Sunday, September 25, 2016

On Relationships, Mistakes I've Made, and Being Honest with Yourself

Have you ever been to a swimming pool with a high dive, looked at it from the bottom and thought, "I can jump from there! No problem!" but when you get to the top and look down, you realize that it's way higher than you thought it was, and there is no way you're going to jump? Or maybe you thought you could handle taking 6 classes in a semester, only to crash and burn out. Or you think you can babysit your rambunctious little cousins for the whole weekend, and end up being driven up the wall. And if these things don't work out, it doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with you - it means you've learned something about yourself, and sometimes it takes trying in order to know.

I always go around telling everyone that I never do any work or cleaning or chores and that I never will. I have signs on my apartment walls about not doing any work, I've had Facebook profile and cover pics that are all about not doing any work, and I've posted endless statuses about the fact that I don't have work ethic, don't do any chores, I almost flooded my kitchen trying to do the dishes, and I never plan to change. You know this. You've heard it all before. But here's something I may not have shared, but it feels important to share now: I wasn't always as overt about these things as I am now. I mean, yes, I was always just a hedonist who only did fun things, not someone who was going to do any work, but I never imagined that not doing chores would become such a huge deal to me, to the point that I'd spend so much time talking about it and having signs about it in my apartment.

See, when my ex-boyfriend and I were in the early stages of our relationship, nowhere near getting an apartment together, I did tell him that I never clean up, and I also made it clear to him that I just didn't see myself wanting to live with another person. I told him everything that I thought he needed to know about what it would be like to live with me - that I don't want any noise so he would never be able to play music or watch TV if I wasn't doing that, that I don't want to interact with people all the time and would not be a nice person if he was there when I didn't want him to be, stuff like that that would make it pretty clear to most people that they shouldn't live with me. He didn't want to believe any of it, and he kept thinking that we could make living together work, when I had pretty much said that it wasn't something I was willing to work on.

But here is where *I* really messed up: When my boyfriend got his first apartment, and I started living there, and he started talking to me about how he wanted me to wash some of the dishes and help clean up and that he wished he could see his bedroom floor instead of having it covered with my clothes...I should have stood my ground and said that this is how I roll, I'm not gonna change, and I had told him that a long time ago. But I didn't. I said, "Okay," that I would work on those things. And the thing is, it wasn't a lie at the time. I didn't say that I would work on those things just to shut him up, when I had no intention of doing it. I honestly thought that I was willing to change. See, in our early stages, when we were nowhere near living together, it was easier to state that I would never do those things. But once we were living together, I realized how much I liked living together in terms of being all warm and cozy and cuddly together. I got really attached and I didn't want to lose that. And when I thought about it logically, doing a few chores and being a little neater just didn't seem like too high of a price to pay in order to keep living together and being warm and cozy. I honestly thought that I was willing to do it. But every time it actually came up, my response was, "No way in hell!" Especially once I was working - working for 8 hours a day and commuting 2 hours a day was waaaaayyyyy more work than I was ever willing to do and there was no way in hell that I was going to do even more work in addition to that. There is nothing wrong with that. But the problem is that I wasn't honest with myself about it. I kept insisting that I was willing to change when I think deep down I knew that I wasn't going to change. It was at the breaking point of our relationship that I finally told him that I was never going to do these things. And I acted as if it was all his fault, that he should have known that because it's what I told him a long time ago. But the truth is that once we started living together, once I saw that being all warm and cozy together was something that I wanted, I did convince him that I was going to change when I wasn't, and that part of it was my fault, and I should not have done that.

It was wrong for me to say I would change when I was not going to. But it never felt like a flat-out lie. There's a difference between promising someone that you'll go hiking with them when you honestly have zero intentions of doing it, and promising someone that you'll go hiking with them, and realizing when it gets closer to the time that you are not actually in good enough shape for the hike after all, but you were sincerely hoping that you would be. And really - I don't like to admit this, but it's true - that's what happened with my boyfriend not being the validator that I needed him to be. I'm angry about that so I say a lot of bad things about him, but the truth is, I know he didn't have malicious intent. I know he wasn't actively leading me on when he knew that he could never be a validator or be with someone like me - he just never thought it through completely, he thought that he could be a validator because he didn't really know what it meant, and he thought he could be with someone who doesn't function when things go wrong until he saw what that was actually like. I'm still angry with him because I was overt about a lot of those things, but I know deep down that he didn't have malicious intent with those things, he just wasn't thinking it through and I don't think he had the self-knowledge to understand what he would be okay and not okay with. I think it was a situation of standing at the bottom of the high dive and thinking, "Of course I can jump" and not realizing how high up it really is until you get there.

That's what I experienced when I said that I would change. And I'm not saying that this made it okay, because I absolutely should not have promised to do things and then not done them. Here is what was going through my mind:

1. I was deeply in love with my boyfriend and I was so attached to living together and being all warm and cozy that I thought I was willing to do anything to keep it that way. I just couldn't bear the thought of not curling up in his arms every night, so I convinced myself that I was willing to make compromises for that lifestyle, which deep down, I wasn't really willing to make. The attachment emotions were basically driving at that point, and whatever negative feelings I had about chores and work ethic took a backseat.
2. Logically, doing chores seemed like such a small thing that it just didn't seem worth risking a relationship over. I didn't want to admit to myself that it wasn't something I would change, even if that cost us our relationship.
3. I convinced myself that chores were a small enough thing that over time, my boyfriend might change his expectations and not break up with me over the fact that I didn't do any work. I should not have done this, but I wanted to be together so badly that I convinced myself that it would be okay.
4. I convinced myself that I would change because a part of me felt like I didn't have a choice. See, when my boyfriend had a problem with the fact that I'm not open to going camping, I stood my ground and told him that I said on our first date that I would never ever go camping, I purposely told him straight-up because he seemed like an outdoorsy person, and that he had no business expecting me to be more open about it when I had essentially told him that not going camping was a contingency of us being together. Now, before we ever lived together, I had basically said the same thing about doing chores. But I didn't feel as comfortable standing my ground about that. A huge part of that was just because it was more of a serious issue that mattered to him - even though he said he was into camping, it wasn't something he actually did very often - but another part of it was that doing chores is sort of a societal expectation. In general, it's way less socially acceptable to say that you'll never do any cleaning than it is to say that you'll never go camping. And when the thing you're not willing to change is something that almost everyone in your culture expects of you, it can be very hard to admit to anyone - especially yourself - that it's not something you're going to change. I know this may sound strange coming from me because I'm always saying fuck society and fuck the system, but I realized just how much I felt that way as a result of the relationship.

All the blog posts, Facebook statuses, and signs in my apartment about not doing any chores and having zero work ethic are a direct result of what happened in our relationship. Yes, I was always that way, but it took all of that trial and error - all those times that I said I would do something only to realize that I wasn't going to - for me to realize just how serious I am when I say that these things won't change, and just how big of a deal that is. I have a level of self-knowledge now that I never had before the relationship.  And I don't know if I could have gained it any other way.

I don't know what to do about all of this, but we all need to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with others. That's what I learned from my relationship. And we should realize that sometimes, when people are not honest with us, it could be because they are not being honest with themselves. None of us have perfect self-knowledge. Sometimes we think we can do things that it turns out we can't. Sometimes we think we can tolerate other people's behaviors that it turns out we can't. And sometimes we just don't know what it looks like from the top of the diving board until we're up there.

 And we should also remember that none of our friendships or relationships exist in a vacuum. We are products of a society that tells us what we're supposed to be, that we should feel ashamed if we aren't doing what our society expects us to be doing, and that just makes it harder for us to be fully honest about who we are. We are also products of a culture that has always taught us that love conquers all, where most of the media we consume shows relationships working out just fine in the end despite tons of incompatibilities between the people involved. We are taught that love is supposed to trump any incompatibility, but that is not the case. You can love someone and not want to live with them. You can love someone and not want to work with them. You can love someone and not be willing to do anything in the world in order to be with them. There's a quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower that says, "I'll die for you, but I won't live for you." If someone kidnapped you and said that they were going to kill you if I didn't do A, B, and C for them, I would absolutely do those things, no hesitation, no questions asked. But if you tell me that I have to do the same A, B, and C or else you won't be my friend anymore, then it really depends on what A, B, and C are, and whether I'm willing to do them. And even if I thought I could tolerate doing A, B, and C, I'd have to seriously consider whether I could keep it up forever, whether I was willing to invest in a relationship that was contingent upon me doing those things. And I think as a society, we get these things mixed up a lot of the time - we think that loving someone so deeply that you'll do anything for them means that you have to also do anything to keep your relationship going, even when it causes harm to you. Whether that means doing things that you aren't really willing to do, or accepting behavior from someone else that you aren't really willing to accept - loving someone doesn't mean that you have to be willing to do everything to stay in a relationship with them. Loving someone doesn't have to mean that you're willing to set yourself on fire to keep the other person warm. And if when you are honest with yourself, you realize that you can't have the type of relationship you would have liked to have had with someone, that's okay, and it doesn't make your love any less real.


  1. This really hit the nail on the head. Great read. And a lot of the trail and error examples here I have definitely been guilty of myself.

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it!