Yet another essay about want and need and overcoming codependency

From the archives:  This post was originally published on Fetlife a few years ago.  I’m starting to transfer some of those posts over here.


This one’s hard for me to write. I’ve started it several times and abandoned it along the way.

It’s about need.

In a previous writing that a lot of you did read, I explained that I’m acutely aware of the “distance” between want and need.

There is a difference to me, and I take that difference very seriously. What I want and what I need two different animals and relationship-wise, I can survive (and thrive) on the basics: honesty, trust, desire, passion, respect.

Those are needs. Gotta have ’em all.

But here’s where I never want to go (again). While I accept that I need those qualities in a partner, I don’t want to mistake that for needing a partner.

Likewise, I don’t want to be needed.

Wanted…..fuck yeah. I want like nobody’s business and being wanted is fantastic. Shit, that’s right up there in the “need” category with “desire,” right?

But needing a person – having him be my life support, or vice versa – being someone someone cannot live without….

I can’t. i can’t go there. That’s dangerous territory for me. That’s the space where I lose myself and all my wants (and needs) become swallowed up by someone else’s.

That’s how I end up living with a hoarder in a two-story, four bedroom storage unit with no space for myself and getting sick frequently from the filth.

That’s how I end up playing “cab driver” for someone and all their friends, driving all over town days on end to make it convenient for someone else to see me.

That’s how I eat my cold dinner alone while my boyfriend spends an hour on skype with his other girlfriend after he ate his dinner hot with his cock in my throat.

See, that’s the shit that belonged to the old me. That’s the shit that happened when I let somebody become a need rather than a want.

I can live without a want. I don’t make those kinds of sacrifices for “wants.”

“Oh, but phi – those were just really bad partners.”

Uh-huh. And in this life there is no guarantee that every partner will be perfect. Nobody is. Even me. (I know, so close….)

Which is why I also don’t want to be a need. I’m not saying I don’t want a partner to desire me or be sad if things don’t work out. There are certainly connection, attachments, and feelings involved. I just …I don’t want to be the cause of someone else’s utter devastation. I don’t want their next breath to hinge on my sticking around, even if I’m not happy.

It’s about personal responsibility for me now. I’m in charge of being the decision maker in my life. I’m in charge of keeping myself from exhibiting the natural instinct to give until there’s nothing left. I’m in charge of me.

In the bedroom, that’s another story….

Advertisements

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Thoughts on the TV show)

I started watching it for the humor and the silly musical numbers. No, wait…I started watching it because of her. Rachel Bloom. I’d become aware of her last summer watching an episode of Lip Sync Battles, and felt drawn to her persona.

It’s not often I look at someone and think I see a physical resemblance, so when I do, I start to wonder if I’m imagining it, and then I maybe start semi-obsessively trying to find out more about them.

Which, if you’ve watched the TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” you’ll recognize as a patently “Rebecca Bunch” move.

So I started watching it for her, but then I realized it was a silly comedy/musical romance story and I started watching it for that. Because I love silly comedy/musical romances.

I mean, I was absolutely hooked the moment I heard the “Sexy Getting Ready Song.”

But something else was going on, and I didn’t realize it at first. I don’t think I realized it until I was well into season 1, and I didn’t REALLY REALLY get it until I started following the lead/writer/producer Rachel Bloom on twitter.

I think her brain works like mine, but she does with music and comedy what I try to do with essays.

Because, yeah, it was some time during season 1 that I kinda realized the series actually featured a fairly diverse cast of characters in terms of race, sexuality, and size.

And I also realized that none of those characteristics actually defined the characters.

Then the crazy stuff she says – the tangents she goes off on with regards to feminism and the patriarchy and consent and slut shaming and …

…she’s my HERO.

Except she’s also a deeply troubled person with severe, untreated mental disorders. Only, she’s likable and kind of the heroine in her own story. Which makes her a bit of a narcissist. But a cute one, who sings and dances. And c’mon, I mean, it’s just a comedy…

…only it’s covering very serious topics more deeply, thoroughly, and honestly than most depictions I’ve seen in storytelling of any kind.

I knew I wanted to put into words how I felt about this show all day (I started binge watching season 2 on Netflix last night when my plans were rained out by the storm).

But there was so much. I wanted to use words like “rogue” and “subversive” to describe how this sneaky little comedy grabs hold of the heart of some very uncomfortable topics and sort of forces you to sit with them a while. The comedy and musical interludes serve to disarm you, but then..there those feelings are.

I keep confronting my own predispositions and preconceptions about people through these very silly, almost superficial characters that obfuscate the depth of their interactions with one another, as well as the show’s interaction with the viewer.

I swear I’m not high as I type this. I almost wish I were. I bet I’d get even more out of it.

Anyway, as I was saying – I wanted to write about how this show was making me feel because I thought that most people who watch it would stay on the surface and not get that deeper meaning, but then I read a few other blogs out there about the show and realized I am definitely not alone.

Also, the other bloggers were way more clear about the point I wanted to make.

When I was in elementary school I used to walk around the baseball diamond by myself singing songs I’d make up on the fly about things going on in my life. I wish I could tell you that habit ended as I got older, but I still do it. I’m often led by my emotions and my idealistic outlook on life in general. I don’t want to say I’m a big “schemer” but I definitely see and pursue opportunities that benefit my wants, just not to the point of sabotaging others around me. Oh, and a season 2 episode where Rebecca goes to visit her family at a bar-mitzvah? Yeah, that WHOLE episode hit really close to home.

Over these past few years, I’ve learned to confront my privilege and recognize some deep-seated tendencies toward codependent relationship and external validation. I’ve done a lot of introspection and I’ve learned to harness my empathy as a tool to help me help others, and not manipulate them. And, with the family thing, I learned how to cope with my semi-narcissistic family who value appearances over character.

The difference between myself and Rebecca Bunch is that I did the work to confront those issues and overcome them. That’s it.

That’s all that separates me from that crazy character.

Well, also she dresses better than I do…

…but I may start Single White Femaling the shit out of her outfits.

Learning to love without solutions: further insights from a recovering codependent

Many years ago, I had a friend, Brian, who went through therapy and was able to accept that he had codependent tendencies. With his therapist, he began to set boundaries, and by talking about it with his friends, he kept cementing the new value-set in his brain.

Problem was, Brian turned into a bit of a cold-hearted prick in the process. Having to keep reinforcing those boundaries made them stronger and stronger until he went in the complete opposite direction and stopped caring for anybody, ever.

By then, I had been made aware of my own codependent tendencies through my own therapy sessions. What I hadn’t done yet was accept them as a problem. I thought it was still possible to be healthily codependent, and didn’t want to change. I certainly didn’t want to turn into what Brian was turning into.

It’s not easy, you know? For me, rules are comfortable. Black and white. Yes and No. Stop and Go. But reality? It was easy for me to say, for example, “I will never again date someone who suffers from depression.”

And yet….

I have. More than once, since Tony.

It’s a boundary I tried to set because I knew where my personal boundaries are weakest. I want to help people. I’m a problem solver. And depression isn’t a problem that can be “solved,” it’s more like a condition that gets “managed.” I’ve learned a lot over the past few years on where and when to set that boundary and now have allowed myself to get close to people with depression again without falling back into my default responses anymore.

I care for them, and when I start to feel responsible for their feelings, I know it’s time to take a step back and remember that it’s not my job to “fix” anything. My job is to be a good person who cares. That is all.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s easy to stay on either side of that line – codependent or cold and distant, but to locate the healthy boundary and camp out there is sometimes more challenging.

Based on the definition I’ve seen on “empaths,” I’d say I’m probably somewhere on that spectrum, though I’m not woo-woo enough to say so with much certainty. I feel people’s feelings like they’re my own. It’s great when they’re happy, and it’s distressing when they’re sad.

There are going to be times when I have to step away and turn up the emotional A/C. I might go silent for a little while, or not ask things like “how are you?” It’s not that I don’t want to know, it’s that I’m feeling a little bit vulnerable myself and think if the answer is “I’m not well,” it’s going to turn into one of those things where I’m going to absorb those feelings and try to “solve” them.

I got to the point for a while where I got into the habit of never asking “how are you?” It put some of my friends off. They thought I didn’t care. I do care, but….

My old pattern was something like this:

Phi: How are you?
Friend: Eh. Not so great.
Phi: What’s wrong?
Friend: (explains the problem)
Phi: (tries to solve it)
Friend: (pivots and turns the problem into a different problem)
Phi: (tries to solve it)
Friend: (pivots again and turns the problem into a different problem)
Phi: (starts to get frustrated because it feels like this person just wants to be upset)
Friend: (feels even worse because phi is now frustrated with them and they feel worthless)

In order to break that pattern, I stopped asking “how are you?” for a while. A long while. And I fell out of practice of reminding people that I really do care about how they are. I drew the imaginary line from “I’m not doing great” to “please give me advice on how to solve it.” Today, I try to only offer advice when it’s explicitly asked for, but sometimes that old behavior comes out. I frequently have to remind myself that someone admitting that they’re not feeling great is not an automatic request for advice.

You’d think that would be a really basic concept to comprehend, but for me it wasn’t. And it’s still something I struggle with from time to time.

But, just like it’s not my responsibility to solve other people’s problems, it is not other people’s responsibility to mitigate their feelings around me. I have to learn to shield myself and focus on healthy reactions to everyday situations.

I want people to trust that I care for them and understand why I can’t let myself feel responsible for their happiness, and I want those same people not to feel responsible for mine. I’ve worked hard to overcome some of those patterns, and I’m strong enough (and honest enough) to recognize when I need to take a step back.

It’s usually when my reaction to someone else’s distress falls along the lines of “how did I fail? or “what did I do wrong?” or “How can I fix it?” that I know it’s time to reset the tent back a little further from the line.

There are many people in my life, past and present, that struggle with varying levels of anxiety and depression. This isn’t about any one of them in particular. It’s about me. It’s about recognizing that I can care, and I can be present without losing myself in the process.

I don’t have to go all Brian on them.