need-relationships

As is the case with most people who continuously seek out people who are not exactly good for them, I have experienced a lot of breakups. Some were civil, most were not, but all taught me the same lesson I’ve hated learning over and over and over: being single is difficult. Being single is not really my “thing,” per se, and as much as I have wanted to change that, it’s just not something that has gone away.

Throughout college, I bounced from relationship to relationship, never really stopping to catch my breath. A lot of this resulted from insecurities regarding safety, loneliness and anxiety, but it was also because I felt that if I didn’t use every opportunity I had to get to know people I liked, I would somehow miss out on the perfect relationship (because, yeah, I believed there was such a thing). I’ve always been a “people person,” and while that translated to making a lot of amazing friends, a few extremely close confidants and having a pretty decent social life, it also led me to wanting to date new people whom I found particularly fascinating.

Because of my draw towards new, fantastic romances — as well as being drawn back toward the ones I found so wonderful in the past — I wound up in a lot of long-term relationships. I wish I could explain just how ridiculously I bounced between relationships, but then I would have to use names or very specific situational details, and I’m friends with some of these fellahs (most of whom, I have a feeling, would get sassy at me if I did). Suffice to say, my single days were few and far between. This may sound like bragging, but believe me, if you saw some of the shambles these relationships were built out of, you’d realize that I am not exactly proud of continuously choosing the route I did

But it was a choice. I chose not to be single after each subsequent breakup; it wasn’t just happenstance. And sometimes, it was a choice with very bad consequences.

After I went through a particularly bad breakup with somebody about several years ago, I met a guy who seemed nice. His demeanor was calm, he spoke several languages and he seemed like a well-rounded fellow; let’s call him Rick. He was a few years older than myself, and the first time he met me, he sang me a bunch of songs in French. I was heartbroken, he was handsome and I felt lost. After he told me how beautiful and wonderful and intelligent he thought I was, I became enamored and we immediately jumped into a relationship, which quickly turned into a nightmare.

Soon after the relationship began, Rick would insult what I ate, how I looked and who I was friends with. He would call me 30 times in a night if I didn’t pick up at 10 PM — though I lived with my parents, so I was simply going to bed early — and would scream in my face if I hung out with a male friend (or, after a while, any friend). He began to get violent in multiple ways that I’m not comfortable specifying yet, but I was a terrified teenager — and also felt like I still loved him and needed him in my life to survive. After a particularly violent episode, I ended things, only to literally have him hug my legs as I tried to get away, then chase me down three flights of stairs and scream while pounding on the glass of my friend’s car that I had managed to lock myself into. And still, I felt confused and lost and as though my life were over because now, I was alone. Alone with myself, which sounded more horrible than anything I could imagine.

I am not remotely implying, by the way, that moving too fast after a breakup can somehow make you deserving of relationship abuse. What Rick did was his choice, and his alone. However, my need to continue seeking that comfort, disregarding all negative consequences and pain he caused me, wound up teaching me just how far I had been willing to go with my need for affection and security — no matter how cruel and inconsistent it was.

As a result of Rick and I’s relationship ending, I decided that even if I did decide to date after a breakup that I would only choose to date people who treated me well. A noble decision, indeed, but one that I was not good at keeping. While none of the people I dated after that particular relationship were physically abusive, I did date a couple of assholes who — to their own admission after the fact — didn’t value our relationship and had looked down on me. To be fair, I had not been an excellent partner, either, so I can’t say I blame them for not feeling especially devoted to me.

I went through a list of all my past, long-term romantic experiences one day, and realized that I had been depriving myself — and those I dated — of healthy, strong relationships. It wasn’t fair to myself nor them to continue pursuing these connections that would’ve best been left as friendships or casual affairs. By looking back at each of them, I was able to see aspects of myself and my needs that I had been missing for so long.

need-relationships

Yes, like this, kind of.

But now, I am attempting to change this behavioral flaw. I don’t want to be the 23-year-old woman who jumps into relationships simply because she feels she needs one to survive.

People who enjoy being single have told me for ages that I need to do it, that it’s what’s best for me, that it’s necessary to do sometimes, and I never really agreed until early 2012. Over the past year and a half, I’ve been either totally single or in demi-relationships (that is, there’s an understanding that it will end soon, that when I moved things would change, etcetera). I’ve been on more casual, actual dates than ever before, but I’ve also spent more time alone than the entirety of my past, as well.

I spent nearly an entire summer after my senior year of college (the latter half of which was spent single and acting rather ridiculous) in nearly total social isolation. I worked and worked, got a writing internship online, started working nights at a call center to save money and began writing for The Gloss. Besides a quick trip for my 23rd birthday to Southern California to visit my friends, I primarily just wrote, slept, went to my night job and did it over and over again. Eventually, I began being social again and really, truly enjoyed the feeling of not dating anybody. I moved across the country and learned to make friends on my own, not via osmosis from a partner’s friend group. It was both freeing and terrifying, and maybe that terror was freeing, as well.

Though I’ve looked down on myself for being a “relationship person” for years, and I’m sure plenty of other people have dismissed me as a co-dependent idiot who can’t survive without a partner (to be fair, I definitely project that for a long time), but I don’t see it as a flaw anymore. Then again, I’ve been slut-shamed for casually dating and have been slut-shamed for my relationships, so I s’pose you really can’t win if you enjoy sex and/or romance regularly with more than one person over time. I think that being single simply because you’re pressured by other people’s expectations is almost as bad as being pressured to stay in a relationship despite not wanting to, so I’m now fine with the fact that I really like romance.

I am what some would refer to as a “relationship person.”

need-relationships

Even the best of us get married four times, sometimes.

I love relationships, I flourish in relationships, just as I flourish when I have a close friendship with somebody. Once I learned that I was capable of surviving and flourishing regardless of them, however, I realized that my problem wasn’t necessarily the desire to jump into relationships, but the fact that I chose to stay regardless of whether or not the person was good for me, responsible, kind, or even ideal situation-wise (for example, all through college I dated guys who were like five minutes from graduating while I still had years to go). When you sacrifice your well-being because you feel you need relationships of any kind with anybody, it’s not healthy and it needs to change.

After spending a lot of time alone, I’ve been able to recognize that I am able to take care of myself just fine. I cook well, take care of my home, pay all my own bills (though I never had a partner pay for these, anyway),

Enjoying dating — both casual and serious — isn’t a flaw; it’s a personality trait that many people I’ve encountered have, just as some people absolutely love being single. Hell, even Charlize Theron admits she’d never really been single before her divorce. As long as you know you treat yourself well and are fully capable of surviving — financially, emotionally or otherwise — on your own, you’re probably not dating for the wrong reasons. We all need relationships of some sort, whether they’re friendships, familial or romantic, and that isn’t shameful to admit.

Photos: Closer, High Fidelity.