Look At All These Tangled Thorns: Guilt, Empathy, And Not Proving A Point

Q. I don’t really know how to ask this because it seems a little muddled in my head, and when I try to simplify it, it just doesn’t seem important, but it’s something that I can’t really gain control of. I can’t seem to sustain a relationship past the first week. Like, I’ll crush on a guy and be real into the whole dating thing, but when we start to actually be a couple and call each other by the respective terms, I just start to lose interest and get bored and break it off. The weird thing is that I don’t feel any grief for it. Not a lot, at least; I feel guilty for breaking his heart, and, I guess you can say, leading him on in a way, but no real heartbreak. This has been happening for the last three guys and it’s irritating. My friends say I have commitment issues, but I’m pretty committed to a lot of other things and always finish what I start. I want to be in a relationship, maybe just to prove that there’s nothing wrong with me, as if I’m some hidden psychopath using men and sucking the life out of them. What do you think is really going on? What should I do?

A. My love, you remind me of something my grandmother used to say. “Heartbreak is what happens to everyone else. But when it happens to you, it’s the end of the world.” There is no such thing as “no real heartbreak.” It’s real every time. That’s the consequence of being strange, naked chimpanzees, wandering the world searching for food, shelter, and love. Maslow did have quite a few points on that fact alone.

Though, I must say, you do bring a tangled web of thorns to the table, don’t you?

Here is a story: When I was a teenager, I dated this guy for no good reason other than the fact that he was there. He took up space and time, as did I, and I was bored in my little southern town, biding my time for what I believed to be bigger and better things. This seemed justifiable enough; we were kids right? Throughout our short tryst, which I would never cop up to being anything more than “friends,” I was at best, emotionally withdrawn, and at worst, casually cruel. Not soon after, my boredom and foreseeable better options got the best of me, and I decided it was time to cut the cord.

I proceeded to do so in a level-headed and cool (arrogant, if you will) way. I had no sense of guilt over ending it, as no one really ever should, but more unfathomably, I had no sense of guilt over my own thought process which was, to say gently, questionable. While I was giving my speech, secretly relishing the power of my position, watching as this other person’s emotional membrane was falling to bits, I had this strange sort of sensational thought for second. It was the closest I ever felt to being sociopathic, and I don’t mean that in the Alex Delarge sense, but in the way in which I felt free from empathy or regret or any sort of complicated emotion that one often feels when detangling from oneself and from another.

I could do this, I thought. I could just run through people and get rid of them. The thought of being this sort of black widow, untouchable and unattainable mystic, sort of wannabe heroine of some dumb story, was to my mind attractive, seductive, and, above all, fitting to a narrative I desired of myself, one that I believed meant “grown independent woman.” This was power, I thought — the ability to control the outcome completely, to keep oneself encompassed, protected, and ahead of the game enough to be able to drop someone before they ultimately decided to drop you. To have the privilege of never being attached or to actually care. To be emotionally invincible.

Mind you, I was also sixteen and knew absolutely nothing.

But now, I am not sixteen and while I do not know much of anything at all, I do know a little bit of something, which is to say, almost nothing at all, but still, I do love knowing that nothing at all-little-bit-of-something. Here is what I know to be firmer that the not knowing.

Your fears won’t protect you.

Your previous pain won’t protect you. Your commitment to work or activities won’t protect you.

Women are perceived as always wanting monogamy and are encouraged to settle. Women who replicate men’s bad behavior towards dating are often perceived as worse than men. 

Women who replicate men’s bad dating behavior are not gaining ground on the premise of equality.

You can not settle and not be a dick about it.

Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It is an option. It still does not excuse one from being a dick.

Any relationship that involves more than one person absolutely requires being open and vulnerable; otherwise, it is always a one-way street. This goes for both long and short term relationships.

Never be in a relationship to prove a point. Never prove a point to anybody. Nobody gives a shit about your points. They will be forgotten anyway.

Guilt is a balm without a purpose.

Stop trying to protect yourself.

Like a four-year-old in pre-school, I believe in the Golden Rule: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. This, my dear, does not mean, “I would not like to be dumped; therefore, I shall stay with you because I do not want to hurt you.” That is a belief that involves thinking that people are not capable of withstanding actualities like pain, and it is arrogant. What it does mean is, “I will try to be compassionate to you because that is what I would want. I will provide empathy when I least expect or most need it.” Pain is part of life, especially the spectacular type of pain that comes from any attempt at loving. It’s certainly a self-important notion to crown oneself the harborer of pain, the one that absolves oneself from the responsibility of being an ethical type of person in any circumstance. By that, I mean we create social conditions where this bad, detached behavior is semi-respectable, solely based on the idea that when we say we care about “me,” we do not mean, “I prioritize myself.” Instead, we mean, “I am everything.” Prioritizing yourself means saying no to things or relationships that are not good for you. I am everything means being a tremendous type of dick about it.

You can reflect on where your current behavior teeters.

Maybe you do have commitment issues. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you have wounds so deep that you subconsciously resolved to never allow yourself to be vulnerable again, to do the pain unto others as had been done to you. Maybe you need therapy.

Maybe you don’t.

Maybe you need a different lifestyle, instead of trying to fit inside that tiny little box. Maybe you need to take some time to yourself.

Maybe you don’t.

There’s a lot of maybes in this game and only you get to decide which maybe should be the course of action. Because that’s the only way to get your tangle of thorns all sorted out, if you decide to. Choice is funny like that. We feel so helpless, so out of control, but baby, the answer is always right there in front of us, asking us to be honest and real enough with ourselves to choose. Of course, in the thick of it, we veil over that feeling of lost, mostly as a way to cover what really scares us; what happens when we choose. What scares us are the consequences and realities that come, no matter what choice or how that comfortable little life course and accompanying mentality will no longer be what guides us. How we will have to raise our standards and empty out all the things that have carried us along. How we then have to stand up on our own two feet and be who it is we really are.

So choose to be who you really are, my sweet. Decide if you want to step out of the tangle of thorns. They may protect you from letting anyone else in, but they also keep you enclosed in your own world. Once you are able to cut open those thorns, a process which is bound to give you a few open wounds, you’ll be able to stand up on your own two feet, looking down at your bloody hands, and wondering why it was you held onto those sharp brambles for so very long.

Got a question to ask, subject you’d like us to discuss, or myth you’d like us to bust? Keep ‘em com­ing! You can send us an anonymous­ mes­sage via the Ask Us! fea­ture here.

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