One of the most eye-opening experiences of my life occurred when I had put a lot of my self-worth in how the man I thought I was in love with viewed me. Did he like the way I cut my hair? Did he like the way I walked? Did my hips sway too much? Oh, my god, if my hips swayed too much, would he think I was a slut? Did he think I looked ugly with my puffy morning face? Did I wear too much makeup for his liking? Was I too intellectual? Was I too stupid? Was I too crazy? Do I have too many issues? Would I ever feel like I was enough for him?
It was like this particular man knew exactly how I was feeling about myself, and he played into it. He knew how to be there for me just enough so that I would never walk away from him, but he knew how to be elusive enough so that I would have to beg for his attention sometimes. He needed to feel like I needed him, and to be honest, at the time, I thought I would die without him, so I was a perfect pawn in his little egocentric game. Spoiler Alert: We both lost.
When we were talking — keep in mind that we never officially got together — I was at a very low point, and I was suicidal. He was one of the only people who knew this, and since he knew I trusted him with every fibre of my being, he took advantage of that.
One day in particular, I said, “I’m sorry that I keep dragging you into my issues. I’m sure there are more pressing matters in your life. You can leave me if you want.”
No answer. I sat there, staring at my phone for three hours before a message chimed in: “I can handle it.”
At the time, I thought that was the most romantic thing anybody has ever said to me. He could handle me! What more could you want in a prospective partner? Unconditional love and respect? No, that is apparently too much to ask from people — being handled was just fine for me at the time.
That set the wheels in motion on the most manipulative ride of my life. He would always be superior to me. He would always be the one handling me. I would be the straw he turned into a golden trophy wife. He would cure my depression! My mental illness? I don’t know her, as long as he can fix me! I was the damsel in distress, and he was my knight in shining armor, and he did everything he could to remind me of that.
He made sure I knew I was crazy, but not crazy enough for him to leave…yet. There was always that lingering possibility of him leaving in the middle of the night, though, because he couldn’t “handle” me and my issues anymore. I always feared that he’d saddle up his white horse and go save another hysterical woman in the village; until he decided she didn’t deserve his chivalry anymore, that is.
In retrospect, this whole situation sounds ridiculously unhealthy, so why did I normalize his behavior? Simple. Pop culture romanticizes unhealthy relationship dynamics like this all the time. Every John Green novel has a boring white male protagonist save the manic pixie dream girl. Even the woman who plays Elsa in Frozen put a song out recently where she says her new man treats her like “a beautiful disaster,” so what happened between myself and this man was normal! Even one of the most empowering Disney voices thinks this kind of relationship is beautiful and something to pine after, so it must be normal!
Except it’s not.
I have spent so much time in therapy learning that the person I love should never feel as though they have to “handle” me or my issues. I have been through some things that many people may not have experienced, and I have done some things that many people may not even understand.
A part of being a good partner isn’t being able to “handle” your significant other’s emotions — it’s being there for them unconditionally and finding a way to work through or come to grips with things you never thought you would have to “handle.”