Relationships Aren’t The Answer
There was this girl. Let’s call her Mary (because Springsteen is awesome and go fuck yourself).
I liked Mary. I really liked Mary. She was everything I look for in a girl, which is basically everything anybody looks for in a mate: smart, beautiful, fun to be around, had a killer sense of humor (and even sometimes laughed at my jokes!). I could talk to her about anything, and spend days listening to her talk about anything, especially her passions, her many, diverse, wonderful passions — endeavors that drove her to exist, to be. She could rip on me when I needed it, she could be my greatest cheerleader when I needed it. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
At the time I met Mary, my life was a clusterfuck of questions to which there were very few answers. I was an aspiring actor who just couldn’t manage to get cast. Couldn’t get a part, let alone the part I wanted. Rejection after rejection after rejection piled up in my email inbox, leaving me cynical about my own abilities and the entire industry that I had devoted so much time, energy, and my sense of self-worth to. My friends were being shitty (or maybe they weren’t, but I thought they were, which at the time was all that mattered). My classes fucking sucked, the weather was grey and gross, and it was difficult to find a reason to roll out of bed in the morning and put two feet on the floor; not because I didn’t think I had anything to offer the world, but because I didn’t think the world had anything to offer me.
If only I could get Mary to like me, it’ll all be ok. All of that frustration will work itself out if I can just say the right things, do the right things, take her on the best dates and show her a good freakin’ time. Everything’ll be fine, just get this girl into me the way that I am into her, and who knows what else is possible.
You could imagine the way I felt when she told me that she, indeed, did like me back. It was a very nice thing to hear.
We’ve all seen and heard a million shitty and not-so-shitty stories about couples. About courtship. About “the Chase.” And they’re fun, and they’re funny, and we identify with them because we see and have seen ourselves in those roles over and over again: Two broken or not-broken-just-good-looking people trying to figure their shit out to try to make life work with each other. And at the end of the story the couple ends up together. Or they don’t, but that’s ok too. A chapter ends, and they’ve either gotten the partner or gained essential knowledge that will buoy them through life, through the next Chase, to Happiness. Tears (happy or sad). Montage to an indie song that we’ll all go home and listen to on Spotify within the hour. Roll credits. Yay.
These stories are unrealistic, but not for the reason you would initially think. Sure, the shit that happens in those tales may not be realistic in your world, but they may be in the world of others. The narratives in those types of stories, the good ones at least, are rooted in truth. Hell, it’s why we still engage with them, because we do see real life, our life, mirrored back at us in them.
No, those stories are unrealistic because they end. Because barring shitty sequels or unauthorized reboots, the characters as we know them cease to be after their story ends.
Life isn’t like that. We make choices, we bring people into our lives and say, “Yeah, you can stay,” and we have to live with that. A relationship isn’t the end of a story. It’s not the culmination of shit. It’s only the beginning. We do a big thing, say big words, have big feelings, then we go to bed, together, satisfied and content.
And then we have to wake up again the next morning. And that person is still there.
That’s what got Mary and me. It wasn’t just me with the baggage; she had her own shit going on too. Shit she was bringing into this thing with me. Life had broken her a bit, and was also under the impression that my existence in her world was going to fix that.
Like I said, she liked me back. A whole lot. She took every opportunity she was given to tell me that. She told me everything she thought I wanted to hear. She liked me, I was great, I was talented, I had something to say and had stuff inside me to offer the world, to make the world a better place. She believed in me in a way I couldn’t possibly believe in myself, and I tried my damndest to make her feel all of that about herself and more. But we had spent so much time picturing this glorious future, in which we got together and all of our problems magically solved themselves, that we had put exactly none thought into the actual function of being together. Not just getting together, being together.
The thrill of hearing those words, of hearing her say yes and me saying yes and of receiving permission to hold her and care for her and have her hold me and care for me and maybe even love me could only last for so long. There’s only so far “Isn’t it so great that we’re dating” could get us before the world started spinning again and we had to live normal life. That feeling of mutual, reciprocal choosing was perfect.
Normal life stuff is not. It never is, and I was at a point in my life where I was looking for perfect. I needed it. I expected it. Every deviation from perfection, every little moment where we weren’t completely and totally happy was a disappointment. She was a disappointment to me and I was to her because our problems hadn’t disappeared, they had just stagnated, hovering in the stale air above our heads. It turned out that we were, you know, human. Why can’t we be perfect? Why aren’t you trying hard enough? Why am I still unhappy?
Mary and I were unable to accept that life wasn’t going to change for us now that we were together. That’s just not how it works. The only difference was now we also had this other person in our lives who needed our attention, to whom we had promised our attention, when we could barely take care of ourselves. It was now an obligation, one that was bound to go unfulfilled because of the impossible standards we had set for this thing in our heads.
Relationships are not a solution. They are not the answer to all of life’s problems and they are definitely not an answer to your problems. They just are. They are just another part of life. A massively important, seemingly cosmic part of life, but still, just a part of it. You gotta figure all your other shit out too, separate from all this. The person you were going in, with all of your anxieties and insecurities, is still the person you’re going to be after they say yes. No person, no matter how breathtaking they are, can change that. Really, fundamentally, change that.
The good news is, when it really comes down to it, it’s not like you actually want them to. Change you, on a basic level, I mean. Or at least have a significant amount of control over how you define yourself. You may not know it, but you want enough autonomy, enough of you, to remain untouched by the existence of this other person in your world so that if they were to ever go away, you would still feel whole.
A lot of life, of pursuing ambitions and personal happiness, is a quest for completion. That is something only you can do for yourself. You can be helped along the way, certainly, but the actual work, the actual doing of the thing, that’s all on you. Don’t give that up because being alone is scary. Being alone is scary, but hinging your happiness onto another person, and the fear of that person going away, is even worse. The integrity of your sense of self always needs to come first. That’s not selfish. That’s just life.
As always, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments, suggestions, or to call me an asshole, which, you know, I need sometimes.