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.
My three-year anniversary with Heather came and went without fanfare or ceremony (or even notice, on my part). Our time together went by in a blink; being chronically single for me, and trapped in an abusive relationship for her, made the three years prior to that feel like an eternity by comparison for each of us. It was only halfway through that I realized part of me was keeping her at a significant distance.
When we first started spending time together, I was drawn most to her innocence. The way she viewed the world with an open mind made me feel comfortable in a way I immediately found attractive. I could tell her calm demeanour belied a darkness though; she knew a tremendous amount of pain in her short life, and that made her the same kind of old soul as me. Still, I never dared imagine things may work out between us, cause my previous lover was completely unexpected in both the coming and going, and the experience left me raw. Somewhat conversely, I was also too numb to believe anything was real. It was only a couple weeks after Heather entered my life that I tried to hang myself, and surviving meant everything felt posthumous.
Continue reading “to drink all damage into love”…
It’s been months since I had an appointment with my therapist. I’ve needed the time to work on myself before making further progress with him; a sign that I’m at a point where there’s a sense of direction, instead of relentless confusion and dread. Now it’s a matter of absorbing the concepts I should know by now, developing healthier emotional habits, and letting time heal what reason cannot. As my body recovers from the physical repercussions of depression, finding the energy to do these things gets a bit easier each season.
As a result, I’ve been picking up new responsibilities in my primary relationship, which I have to carefully balance with my personal goals. Maybe that’s why my wants have become such simple matters. Some days, I look forward to nothing more than eating ice cream after dinner, or playing a game until my thumbs are raw. The distillation of my dreams has given me another childhood, which I’m determined not to squander.
Part of the reason I stopped taking pictures is because I needed to believe Heather was real. To prove to myself that she wouldn’t suddenly disappear and only exist as a collection of pixels on my screen, like others lovers of my past. Mostly it was because everything was terrible, and just being conscious was a burden. Some days I was too sad to walk or eat, let alone decide what lens to put on my camera or how to frame a shot. The start of any relationship tends to be a time of wonder and excitement for me, but I don’t remember those years with particular fondness.
Continue reading “whales in the bodies of tiny fish”…