There are set equations that all of my closest, most intimate relationships with men have followed in the past several years:
If I am ok + he is ok = we are ok
If I am ok + he is not ok = we are ok
If I am not ok = we are not ok
Essentially, whether it be friend or lover, the relationship falls apart if I am not doing well. I may not be so great for any number of reasons: my grandmother who helped raise me is dying, or I am deeply unhappy at work, or I am suffering from First Year of Law School. I may just be having a bad day. I may just be tired. Whatever it is, when I am not the smiling, accommodating, keeping-everyone-happy-and-together person I usually am, everything goes to shit. And I get blamed for bringing him down/yelled at/broken up with/erased as a person with needs.
Which is EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED when you are having some difficulties, let me tell you.
I was out for drinks and dinner with a friend the other night when it really sunk in. We were walking down the street, on the hunt for Thai food, when she made a comment about how guys just don't seem to understand how much better she will make their lives once they are dating her. And I said, I know, right? I am a GREAT grilfriend. And we were kinda priding ourselves on being no drama and really supportive and all those great girlfriend things.
Except we never spoke about ourselves in that relationship, about our needs. We were being proud of how good we are to others, and how effectively we can erase ourselves.
And we are both feminists. So what the fuck?
I have always prided myself on being an awesome partner, and what that has meant so far has really been: holding my tongue. Watching what I say. Not pushing too hard. Being as flexible as possible. Let the other person dictate the terms of the relationship. Never be needy or ask for anything. Never be too smart and intimidating. Be happy and kind and giving and have infinite amounts of empathy and compassion. Be the best support possible. And never ask for or expect anything.
So, yeah, I am an awesome person in a relationship. Because I am not a *person* in a relationship. And that makes it easier for everyone! Until suddenly, something happens,where I have needs and sadnesses and hardship, and I can't swallow them down and pretend they are not there. I am suddenly a messy, difficult, complex, needy human being. Like we all are. But then the other person? Bails.
Girls and women are always supposed to be considerate of others' feelings. We are taught others should come first, we should not express our needs, we should be what other people want us to be. This is taught in religion, with the martyred mamas and the submissive wives, it is taught in schools, where girls are made to apologize while boys are just punished, it is taught in every fucking romantic comedy I have ever seen. Women must meet men's needs, always before their own. We are not ever taught how to learn what our needs are and articulate them, let ALONE actually expect them to be met.
So what do I do, when after being the best support ever to the men I am closest in my life, they are defensive or mad or want nothing to do with me because I am having a hard time? I cut myself. Because that is the surest way I know to make sure I am still here, I am not invisible. It is a physical manifestation of look, see? I AM HURT. I bleed. I am a person. Even though everyone in this relationship, me included, had managed to forget that.
The most recent time I cut myself, a friend, who has become abusive since my head went to hell (what with the rape thing and all), yelled at me on the street about how I wasn't being a good enough friend, how I wasn't giving him the emotional responses he needed when he spoke, how he needed to know if I would be a good friend again once I "got over this," how he didn't see why he had to put up with my being-a-shitty-friend-ness. And when I pointed out, look, I have depersonalization disorder, I told you, I feel very distant, this is hard for me, I told you I just needed some space, and I really cannot handle this conversation right now . . . you'll never guess what his response was. Because it was kinda awesome, in its own abusive way. His response was, when I explained that all I needed was some space and understanding:
"I am not going to let you make me feel bad for sharing my feelings and venting my frustration. You always try to make me feel bad for expressing myself, and I am not going to let you do that this time."
So, get that? I was expressing how I am not in a place where I can have an angry conversation about how I am a shitty friend, because my head is TERRIBLE and I am merely trying to survive this rape. And his response to that was that I was trying to make him feel bad. For expressing his needs. And he wouldn't let me make him feel bad.
. . .
Ladies, and gentlemen, I really don't know what to say.
Except, I am trying to figure out how not to have such conversations again. Or be in relationships like this again.
First step? Lose the abusive friendships. This one I got! I am working on it. Some men I was very close to have been cut out completely, others have been distanced, boundary lines firmly established.
Also, I recognize that the foundations of these relationships, where I am erased, were partly laid by me. Because I was such an awesome partner, right?!?! I do not want to be an awesome partner anymore. I don't blame myself, because there is no excuse for the choices of these men to be absolutely fucking awful human beings to someone they ostensibly love. But I would like to not walk into a relationship giddy about how GREAT I'll be at accommodating the other person at the expense of myself.
I am trying to shift the thinking in my head about how to relate intimately with men. Because, even though I am a queer angry feminazi who is probably why god hates this great christian nation or somesuch, it's still SO HARD to trump all the messages that have been fed to me my whole life. I fail at this sometimes. It takes a constant struggle, and at no point have you won and now you get to live life free and clear of internalized sexism and misogyny. No, it is an ongoing battle, and while it is FUCKING ANNOYING that women have to fight these battles along with everything else, like just getting through our days, I recognize that this is a battle to keep me safe and healthy. And so I will devote more energy to it.
And also, I will devote more energy to being a messy, difficult, complex, needy human being. Because that is what I am, and we all are. What I love about other people is that they are messy, complex, difficult, needy human beings. I am going to try and learn to love that about myself.