I’ve been circling around this for a while now, I believe. A few days ago I was telling a friend to not have the relationship her parents are having and in the past weeks I’ve been pondering the effect that the behavior of the adults I grew up around has had on me. What I’ve come to realize is that no matter how much I try to deny my father’s influence, I can never remove his presence from my childhood and I can never alter the relationship that my subconscious has been using as the normal point of reference.
I never had a pleasant relationship with my father and ever since I started having romantic relationships, I did my best to avoid the things I despised most about him- alcoholism, religious extremism, violence, hypocrisy, a propensity for emotional manipulation and other damaging kinds of behavior. Despite this I never managed to hold on to a relationship for more than a few months. Some fell apart because of lack of chemistry or life getting in the way, but the most significant presented a mystery I’m only unraveling now, 9 months after the last man I loved disappeared out of my life.
The piece of puzzle that fell into place the other day, while I was sitting at my desk with another 15 people around me going about their day like it was just another Monday, is that no matter how far away from my father I run, the relationship dynamic we had will be something I can never escape. I learned to form relationships from my parents the same way I learned other behaviors like saying hello when I walk into a room, like I learned to talk from them and use a spoon and eat bread with apples. And so my romantic relationships and their sudden ends are now shining in a brighter light that has been a long time coming.
Because I have made a habit of analyzing myself and the people that I surround myself with, I noticed patterns in the relationships I am talking about and I remember asking myself, since I am choosing such different people to get involved with, why did we keep falling into the same patters? Since I was choosing such different people, why was I always the one who ended up giving as much as possible and being as available as possible to understand them and support them, but being afraid to ask for the same in return. I am not even exaggerating here, I am honestly afraid to ask for something when I am romantically involved with someone, because it makes me feel like an unwelcome guest imposing on them and being a burden. It’s not their job to take care of me. I have a hard time receiving gifts from boyfriends, even if it’s something I need, because I feel it would take away from my independence and leave me in debt to them.
I always thought that this is just my neurotic need to be self- sufficient and independent, but get this- when I was young my mother was the one who would take my sister and me shopping and after she had to go work abroad if I asked my father for money for almost anything, I would always get the same answer- I don’t have money for that. He rarely paid attention to me or my sister, and the few happy memories I have of him are from before I started school and they are few and far between. We weren’t even allowed to laugh in the house sometimes because he was working nights and he had trouble sleeping- bare in mind that I was a child who did not understand what it meant to stay up all night working. He was never interested in us as people he could get to know as we were there to fulfill the roles of children in the patterned life he thought he was supposed to have. In return for all this he of course asked for respect, obedience, understanding and forgiveness without apologies (unless I was the one apologizing) whenever his drinking binges ended up in bruises and clumps of hair pulled out of our heads.
This was the norm for us.
For the longest time I’ve been trying to think of it like it’s not such a big deal because so often you hear of things so much worse than this. Child- bride. Orphaned. Sold. I’ve been telling myself that I should look on the bright side because not having a perfect and sheltered childhood has made me into a responsible adult who is self- aware, adaptable, capable and tough, capable of taking care of herself. Of course I never felt comfortable with someone else taking care of me. Of course I am attracted to arrogant and cold men who love the sound of their own voices so much they are not interested to what someone else has to say. I am capable of taking hit after hit, stand up, kick back and take another punch any day of the week. But, as hard as it is for me to admit, I am not capable of letting others take care of me. I will never break down around someone else the way I do when I am on my own because I cannot allow anyone else to be the one picking up the pieces and putting them back together. I need to do things for myself and that is good only up to a point.
That point needs to move.
Now I understand why the men in my life felt it was okay to ask so much of me and give so little. As Alain de Botton puts it so well: we’re out to find partners who will feel familiar and familiar comes from the first experiences we have. I know now why I had such a had time making a point for myself when all the arguments I was making were completely valid, but I was wrong anyway. My default position was in the wrong because I was allowing myself to be put there. I’ve been broken up with through a text and kicked out of an apartment while trying to comfort a certain selfish jerk because I allowed them these kinds of behaviors, after all I can take it because I’m though and independent, right?
But why should I?
It’s taken me almost 6 years to ask this question and realize- I don’t have to just take it. Just because not having a sheltered childhood made me capable of surviving emotional trauma does not mean that that’s all I should be doing. I am happy I finally got to know this about myself because knowledge is power. I am now giving myself the power to do better, to ask for what’s mine. The next difficult part of this will be giving up the idea that if somebody loves me, they should and will think of me and my needs as much as theirs, because that’s just not how most people work. You sometimes have to remind them that that should be part of their behavior. Another big question mark is if I can be attracted to someone who is balanced, willing to be nurturing and patient enough to hear me out and help me break my pattern.
I am honestly scared of the answer.
You might be reading this and thinking that all that I’m saying is obvious and simple, but to me it really feels like a revelation. I’ve been looking at this from the wrong perspective for a really long time. No matter how much I tried, I could not figure out what was going wrong. After my last break-up something inside me would not let me move on to the next relationship. I’ve been feeling myself being pulled in this direction by my internal monologue that has been unraveling in the past few months. My difficulties in reaching this point is, like so many other things, exquisitely explained in a single quote in Dune– it’s a human trait that when we encounter personal problems, those things most deeply personal are the most difficult to bring out for our logic to scan. This only leaves me to wonder what else is there to face within myself?