It’s finally spring, and love is in the air. It seems that not a day goes by that I don’t hear about personal romances or relationships from my friends.
This is a subject that I find difficult and awkward to talk about, but I’m going to do my best.
I admit that as I follow the threads of my friends’ love lives in as much or as little detail as they choose to provide that I feel a little bit of envy. It’s not that I want a relationship… my life is in no kind of shape to share with someone else at the moment. I have nothing of value to offer, and all of my time and energy is being directed to other things at the moment. It’s not difficult to say that I would be a terrible and neglectful partner… at least, right now. There are some things I miss about it, though.
Like the feeling of someone else touching my face. Have you ever thought about this? Like, really thought about it? There’s a kind of tenderness associated with touching someone’s face… it is the location of some very vulnerable machinery. The eyes, the nose, the teeth… broken teeth are a horror of mine from childhood… and behind some astonishingly fragile bones (the bones of the face are some of the most fragile in the skull), the brain. The face is an area of the body that we are instinctively obliged to defend. Allowing a touch on the face is an act of trust, and to touch someone’s face is to invite intimacy.
It’s also not that I couldn’t have a relationship, or at least a reasonable simulation of a relationship. There’s not a lack of male interest, and I’ve demonstrated a capacity for going through the motions in both of my previous relationships… time spent with men who didn’t love me and who I didn’t love, but who served as surrogates for a time. I was able to vent my instincts for taking care of others, and they had the opportunity to feel flattered and virile. There are honestly more parallels between the two relationships than I would like to think about, though the second was handled with a great deal more guarding of boundaries on my part.
You see, this is kind of what I do. I get into a lukewarm relationship with a nice enough man that I don’t have strong feelings for, and I keep that going as long as I can. Then, once it implodes, always with me getting dumped since I’m unreasonably invested in keeping the damn thing going, I have a couple of flings to salve the sting of rejection and then launch into a two-to-ten year period of singlehood and celibacy.
I’m closing out year two of the most recent recovery phase currently. I like it. I like living for me, on my schedule, choosing what I do with my time. I like not having to worry about shaving my legs or whether my partner is feeling neglected. There’s a freedom and an independence to it that I like.
So why do I go through this pattern?
Well, that’s a complicated question that deserves a complicated answer.
I seek out relationships once in a long while for a couple of reasons. The first is that I (and all women raised in society) have internalized messages from the dominant culture that state that I need a male partner to be whole… to have succeeded as a woman. That can’t be all of it, though. The truth is, we all long for that closeness, and I’m no exception. We all want to be accepted for who we are… to know that even if we say something undeniably dumb, that there is someone who doesn’t really care. We all want someone to whom we are close enough that we can stand close to them without worrying overly much about our odor, or what parts of our bodies are touching them, and whether they can feel or care how pudgy we are.
Some people are lucky enough to have discovered that dynamic in their partner. I am not, yet. And that’s fine.
I pursue the simulation of this, though, because I want to feel that closeness, that acceptance, but I also live in terror of it. I fear giving up my autonomy. I fear giving up even one ounce of my independence. I also fear that comfort might rob me of my need to strive, to write, to draw, to learn, to create. This goes into the reasons that I want to make beautiful artifacts, which really deserve their own blog post, so I will simply say that the relationships I’ve had in the past have had the effect of dampening my productivity and this worries me. I would not want to drug myself in to a kind of spiritual stupor with a relationship, and believe me the temptation is always there.
There’s also the fact that I grew up in a culture in which women like me were undeserving of love. This was drilled firmly into my head, but the first time I noticed it was in a film called “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” in which Janeane Garafolo is cast as the ugly duckling character. Regardless of what you might think of her politics or conduct, she is a very beautiful woman, and one much more in line with the modern standard of beauty than I am. But fat women, smart women, strong women… these aren’t the ladies who get to live happily ever after. These women are shrill, or bitchy, or crazy. We are not biddable and cow-eyed and delicate, and these are the things, we’re told, that men like. As far as I can tell, the thing that made Garafolo the ugly duckling is that she has facial expressions and doesn’t speak in a rising inflection all the time. And in that, she and I are the same. I’m just too smart, too fat, too ugly, too strange, too bug-eyed and frantic to deserve a relationship. Too weird and too complicated and too obstinate for men to want to invest time in. And who can blame them? There are dozens on dozens of women out there who are prettier, more pliable, easier than I am.
But we can’t neglect the fact that I’m a low-stakes gambler. The fact is, my goal once I meet a man that I feel is worthy of my affection is to either eliminate him from my life entirely, or to do so much work to make him my friend that hopefully any romantic feelings will naturally fade with that familiarity. Because I know that romantic relationships break up far more often than do friendships, and I know that forcing a friendship in these situations gives me a way to short circuit inevitable feelings of jealousy that come with unrequited affections. Sure, that’s a painful process. But is it more painful than loving someone and watching them walk away? I don’t know. I just know that the one option leaves someone in my life, and the other doesn’t.
One of my flings from after my most recent relationship said to me, “you need a man who can tell you when to shut the hell up.” I know, I know, this sounds awful on the surface. But what he meant was just that I need a man with a strong enough personality to stand up to me, and to not let me roll over him like a freight train, which is kind of what I do to the meek and callow male. And he’s right. It’s a rare man who is self-assured enough to stand up to me but stable enough to weather my highs and lows with a calm demeanor. And as long as I’m making a list, let’s say smart, funny, and sweet to boot.
If you know that guy, let me know. Maybe he and I can play make believe for a couple of years.