I've had an interesting experience with romance over the years. I know you may wonder what place the discussion of my romantic past has on a mental health blog, but I think one's experience with love and all its politics can have a long-lasting impact on one's self-esteem and perception of and interaction with the world.
Like many people, I have had my share of crushes. Unlike most people, however, I've never actually dated anyone. This may be in part because of my social anxiety, but it's mostly just due to circumstances throughout my adolescence and adult years. Finding someone who you are attracted to, who you are able to get to know well and spend time with, and who also finds you attractive is really a series of lucky coincidences, if you think about it. I've surprised it happens as often as it does. Anyways, I never had many friends period, much less knew any guys, and for some reason mostly only knew girls who didn't know any guys either. I just haven't had much opportunity to get to know guys, and when I do get the chance, I either get shy and let the opportunity pass or, more often, try really hard to come out of my shell only to find that the guy I like is uninterested (or even shy himself).
I will leave the summary of my romantic life at this level of vagueness. One particular relationship I will go into, however. It started in the fall of my junior year of college; a friend who helped run a choir I had just joined that year let me know that there was another guy joining who reminded her of me in many ways, and who she thought I would be a good fit with. My curiosity was piqued, of course, and I was eager to meet him, and made many efforts to try and get to know him as the choir began to practice and hang out. He seemed to slowly open up and be pretty receptive to my friendship. He came to support me at a coffeehouse performance I did. I was ecstatic over the budding relationship, hopeful for the future, and enamored with the guy's good qualities and handsome facade.
The relationship plateaued, however, and I found out from a mutual friend over winter break that he was actually interested in someone else. I'm still not really sure what happened, but my best guess is that he may have been interested in me early on, but lost the desire to get to know me better as his relationship with the more readily-available girl developed. The choir we were in forbade dating among current members, so luck was not exactly on my side either. Anyways, when I found out, I was truly devastated. I had really high hopes for the whole thing and I had come to really admire the guy and he seemed a lot better quality than any of the other duds I had tried to connect with (oh to be young and naive! None of these were true.) And it just hurts to be rejected in favor of another girl who isn't particularly impressive.
A little before I got the bad news, as luck would have it, I had begun to sink into a renewed state of clinical depression, probably because I had been on a medication for six months that I was unable to process and having a bad reaction to. My worst bout of depression to date occurred for the next year, and to top things off, I couldn't shake my feelings for this guy whose feelings were now engaged elsewhere. It was one of those situations where you keep getting little glimpses of hope that he does like you, or reminders of what you love about him, and are just too fixated on what you want to see that you're not going to get it (and maybe it wouldn't even be good if you did). A bit of an in-love-with-lost-causes situation.
I had a lot of emotional turmoil and highs and lows related to my relationship with this guy, made worse by poor coping mechanisms and my general state of anguish, emotional instability, low self-esteem, and overwhelm. I couldn't deal with all of the emotions I felt and the intense sadness and hopelessness I was confronted with each day. The distress over the guy made things even worse, and sometimes I turned to self-injury to deal with the intense pain and feelings of worthlessness. It's tricky to deal with a relationship where a person just often enough says or does something sweet to show that they care about you and are concerned about what you're going through, but then turns around and subtly belittles you or ignores you or neglects you the rest of the time. It's hard to garner the strength and conviction to cut the relationship off, and it's easy to blame yourself for the issues in the relationship and remain blind to the faults and callousness of the other party.
However, I slowly became disillusioned, until one afternoon after a choir performance, a small interaction with him, a simple, one-minute exchange that spoke volumes to his character and regard for me, broke the enchantment. The action itself wasn't a deal breaker - it was quite trivial - but it just struck me like a slap in the face that he didn't really care that much about me and he didn't feel bad about putting me down. He looked down on me. He didn't bother to be friends or get to know me any more. He didn't mind being rude and didn't take my feelings into consideration. He saw me as a stupid, annoying girl and would rather talk with the big boys and spend all his time trying to prove himself. Maybe I exaggerate a bit, but it was both saddening and freeing to realize that I needed to walk away. I was free of a cage, but it was cage I had wanted to live in, and outside it, I wasn't sure what direction to take.
Things were never quite the same after that; I started to cut ties to him in my heart and in real-life interactions. After I left school, I stopped contacting him and I even unfriended him on Facebook because it was too difficult emotionally to keep seeing reminders and too tempting to have the opportunity to track what he was doing. While I no longer found myself attracted to him, I still felt extraordinarily angry over what had happened, eager to prove to him that he had let a good one get away, desirous that he should one day see the pain he caused me, and bitter over his (in my eyes) less-than-worthy girlfriend. I still wondered why I wasn't good enough. I still grappled with the insecurity that had embedded itself in my heart. I still simmered with canned rage over the injustice of it all.
Most of those emotions got buried under the weight of time and more medication, occasionally to resurface. I felt myself change as I exited adolescence (and went on a drug that killed my romantic and sexual desires) and my thoughts and hormones that had driven me to constantly need the stimulation of a romantic interest to calm down some. I began to adjust to my new situation in life; my life plan and expectations had been completely demolished with one swipe of fate. For years, I had assumed that I would graduate from the college I had loved so dearly at four years of hard work and pleasant camaraderie. I would get engaged my senior year like so many girls I saw. I would get married the summer after graduation. I would get some entry-level job that semi-interested me and work for a couple years until the hub-a-dub-dubs and I decided to start popping out the babies, when I would become a stay-at-home mom for the next twenty years, living off of my handsome, hopefully well-earning husband's income.
Boom. Zapped off of the map. Not even one fragment was left. I had left school, where nothing had really worked out the way I had hoped anyways. I hadn't dated anyone and had no prospects of anyone to date, much less marry, and I was realizing that I didn't even like children that much. It slowly dawned on me that I was going to need to have my own career and that I might never get married at all. Actually, I may have even already decided that I might not even want to get married at all. The more I reflected on my failed romances and disappointment and disillusionment of yore, the more I realized that the majority of the guys I had met, though considered kind, humble, attractive, saintly guys by most standards, were actually kind of arrogant, closed off, and self-absorbed once you looked under the surface niceties.
In some ways though, I continued my quest for somebody to have and to hold. I still occasionally dreamt up scenarios of meeting a guy or found myself hoping that maybe Mr. Right would walk into the cafe during lunch that day, etc. Most notably, I kept in contact with one guy friend from school. It was all strictly friendly banter, but I let my mind wander rarely to the possibilities...Hadn't we had some fun conversations here and there? Wasn't our sense of humor a bit similar? And what about that one time when he came to my show? Or when he told me...
But one day I realized: I was doing the same thing all over again. I was hoping that someone who really didn't care that much about me romantically would change their mind. I was pinning my hope and emotional well-being on someone who didn't particularly concern himself with mine. He may like me well enough and care about my well-being, but does he care enough to pursue a deeper relationship or to put himself out on the line? He never contacted me of his own accord, after all. If he really wasn't that interested in me, I would just make myself miserable trying to wish him into romantic interest, just like I had with the other guys.
I gradually came into a shift in my thinking about romantic relationships as I realized that previously, my goal had been just to have one when in reality it should be to find the right one. I realized that the idea of linking myself to one person for the rest of our lives was crazy - not to say that it shouldn't be done, but to say that it shouldn't be done lightly. With the romantic relationship obsession that is still present in many facets of society, it's easy to just want to find someone who's good enough to date so we can have someone. I decided to flip my perspective to look at things this way: I was finally content being single, so I should not be induced into getting emotionally involved with someone unless that person really demonstrated character traits I had come to find highly desirable, even necessary, in a life partner, and unless that person really appreciated and respected me as a person.
I know the natural reaction to this is, "Well, enjoy being single then cuz you're not going to find anybody with those standards!" But that's just it - why do I have to find somebody...anybody? Why connect myself with someone permanently such that my emotional well-being is compromised because of his lack of interest or character or compassion just so that I can have a significant other. With the majority of the guys who I've liked, I look back and feel relieved that nothing happened between us, in light of the bad traits that I finally stopped ignoring once I was able to stop liking him.
No more would I carry around a burden of feeling like I didn't deserve romantic relationships or I was undesirable; now I was going to live my life to the fullest and explore the possibilities before me. If I one day came across someone who recognized that I was a person worth being with, then I would be open to exploring that avenue, but I was no longer going to torture myself by harboring feelings for people who weren't invested in me, pinning my hopes for happiness on the unlikely chance that one day they would change their mind.