A while back, my therapist asked, “Do you think Heather will love you, regardless of whether you’re actively contributing to the relationship?”. I told him I wasn’t sure, cause I was still trying to understand the concept of unconditional love. As a child, my parents told me they wouldn’t love me if I wasn’t a good boy, and a good boy would do exactly what they wanted. The affection they doled out was directly related to how well I did in school, or how much I impressed other parents. They used it as a tool to control me, and this dynamic has influenced my understanding of relationships to the point that it feels like I constantly need to be making efforts in them (or they’ll decay).
So my therapist instead posed the question, “Do you think Heather will love you, no matter what?”. My first reaction was one of confusion; I heard the same question as before. When I realized it had completely different implications — would Heather still love me if I was an axe murderer; if I was racist; if I burned the house down; if I didn’t love her back — it dawned on me that I was projecting this monumental requirement on myself to be constantly making efforts towards the relationship. It wasn’t an expectation Heather was bringing, but my own; one I projected on her due to my childhood trauma.
To realize that I was doing this in such a specific and significant manner was a shock. My mind inadvertently made bounds in logic, and every time Heather said, “I’ll always love you”, I would hear, “I’ll always love you, as long as…“
Continue reading “projector”…
In the last few years, I’ve gained a significant amount of confidence in my actions and decisions, especially when it comes to relationships. It took a lot of growing, and two things helped most:
- having a better understanding of other people’s experiences in general (i.e. I needed to gain more empathy)
- surviving enough crises that conflicts or difficult conversations — or even my own feelings — were no longer debilitatingly scary
Even though I’m more comfortable with my social behaviour, I still struggle with loneliness. Being more socially capable means I can pursue relationships more purposefully and without regrets; it doesn’t mean my world is immediately filled with loving, stimulating people and needs are suddenly being met.
Continue reading “the purge”…
At the very least, theirs was a friendship of unusual ardor.
Terms like “acquaintance”, “friend”, and “lover” tend to denote defined roles. This makes for convenient social constructs, where we have an idea of the nature of the relationship, even when not directly involved. Responsibilities of one group — care, affection, respect, commitment, trust, will to cooperate — don’t often overlap with another. When they do, terms like “work wife” or “friend with benefits” might be used; re-characterizations of previous terms for a lack of better ones.
It took me longer than I’d like to admit before I realized how rarely relationships can be so neatly labelled. Not every “friend” considers it an honour to be trusted with the spare set of house keys (and would I really consider them a friend if they’re not to be relied on in an emergency?). Not every romantic partner is interested in exclusivity or commitment. Not every sexual encounter goes as far as penetration, or even contact (which is why it’s possible to have an affair of the heart).
Suffering the loss of many important people has also taught me that relationships often evolve, as we grow and circumstances change. Whether it was due to some breaking point or simply the passage of time, most of my significant relationships have come and gone. Now I can’t help but tread carefully when I’m about to invest my emotions in someone, whether that means prioritizing them in my life, opening up with my secrets, or letting myself like them; that’s when I’m as scared of being hurt as I am of losing them.
WARNING: Massive spoilers ahead.
An old girlfriend introduced me to Six Feet Under more than a decade ago, but it turned into such a grind that I managed to finish the series only last week. There’s a lot of complex drama without stability to balance it out, a lot more tension than resolution. One of the most common themes is characters seeking happiness in all the wrong places, just to escape the depressing reality of their lives, and usually ending up worse for it.
“For your information, Miss High-and-Mighty, this is life. People have crises. They push each other’s buttons. They inflict pain on one another. And once in a fucking blue moon, they bring out the best in each other. But mostly, they bring out the worst.”
It wasn’t easy to get through five seasons of people making terrible decisions in their relationships, and watching those decisions haunt them later.
Continue reading “Six Feet Deep”…
Tiana recently shared this great article with me. It’s written as a guide for personal growth within one’s relationships, but I find myself well familiar with the concepts it covers; being accountable, empathetic, grateful, introspective, and responsible are all things that tend to come naturally to me. I’ve also been actively working on (or struggling with) being more patient, forgiving, resilient, autonomous, and optimistic in the last few years.
Instead, I use this checklist as a reminder of the qualities I should be seeking in others. If I’m going to invest any of myself into someone else — whether that’s time, energy, or feelings — they should have a general comprehension, if not a certain level of competency, in all these areas. I’m no longer in a place to teach someone how to be honest about their emotions, take responsibility for their actions, or listen with intent.
It’s difficult to let go of this basic expectation when I’ve already done a fair amount of work on myself to understand and practice these ideas. Spending time with anyone who reminds me of the person I used to be makes me feel like I’m regressing, and it doesn’t take long before I lose interest in their company. At this point, I’m doing everything I can to move forward, and that means being involved with people who are already good at relationships. It’s so much easier for me to let down my guard and give myself wholly to someone when I have a mutual foundation to work with.