend one’s life with is a distraction — it ignores all the individual development the single person could be working on instead. And then what happens when your partner leaves? Are you a mere fraction of what you were before?

(But perhaps it’s not about completing a person. Perhaps it’s about completing a life.)
The fear of losing oneself in another is daunting, and it’s based in reality. We’ve all had a love affair (or at least a really intense crush) that took over entirely. We couldn’t focus on anything else, and every moment was defined by that other person. Love isn’t always like that, though: it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. And a person in love can still be just a person — there are couples that have lives outside of each other. And I think, yes, you shouldn’t need someone else to make you who you are, but maybe it’s not about that. There could be someone out there who doesn’t overwhelm your life so much as make it better.

Because I live a full life without a partner.
I complain a lot, but things are pretty good overall: I have friends I care about, a job I love, and a reasonable amount of people to read my ramblings. I get plenty of love in my relationships, even if none of them is A Relationship. I know these people care about me, and they show affection, and, perhaps most importantly, they stick around past the complications that would end many romantic relationships. Attraction fades and romance withers, but friendship endures. I think of the people I wanted to date who are friends now and I feel relief: would we still know each other if we’d been lovers?

(So why does it feel like something’s missing?)
Chalk it up to popular culture or holiday party invites that allow you to bring a boyfriend/girlfriend (not a friend, not a relative, not just someone you’re dating, OK?), but yeah, there is a lack you feel when you’re single. Sometimes it’s vague; sometimes it’s a direct and pressing need. Either way, this longing can put a damper on everything from dinners out with friends to birthdays to celebrating personal successes. There’s this nagging voice that says, “Yes, but” because as full as your life is, it’s not all the way there. And fuck, with a partner at your side, imagine how much fuller

Everything is less complicated.
The more I see my friends argue with significant others, whether over where to eat out or something more substantial, the less I want that in my life. I’ve been in a relationship before, and I remember how much work it is. There’s compromise — and it’s never as easy as just meeting in the middle — and there’s the need to always account for someone other than yourself. I like being an independent unit, because I never have to check in with anyone. I make plans for me and I go about my day without worrying what my theoretical boyfriend is doing. There’s no fighting. No anxiety over weeks without sex. It’s simple, and it works.

(But oh, God, the nights get hard sometimes.)
And I’ll think, I don’t care about fighting and I don’t care about compromise — I’d take it all just to be held from the moment I shut my eyes at night to the moment I open them in the morning. And maybe I don’t want to just worry about me anymore, because it feels selfish and immature, like the one last thing I’m not willing to accept about adulthood. It would be work, but that’s part of it. You’d feel the lows, but you’d also get to feel the highs. And you wouldn’t have to write about your feelings, which, incidentally, Stephen Sondheim already captured a lot more succinctly in “Being Alive”: “Somebody, need me too much / Somebody, know me too well / Somebody, pull me up short / And put me through hell / And give me support / For being alive…”

“You’ve got so many reasons for not being with someone, but Robert, you haven’t got one good reason for being alone.”

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Sorry I fucked you over

6 Apr

This one goes out to anyone I’ve ever dated.

I mean, if we went out once and never spoke again, whatever. If you didn’t return my texts because you were too chickenshit to tell me you weren’t interested, fuck you. But if you showed interest, if you pursued me in any meaningful way and I was an asshole, I’m sorry. Legitimately. I probably won’t do it again.

Above all, I try to be a nice person. I think I’m pretty good at it — as long as laziness doesn’t get in the way. I’m there for people when they need me. I’m open with my feelings. But when it comes to the people I’m dating, I sometimes forget all that. I forget how to be a decent human being, because I’m so caught up in the weirdness of trying to make a romantic connection with someone, and my own insecurities about being someone worth dating. It’s such a self-fulfilling prophecy that I’m writing it down so I have something to refer to when I’m trying to avoid repeating this behavior in the future.

I’m not saying this because I want to push away anyone potentially interested in dating me. (That’s just a fun side effect.) Nor am I trying to justify my shitty behavior: I think acknowledging your faults while continuing to have said faults is sort of a half-assed attempt at self-improvement. Like, at least I know I’m terrible, but no, I’m not making any major strides at correcting that. I guess I feel that you deserve an explanation, and I’m hoping it doesn’t read as an excuse.

You were good to me. You showed interest and you kept it up. That was your first mistake. Kidding, kind of. You were being cool and open, and it freaked me out. Not consciously, mind you — it’s never as clear as that. But with each compliment and advance, I felt a little more ill at ease. I looked down at my body. I looked internally at the personality I’ve spent so many years trying to cultivate. I didn’t see what you saw. In my mind, I’m a perpetual work in progress, and you were weirdly into the unfinished product.

Thank you. Sorry. I was probably into it at first — I usually am. But then you noticed that subtle change. I flinched a little more at your touch. I took longer to respond to texts. I chose staying in with a blanket over my head instead of going out with you, even though I knew the latter would be more fun. Because the effort felt impossible. The concept of me in a relationship, however vague the prospect was, seemed contrary to my worldview. It went against everything I understood: learning that I could have a boyfriend was akin to learning I could suspend gravity. Intriguing, yes, but mostly scary.

Why didn’t I just explain how I was feeling? Because suddenly I forgot how to use my words. So I fumbled for a few days, then offered a very weak concession speech: “It’s not you, it’s me.” Here’s the twist — it is! You weren’t the problem. You were fine. I was the mess, and worse, the kind of mess I can’t quite articulate. It’s not that you were suffocating me, or that I worried I would lose myself in a relationship. It’s like a switch went off in my brain and suddenly everything right felt wrong. There’s a chance if I stuck it out we could get back to what we were before, but my instincts said run, full-speed, and don’t look back. It’s not even as fully formed as panic. More like that jolt you get when you realize you were seconds from turning the wrong way on a one-way street. Good thing we dodged that bullet.

I said I wanted to stay friends, not because that’s what you’re supposed to say but because that’s what I felt. Friends — with benefits, or without — because anything else seemed dangerously unstable. I’m just not in a good place right now. (I’m never in a good place right now.) As we slowly lost touch — the texts becoming fewer and farther between, the in-person hangouts nonexistent — I regretted dropping the ball. And yet, what else could I do? The effort of maintaining the friendship balanced against my anxiety. Anxiety always wins. You don’t want to bet against those odds.

I’m sorry if I hurt you. Getting hurt is no big deal, but hurting someone else is catastrophic. And somehow, it keeps happening! Even if I believed you were into me and that I meant something to you, I never learned to accept the power I might have over someone else. I still don’t conceive of myself as someone who can cause pain, because on some level I believe you were always tentative about your feelings, that my appeal had already begun to fade. Sometimes I feel incapable of letting people down, because even when I disappoint myself it’s somewhat inevitable, and that’s dangerous. I get careless with feelings. You tell me this hurts, and I take it with a grain of salt.

I know the pain of loss and the fear of rejection, but that’s because it makes sense on my end. Flipped around, it’s something I can never quite grasp. I’m not a person you lose. I’m not someone who turns you down.

Later I’ll figure it out, and I’ll try to purge all that fucked-up behavior and self-perception in an uncomfortably introspective blog post. I always wonder why I’m so OK with putting it all out there, and I think it’s because the alternative feels worse. If you were thinking about asking me out and then read this, it might turn you off. My loss, but at least I was decent enough to give you a warning. Of course, the other part of me hopes you’ll read this, nod knowingly, and accept my faults. You’ll ask me out anyway. I’ll take every kind word that comes my way. I won’t screw it up this time.