I’ll Have an Order of Failed Relationships: My Piece of the Pie that Crumbles

I recognize that it looks really dodgy that after a few posts blasting on nice guys that I just up and went MIA. Probably appeared like I was running away in guilt. Or maybe instead of being like, “That’s right you awful person, RUN!” you were thinking one of those nice guys came back and finally got me. It’s not like I haven’t had dreams like that.

Honestly, after writing the nice guys series, I started working on some posts about failed relationships from the perspective of what I contributed. But shit got busy and this post remained unfinished.

Those of you following me on social media know that the business I started in the fall really cranked up and unfortunately the personal writing fell by the wayside. Mostly. I mean I did start (or at least title) 11 new posts for Another.Blog.; I did still write some of my posts for the Mom’s blog, and I started another novel. But it certainly was not the regular, nearly-every-day writing that I had been doing.

True story: it was kind of easy to not feel too guilty about that because now I’m writing every day for my business and I fucking love it. It’s awesome. Still, there is a much different joy that writing for myself brings me and so now on a Sunday morning, big breakfast in my belly and a hot cup of coffee in one hand, I’m sitting down to return to my writing and picking up where I left off.

So, it seems only fair that after blasting nice guys in the last three posts that I take my own bullet. Here goes:

I’m not perfect. I mean I eluded to it in the first couple of nice guy posts. I talked about how I didn’t believe I deserved a nice guy in the first post and was pretty crappy to him.  Then I mentioned how I was also kind of a people-pleasing twit in the second post which only aided and abetted the ridiculousness and chaos of a lot of my failed relationships.

If I really want to get real about it all, here are the pieces of the pie that I bring to failed relationships:

1.  I’m a nurturer. To a fault.

Whether you believe I can be a nurturer or not with this sassy, cuss-word-loving mouth, the strength of opinion, confidence, etc. the truth is, I am. Truly. I’m a caretaker. I even have enneagram results that prove it. You’re sick, I want to bring you homemade chicken soup. You’re having a bad day, I want to brighten it. You need someone to vent to, I want to listen. Can’t sleep, I want you to feel like you can call me up in the middle of the night and tell me what’s happening. The world is crashing around you, I want to hold that fucking world up. The problem is, as a nurturer, I often place myself last.

And while I’m placing myself last, I’m allowing others to as well. Why? Cause I’m not allowing them to take care of themselves and I’m also not communicating that I have any needs. In being consistently there in that nurturing role, those partners I’ve chosen have grown accustomed to my always handling everything. Their needs alongside my ever-growing to-do list. But not necessarily my own needs. I set up a dynamic where I give, they take, and I look like I’m getting back what I want because what it looks like I want is to take care of them.

nurturing can lead to failed relationships
This was illustrative of my point but at the same time, I’m wondering why this woman is carrying a globe into the field.

2.  I’m uncomfortable with confrontation.

Now I really know you’re shocked. By all intents and purposes, I come across like I would get into a scuffle pretty damn quick if needed. Sure, I’ve got my opinions. Sure, I carry myself and project an air of confidence and an ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude. But that isn’t what I mean by confrontational. I don’t mean standing up for my opinion about women’s rights. Or getting into a fight defending someone’s honor or safety. I mean facing hard talks and saying out loud the things that might hurt the feelings of the people that matter most to me. If I think it’s going to cause the recipient to feel terrible about themselves, then rather than have my need met by telling them that one thing I need them to do differently, I’m not going to say a damn thing.

3. I’m a conflict-adverse diplomat.

I’m excellent at reading the temperature of the room and the people. So, even if I’m going to get brave enough to attempt to talk about the problem I’m having, I’m going to find the perfect and most intentional way of saying it so that it doesn’t sound like I’m attacking them. And if that doesn’t work and the conversation takes a nose dive, I’m going to be able to see that other person can’t actually hear what I’m trying to say and so I’ll use tactics to bring the conversation and mood back to regularity.

Hence, I’m conflict-adverse. These aren’t necessarily bad skills to have. We need people who can deescalate situations and keep cool in heated debates. The problem is that once I put out the fire, I don’t stoke that fire ever again. I see it as I tried and failed so what’s the point of saying anything a second time?

4. My therapist calls this shelving.

The taking something that bothers me or should be addressed and sticking it up on a high shelf where it’s out of sight and out of mind, collecting dust. It probably won’t ever be used. Why? ‘Cause I’ll tell myself it’s too high to reach; it’s not really that necessary that I get up there and pull it down, or any number of other things. Why? Cause I’m a nurturing, non-confrontational, diplomatic, ninny.

The problem with all of four of those things combined is that it means my own internal garbage and dissatisfaction just lays dormant until they can’t anymore.

I’m a high-performer even under the most stressful of situations or in the wake of the most traumatic experiences. My roommate died when I was a Sophomore in college. I still got straight As. I was sexually assaulted when I was 20, I stayed on campus anyway. PTSD set in my senior year of college, but I still pulled off getting into a PsyD program at a prestigious NH school and graduating that spring with two bachelor’s degrees. A few years later, within the same month that I got engaged and started planning a wedding, I also started a new job and bought my first house. When I was pregnant with my son, I was laid off from my job because our company had been acquired.

Seriously, I can hold a lot of shit together and seem fine.

I can be downright successful and appear super fucking happy and most people wouldn’t be the wiser. Probably cause really I’m showing up to take care of everyone around me and I’m super uncomfortable feeling uncomfortable. (Who isn’t?) I can seem okay because ultimately that’s what I want to be: okay. You know that whole thing where they say if you smile at yourself in the mirror even when you don’t feel happy, you’ll actually start to change the chemistry in your brain and eventually believe that you are happy. It’s like that. Seriously, it’s true. Look it up.

I’ve been told that my strength and resiliency is one to be admired. I suppose that could be true. But it’s only partially strength. The other part is just really amazing defense mechanisms: internalization; compartmentalization; denial; etc. These things keep me going and high performing which is useful in most other areas of my life. But they’re not necessarily good interpersonally when applied within the context of an intimate relationship.

Complicate that with I don’t like to appear weak or vulnerable. Something I’m also working on.

journaling about failed relationships
Writing is my largest demonstration of practicing being comfortable with my own vulnerability.

For the longest time, I used to think that weakness and vulnerability were evident by crying. Nothing was worse than crying in front of other people or other people knowing I was or had been crying. And I was easily pegged. Being blue-eyed, as soon as I’m teary the whites of my eyes go pink. I also cry when I get really angry which seemed even worse. Crying in front of others was shameful to me.

Forget that it could mean something was deeply wounded within my soul. Forget that it could mean I needed a hug or to be heard or to be human. Crying was like the illustration of incapable. While I have come to realize that none of this is true, I still struggle with crying in front of others. To truly let go. Be raw. And be real. And my whole thing is to try to be authentic. To be brave.

And so there I am maybe with a bone to pick. Maybe with something seriously bothering me. But no outward social cues for the other person.

No crying for them to witness. No disgruntled mumblings or angry confrontations. Not even silent treatment. Because I might keep shit locked down inside myself, but I don’t take it out on others. The wisest and most intuitive partners (of which there have been very few) can tell when something is up. When my tone isn’t quite normal or my way of holding a conversation not quite the same. Those who really want and can handle the truth will stop at nothing until I’m forced to say what’s going on. That is good for me even though painful for both of us.

A majority, however, has not pushed me to talk because truthfully they don’t want to know or don’t know how to go there. They likely don’t want to know because they’re worried it will be about them. If it’s about them, it can’t be good. If it’s about them, what does it mean about who they are? And so it comes back down to their own insecurities and esteem which was probably the thing I was trying to help nurture in them, to begin with.

You can see how this ends up being a real fucking mess.

So all of that dormant-laying shit goes unsaid and starts to creep up but I haven’t said a word. Or at least not enough words or not enough times. And I’ve also appeared happy (or at minimum fine) this whole time.

I carry on as normally as possible, doing all the same things I usually do because I’m trying that whole smile-method on my relationship and hoping like hell it will work. I’m telling them and me that everything is fine. Or that it’s just a phase. We keep tottering along a little while longer.

But I find myself getting more irritated with them even with the things that aren’t the issue. I find that my light isn’t quite as lit as it once was. I’ve grown a little bored. I’ve grown a little tired. I start to wonder if I made the right choice. I become way less accepting of the role I’ve allowed myself to take on. The nurturer, caretaker. And as a result way less accepting of myself for being such a pushover and establishing the gender-stereotyped role of woman as a caregiver of all things. I start to push on the order we’ve set up, realizing that I don’t like it. Even though I’ve helped to create it. Maybe even spearheaded that shit.

What happens when you push on the order of things? It has a ripple effect like pushing the last Domino in the chain.

domino effect in a failed relationship
Worst game of Dominoes ever.

They begin to wonder where all of this sudden change has come from. What did they do, exactly? And some push back, naturally, because it’s unfair and it’s confusing and it doesn’t make sense. All true. But at that point, I’m so done I don’t even want to bother to try to explain it. I don’t want to try to fix it because to me it was broken a long time ago. And I don’t even know anymore if I want to fix it. Because even while I’ve been a real asshole just by being a nonconfrontational-incommunicative-people-pleasing-high-performer, I’ve also come to realize that I’ve just not been with the right people either.

In enters from stage left: complete and utter devastation followed by failed relationships.

There’s a lot of pressure when you’re heading into adulthood about whether you’ll get married and find the right partner. We often call this person “the one.” As a child, I found this ridiculously romantic. As an adult, I realized after talking to a pragmatic friend how silly that was. In a world of 7.5 billion people, how was it that we all only had one partner that would be right for us and classified as our “one and only.” What did that mean for people who lost love to death? That they would now be eternally-without “the one” assuming they had “the one” to begin with? I began to have serious issues with this idea.

But. Nevertheless. I looked at each partner as to whether or not they could fulfill the very core of my soul. Even if I didn’t necessarily believe any longer in “the one” as the only, I still believed in the soul part. Depth. Intimacy. Chemistry. So I still looked for “the one” in some manner of speaking. And I looked at them as to how they would or wouldn’t, did or didn’t, live up to that expectation or standard.

What I failed to do was ask myself – truly and honestly – what kind of partner would I be to them?

I felt like I was a good catch. I was ambitious. Smart. Fun. Understanding. A good listener. Caring and thoughtful. Nurturing. A damn good cheerleader. Charismatic and energetic. And I brought all the domestic niceties to the table (cooking, cleaning, decorating, keeping house). Certainly, this should mean my qualifications for being a good partner were above-average.

Any of us can look good on paper. But we all have a healthy dose of bull shit and dysfunction. Stemming from who knows where or when, but it’s there in all of us.

Failed relationship after failed relationship. The problem was never just them, but also me.

While I had spent my life in search of “the one” it never occurred to me they would be looking for that, too. To me, these romantic notions were not promoted to men. They were only women’s ideals of relationships. A narrow mindset, yes, but I’m being honest. So it didn’t occur to me that it wasn’t just up to them to be my “one” but vice versa.

failed relationships make you go "ugh"
Seriously, does anyone else recognize their own sabotaging bull shit and have no other words for it but “Ugh”?

As much as each relationship proved that these partners weren’t “the one” for me, it also proved I wasn’t “the one” for them. Neither of us was coming through for the other.

I somehow thought that in keeping the peace or always saying yes or being able to tolerate a lot was a way of unconditionally loving them. Of allowing them to be exactly who they were and being accepting of that. But a whole lot of my self was left unnurtured as a result. I didn’t set boundaries. I didn’t communicate my needs.

It’s been easy to pin the majority of my failed relationships on the people I’ve been with because a lot of them have been so unstable or entirely too emotionally dependent. But that’s the easy way out. It’s not untrue. I did have partners who failed me. It’s also true that I didn’t choose the right partners to begin with. But it’s unfair that they hold all the blame.

I’ve contributed my own heaping amounts of unhealthy ingredients to the failed relationship pie that’s been running as a special on my menu for decades.

Now it’s time to change up the recipe.

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