July 26, 2021

Dropping Labels & Listening to Our Gut in Relationships.


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Agitated. Angry. Annoyed.

I’ve been seething for several days.

Recently I was texting with a man I had met at a concert—or I thought I was.

As it turned out the phone numbers had gotten mixed up and I was messaging someone who I had never met. He played on this. If I review our interactions, something feels off throughout them. Once we spoke on the phone I knew, without hesitation, what had happened and exited the situation immediately.

I laughed it off at first but something felt slimy under my skin and I realized this was the closest I have come to being catfished.

It seems for every experience there is now a category that we can fit it into, be that around dating or more psychological terms, but what about feelings?

When I feel off—confused, overwhelmed, anxious—I sit down and ask myself, “What am I feeling?” I take a breath and listen to my body.

Feelings are not the only indicators for what is happening in our reality, but they most certainly need to be taken into consideration. We are emotional, rational, and instinctive beings.

We cannot speak what we do not know and relationships revolve around communication.

We need language that allows us to articulate our experiences effectively. And we often make up terms to help us do so. These terms, however, can be misrepresented, overused, or intentionally twisted. They can be used to discount another person’s reality as much as they can be used to elucidate the behaviors that they attempt to explain.

I cringe when I hear people use the word: ghosted. Though I understand that is a way of describing hurtful behavior, it feels incomplete and dehumanizing to me.

A while ago I had been seeing a man who had elected not to respond to a text message I had sent. I was upset and several people in my world rose to accuse him of ghosting me. My take on the situation was that he did not feel equipped—emotionally or situationally—to reply. Several weeks later, he did wind up messaging me and we have been talking ever since.

If I had discarded him, based on the expectations associated with this term—ghosting—we would not have developed the friendship that we have. That would have been a loss to both of us, I feel.

There was a sense of entitlement enmeshed in that interaction, that I should get what I want when I want it without considering what the other person is capable of, or willing, to engage in. In situations like this, we often assume it’s about us, rather than acknowledging it probably has a lot more to do with where the other is at.

Entitlement feels oppressive and confining. Yes, we get to have standards, but we do not get to apply those standards to others’ lives without their consent.

Another man that I was exploring connection with wanted me to agree to not being romantically involved with anyone else. He presented this request as his boundary, but this boundary was about his discomfort in speculating about my behavior and was expressed to me before we had even met each other in person.

Boundaries are agreements not ultimatums. We do not get to dictate the flow of someone’s life and call it our boundary. We get to decide how we want to engage with what is being presented, make requests, state needs, and respond appropriately and in accordance with our standards.

My no was clear. I was not willing to engage in that agreement. Whereas his boundary was an attempt to control me. This was a red flag for me.

Frankly, I don’t love the term red flag when it comes to discussing relational dynamics. It can become an obsession to look for what is wrong before we have even had time to observe, let alone interact, with someone new.

Of course, we want to protect ourselves from unnecessary hurt as we explore intimacy. However, looking to pigeonhole every behavior as a yes, or no, indicator for a relationship will likely exhaust us and pollute its potential before we ever get started.

This leads to the question: is the point of relating to psychologize and categorize people, or is it to get to know them and, maybe, more deeply—ourselves?

Our need to categorize others and our own experiences can also stifle the sensations in our bodies. These sensations are instinctive and are greater indicators as to the actual nature of relational dynamics.

When I did meet Mr. Let’s Only be Romantic with Each Other, I had a visceral, repulsive reaction to his physical presence. It was intense. I wanted to be polite, as he had traveled a good distance to take me out, but my whole body was saying, “Don’t touch me!” And I held my ground.

I have learned not to push past what my body is saying, no matter what anyone else says to me. He tried to convince me that my gut reaction to him was my trauma talking. All I could hear from my gut was—run.

This is such a far cry from my sweet, avoidant friend who had, at one point, been unable to reply to me. My gut, my whole body—instinctively—wanted then (and still does) to say, yes, to him. Curiously, through this process with him, I am learning patience and how to move slowly enough to listen to my own body.

Mentally, I’ve analyzed him. I’ve scrutinized for red flags (and found a few that are at least orange). I’ve picked him apart looking for narcissistic tendencies, and combed our conversations for gaslighting. I’ve applied all the categorizing that I have learned (which is extensive) and still that yes hums through me. My body feels both electric and soft in his presence. And this is how I know I want to engage, at least for now.

I get to change my mind, adjust my standards, and my own behavior, as it feels appropriate to me within any unfolding dynamic moment to moment.

Labels have benefits. However, in the light of more people being exposed to pop psychology, words like narcissist are getting tossed around in casual conversation. This is an important topic for people to grasp but diagnosing everyone we don’t like as a narcissist demeans the actual pathology. Anyone who has suffered in an actual narcissistic relationship knows NPD is severe and a rather uncommon diagnosis.

We are a meaning-making species. We love to ask why and we love to think that we know the answer. Once we have the answer, we can then wrap things up—people and experiences—neatly. But that’s not how life works.

Terms and labels cannot stand up to the poetry of my soul or the innate wisdom of my instincts and body.

I see, feel, and know what I know—and that I trust.


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