CW: Perceived negative relationship dynamics
My parents’ opposing personalities frequently put them at odds with one another — something that can, in an oversimplified way, be seen as my dad often treating my mom horribly, but also loving her more than I have ever seen anybody love another person. My sibling likes to talk about how we are both “relationship-fucked-up” as a result of growing up around this dynamic.
Watching their behavior my whole life has influenced my perception of what is “normal” in a relationship and therefore what I expect for myself. I see two main trends in my college-age approach to relationships. First, I am only interested in people with qualities similar to my dad’s: outgoing, popular, desirable, and charming. Second, I tolerate and often try to gain the love of people who sometimes treat me poorly.
These two trends, which I am sure will ebb and flow as I mature, have left me feeling particularly “stuck” this semester.
Though I realize dating is a necessary component of meeting new people and finding someone who is “good” for me, the effort required fills me with dread, to the point that I do not date. This phenomenon leaves me feeling trapped, as if I have closed the door on potential happiness. Not meeting new people also leaves me infatuated with previous hookups, even when they have made their disinterest clear.
I have spent a lot of time concerned about my waning interest in dating. I worried that perhaps I was losing my sex drive, but but there are people I want to hook up with. I worried that maybe I had gained some new debilitating anxiety, but this semester I had still gone through with hookups even if I was anxious beforehand. I worried that I was still not over the high school boyfriend, but I felt my lingering interest in him plummet when he invited his girlfriend to Thanksgiving dinner at my best friend’s house.
I was excited to realize that my lack of desire to pursue new people was not a sign of something “wrong” with me, but instead a sign that I am okay being alone.
I spent nearly all of my first and second years at Pomona College in a perpetual frenzy to find someone, so the possibility that I now find my own company adequate had not occurred to me as a possible reason why I had no impetus to go on dates.
I recently had a hookup experience that exemplified this revelation.
Over Thanksgiving break, I hung out with a 28-year-old whom I have had a crush on for three years. He is the embodiment of every quality I reluctantly, yet inexorably, find attractive. His good looks and charm, coupled with his ability to make me feel chosen, made it easy for me to become obsessed. Over the summer, I would speak to 10-20 people everyday who felt the same way I did. Some would cry based entirely on how he decided to look at them on any given day.
I set my sights on him. Though I would usually try to date someone with qualities like his, this time I was only interested in hooking up.
Hooking up with him was an overwhelmingly positive experience.
My understanding of my newfound willingness to be alone arose the next day. Normally after any hookup, I immediately start to obsess over whether or not the person will want to see me again. Instead, the day after hanging out with him, I thought, “Wow, I just had sex with a 28-year-old man who doesn’t care about me at all. I am truly so alone.”
That thought may sound negative, and to be honest, it did feel terribly lonely in the moment. But for me, having that thought instead of wanting to pursue him, was significant personal progress. I opted not to pursue someone who I knew wasn’t good for me, and who would almost certainly reject me in the future.
Though I definitely am currently “relationship-fucked-up” with my attractions, my recent willingness to not pursue them, and instead be alone, is a step in the right direction.
In retrospect, I realize that the way I felt and behaved during the hookup was different than usual. I did not spend a lot of time talking to him, I was confident in what I wanted that night, and I did not sleep over. The fact that he was grown, and also sometimes outwardly misogynistic, certainly aided in this “distance,” but in the end, I was there for sex just as much as he was.
I always thought that I would measure my ability to get away from my parents’ relationship by dating a “nice” guy as different as possible from the men in my family. However, I realize now that such a goal focuses much more on someone else than it does on me.
I think that progress can show itself in subtle ways that are easy to miss. However, counting the small steps, like honestly labeling your experience rather than decorating it with your anxieties and wishes afterward, is important, too.
Micaela Macagnone is a third year at Pomona College majoring in international relations. She is from New York City and misses bacon eggs and cheese sandwiches everyday.