Friday, July 07, 2006

The Beat Goes On: Or, the Protagonist is An Idiot Who Can't Commit (and should probably be committed)

"The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one." - Joan Baez

As regular readers know, things have been fucking crazy here at Hacienda Chicago for the last, well... year, year and a half. A while.

I've been crazy and spastic and greiving and exhausted and sometimes, occasionally, hung over (though that won't ever happen again. Which is such an odd thing to think: I'll never be drunk again). Earlier this year, amid all the madness, Jenn and I decided to try and date. We've known each other for six years and been living together for three, and after we both ended rather disastrous relationships, it seemed to make perfect sense for the two of us - who got along so well - to date.

I'd been pretty exhausted by my last relationship, and the August end-date for mine and Jenn's (she'll be getting a teaching job; I'll be heading off to god knows where) gave me a really good excuse to keep up my emotional walls and keep going at a three-months-into-it level of commitment throughout the long haul.

Problem is, you get three or four months into it, and discover that the relationship you thought you'd gotten into wasn't the one she thought she'd gotten into. Because maintaining a three-months-into-it level of emotional intimacy only lasts, well, three months.

Then you need to decide if you want the relationship to grow, of if you want to continue keeping your desperate stranglehold on it.

My rules and boxes, all those things that made me feel "safe" inside of the relationship, were stifling it. And I had to make the choice of whether to give up on all those constraints that made me feel so safe, or end the relationship. Because if you can't trust that you and your partner will have each other's backs forever, you really shouldn't be in a relationship.

I trust Jenn with pretty much everything. The woman fucking saved my life; I know that when the shit hits the fan, if I ever need her when the world throws a punch, she can handle it.

It's not her I don't trust.

It's myself.

I don't trust my judgement in people. I've had too many people turn on me the minute I decided everything must be OK. And I've continued relationships far longer than I felt was right because I figured, "Hey, relationships are hard. I just need to WORK HARDER."

And, you know what?

There are things Jenn deserves in a lover that I can't give her. And I love her to death, and I want her to be happy. And if you're a decent fucking person, you'll walk away when you realize it isn't going to work. That's what you do. You don't try and keep your stranglehold. You don't try and change them.

You realize there's something fundamentally fucked up about the way you view relationships, and you stay away from people until you figure out what that is and how you're going to fix it.

I mean, there's all the romantic baloney about hey, maybe if I just meet the right person, things will be magically fixed and I'll be able to commit! But that may not be the case, and I need to face that possibility. It could just be that there's something fundamentally broken inside of me. I don't know.

What it likely means is that this was not the right place/right time for this particular pairing, or that something was just off. It just wasn't quite right, and I don't know why, and I can't articulate it. I just felt ending it was the right thing to do, and I feel like a lowly piece of shit for doing it, because it was, ultimately, a happy relationship. It was my first non-fucked-up relationship. I can look at it and go, "Wow, I learned so much about what it is to have a real relationship."

But there's something I'm missing in this whole "relationship" thing, because I don't think I really understand what relationships are. I mean, I would run into a burning building to save Jenn or my buddy Julian. I love them a lot. Would I have run into a burning building to save B? Or the psycho ex? No, I would not have.

But then, if you asked me, what's the difference between people who are your friends, and people who are your lovers? I would stare blankly and say, "Um... we have sex?"

And then you'd say, "Sooooo.... what's the difference between a relationship and a fuckbuddy?"

And I'd say, "Well, committment. Monogamy [I'm old-fashioned that way; other stuff doesn't work. Believe me. I know]. Love."

"Soooo.... what's committment?"

"Well.... when you say, `we'll be together X long, or until X.' And, to me, X can be an arbitrary date or a "until you hit me" or "until you disrespect me" or "until one of us no longer loves the other one" or "until you cheat on me" thing. And, to me, that arbitrary date sounded like a really great safety catch. Problem was, it also encouraged me to be all stoic and amazon-like and remind myself every day that soon, I was going to be alone. I wasn't going to have someone around forever. I needed to be able to take care of myself."

Because, you know, even if somebody never leaves you or hurts you or cheats on you, everybody dies.

People fucking die, and they leave you.

Everybody leaves you eventually, and you have to be prepared for that, and for me, for someone who so clearly fucked up in the longest relationship I ever had, way back when, I know what sort of person I can become if I rely on someone too heavily, if I get used to the idea that somebody else is going to fix everything. And, you know, to be honest, not only do I never want to be that stupid person again, but now that I do actually love the partners that I'm with, I never want to be that kind of a burden on them.

And you know, with the whole diabetes bullshit, that's a really terrifying thing. I was already terrified about being dependent on anybody, and waking up in a hospital, realizing that I'd so totally fucked up in taking care of myself, was just a huge blow. I don't trust myself to *not* want to be taken care of, for somebody to hold me every stupid night and tell me everything's going to be all right. Because I'm afraid that if I want that, I'll get used to that, I'll get dependent on it, and I'll become this burdensome woman who cries on somebody's shoulder every stupid night, and how unattractive is that?

"Hello, my name is Kameron Hurley and I'm committment-phobic. Every time my partner says, `let's think about forever," I cut and run."

Because you know, I have this little engine inside of me. I have this story. People come up to me and say, "How did you change your life?" or "Where do you get the courage to do what you've done?" or "How did you go from being sedentary to *not* being sendtary?" They ask me where my drive comes from. And I tell everyone the same goddamn story: for almost three years, I was someone I hated. I was in a relationship with somebody who wanted to keep me more than he wanted to love me, somebody who was more interested in being in control than in being partners.

I hated who I was. I hated what I looked like. I hated being full of fear.

And so I decided to change it.

And every night for a year I went to bed and closed my eyes and envisioned who I wanted to be, the things I wanted to do, the life I wanted to live.

And that life that I created in my head, in that life, I was all alone. I let go of this romantic wishy-washy notion of having this really cool partner who was my best friend and wanted to run off and have adventures with me. I let that go, because in order to have everything else, I felt I needed to give up something. And I chose to give up the romantic ideal. I chose to give up the forever-fairytale fantasy.

And that's worked for me for nearly ten years. For almost ten years, I've lived the life I wanted and did the things I wanted to do, and when confronted with someone who says, "You know, we could be those ideal romantic buddies. We could motorcyle around Rome and drink red wine in Cape Town and you'll speak Arabic and I'll speak Chinese and we'll have a little house by the ocean and fill it full of books and have drunken dinner parties and learn to cook Thai food," I think, "No, no. You can't have everything. That's impossible. I'm either on my own or I'm owned."

Because I was in a relationship, a "forever" relationship, that lasted a really long time, and he said he wanted those things, said that was the life he wanted too, and he was full of shit, and instead he joined the Marines and spun out my whole life for me, as if I'd already lived it: drunk and barefoot and pregnant, living in shitty Marine base housing and being shouted at and talked down to every day for the rest of my life so he could feel better about himself, so he could feel superior to somebody.

I'm not going to do that again. I'm not going to make a mistake again. I'm not going to be that person again.

I run on rage and anger and fear, and that's what powers me through everything: through grad school in foreign countries and lightless days in Fairbanks and broken pancreases and boxing classes where I feel like I'm the most uncoordinated person in the whole room. It pushes me past all my other fears: of looking stupid, of acting like an idiot, of dying, of being maimed or raped or used and thrown aside, because there is no more frightening place than where I've been, no more frightening future person than the one I used to be.

I link that person to "forever." I link that person to, "I will just relax now and assume I'm not going to get fucked over."

The safe place to be is, "I just won't let myself get hurt. I'll keep everything controlled and contained. I won't get attached." The safe place is, "Well, I don't need to get too attached, because it's not like this is Forever."

My Story has gotten me through a lot of shit. It's powered me through some really dark times when I went back to thinking I was a worthless idiot, no better than a wad of spent chewing gum. It got me through.

So to give up that story, to say, "Well, I can be the person I am and still do Forever," is really fucking scary. It's too much, and it involves me trusting myself - and my partner - to such a ridiculous degree that it's nearly impossible.

It's something I fear giving up. It's something I can't give up - right now, anyway.

But it's something I know I need to work on. The alternative is serial monogamy. The alternative is possibly finding a partner where everything *does* work, and giving up because it's too fucking scary.

Even admitting that it's something I know I need to work on sends my heart racing and my palms sweating. It's the most terrifying thing I will ever do, if I ever do it. It means confronting that base fear, the fear that drives me, the fear that I'll become the person I hate the most, that all of these things are tied together, that if I give in and say, "forever," it means I become a bawling submissive who flinches every time her partner looks at her.

I don't want that. I don't want to be that. I don't want to confront that. And I've gone nearly ten years not having to, not getting to the point where someone said, "No, really, this is fucked up." Or, at least, not understanding what they meant.

Jenn has called me on it. And I know she's right. Her and I may not be the best fit for a number of reasons, but if I'm ever going to have any kind of relationship that lasts more than three months, I need to confront this fear. I need to have some faith in myself, and in other people.

Cause, as Jenn taught me, not everyone is a fucker. And - most important of all - as my buddy Ian said: If I can't commit because some asshat I dated back when I was 18 scared me away from having a life partner, then, well, "He wins."

And, you know, if there's any other rage that can drive me as powerfully as the one that's gotten me through these last ten years, it's the idea that he wins.

This is my life.

I can make it into anything I want it to be. And I need to figure out how to do that without giving up who I've become.

7 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Jennifer R said...

Oh boy, do I ever relate to this.

The idea of getting into another relationship scares the shit out of me. I've spent years evolving into a non-clingy person, and I'm afraid that if I fall madly in love again my brains will dribble out my ear and I'll act just as stoopid as I ever did before "because I luuuuv him!" I'm also afraid that I'll use a guy as someone who has to save me because my life is rather shittastic now.

It's probably a good thing I know nobody eligible these days.

The thing I wonder about though is, how do I get over turning into an idiot within a relationship while having one? It seems like the two have to be exclusive.  

Posted by Jennifer

ScottM said...

I was afraid of becoming dependant on someone for a very long time; it kept me from beginning relationships (not even sticking with them, just beginning them) for more than 10 years.

Even now, when I'm "better" and planning on forever, the worm keeps asking me if I have a backup plan...

Anyway-- fingers crossed for things to develop for you as best imaginable. So you can have the Kameron story you know and the forever you deserve.

Steph said...

The collision between fear of moving forward and fear of staying stagnant is a powerful one but if anyone can make it, it's you. You are a strong, intellegent and brave woman--whether you feel that way at the moment or not. Look at all you've done, look at all you've seen, look at all you've tried...when so many would've given up and crawled under the covers, you've fought on. You knew this life that you've chosen would not be easy and it's not--it's fucking hard. But you chose it anyway because you are Kameron Hurley and Kameron Hurley doesn't give up. Kameron Hurley is a fighter. Kameron Hurley is a brutal woman who fucking rocks. Do NOT ever forget that.

As you know, I've been to that place: where you're literally convinced that you're losing your damn mind, where everything good in your life feels one step from the edge and everything bad feels like it will crush you. For the longest time (and occasionally still), I was convinced that I was undeserving on happiness. Sure, on an intellectual level I knew that was wrong but at an emotional level I was positive. The first time my best friend asked me out I said no out of fear that I'd lose him *when* (not if) we broke up...less than a year into our relationship, I tried to leave him so that he couldn't leave me first...and a few months before our two year anniversery, I had a crying, hysterical panic attack because that was the point in my relationships where "everything always gets screwed up."

However, at the risk of sounding cheese-tastic, someone did come along who made it all worthwhile. Sure, I did all the work myself but my best friend stood by--it was all he could do. He couldn't make me magically wake up and be over my commitment issues but he was there to remind me that it wasn't impossible. For three years, he held my hand and stood by me while I figured out who my friends were (not just the people I spent time with), who my family was (not just the people I shared blood with) and who I was.

A big part of that was getting over the "either/or" line of thinking. You can be both an independent yet devoted partner just as you can be a strong yet needy person--relationships are a balance. A Fucking Tough Balance, but a balance all the same. You are very lucky to have Jen, in that she loves you enough to be brutally honest. Take the gift she's given you and run with it--Such honestly propels progress because we can no longer stick our heads in the sand.

What am I trying to say?

It doesn't make you weak to admit fear.

It doesn't make you dependent to want someone to rely on.

You can do this.

David Moles said...

As long as you can still say things like the whole diabetes bullshit, K, I think you’re gonna be all right.

Susan said...

I'm at four years and counting, trying to figure out how to actually be in this relationship I'm in (rather than holding myself back from it and keeping my exit strategies in mind) while still keeping my own sense of self. You and I don't probably know each other well enough that you'd be interested in talking about it with me, but if you are, I'd be happy to.

Jeremy said...

I'd apply a patch to your next relationship early on: "I'm perfectly happy being with you, but if you start talking about commitment, I will flake out. Let's not talk about it." Just as a stopgap maneuver, perhaps. 

Posted by JeremyT

Kameron Hurley said...

Jeremy - yea, I'd think anybody interested in ever being involved with me again would need to be pretty well informed about where my trigger points are. I try to be really honest up front, but either nobody believes me, or they just don't understand me, and it all goes to shit.

I guess that's always the thing I didn't understand: I can be very happy in a relationship and say I'm very happy and be affectionate and goofy and be there for someone, but there's always something *more* that everyone wants from me, and I never know what it is. I guess it's "commitment." I don't know, I guess, because I'm not sure what that means. I mean, "We'll be together until this situation is no longer workable" is commitment, to me. Again, if you've got affection, monogamy, and "it's just us until things are crap" is commitment. I guess what people want to hear from me is that I'll be there even if things go to crap.

And, you know: if I believe a relationship I'm in is bad for one or both partners, or not right, I'll end it. I've been accused of giving up too easily, but the two relationships I had before Jenn, I let things go on waaaaay too long, always thinking, "It'll get better, it'll get better. Relationships are just hard." Instead of going, "Oh, we're *really* not right for each other, and are, in fact, doing one another more harm than good."

Steph - thanks for the reminder. I've been feeling like about eight kinds of shit for a long time now, and the either/or place is really where I'm at with so many things in my life. I'm always feeling like something has to give. I'm sort of a wreck. A functioning wreck, and a far healthier wreck, now, but the bad days are still very bad, and god knows I don't want to drag anybody through those any more than I have to. It's probably another reason why - now, more than ever - I enjoy time to myself so much.

Susan - yea, one on one is a little harder for me than random blabbing to an audience, but thanks for the offer. I may take you up on it sometime...