Meditations On Sucking At Relationships, Dating, And Not-Dating, Too, As It Happens

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Maybe all this bluster is meant to distract me, and you, from the fact that I still don’t know what I want or need from another person. I never took the time to tease that out because, plainly, I didn’t feel like being disappointed. Don’t want no shit, won’t get no shit. And that’s just fine! I still don’t have a driver’s license because I couldn’t afford a car when I turned sixteen; this doesn’t explain why I don’t drive now, fifteen years later, but it does illustrate how if you tell yourself you don’t need something enough times, it will eventually come to pass that you’re right.

Terrifying.

Most men I’ve dated knew — or thought they knew — what they needed, which was usually Not Me. The specifics were harder to articulate beyond that; they just knew something was amiss. And perhaps it was that confidence — that knowing of needs, even when used as a weapon against me — that I was attracted to. A confidence I both lack and admire, the irony, but as they say: opposites attract. Until they don’t. It’s not anyone’s fault. I mean, half these guys didn’t even know who they were dating, because I didn’t tell them. And you can’t expect people to need someone they don’t know exists; you can’t expect them to know you, when you don’t even know you. The ephemeral and conditional version of you — the one you offer up to protect the real and messy version of you — it might be agreeable, it might scratch a short-term itch, but is it Wifey? Because as it happens, you don’t have to be agreeable, or any nice and simple thing, to find love. In fact, I’m starting to believe all you need to be is convincing.

I do not have a good record of convincing. I’ve always had a lot of feelings, currents of emotional energy, a hunger for physical touch, Gasoline as Blood; I’ve always needed a place to put these things. I needed a place more than I needed to be known, to be heard (it seemed that way, at least) and so in relationships I worked toward a desired outcome — to keep happy the person, who was also the place, (my receptacle), so that I might keep both — though my behavior was often in conflict with how I felt. That is, if I remembered I had feelings of my own — most times I skipped that part of the integration, which means many of my decisions, the things I said and even thought, did not reflect what I felt; rather I was guessing at what was “right.” And of course by “right” I mean, “what is the thing I can say that will make him love me like, for real.” I wanted to be loved for real because then, maybe (and yes, ironically, again), I would feel safe enough to be myself. Do you follow? I thought the only way to be myself was to first be someone else, as though one version of myself was simply a gateway drug to the truer, more accurate version.

I confess: It’s a flawed strategy. One of the worst I’ve conceived. Because I had never, would never say, or do, the “right” thing in a relationship: the “right” thing is convincing, it has conviction. It has a point of view, and a point of origin; it has a point. Each time I remembered this — usually during some breakup negotiation, when it dawned on me that I had nothing to lose and could say whatever I wanted and it was going to feel so fucking good, finally — I was rewarded. I had expected that sharing my Real Feels would result in accusations of betrayal, or an equally shocking admission to punish me for my unapologetic cowardice and hypocrisy, which had no doubt quietly tainted the relationship — but instead I got dismay. Shock, in some cases. And active, unsolicited attention, which is — mind you, it’s been some years now so this is just a guess — probably all I wanted in the first place.

You can see why these relationships — inadvertently made one-sided by both my eagerness to please and my misguided assumptions that pleasing required I remain unknown — failed to evolve.

I’ve experienced most breakup configurations, dumped and been dumped and then there was one I *think* we both classify as mutual, though I took it harder and could have contorted my emotions a dozen-or-so more times before the thing ended for-real for real. Only once did I want and initiate a breakup — and while it was hand-to-god exhilarating, to be the one for whom singledom was inviting and not in any way a reflection of my own personal failings, I’m usually the other one. (In fact, even the guy I dumped had dumped me first, and second.) So the ends of things began to play out with a familiar cadence that would evoke in me all the classics: insecurity and foolishness, dumb-assery. I often felt used. But then what had I done, given my partners only what I believed they wanted while omitting the rest so that I might enjoy the trappings of intimacy without actually engaging in it? If he doesn’t know about the rest, I must have reasoned, he can only reject what I’ve decided to show him. So when he leaves, it won’t be a rejection of everything I am. Just some of it.

Perhaps I’ve been used, but perhaps I’ve been a user. You know? Maybe I’m drawn to cursed relationships because when it comes down to it, I don’t want to feel safe yet. Because despite fancying myself a victim in the aftermath of a breakup, I’m not as safe as I purport to be. Because I’m not ready to be my whole self, or to be loved for it, or to work through the related implications, like: how do I cultivate enough trust in others, or enough confidence in myself, or enough whatever in whatever! to just… go about being who I am? How do I listen to my gut after allowing my brain to shout it down for so long? And knowing all of this — the deficiencies both listed and alluded to here, but also the others that are out of scope for this particular reflection — how can I waste even an hour of someone’s time knowing this is where I live?

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