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April 20, 2021

Relationships are Getting Harder—& Here’s Why.

I’m four months into 2021.

I’m already on my second breakup—and there is shame. The air smells like too many vanilla-scented Air Wick candles. My head throbs with every truck that rumbles by.

As I breathe in another puff of cloyingly sweet vapors, I mumble to myself about paying more attention the next time I book an Airbnb. But it’s hard to be meticulous the day after someone you love decides that, maybe, they don’t love you the way they thought they did.

So now I’m here. Inside a shipping-container-slash-tiny-house trying to process my emotions.

It’s harder because of the proximity. It’s like I’m just a few feet away from a reflective glass storefront and all I can see is my reflection, not what’s inside.

So I still my scampering mind for a few moments. Enough to notice the grief and sadness. The feeling of tears waiting to fall, but held back by years of conditioning. There’s the frustration. The sense of hopelessness. The pain of being chosen and unchosen.

Then it’s off to the races again. Partly to distract myself from the pain, and partly because it seems like the most important thing in the world right now.

One question rattles around and bounces along inside my skull. How come things seemed so much easier before? Did how we do relationships change in some fundamental way? Or was it me that changed?

In my 20s, two-year relationships were the norm. It was like I was riding the invisible event horizon of biannual commitment. Stray a little too far to the right and…bam! I was committed to another woman for another couple of years.

In contrast, today, I’m armed with the awareness of my trauma, a working relationship with my inner child, meditation, conflict resolution skills, and somewhat reliable boundaries. In terms of longevity, it’s bewildering how little difference they seem to make. These days, I would be lucky to make a relationship go past a year.

Even more infuriating is how easy dating has become. Attraction, deeply fulfilling connection, sex. They’re more accessible than they’ve ever been.

But relationships? It’s like someone took the “hard” and “complicated” knobs and cranked them to 12. It’s like winning a lifetime supply of fine Belgian chocolate, only to realize that this brand of chocolate, specifically, makes you constipated and angry.

So here’s what I think is happening.

For this particular phenomenon, I blame jeans (not a typo).

Back in the day, you could basically just buy jeans, full stop. Today, there’s boot cut, slim fit, flared, low waist, relaxed, skinny, distressed, loose, stone-washed, raw, and 50 different kinds of designer.

We now live in a society where endless choice is being brought to all aspects of how we live.

And while no one is (probably) having an existential crisis when it comes to choosing what kind of pants to buy…how do we pick the right person(s), when there are literally thousands of people who might be a better fit?

It’s the paradox of choice as its worst.

Past a certain point, the more options we have, the less likely we’ll choose the optimal choice—and that leaves a lot of room for unhappiness, especially if the reason why I’m dating is to find the one person I’m going to marry (which, up until now, has been the point for me).

“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.” ~ Barry Schwartz

But I think that’s only part of the equation. Somewhere in my quest for personal growth, I traded in who I was for what I “needed to fix.”

It was so easy to start seeing myself as a series of maladaptive patterns that I needed to desperately repair before I was ready to date again.

Am I caretaking too much? Am I people pleasing? Ugh, was that the codependency talking? Why can’t I just get this right?

On one hand, I see that what’s appealing to me about relationships is finding mutual joy, excitement, pleasure, and comfort. But when I’m in the thick of it, I’m not playing that particular game, no matter how sexy it is.

Between you and me, I’m just tired.

I’m tired of peeking into the black box I call a brain and finding that there’s always another unconscious behavioral pattern that’s keeping me from “true fulfillment” or happiness. Like work, or complaints, I’ll always find more—often without needing to look hard.

Is there value in understanding our trauma and patterns? I think so.

But at what point does delving into personal growth become more of a permanent residence in the labyrinth of what needs fixing? For me, at least, the more I dig, the more evidence I find that I’m more broken than I thought.

And that’s no way to live. There’s no honor, grace, or healing in that. It almost certainly isn’t the way to happiness.

So maybe, today, I don’t have to be a recovering-conflict-avoidant-attachment with depression and anxiety, in need of a dopamine detox. I’m guessing, too, that life would be more fun if I choose to stop seeing myself as just a rickety pile of unresolved traumas.

So if someone would be kind enough to call the foreman, please let him know I’m clocking out and taking my shovel with me. I’m going to stop digging.

~

 

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