The first time I ever thought about a relationship with myself was, oddly enough, when I was in a relationship with someone else. One of a string of messy, codependent ones I was recreating from the only model I'd ever known.
Let's be clear, I wasn’t just “kissing a lot of frogs to find a prince,” (or royalty of any gender). I was licking tropical rainforest frogs to get a buzz. My sense of reality would be turned upside down with one kiss. I would build hopes and dreams, waiting for the day they’d transform, like in the fairy tales. This hunt was THE great high.
All I’d crave is that high again, despite the deleted numbers, the hot girl summers, the career bitch promises.
Once that buzz died, I’d convince myself the frog was enough. I needed to be in a relationship more than I needed a fellow human. This saliva-induced trip of oxytocin should be enough.
The movies all said so. It happened to Kate Hudson in the nineties chick flicks like 12 times!
With each trip into the love tunnel of the psychedelic rainforest, I’d reach a new low. Coming to in bogs, slamming doors, and crying in the car. All I’d crave is that high again, despite the deleted numbers, the hot girl summers, the career bitch promises.
I’d always find my way back to the familiar, waiting for my frog-shaped Tarzan, racing to the airport. Hollywood dreams, fuck it, even in Fair City things worked out and people found a way to be happy.
This chaos was better than whatever waited out there for me alone. Because the world was built for couples. Bridget Jones is endearing, but I have her body, without the quirky charm.
The invites. The perpetual discomfort of seating arrangements and "you'll find someone one day." Where was my emotionally constipated Colin Firth/Sandra Bullock to woo into feeling something... anything!?
Our phone calls devolved into trapping my ex in a net of broken promises. Assurances he was changing and times I’d broken newly enforced rules by having basic freedom. We were both pointing fingers with three pointing back at ourselves.
Then he’d hit me with the whinging….
“Why is our relationship so difficult? Why is it so complex?!”
Our relationship, connection… “bond” if we were feeling particularly pretentious, was spoken about like a third party. Godzilla crushing Tokyo. Uncontrollable. Inevitable. Doomed. By discussing our relationship as a third party, we could absolve ourselves of any responsibility. Convinced this was just how we were. This is just how relationships work.
Really, there was nothing between us. There was him and I. Our tangible, real-time actions, thoughts, and intentions.
And what was my intention? What did I want? How was I going to stay withthis sometimes frog, sometimes dinosaur, and protect myself? How was I going to stand and say “I won’t be complicit in my buildings being destroyed again?!" When was I going to let go of the fairy tales and open my eyes?
I stopped visiting. Stopped driving an hour and a half most weekends. Stopped withdrawing cash from my credit card for petrol, meals out, and therapy (he refused to go to couples’ therapy). I was left with silence and reality.
I wanted a partner who would give back. But what I had was a relationship based on drama.
I faced my worst fear. Life without him. Alone. The worst word I'd heard. Reserved for women to be pitied. Bridget Jones body with a Cinderella fantasy.
The vacuum was filled with friends. I realised I had so many, who would do all the things I craved for me and more. The journeys, the time, the respect. They were there. I bent their ears and tried their patience for several months and they loved sad Grace without conditions. They were already fully formed humans, helping me find my pieces. And the colours weren’t as bright with them, but the lows weren’t as low.
My buildings were rebuilt with each step back to myself. I took an art class - the steeple. A measured, sane meal plan - the bakery. I danced with friends - the earth. I kept up therapy - the sky.
And I joined some hippy friends for some dreadfully overpriced workshops on something called "conscious sexuality." An ironically wanky name for spaces to take the time to reflect, discuss, and really practice skills required in relationships.
In the years following this, I learned connection is not something that just happens. It is created. It is time, effort, thought, and action. The skills. It is needing, providing and being provided for. A relationship is the feedback loop of care and choosing to stay when it is disrupted.
I didn’t need to lick frogs or fight Godzilla, or whatever, to feel like I was alive and deserved to be loved.
I had boundaries, and preferences that didn't diminish just because I was dating someone. The tension where my ideals clash with theirs is where work and intimacy are born. In compromise to build together. In separation to build a richer and deeper world for myself and ourselves if we can bridge it.
All my life I'd been taught that relationships are just things that happen and then they just are. Now I'm being asked to conceive of a reality where I am not only an active participant, I am THE active participant. To be in a relationship with others is inherently selfish and selfless because I am always in a relationship with myself.
Putting down the books of effortless trials, things just working out and Kate Hudson, Bridget Jones-esque dreams felt like tearing off a skin that had kept me safe and warm for many years.