Monday, April 23, 2012
It's Healthy to Be Single
I field requests for relationship advice fairly often. I'm not sure what makes my friends think of me when they think "relationship problems". I don't know whether they see my marriage to Jill as some sort of high-water mark and assume that I have all the answers, or whether they know about my single days and think, "This guy has had every dating problem imaginable, so he can undoubtedly help me with my own."
A friend of ours broke up with her boyfriend a couple weeks ago. As I was the Sherpa that guided her through the early stages of this relationship, I understood that I would also be called upon to guide her out of it with her sanity and sense of self-worth intact. For the last couple weeks I talked her through it via emails, texts, and phone or face-to-face conversations. Much of what we've talked about has concerned her need to focus on herself rather than find another guy to be in a relationship with, date casually, or just fuck.
I didn't tell her to focus on herself; being an intelligent, fairly independent woman, she unsurprisingly came to this conclusion on her own. She understands that she cannot be in an emotionally healthy relationship if she is not emotionally healthy in the first place, and she plans to spend the next couple months working out, losing weight, and having fun in ways that do not involve dating. Our friend is fortunate to be able to see things from this perspective so easily. I have other friends who don't possess the same clarity.
While reading SexIs, EdenFantasys' online magazine, I came across this article. In it, the author discusses the importance of self-love. No, not masturbation, though that is an aspect of the article. Instead, she makes very clear that in order to love another person, one must first love oneself.
The mistaken notion that one's self-worth is measured by how he or she relates to another person, i.e. whether he or she is in a relationship, is unfortunately all too common. This misconception seems to stem from a deep-rooted lack of self-esteem; lack of a partner somehow implies for such people that they are not fit to be loved. In addition, the perceived security that comes from being coupled-up means that they are loathe to ever be single. Ironically, such security can be found in inequitable, manipulative, or even abusive relationships because, hey, it's better than being alone, isn't it?
Of her own experiences, the author states, "It seemed better to be in an unfulfilling relationship than to be alone. When I was single, I never knew when [I] was going to have sex again, or sleep next to someone, or even go on a date, and that uncertainty frightened me." To some extent I can relate to this. One of my favorite things about being in a relationship is regularity of sex. Even when I was in an unfulfilling relationship, I knew that it probably wouldn't be very long before I got laid again. However, this was never sufficient motivation to stay in such a situation, and I often found it more gratifying to challenge myself by leaving a bad relationship.
One could make the argument that women are more susceptible to this phenomenon, but it seems to transcend gender, socioeconomic status, and all other external factors. Our friend's ex-boyfriend, it turns out, is a perfect example of a man needing to constantly be in a relationship in order to feel good about himself. He spent a decade in a dysfunctional marriage, broke up with his wife after she cheated, and immediately found himself dating and then married to an emotionally distant, sexually manipulative woman whose treatment of him was for all intents and purposes abuse. He broke up with her - well, that's the story he's telling, anyway - and began dating our friend within a month or so.
During the relationship, he exhibited signs of very low self-esteem. Some of this was due to shame over financial issues, i.e. his not always being able to pay his own way on dates. The lion's share, I would assume, was in some way related to his constant flagellation by his two ex-wives. Whether his low self-esteem was caused by their mistreatment, or whether their mistreatment was enabled by his low self-esteem, one is irrevocably linked to the other. Though our friend loved him, he was incapable of reciprocating fully.
While discussing it with her on Saturday night, Jill and I both speculated that she was too far above his station, if you will. In other words - and I don't mean to sound like I'm passing judgment on the guy - she is superior. She is better educated, more career-minded and financially stable, and more socially-connected. He couldn't enter into the relationship with thoughts of possibly "saving" her, because unlike his two ex-wives, she had her life together and didn't need saving. That was likely a blow to his self-esteem. Why stick around if you're not getting the validation that you need from a relationship?
The same was true for our friend as well. Part of the reason that she broke up with him is because of his constant need for contact with, and approval of, his most recent ex-wife. Nothing wrong with being friends with an ex, but an ex with whom you parted on such acrimonious terms? Desperately needing to stay in touch with someone like that seems to further the notion that he had ingrained self-esteem deficiencies. Add to that the fact that he was perpetually half in and half out of the relationship, ostensibly drawn back toward his ex, who is herself engaged - though that is an entirely different cautionary tale - and you have a relationship that was perhaps doomed to crash before it ever left the ground.
The difference between our friend and her ex-boyfriend is that while she will do all the things she said she would - go to the gym five times a week, eat healthier, feel good about herself, and only get off with sex toys for awhile - I suspect that his course of action will be to immediately find someone else to date, and presumably marry far too soon. But if there's anyone who should understand the importance of being single, it's him. By all accounts, including his own, he hasn't had a relationship break for longer than a month in the past eighteen years. By falling into the same patterns, he will avoid challenging himself, prevent personal growth, and never truly be happy with himself for who he is. The author of the article says of her own codependent relationships, "No matter how many times they said 'I love you,' it was never enough, because I never really believed it." The reason for this appears to be because she did not love herself. The same is true with this guy.
I'm usually not the sort to take sides; part of giving useful relationship advice is remaining unbiased. That said, when a friend is involved some level of emotional investment is probably inevitable and Jill and I are in our friend's corner. Though I don't know if I'll see the guy ever again - we have dozens of mutual friends and social connections but aren't exactly friends ourselves - I can admit to worrying about him. He's a relatively young guy, and if he doesn't figure out how to love himself soon, he's got a long life of heartache ahead of him.
This post was sponsored by EdenFantasys.
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