“Love the Way You Lie”

I first listened to this song a few weeks ago, and it’s really been sticking with me. On top of the facts that I’ve harbored a long-time appreciation for Eminem as a sort of guilty pleasure and Rihanna’s chorus is catchy and sung beautifully as always, I’m a one-time survivor and currently navigating my way through a relationship-turned-nonrelationship much like the one addressed in the song (second-time survivor-to-be?).

The song lyrics and video illustrate so perfectly situations and peculiarities I’ve experienced with both of my abusive relationships. The first one was completely one-sided–more like the circumstances the character Tommy on True Blood grew up in. My abuser completely obliterated what little sense of self I had going into the relationship and left me honestly believing I deserved all his vitriol and poison, and the first time I tried to get away, I spent two weeks completely lost and confused, not knowing what to do without him there and feeling completely unable to take care of myself alone. It’s so difficult to get someone who hasn’t experienced at least something similar to even come close to understanding, and even then, no one I’ve known has expressed to me that they were in the same boat in the past, so I’m more assuming the people who’ve dealt with similar are relating on some level.

A dependency so consuming and intense characterized that relationship. I literally did not exist outside the abuse, and that is what made it impossible to leave the first time. How could I leave if I was nothing on my own? It wasn’t until I met someone who gave me the vibe that it was possible to have a relationship where I was my own person, a good person, worthy of respect and care and appreciation simply for who I was and not what I did or didn’t do, how well I obeyed and cooperated, or how utterly self-sacrificing I was, that I was able to finally end the relationship and get away from the abuse.

It is a bit scary, looking back, because honestly if it wasn’t for that truly good person who opened my eyes to the possibility and instilled a sense of hope that I could have something genuinely kind, I don’t know how long I would have stayed… I don’t think I could have left him on my own. I was so weakened by the abuse, and I was absolutely not one of those women who could pick herself up off of the floor and just leave, alone and groundless, out of sheer determination to escape the cruelty.

Even now, I’ll say how much I realize I don’t deserve anything like that, and have marginally removed myself from bad situations, I’m once again caught in the cycle of abuse. It’s even scarier knowing that I recognize this and still entertain the idea of not cutting all ties and making my escape.

Embedded in all the drama, pain, hurtful words, and hardhearted treatment is an intense passion. Embodied in the line “Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano” is the power of the interaction between us. While I have never been an instigator–at least not intentionally–and definitely still have a tendency to defer to an abuser, being self-sacrificing and obedient even when my heart isn’t truly in it, I have gotten better about standing up for myself and have used my penchant for observing idiosyncracies and picking up on the things people are truly sensitive about in order to push buttons when I’ve had enough. I honestly don’t like being that way, but it seems to be the only way I can manage to cope when I feel like I’m being attacked and mistreated. It’s become intoxicatingly cathartic to respond with meanness and hate when I’m being subjected to the abuse. I quite simply don’t have it in me to be violent and can’t see that ever happening because even when struck I don’t have the drive to fight back, but I can be just as vicious with words.

This obviously isn’t healthy, and the fact that I keep forgiving it all and even vaguely consider going back honestly disgusts me. I feel trapped in the same situation as my first abusive relationship–I don’t know if I can ever truly move on without something beyond my own will to pull me away. It certainly doesn’t help that there would be a benefit to going back, something I’m increasingly desperate to have. I know how much of a bad idea it all is, prolonging the situation and incessantly ignoring the truly awful in light of the bits of good.

My inability to get away from these situations on my own and my seemingly terrible luck (a full two-thirds of my relationships have been abusive, odds that are heartily discouraging to me for future relationships) are starting to jade me. Of course, I’m an impossibly hopeful person, so I doubt it could ever become my default state of being to anticipate any relationship turning this dreadfully sour, but it certainly lowers my desire to pursue anything close.

You ever love somebody so much you can barely breathe when you’re with ’em?
You meet and neither one of you even know what hit ’em
Got that warm fuzzy feeling, yeah, them those chills you used to get ’em
Now you’re getting fucking sick of looking at ’em

That’s how it went both times. Wonderful to start and then blindsided by the bad. It makes me feel like there’s no way to avoid it; that any relationship, no matter how amazing it is to start, has the potential to turn into something just as destructive.

So I’ve developed a habit of being detached. I just don’t know that it’s really the way I want to be…

Emoting and Trusting

I generally tend to wear my heart on my sleeve as far as my general mood and emotions are concerned. I actually find it pretty difficult to contain myself, really, when I’m excited about something, upset, angry, and so on. Though angry is an extremely rare occurence–as Leonard described Penny in an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” once:

Leonard: Dont take this the wrong way, but you do seem to have that overexposed-to-gamma-radiation thing going on.
Penny: Excuse me?
Leonard: Its just that usually you’re sweet Bruce Banner, but when you get angry, you get all… Grrr!
Penny: I turn into a bear?
Leonard: Seriously? Gamma rays? Bruce Banner? How can you not get The Incredible Hulk from that?

I can also get Shakespearean when angered. When a co-worker at my last job commented once on how I’m always so cheerful and pleasant that he’s become convinced I simply don’t possess the ability to become angry, I explained that it’s simply a rare state of being for me, but when it does happen–look out, because I can craft some pretty confusing-on-the-surface-but-truly-vicious-once-you-get-it insults. He subsequently took it upon himself to find a way to make me get Shakespearean on his ass. Alas, he never succeeded…testament to how truly difficult it is to anger me, if someone dead-set determined to do so never could!

Anyway, I digress a bit.

From a combination of things, while I have actual trouble containing my general moods, I find it quite near impossible to express things I’m feeling deeper. Things that are a result of a lot of thinking or that just have more significance than my current overall state-of-being.

It takes a lot of building up for me to mention things I want. Even when directly asked, I deflect the question and leave decisions up to the asker. In most situations at this point, that can be explained by my easy-going nature, and I am a strong enough person that if I have a really solid opinion on something, I’ll voice it. But there’s a definite grey area wherein I have a slight preference for something that I find difficult to mention.

I know exactly what this primarily stems from: the emotional abuse of my first relationship. It was fundamentally manipulative, and one of the most prominent manipulations was belittling and obliterating my wants and preferences. If I asked for things, no matter how truly significant or insignificant they were to me, I was berated for being “needy,” “silly,” “stupid,” “inconvenient,” etc. Over time, I learned to simply stop asking for things or voicing preferences, because if they weren’t the same things my boyfriend wanted, then they were on some level Wrong.

It’s been the most difficult thing to overcome from that abuse. While I’m sure plenty of people would say I haven’t improved by virtue of the fact that I still have trouble talking about wants, desires, preferences, and the like, it’s not obvious from that how much I’ve progressed since ending that relationship. I have recovered quite a bit–at first, I couldn’t voice things at all. Getting an opinion out of me on anything was a full-on process. Trivial preferences still are, but at least I do now talk about things I feel strongly one way or the other.

Other feelings equally suffered blows at the hands of my first relationship, but they were easier to recover. It didn’t take much for me to bring up liking, missing, or even loving people shortly after that relationship ended. However, at this point in time, a long string of friendships and a couple of relationships that have ended in me being hurt and feeling tossed aside after a lot of effort and vulnerability seem to have turned that back around. The only people I now feel comfortable telling how much I miss them are ones who’ve been there effectively forever: my sister, other family, and friends I’ve had since high school or even longer. People I’m quite confident won’t be dropping me like a hat, because they’ve quite obviously had plenty of opportunity and haven’t done so.

Living alone for the first time in my life, I’ve gotten to missing people more. I definitely need social contact; I get quite hard on myself and overly-critical when I spend too much time alone and have too much time to think. I’m in a much better mental state when I interact with friends, even briefly, as close to every day as I can. And I’ve made some pretty cool friends here in Australia, but I have trouble telling them that I miss them or like them or anything else I feel because I’ve become so terrified of being vulnerable to people.

Admittedly, I’ve put myself in some of the most vulnerable positions possible with respect to interpersonal relationships the past year or so. Moving to another country with someone, relying on them for my ability to stay in this other country. Having that all dashed to pieces and trying to find my own way to get by as a result… That’s some pretty tough shit. Immigration, in my opinion, is right up there with American student loans as some of the worst things a person can have to deal with.

Beyond feelings and emotions, even my ability to trust has been whittled down to a toothpick. I’m finding it so hard not to be cynical about people’s motives. My immediate internal reaction has gone from thanks and appreciation and warmth to questioning what it is someone wants from me when they’re doing something nice. I’m starting to expect strings being attached to everything people do and say, and I can’t get over the disbelief when people are genuinely nice. I keep wondering what I did to deserve such treatment and when it’s going to all be turned upside down; I’ve lost my ability to accept that anyone can be kind to me without expecting something in return, and the few situations I’ve been in recently where it’s quite simply impossible for me to interpret them as motivated by something darker have left me thoroughly confused and on edge. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I can’t make it make sense in any way.

I don’t like that I’ve become jaded over my emotions. I don’t like that I used to just tell people what I think quite freely and now I just can’t. I don’t like that I can’t trust that people will be nice to me without wanting something out of me in return. I don’t like that some careless and thoughtless people have managed to affect me so deeply.

How do you get over things like that?

Chivalry vs. Respect

Yet again, a fantastically entertaining and insightful piece by Jill is serving as the backdrop for some of my own musings. The topic of the day: chivalry, its relationship to feminism, and the ever-hilarious Plight of the Nice Guy™.

At this point in my life, I can say that I’ve had both the pleasure and displeasure of experiencing a great variety of points along the spectrum of male-female interactions. I’ve been subjected to both emotional and physical violence, I’ve been treated with traditional notions of chivalry, and I’ve been the recipient of respect.

Given the choice between all of those, I would hands-down chose respect any day or night.

Why discount chivalry so easily, you ask? After all, isn’t that something women so often go on about as a key lacking quality in today’s men? It’s really quite simple why I have no interest in a man professing his chivalrous ideals to me: inherent in chivalrous acts is the belief that women are intrinsically more fragile and delicate than men, thus requiring exceptional support and protection from the men in their company. Essentially what it boils down to is sugar-coated, low-level misogyny. Chivalrous men espouse a view that women are by nature not equal to men on very fundamental levels and therefore in need of men to stand between them and the rest of the world. Which, don’t get me wrong, does lead to a man behaving “nicely” towards women, and quite obviously that means they would not be inflicting the sorts of emotional and physical violence I’ve experienced in the past. I can’t argue that, superficially, that’s not a good thing.

Jill does present an extension of this hypothesis on chivalry that I don’t entirely agree with, though. Unlike her, I do not believe “[i]t always demands something in return.” Oftentimes, yes, it does operate on the assumption that doing chivalrous things deserves a reward. However, some men do extend chivalry without a constant expectation that they will receive a token of appreciation from the recipients of their gestures. I had an interaction with such a man; I never got a sense of expectation from him that his Knightly behavior warranted something in return from his protected Princess, but I did still feel…small, in some way. As though some quality tied to my pairing of X chromosomes left me wanting for certain aspects of being a fully realized human being, and that all I needed was for him to come along and make up the difference. He could insulate me from the terrible effects of my shortcomings, ensuring I am always safe and comforted, and this was such a “nice” thing to do!

Evidently, “niceness” is not necessarily inclusive of respect. And respect is infinitely more appreciable than simply, say, waiting for a girl to broach the subject of coming home with her instead of just inviting yourself. Ahh, the Nice Guy™…always there to listen when their female friends need a shoulder to cry on after their latest escapade with an eternal jerk of a guy, and then also always there to complain after the fact that their ceaseless openness to the tears never culminates in them getting laid by those same poor, damp-cheeked women. Why, oh, why do those girls never realize what a Nice Guy™ he is? To quote Jill’s incredibly appropriate summation of a good, solid Nice Guy™ whinge:

Dear [friend],

Please touch my penis.

Yours,
Josh

See, he says please! Because, you know, by not point-blank taking what he really wants, that makes him an advocate for all the mistreated women in the world! If he wasn’t a Nice Guy™, that’s exactly what he’d do! And since he didn’t, that clearly means he must be Nice!

The only guy to ever openly profess his Nice Guy™ status (along with the requisite whining about how they always finish last and never get girlfriends) is the same guy to whittle me down with extreme emotional abuse to the point that it took me years to recover any semblance of self-respect and to this day has left me with a certain fear of asserting myself in relationships. Thinking about his sense of entitlement thoroughly disgusts me now; by simple virtue of the fact that he asked instead of outright taking, I was obligated to comply. While he didn’t qualify as chivalrous for the fact that after belittling me enough, he nurtured a tolerance in me of blatant abuse and disrespect, he still attested to his membership in the Nice Guy™ Club because of his lack of stereotypical Bad Boy behavior. He never cheated on me, and he didn’t pretend to want a relationship or string me along in that vein. And so, apparently, a Nice Guy™ is defined by virtue of his non-participation in a specific assemblage of negative qualities. Not, you know, by virtue of actually being nice.

Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t believe there are genuine nice guys out there. I wholeheartedly insist that there are, and I have the pleasure of being able to name a few I have in my current circle of acquaintances and friends. For me, the distinguishing mark of a truly nice guy is this all-important respect I keep bringing up.

My second relationship was loaded with it. He was both respectful and decidedly nice. While he would open doors for me if I happened to linger in the car gathering my things long enough for him to get to my side before I got out or if he reached a door before I did, it was always motivated by veritable politeness, and he likewise didn’t think twice of leaving me to my own devices quite confident I could look after myself just fine without his ever-protective presence. He was so entirely respectful, in fact, he was 100% honest with me: the end of our relationship came about when he truthfully acknowledged he didn’t miss me when we were apart. While I wouldn’t say that’s exactly a nice thing to say to someone, it’s actually far better than merely being nice. Rather than sparing me the hurtful truth, knowing that withholding the information was a surefire way to maintain the relationship and all the benefits of it, he gave me the honor of respectful honesty.

If it wasn’t for that fact, I’m certain that after recovering from the pain of that loss, I wouldn’t have been able to move on to consider him a friend as I do now.

To illustrate the nice/chivalrous vs. respect dichotomy quite plainly, I have an anecdote concerning riding as a passenger on motorcycles. For a certain amount of time after first getting a motorcycle license, the licensee is prohibited from carrying a passenger with them. Quite reasonably so, as it isn’t terribly prudent while the new motorcyclist is him- or herself still getting used to riding.

Aware of my penchant for being a passenger, a guy offered to take me along on his motorcycle a few times. While exhibiting a certain level of concern for my safety by ensuring I had a helmet and proper jacket and clothing to wear, I found out by coincidence that he was still on his Provisional license and thus not actually permitted to have me on the bike with him, but only after I had pillioned on more than one occasion. He is quite positively a victim of being a Nice Guy™: under the banner of treating me to something I enjoy, while simultaneously impressing me (*hint hint wink wink* chicks dig dudes with motorcycles!), he also broke the law–discounting my safety while also putting himself at risk of at least getting a ticket and at worst losing his license altogether.

In direct contrast, I recently was discussing riding with another male friend who was completely transparent about not yet having an unrestricted license. In light of the opportunity to take me riding, despite an opportunity to Impress a Chick, he was honest with me about not actually being allowed.

And that is the difference between niceness and respect. It would have been perfectly nice of him to offer the chance for me to do something I enjoy. To take a chick for a ride on a motorcycle, such a stereotype of Bad Boy impressiveness professed to be a surefire way to Get the Girl. But no. He respected my right as a passenger–as another person–to know what I’d be getting myself into. Morever, he paid me this honor so nonchalantly, so naturally, that it carried even more weight; not only was I fundamentally deserving of this respect, it was so patently obvious that responding in any other way just wasn’t an apparent option. That’s simply the only manner in which you behave with another person.

And that feeling like a person thing? It’s a really damn good feeling, and it’s exactly why I think respect is worth entire universes more than chivalry (or supposed niceness).