Monday, June 7, 2010

The Balance of Independence

In my journey through the abyss, one of the things I've not written about is my relationship with the man I started dating in late October. That's been by design: given that he's an equal part of it, I didn't think it fair to be sharing my thoughts and feelings publicly, even to the few who read the blog on a sporadic basis. I guess it's all part of the "if you have something to say about someone, tell them, not the rest of the world" mantra.

Well, this one kind of skirts my usual approach, as the current state of the relationship has raised a lot of very basic questions about me and the way I interact with the people who get close to me.

First off, as background: he's a wonderful man to be in relationship with. Thoughtful, affectionate, heart on his sleeve, very bright, likes to explore and is open to doing so many different and interesting things. We have complementary senses of humor and think very similarly -- sometimes it's spooky how alike we can be, in the right ways. And he's very caring, open about his feelings and his regard for me. He's not put off or intimidated by my intelligence and, in fact, takes pride in it. He's made it very clear that he sees long-term potential and wants a committed relationship. I've been thinking that way, too, as scary as that can feel for me. And I've been happy for it.

The first six months were, for the large part, bliss. We spend the weekends together and there's been a lot of the sloppy, goopy being-in-love kind of behavior that makes the start of a good relationship so much fun. You know how it goes - even when just watching TV or walking around the city, there's lots of casual, loving contact, and you tend to do a lot of stuff in tandem.

That said, we've had our moments of disagreement, misunderstandings, what have you. While I've overlooked much of the inconsequential stuff (I'm just as apt to make silly mistakes as he is), there have been one or two things that felt like narcissistic tendencies at the time, and I'm very sensitive to that, given my history of involvement with narcissists. And we haven't seemed to be able to make the transition from doing absolutely everything together to being able to be in the same room doing different things. Being so accustomed to going solo, I like having a little time to do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle without being otherwise distracted.

It's a high-class problem, especially for someone who doesn't enter relationships quickly or lightly, right? Somehow, though, it's become an issue. A big issue. I had to admit to feeling a bit smothered by all of the attention; he told me that if I needed some time to do stuff solo, I needed to find him something to do during that time. That seemed a little weird. He's an adult and should be able to figure something out. His answer was to leave for a few hours, which felt a bit extreme. All I'm really asking for is a half hour to do something without being prodded for my undivided attention.

He's as much of an internet junkie as I am, and he admitted he went on a web board to post his frustration on the topic and get some input. The big idea from that was for us to take a week off from seeing each other. Since Edison Day was going to take up the bulk of my time on June 5, we considered taking the break that weekend, rather than spending the Memorial Day weekend apart.

Then in a serious conversation last Sunday, he admitted that he'd gone from feeling very committed to the relationship to taking more of a wait-and-see approach. That hit me like a brick. For the first time, it seemed that there was a fair chance it all would end, just as I'd seen other relationships fall apart at the six or seven month point. Is it just a natural breaking point between two people who ultimately aren't meant to be together, or is it a pattern with me? Somehow I was able to recover and distract myself from those thoughts, and we had a good afternoon and Memorial Day, but the aftertaste of that discussion lingered.

I wasn't entirely sure a break was necessary, but I ultimately agreed to it because he seemed to feel strongly about it. What I didn't realize was that he considered it to be a week off, from the point we agreed on it (last Tuesday) until sometime this week (undetermined). I only found this out when I sensed radio silence -- no e-mails, no calls -- and called on Thursday to find out what's up. Even then, I agreed to stick with the plan due to his feelings about it. I figured it was better to take advantage of my being tied up on Saturday (and likely exhausted that night, too) than to blow a whole weekend.

By Friday, though, I felt awful about it, and while I figured it was too late to pull the plug on it, I gave it a try. I called him that night to let him know I didn't like the idea very much. He seemed happy to hear that and admitted to feeling the same way. However, he'd already finagled himself an invitation for an activity on Sunday, and he didn't think it was right to back out. I had to respect that. Thus, I spent yesterday on my own.

I was still tired from Edison Day, and the impending rainstorms kept me indoors and brooding. Usually I over think relationship stuff, but this time I was doing a lot of feeling. Feeling alone, solitary, unhappy. I took a walk, as I have often done solo, and it only put things into starker relief. While I've taken so many lonely walks because I wasn't in relationship, this time I was doing it because I'd chosen to be alone when I didn't have to be. Some might even say I was pushing him away.

Truth is, I'm not incredibly good at this relationship stuff. So many times I've been told I'm a catch, and it's amazing that I'm not married. Yeah, while I'm pretty modest, I agree that I have a lot to offer. And I do want a good man in my life. So am I creating some sort of barrier? If so, why? I've gotten way too good at going solo, but that doesn't mean I have to stay that way.

I do wonder if, to some degree, some of my behavior might be seen as selfishness, maybe not making enough room in my life for him. On the most basic level, I am honestly not accustomed to having a man around and literally sharing my space. He has a tendency of bringing stuff over for the weekend, or buying movies, etc. for activities, and then leaves it here. I'm glad he feels at home here, and I've made space for him, but my apartment isn't all that big. It's cluttered enough without another person leaving stuff around. And he's, uh, sloppy in the bathroom, which I don't think he realizes. These are all fairly small things to resolve, admittedly, but they're poking at a deeper level. Might be some childhood thing of feeling encroached on or invaded, but definitely something I need to be conscious of. And see for what it is -- totally benign and unintentional coming from him.

On the pushing away or creating barriers -- that's been a tougher nut to crack, and one I attempted to get a handle on during years of therapy. No sure answers there, but knowing it's there is a start in changing it, I guess.

And when I think about it, I don't have a lot of experience in compromise. I've often been quick to get out of friendships/relationships when I perceive someone has done me wrong. The old "fool me once..." thing, thanks Mom. Intent here is everything, and sometimes I wonder if my gut is being outvoted by my stubbornness. There was one big thing he did to cause the whole narcissism thought to run through my head ... and while it took place at a crucial time for me, the truth is that he followed through exactly as he'd committed to. He kept his word. I didn't much like his grumpy attitude at the time, but when I discussed my fears (mostly of abandonment) with him later, he strongly confirmed that he never would have left me high and dry. In my heart, and from experience, I know he's different from those who've let me down. I can't treat him as if it's just a matter of time before he will, too.

I'd like to see where this takes us, but I'm also wondering how long he'll hold out ... and if I can stop the cycle of pushing away.


  1. It's not you, it's him. YOU have to find something for him to do if you want some time to yourself? What?! And doesn't he have his own place? Maybe you should start bringing stuff over to his house and spending time at his place. (and messing up his bathroom) And how does your cat feel about him?

  2. I wouldn't be so concerned (and I do agree with you on the 'stuff' issue), but this is a recurring pattern with me ... not the first time I've had these issues arise in a relationship. I'm not making excuses for him, just trying to work myself out.

    And actually, Hattie likes him a lot. Fortunately he grasped the 'love me, love my cat' concept right off the bat. =^..^=

  3. Don't know all the ins and outs of your prior relationships or your present one so I can't comment on that. I am a guy and I know that guys like their stuff where they spend time. It makes us feel at home. And as guys we don't see the mess. If you think this could be "it" , give him and yourself a chance. Just be carefull not to give everything. Please forgive my arrogance in presuming to offer advice on a relationship I know nothing about, but I do know something about relationships...They are never what we expect, and they are never easy. But the good ones get easier. Good luck

  4. Hey, Norris - thanks for your comments, and no arrogance perceived! Things have been going pretty well since I made this post, we've had some good talks and I think a good foundation is solidifying. Anything good takes some work, right?