An Addiction to Romance: A Relapse and Recovery

In my therapy training class last week, I said that I would rather drink arsenic than depend on a man for happiness. As an ardent feminist, I have always appreciated myself for finding deep fulfillment in hobbies, a passion for helping others, and close friends, no attachment to men necessary. Given these truths about myself, I felt quite frustrated when earlier this week I matched with this super attractive man named Robin on the patriarchal capitalist romance machine Tinder and grew kind of obsessed with him. His profile said that he enjoyed reading, writing, and helping people. I felt a small pit of despair open in my stomach. Its name: desire.

At this point, I could have therapied myself and accepted my attraction to him which may have reduced its intensity and negative long-term effects. Instead, I found his Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, all within the span of ten minutes. This is probably unhealthy, I thought to myself as I watched a video of him advocating for the equal treatment of disabled individuals in DC. It’s not stalking if he chose to publically share this information, I thought, as I found a picture of him with his ex-boyfriend and compared myself to his ex based on height, weight, and ability to convey personality over social media.

We exchanged a few messages, too. He made a joke about naming his bike Ariana Grande and I said that that would be an amazing choice that would help many people. I asked him what he was looking for on Tinder and he said he had just gotten out of a relationship, so he did not want something serious anytime soon. I said that I would rather not talk to him if he does not want something serious but if he ever does, he should feel free to message me. He said my honesty and directness would take me far in life and that I should “take care, handsome guy.” Dammit, I thought to myself, because if he had ghosted me or responded like a jerk, it would have been easier for me to despise him instead of my own desire for him.

I feel proud of myself for setting a healthy boundary with Robin, yet I still feel this desire to message him, to check his Twitter, to write long and melodramatic blog posts about my longing for him to interact, somehow. What gives?

crazy ex girlfriend poster

For those interested in issues of romantic obsession, mental health, and/or feminism: I would highly recommend the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The show is so relevant to this post.

From a young age, I had always been given the same narrative: that I should want a man, or some romantic partner, to feel attracted to me and complete me. From Disney movies to books by some of my favorite YA authors like Sarah Dessen and Cassandra Clare, I lived vicariously through so many characters who ended up with a man. Men acted as the catalysts of characters’ growth (she was doing okay, and then one day, she met him), the addictive sources of tension (will they end up together? will they not?), and the happily ever after. Even the most independent and headstrong characters eventually ended up with a man. This prioritization of romance happens in gay novels and films too, where so many gay men do not learn to love themselves until they fall in love with someone else, even if the relationship is unhealthy. It’s no wonder that so many of us aim to replicate these learned narratives in real life, through engagement announces and weddings, proclamations of romantic love via social media, and turning to dating apps and romance to fill the time, to fill ourselves.

It feels like, over time, these stories have seeped into my skin and into the collective consciousness of most of my more feminine friends. The large majority of people I know who are dating men have not been happy without a male romantic partner and went through several damaging relationships with mediocre men before settling into their current relationship. So many articles talk about how we can change ourselves – our weight, the way we talk, etc. – to appeal to the male gaze, so we can get men to love us. Since moving to DC, I have gone on quite a few dates, even with men who did not really excite me that much, justifying the time I spent with them based on how they had some meaningful work or read books or cared a little bit about social justice. I regret the time I spent with these men. But I also try to practice self-compassion and not blame myself for deciding to meet them. Even if I know about the triteness of the romantic narrative, it can still feel shitty to get left out of it.

awk snapchat selfie of me with the recovering by leslie jamison

Awk selfie of me with The Recovering by Leslie Jamison, a book I’m currently reading about addiction to alcohol, and also, in a lesser yet still important way, men.

I want more narratives. I want stories about people who find contentment and happiness without a man – not just for a few years, but for many years, maybe forever years. I want narratives that involve creating intimacy and fulfillment with friends, or art, or a deep, hard-earned comfort with oneself. I have a few role models who have practiced this lifestyle, such as Hanya Yanagihara, who does not believe in marriage and dedicated her stunning novel A Little Life to her best friend, Jared Hohlt, and iconic writer Caroline Knapp, who detailed how she recovered from anorexia through honoring her desires and discovering healthy alternatives to starving, alcohol, and men. Still, I want more of these stories, to compensate for a literary canon deluged in repetitions of the same romantic plotlines.

Will I never date? If a guy comes around who matches my values of compassion and social justice – similar to how my closest friends do – I would not turn him down right away. But I do not want to wait for a man for my life to begin; in the words of my queen Ariana Grande, I want “to die alive, never by the hands of a broken heart”, wondering if a man will ever love me. As Leslie Jamison writes in The Recovering, “the more you start to need a thing, whether it’s a man or a bottle of wine, the more you are unwittingly – reflexively, implicitly – convincing yourself you’re not enough without it.” A reframe the question of whether I will date: how will I work on my relationship with myself, the one person I will have to date for the rest of my life no matter what?

Toni Morrison wrote that “if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I notice that I have written quite a few posts about men over the past couple of years, and in some ways, they answer Morrison’s call. These posts show my struggle and my journey to resist the patriarchal notion that I require a romance with a man to feel complete. At the same time, though, they highlight how I have felt very content and satisfied without a romance with a man: without a romantic relationship, I have gone to therapy and addressed my mental health issues, I have cultivated amazing friendships, I have read many wonderful books, and more. I want to immortalize some of my favorite moments over the past few months here and honor how happy they have made me: when I have a compassionate and effective mentoring or therapy session with a student or a client, when my closest friends and I have deep conversations on the phone or while eating Bon Chon, when Ariana Grande released her beautiful song “No Tears Left to Cry.”

Yes, my desire to go down the romantic path persists. But when I write my own story, filled with laughter and closeness with friends and meaningful work and moments of pure self-compassion, I see another road emerge, one that I feel comfortable taking, at least for now.

ariana grande no tears left to cry single cover

The iconic cover artwork for Ariana Grande’s lead single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” from her upcoming fourth album. Who needs men when you have Ariana? Image via thatgrapejuice.net.

What are your thoughts on Robin, my shameless self-disclosure about my untamed yet kinda tamed desires, and/or patriarchal conditioning that makes us desire romance? Do you have similar experiences in regard to romance or internalizing narratives of any kind you do not like? Would love to hear your ideas and perspectives and cannot wait to share my next post.

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16 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

16 responses to “An Addiction to Romance: A Relapse and Recovery

  1. Claire B

    I got an email about this post ~right~ as I was finishing up a good cry over a man I met on ~the Tinder~ and have been dating for a few months, a man who I’ve realized will probably never want anything more than the casual situation I reluctantly went along with due to my desire to be with him at whatever cost. So proud of you for being honest about what you want from the get go – though it might hurt now, you’re avoiding the much more painful heartbreak that would come further down the road.

    • Aw, Claire, thank you so much for your vulnerability, and I’m so sorry to hear you had that experience. I hope that you’re able to heal from it and it sounds like you’ve gained self-awareness surrounding the experience. I appreciate the time you spent reading and commenting and issues of dating and romance are definitely difficult to navigate, though hopefully become easier with time.

  2. I am confused as to why you are looking for something long-term on Tinder. I thought it’s a “hook-up site.” Correct me if I am wrong. Also, some men are afraid of saying they are looking for long-term relationships. Could it hurt to meet him in person? It’s possible when he meets you that he could want more than something short-term.

    • I think some men use it to find long-term things (I def have friends who have met long-term partners through Tinder.) And that is a possibility, though one I will not pursue at the moment because I’m not interested in trying to change someone’s preferences or doing the work to do that. Thanks for reading and commenting Rick, hope you are well!

  3. YES. THIS POST. So much revolves around romance in our society that sometimes it’s difficult to imagine what a life without marriage looks like. Yet it’s a life that many live, and live happily! This is definitely a topic that deserves more attention from books. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! ❤

    • Aw, thank you for your compassion and your solidarity surrounding this topic, Holly! Really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Hope you are well.

  4. Gah. Everything about this post is so real. I’ve noticed that being in a relationship has drastically reduced the amount of attention and care I pay to my appearance, perception by others, etc.- if I’m so carefree now, why couldn’t I have been that way before? It shouldn’t take being loved by someone else to validate the value of my own self-expression. But oh, how it helps- I don’t have to play the appearance game with society as much anymore, I’ve achieved my “goal.” Which isn’t a good way to think about it, really, so thanks for bringing this up.

    I definitely, definitely feel that desire to fit into the romantic narrative. It’s hard not to, as you say… love the Cassandra Clare reference- I’ve been watching the TV version of Shadowhunters (admittedly, this is a guilty pleasure with full knowledge that the caliber of the show leaves some things to be desired…) and I get obsessively attached to the romantic plotlines… it’s a two-way street, because the story is designed to elicit those types of responses, and we are socialized to provide those responses… do you think the personal enjoyment/benefit of watching/reading things that follow these idealized, unrealistic narratives of romance-or-die can outweigh the potential impact of them on our expectations for our own lives? Or how do you think we can best mitigate the negative reinforcement?

    Love this post & your blog & thank you so much for sharing.

    • I so appreciate the vulnerability and self-awareness in this comment, thank you! Yeah, I think that’s a good question: how can we love ourselves and express ourselves more freely and confidently even when we do not have a romantic partner? Furthermore, in terms of your second paragraph, I think part of the answer is providing alternative narratives, about people who are able to attain contentment and meaning without a romantic relationship (Caroline Knapp’s iconic memoir Appetites does this really well.) It’s great that you lay it out in behavioral terms, about stimulus and response, because I think that shows how we are socially conditioned to desire romance, not that it’s innate – so creating a culture in which independence, friendship, etc. are rewarded (perhaps through narratives in media, perhaps just through being able to live a complete and authentic life with those things instead of romance) may be part of the answer. Though it’s a question I’m still grappling with too, and one I think we would all benefit from thinking about. Hope you’re well and thanks again for this insightful comment.

  5. Kev

    Ahh man! I’ve got myself in the same kind of tangle over numerous boys in the past. It happens to the best of us. I look back as a now happily married man and think how meaninglessness it all was. But at the top me of course it was everything. Your attitude is definitely right though. I looked for ‘the one’ for a long time, and eventually gave up. I spent my time with friends and doing things I loved. It was only when I started living for me that I naturally met the person I am still with. I think in my experience there is a lot less focus on romantic relationships than there ya in films and books. I have many friends happy on their own without ‘another half’. If you do meet someone, I’m sure that would be a lovely bonus. You seem to be doing pretty well without that though.

    • Kev, you sharing your own story is really helpful to hear and really validating for me to know, so thank you so much. Glad it sounds like your relationships worked out the way you wanted them too in the end though I have much solidarity and shared remorse about wasted time. And I really appreciate your last sentence, because it is great for me to remind myself that I am doing well overall and am greatly enjoying my life and my friendships. Wishing you the best and so grateful to have you as a consistent reader and e-friend over the years. (:

  6. Patrick

    I feel you, man. I’ve been trying to date for a while (I’m 29) and haven’t even gotten a second date with someone yet. Every happily partnered person I know says that I should just take it easy, because the right guy will come along when he comes along. Which is fine, since my partnered friends also tell me that when you get right down to it, a boyfriend/husband is really just a friend that you have sex with. But it’s hard to shut off the part of my brain that tells me that something is wrong with me because I haven’t found the right guy and “settled down” (whatever that means) yet. I think a lot of the people who have married and settled down are lying to themselves about having found the right person. It’s cynical, but I suspect some of them are headed for acrimonious divorces in the future. Which is not to say that I hope for that as some kind of vindication, only that I’ve had enough non-romantic relationships not work out to understand that making *any* kind of relationship work asks a lot of both parties. So my future husband had better be tough, honest, and willing to compromise. Because I don’t have the patience for anything else.

    • Ugh, I’m sorry to hear about your negative experiences Patrick, that really sucks. Yeah, it’s hard to resist the temptation to internalize when things go wrong (i.e., thinking that it must be something about you when there are likely so many factors) because we have ourselves as our closest and most available references. From what I’ve observed, it does seem that the people I know in the healthiest relationships (romantic or otherwise) came across their partners and friends at a variety of ages. Still, it is hard to wait for that if you really want it and I’m proud of you for knowing what you want and not settling for anything less. I’m here in solidarity with you and would love to hear how this facet of your life and others progress with time.

  7. Your words speak to me, right to my heart. I was never going to need a man for anything. Now imagine me a 40-something stay-at-home mom in a polyamorous/ open marriage. Life comes at you fast. Love yourself wherever you are, in any given moment.

  8. Jas

    Ahh Thomas the recent season of CEGF has been so raw and relevant, I’m glad you brought it up. Although not as clinical as Rebecca Bunch (maybe) I also have struggled with a type of obsession with romance and overly investing myself in flings with mysterious and exciting new strangers. I really respect you for setting boundaries with Robin and sticking with that, I know it can be hard to not give in to our desires despite the almost guaranteed consequences. I’d love to talk about this more if you had the time and wanted to connect! If not, know I’m still here rooting for you and in awe of your romantic willpower!

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