“People tend to romanticize romantic relationships.”
— Michael Aranda
I have a problem, and in recognizing that I have a problem, I have developed several ways in which to cope.
Like most, if not all, people, I have fallen victim to the “romanticized relationship” trap. I have my own version of the corner lot with the white picket fence and the 2.4 children, with the sensible car and the sweet dog. Actually, it’s nothing like that. Let me quote you the entire text of a thing I wrote just over a year ago, when I was full-on in the throes of something I would now rather not talk about:
People tend to romanticize romantic relationships. But while most are dreaming of the perfect boyfriend, perfect proposal, perfect ring, perfect dress, perfect invitations, perfect flowers, perfect wedding, perfect honeymoon, perfect house, perfect dog, perfect kids, I am imagining all the bad times.
I imagine midnights in bed sobbing into his chest for a reason that I can’t articulate, and which he can’t fix. I imagine phone calls about loved ones injured or killed. I imagine fights over nothing, screaming so loud that the neighbors call the cops and there are dishes and photo frames smashed across the floors. I imagine stumbling home drunk at four am, smelling strong of whiskey and someone else’s perfume. I imagine losing that great job. I imagine the wedding venue burning down. I imagine negative pregnancy tests after months of trying. I imagine miscarriages. I imagine memorizing patient numbers, blood tests, knowing all the nurses at the clinic by name. I imagine breaking down on the living room floor in a broken chorus of, “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me, don’t- touch- me.” I imagine waking up to a wedding ring on the kitchen counter and no car in the driveway. I imagine thirty-something years of being sober going out the window. I imagine car crashes. I imagine police at the door. I imagine EMTs asking for medical history, blood type, allergies to medication, officers, “Has he ever done this before?” “Is there a history of drinking?” “Violence?” “Does he hit you?” “Do you need help?” No! “Thank you for your concern, sergeant, but I would really like to be with my husband, if you don’t mind.” I imagine sitting at opposite ends of an office sofa, legs crossed away from each other, looking straight ahead, “How is your communication?” “Fine.” He doesn’t use my first name. I imagine family holidays, standing together, smiling, nieces and nephews chasing each other around the house, “Still no kids?” pouring another glass of table wine and finding an Oxy in the bathroom. I imagine crying together in the hotel room because we are both orphans and when our mothers were our age they had, well, us, and the number 40 is getting closer and closer and I am so afraid to die.
They say that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, that in the end, at least you will have your happy memories. But memories ferment and turn you bitter, and wouldn’t it be so much better to stay sweet?
When I talk about romanticizing relationship, that is what I mean.
I guess I never had a very good example of what love was supposed to be. Maybe I’m one of those “my daddy didn’t love me” girls. Who fucking knows. I don’t think the cause is so important. The effect, however, is rather devastating. I don’t believe happy, functional relationship is truly possible. Someone is always going to give something up. Someone is always going to change. Someone is always going to compromise too much. Someone is always going to get mad. Someone is always going to get hurt. Someone is always going to walk away.
The focus on codependency (and this leaks into other areas of my life as well – it’s not necessary to talk about them here) is one, I feel, of exhaustion. If happy, functional relationships don’t exist, then it’s okay to be happy and dysfunctional, right? It’s okay to rely on someone to pull you out of the gutter. And because they pull you out, it’s okay to let them get things the way they want. Right? After all, they did the hard work here, not you. They dusted you off and cleaned you up and sweet-talked you back into yourself again. They made you feel like a person when you were just a blank warehouse mannequin. But more than that, it’s the idea that someone recognizes that you’re broken, or damaged, or incomplete, but decides you’re worthwhile enough to take anyway, to fix and repair and invest in, that’s the ultimate draw.
It’s not healthy. I know that. I’m not completely stupid. Only mostly, when it comes to this sort of stuff.
So this is where that word “unattainable” comes in. Unattainable is the perfect shield for codependent tendencies. Unattainable keeps you from getting your feelings hurt, because unattainable means distance, means separation, means never actually getting to the person who has your attention. Unattainable means you can have all of your cheap, dirty fantasies and no one has to know. Unattainable means you don’t have to get into the messy details of getting to know another person. Unattainable means projectable: you can make that person into whatever and whoever you imagine them to be – it doesn’t matter, because you’ll never meet them or get to know them for real. Unattainable is, really, a training facility for real life. It’s Kevlar vest. It’s rubber bullets.
Unattainable also means – and despite potential appearances, this is a big deal to me – a distinct and complete lack of the physical. Unattainable means you never have to touch another person, and they also never have to touch you. Whatever you want can, and does, happen inside the safety of your own head. For as difficult as emotional or psychological intimacy is for me to achieve, physical intimacy is even worse. I have so many distinct and unnameable anxieties regarding being a living human body that it is deservedly pitiable. That’s a topic that will begin and end with that sentence.
It’s all a delicate and unmaintainable delusion. Eventually it crashes. Something happens and you suddenly see how utterly pathetic you are for entertaining ideas about something that will literally never be realized. And that’s still a hard crash, but at least the crash is just you and your pieces, and you don’t have to sort out anyone else’s shards. It’s easier that way. It’s safer. After a while, you figure out where your fault lines are, where you crack under the strain. You know what edges to keep your fingers away from while you reassemble. You pick up, you press on.