This will be an incomplete list.
Because putting words to things is powerful. And because my memory is shit.
My tendency when things go wrong is generally ego-protection. I carefully consider, dwell upon, all the things other people did wrong to get me where I am. On the other side is self-flagellation. Neither is helpful.
I’m going to go through some of the main things I did wrong in my recently ended romantic relationship. And I’m going to do it because I’m not a bad person. I’m not a good person either. I am not static. There is no “self” there. What I think of as a self is nothing more than a bundle of habits and defaults. The defaults are set but the habits I can and will change. Excellence is a habit. Stuntin is a habit.
1. I pretended to be more committed than I was.
This is both the most egregious fuckup and the most embarrassing. I have a lot of shitty defaults and habits. But I do not consider dishonesty among them. The things you think you’re good at will sneak up on you and fuck your shit up real bad. There’s one moment that haunts me. We were in a bath, I think the only time we took one together. I told him my other lover wanted me to move across the country to be with him. He told me that if I didn’t commit to him, and staying local, he would have to look for someone else to meet that need. When I told him I was committed to him, it was more an aspiration than a statement of fact. I wanted to be committed, mostly because I wanted to be with him. But not really because I wanted to be committed. So I decided I was. I made a choice. Except I knew, in a small space in my heart, that I wasn’t ready to close the door on that other option. I did all the things. I went through the commitment motions. I told my long-distance lover I was staying put for the foreseeable future. But before too long I started thinking about living with my other lover when things were going poorly between me and him. I decided to be committed. Sometimes I felt very committed. I made commitment choices. But often thinking about another life with someone else isn’t how you do commitment. I mean, I’m no expert on commitment. But from what I’ve lived and read and seen, that’s not how it’s done.
What I should have done is said everything I said after I told him we were breaking up before breaking up with him. I did say it, gently and at different times. But I should have said it clearly and loudly and over and over again until he got it. I should have admitted when I said I was committed that that commitment was very conditional. I did say that, but not every time.
I feel like I’ll always cringe at that. But I know I won’t. Because there’s another cringeworthy memory I have of fucking up with a lover in a bathtub. This lover was telling me about being assaulted as a younger man. I can’t remember the exact words I used, but what I said was, essentially, “Did you learn from that experience?” Which, you know, is incredibly insensitive and self-centered. But, I have a stronger empathy habit now than I did then.
Looking back at this last relationship, I should have said, “I can’t give you what you want in terms of ride-or-die right now. I have too many doubts about whether this relationship can really be a healthy choice for me. If we can manage to establish and maintain a certain level of healthy habits, this can become a different conversation.”
I was too scared to lose him. I wanted to keep him around until I could learn to commit to him. So I wasn’t brutally honest about how unsure I was about us.
But that’s not really how it works. You can’t lay a foundation of lies and then figure out whether you want to build a house on it. I mean “foundation of lies” is a bit hyperbolic. But at the same time, I would never, ever, ever want someone to do to me what I did to him. It’s kind of my greatest fear. I can handle the truth. If you’re not committed to me, I can live with that. I might leave you. Or I might help you figure it out. But I deserve the truth so I can make my decisions based on accurate, complete information.
I think my cognitive dissonance, the gap between what I was saying and thinking and doing, was psychologically very taxing for me. The very act of waffling is incredibly taxing. Going back-and-forth in my mind about my future made me feel like a loser and a failure. And I think it made me act in ways that were impossible for him to interpret correctly.
Anyway. This was supposed to be a list and there are other things. The fact that I saw rejection everywhere. The way I handled said perceived rejection. But I think that comes down, it all mostly comes down, to projection. I hadn’t fully accepted him as a suitable life partner, so I projected that rejection, or at least that evaluation stage, onto him. Because I was still so often waffling on whether our partnership should be long-term I felt in my heart that he was doing the same. Even though I knew cognitively he definitely wasn’t. I felt that he should be. And so I saw that he was, even when he wasn’t. I saw things that weren’t there. And reacted badly to them.
I guess going forward the thing I’ve learned is that losing someone before I’m done evaluating whether our relationship should be long-term isn’t the worst outcome. Far worse is failing to connect with them by failing to be straightforward about my misgivings. I actually made it impossible to connect with me by pretending to be something I’m not.
If my confidence in our relationship’s long-term feasibility isn’t high enough to sustain the relationship, the relationship should end! This seems so obvious now.
So that’s the first thing I’m going to do differently this time. I’m going to say what I think and feel, especially the parts that will make him want to leave me. Because he should have the information he needs to make an informed decision about whether to stay with me. I’m not going to do that because I think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t have an opinion on that. I don’t think it’s something everyone should do. I’m going to do it because it’s the right thing for me to do. I’m going to do it because otherwise I will feel insecure and rejected and cognitive dissonance.
The second thing I’m going to do differently is to pursue commitment for commitment’s sake. I want a life partner. I want to do the work. I want to forgo the other possibilities. Again, (and I feel more strongly about this) not because it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s something I want for myself. I don’t want to waffle anymore. I don’t want to constantly evaluate. I don’t want another relationship where I’m not all-in. I want to go balls-to-the-wall for someone who isn’t me. I know who this person is. And I don’t know what will happen. I can’t predict the future. But I know it’s different for me this time. Not because of him, but because of me.
If he leaves me because I’m too honest about everything I hate about him, or if he leaves me because I am bad at commitment, I will consider that a success. Because he will have left *me.* I will take being left over someone accepting a fake, incomplete version of myself any day of the week.
And that’s really the best I can do. I can’t be good at relationships overnight. I can only improve my habits. And in the meantime, be honest about my failings so I can be loved or left, accepted or rejected, based on the truth of my real habits and defaults.
Your new boyfriend is lucky to have a chance with someone like you, Cathy. I hope he offers you something similar. Honesty in a relationship is hard to do, but it is vital if that relationship is to truly succeed. Don’t forget, however, kindness. It also helps to give him good reasons to love you.
Incredibly interesting to read. Having come off doing the same thing recently, it’s difficult. A man’s perspective brings different challenges, but it amounts to the same shitty behavior. But I will say this much: it definitely gets better, and there is definitely a chance to grow in love, wisdom, and fidelity.
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