Single for Life
I wrote this in 2016 because I’m often need to remind myself that I’m supposed to be my own superhero, especially in my relationship. Too often I’m encouraged to assume my partner will take care of me. That’s kind of a shitty burden to put on someone just because they love you. I appreciate that he offers. I love that we work together to solve our individual and couple problems.
But some of his problems are not my job to fix, and the same for me. Some shit we need to figure out for ourselves and it’s our partner’s job to be in our lives during that journey — unless the journey is toxic and dangerous for them. Then they need to bounce and take care of themselves.
I will never encourage anyone to stay in a harmful relationship. Even if it’s with me.
For a long time, I thought something was wrong with me because I’d never been in love. In fact, the first time I fell in love I was 28 years old and it was a hard fall. I’d fallen for a guy who treated me like his girlfriend but didn’t believe in defining relationships. He took me on dates, introduced me to his friends, and taught me what it was to hate someone for loving them. He told me he didn’t want to see me anymore over instant messenger while I was at work. I responded by shutting down my computer, leaving work, and going to his apartment where I knocked on his door until he opened it. I’m not quite sure what we talked about, but I walked away with the understanding that we were still sleeping together, even if we weren’t “together.” So, basically, nothing changed until the rage set in. It was all downhill from there.
Less than a year later I was seeing someone who I loved spending time with, but found out he was sleeping with another woman and lying to both of us about it. The funny part was that I never wanted to be exclusive, but went along with it because he said he wanted it. Then he cheated. I didn’t even care enough to get angry. I’m actually still cool with him today.
A year after that, I was seeing someone who actively pursued me. We had a ton in common and he actually asked me out on a date, a rarity in my experience. He wanted to have sex pretty early in the association, and I warned him that sex makes me disrespect men so we should wait. He didn’t care, so when the relationship evolved into booty calls, he struggled with it. Not because he wanted more, but because he didn’t know how to deal with a woman who didn’t want more. Eventually, he told me that I wanted too much and he had to walk away. But he wanted to be friends because I was fun.
That was the progression to me deciding to be permanently single. I was over people trying to force me to play games I had no interest in playing. I’m a very forthright person. I tell you where you stand with me. If you piss me off, I tell you. If you make me happy, I tell you. I do not play poker because I lack the ability to mask my emotions and honestly, while that is a skill that would help in the office, it’s not one I want to develop in my personal life.
After the pain of rejection and all that other nonsense, I decided that I didn’t want to be in a romantic relationship. Like, at all. I couldn’t make sense of it. People constantly lied, expected me to pretend to be something I wasn’t, and actively tried to compensate for the lies they assumed I would tell.
What the hell was that?
Even now, I still trip over that realization — that my dates expected me to lie to them and they were internally changing my answers to what they thought I really meant.
Can you talk about something doomed to fail? If this is modern dating, there is no wonder it fails so spectacularly.
And I used to argue about it. The number of times I’d have to tell my date to listen to what I said and not assume they knew what the fuck I meant was staggering. While I am not a true introvert, I do keep to myself quite a bit, mainly because I can’t deal with the bullshit social rules that are supposed to dictate my life. Dating and trying to meet new people would thrust me into the middle of a social dance to which I never learned the steps. I was aware the steps existed, but I thought they were bullshit, so I opted not to dance. Occasionally, I’d try dating again, but I eventually realized that it wasn’t really for me.
And while I’d decided to stop pursuing dating, I did make one concession. If someone asked me out on a legitimate, no bullshit date, I would go. That meant they couldn’t invite me to their place to watch a movie. They couldn’t suggest that we “hang out.” They had to lay it out there and actually declare interest in dating. Otherwise, fuck ’em. I’d been down the road of asking men out. They treated me like I was disposable when I approached them. Or they were intimidated that I didn’t “let them” ask first. Such stupid rules.
So for two years, no one asked me out. That is not to say I wasn’t invited to chill; I was. But that wasn’t a date so that person wasn’t datable. And I was completely upfront about this. I told people that all they had to do was ask me out and I’d say yes. Nobody did and it was actually a relief. I felt free to live my life however I wanted. I dressed however I felt. I participated in whatever I wanted. I gave zero fucks about what anyone thought about my hobbies or choices. I didn’t care if people thought I was datable.
I hadn’t realized how much of my life had been dictated by my “datability” until I stopped worrying about how my choices would be perceived. It was liberating and amazing. I became friends with my exes, which is all we should have been from the start. And I realized how many of my interactions with men were funneled into sexual or romantic relationships, unnecessarily. The sex was only in the story because that’s what men and women did together. Unless they were related…sometimes.
I realized the many ways people try to put you in a box, especially when it comes to male/female relationships. Even now, years later I feel like I am in this constant battle to define myself and my friendships instead of letting others define them for me. It’s fucked up that in order to embrace and love myself, I had to tell the world that I didn’t care if it loved me. I was going to love myself.
And it is with this attitude that I now navigate the world. And don’t get me wrong, the walls of the box spring up with every decision that I make. Like when I met my current partner — suddenly there were rules about who I could hang out with, or whether I cut my hair, and what costumes I wore. Except fuck that. I do what I want and anyone who wanted to be with me needed to understand that. I come first. It is, actually, all about me.
And it’s working. My partner and I have an understanding about my independence, my autonomy, and that he has no say over what I do, but we can talk about it. We make the “rules” about what’s acceptable in our relationship, and I ALWAYS prioritize my needs during these conversations. The “single for life” didn’t stick because I met someone who didn’t try to make me fit into some ideal girlfriend/lover/spouse. I am me and I handle my shit and he handles his shit and together, we handle our shit. And they are not all the same thing.
So when people tell me I’m selfish…fuck ‘em.
When people tell me I’m not being a good partner…fuck them, too.
Good partners are not ones who suppress themselves and their needs to accommodate someone else. Those are liars. Good partners are people who are honest with themselves and others about their needs and wants. They work with their partners to meet them. Good partners take care of themselves and don’t make decisions that build up resentment, or, when they do make those decisions, they check in with themselves and try to honestly and openly rectify it.
Good partners tell the truth and practice self-care. Bad partners lie and pretend everything is fine.
Part of the reason I’m thinking about this is because I have some friends re-entering the dating scene. I’m not worried for them. They are smart and capable people. I just want them to put themselves first. This is not an attitude promoted among women, but it needs to be. We are important and deserve to come first in our lives. You matter; you are the most important person in your relationship. You are your own best champion so when you make decisions, when you make choices, don’t think of the other person. Think of what you need and want FIRST. It’s not selfish, it’s protective. This is your life and it’s all about YOU.
This is how I navigate my relationship with my partner. I also encourage him to put himself first. If he chooses not to, I work with it, but he decides for himself how he wants to operate in our relationship and we find our common ground. Our contentment in the relationship is high and our resentment is low, which I am certain is due to the space we give each other to be ourselves. Our contentment fluctuates, because life and all, but we work hard to support each other without getting in the way.
If being single means I put myself first, then yeah, I’m single for life. Even married, I work through decisions as though I only need to worry about myself, and once I know how I really feel, I take my partner into consideration. My marriage doesn’t come first. I come first. It’s the only way to be sure that I am respecting my needs.
Call it selfish if you want — I can live with that. What I can’t live with is slowly sacrificing myself for the comfort of others. I love myself too much for that nonsense.
Originally published at talynnkel.com.