In the world of sugary delights, I have a particular affinity for chocolate Tootsie Roll Pops. The blue ones are OK, too, if I’m stranded on a desert island and I have the choice between that and a stick. But the chocolate ones … daaaaaamn, Gina.
When I was 16, I worked in an Italian restaurant smack dab in the middle of suburbia. My boyfriend at the time would run down on break from pumping gas (or as he liked to refer to it, his job as a “fuel transmission engineer,”) to drop off some brown-bagged pops he’d meticulously plucked from the Tootsie Roll box. Ahh, romance. The joys of first love are many.
This same relationship rollercoastered for another four years, intermittently, with sky highs and rock-bottom lows. The ecstasy of the first month bliss period-the time where everything is new and exciting -wore off with a vengeance and we were left clinging ferociously to the hopes that things would get better.
At least I did.
The threat of losing each other propelled us into a state of perpetual friction, each trying to warp the other into a compatible mold. In the end, dealing with him left me in an exhausted heap and him staunchly apathetic.
This ordeal ended well over a year ago, and I imposed on myself a strict period of singularity so that I could reflect on my character defects. Of course, I did my share of painting the town red. Fire-engine red. I indirectly covered that episode two weeks ago.
This lapse in commitment has taught me a few things-most of which I didn’t want to know. Looking at yourself critically sucks, frankly, but without analysis you’re damned to make the same mistakes over and over. So, I started by looking in the mirror (after weeks of cursing his existence and shooting mental daggers at his apartment building. I’m only human).
I’m cripplingly lonely lately, which has prompted this therapeutic writing as much for myself as for readers.
Boo hoo, right?
I do know that, with the onset of Valentine’s Day, I’ve been hearing the boyfriend buzz a lot lately. “I want a boyfriend.” “What’s wrong with me?” “Women won’t even look my way.” “How much are blow-up dolls selling for these days?”
Also, this holiday makes people much more critical of their significant others. “It’s like he doesn’t even know me.” “She’s so demanding.” “I think she just wants to be miserable. I don’t know how to make that girl happy.”
I’ve been on both ends of all of those, and hearing them so frequently makes me secure that other people are dealing with the same insanity.
As I’m no Dr. Ruth (zenk gootnezz!), everything that I share with you is rooted in experience. These are mistakes I’ve made, compiled with other people’s commentary, that I hope you avoid. At the very least, it might help you in your current situation.
So, I’m lonely. If not for the weekly “your headshot was friggin’ hot today, Nadia” e-mails, I might go stark raving mad and chew off my own arm. Deeeelicious.
A closer look tells me I’ve got my own inadequacies going on, and it would be much easier if someone else would come around and affectionately assure me I’m level-headed and acceptable. If only someone would hold my hand, the void would be filled and I could return to normalcy.
Hmm. Interesting. The phrase “I need a boyfriend/girlfriend,” is a dangerous one. To me, this is a point of desperation. We tend to use “desperate” as a derogatory term for a clingy, whiny mess of a person who has run out of options and will jump on any bandwagon heading away from where they’re standing.
I look at desperation as an escape tactic. I’m not happy here, so I’m ready to do whatever it takes to avoid this situation other than taking the obvious solution. When I gripe about the dating pool and start looking at anything with a brain and handshake, I know I’m ignoring the real issue. I’m ignoring my own needs. Quick, someone else jump in here and fix this.
It’s romantic to think of your significant other as a knight in shining armor or a shoulder to cry on. It’s not so pretty when he/she is a crutch for your baggage or the final piece to your otherwise incomplete puzzle.
That was always my problem. I spent a lot of time waiting for him – let’s name him something hot for kicks to protect his anonymity, like Matt Donnelly – waiting for Matt Donnelly to get off his ass and make me feel pretty. “I’m sad. Fix it!” “I want this, so give it to me!” “I’m unfulfilled in this relationship, make some changes!” “I want Britney and Kevin gossip, pronto. Make it happen!”
When these demands went unmet, I took all of this personally. On my end, I suffer from deeply ingrained workaholism. The more things fell apart and the worse I felt, the harder I struggled to put the train back on its tracks. I shelled out more money, spent more time with him, did every song and dance in the book to keep up his spirits. He had these pregnant womanesque cravings for fresh Dill pickles, and one of my last resorts was making late-night trips to Wawa to bring them to him. I wanted to relive the good ‘ole days.
Then I was armed and dangerous. “Look how much I’m doing for you! Why can’t you see me? Why aren’t you doing this for me!?”
After countless hours post-breakup, the simplicity of the solution bubbled up and stared me in the face. He didn’t do that because he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to. Imagine that.
Further, all of the time I spend piling up brownie points and using them against him just exasperated him further. He didn’t want to be loved in that way.
He wanted me to accept the way things were. I loved him how I wanted him to love me, and he loved me how he wanted me to love him. We ran hard in circles in opposite directions.
I never figured out what he needed because I couldn’t stop focusing on how poorly he was meeting my needs (and it was poorly).
My first goal in seeing someone new will be to make sure that my efforts are channeled in the right direction. I need to figure out what that person’s chocolate Tootsie Roll Pops are and buy them for him on all levels.
And, I need to remember to buy them for myself. Had I felt adequate in the relationship individually and in reference to him, there’s no way those thoughts and pains would have consumed me like they did.
Instead of expecting him to compensate for the things I didn’t like about myself, I should have been focusing on them myself, working on them and adjusting accordingly. Then I could have offered him an emotionally grounded, confident person instead of a leaching, needy one. If you “NEED” a boyfriend right now, that’s a very generic statement.
Wanting girl X or boy Y to date you is somewhat better, and knowing your existence on this planet will continue without them is paramount.
You’re setting yourself up for turmoil if you choose someone based on simply wanting to be with someone – any ole someone – because the moment you lose that person you’re right back where you started, void and all.
If there are minor things you’re not getting, you might try striking up the conversation by asking how things are on their end. “Hey, how are you doing over there? Can I do anything to make your life better/easier?” Even if you don’t want to.
Adjusting the focus from you to them will give you a participatory role in your relationship.
Maybe you’ve been neglecting some big stuff for him, and he’s punishing you by being resentful.
Maybe you’ve been missing some key signs she’s sending because you’re too busy up in your own head.
Maybe he had no idea you’re grappling with some things that need attention. If you start by opening doors, you’re much likely to invite in a defensive, frustrated guest. Make sure you really listen to what they have to say if that’s what you’re expecting from them.
Life’s short kids. Put it out there in the open and deal with it. That goes for your own dirt as well.
And, the most basic of all, be honest, even when it puts you in a place you don’t necessarily want to be at. Those are the times you get the most accomplished.
And hey, don’t beat yourself up, kid. There are plenty of other people that will do that for you. Relationships are supposed to be enriching, right? The most important one is the one you keep with yourself.
Nadia Stadnycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.