How to be in a relationship when you can barely take care of yourself.

jen

(Photo by: Tyler Smith)

Since the day I was born, my mother has wanted me to become a nurse. When I was a baby, she would hold me above her head and spin me around in circles. She would gaze onto my face, a tiny reflection of her own, and softly whisper that I was going to grow to be a smart, beautiful, independent women who could take care of herself.

I remember the white swing under an old oak tree on my grandmother’s farm. I would sit in it alone, dragging the bottoms of my shoes into the dirt, watching the foreground become the background. My mother would sneak up from behind and surprise me with a big push that would gather the wind in my hair. A smile would spread across my face as I was propelled forward. It was as if all the women whose blood circulated in my veins were helping her to push me. “This one is different,” they proclaimed to the world in unison, “she’s going to marry a kind, handsome man who is rich and nice to all of her friends. He’ll buy her a house and fill it with ideas and love, instead of children. He’ll never interrupt her when she lists all of the things that make her happy. Together they’ll soar around the world weaving their dreams into a reality, helping the unfortunate, and financially supporting their parents into a ripe old age.”

OK, so maybe it was more like…

“You’re becoming a nurse and that’s it!” my mother would scream in our ’91 Honda Civic, as I repeatedly punched my baby brother while strapped to a booster seat. No doubt, there was dunkaroos chocolate jammed into my hair, face, and clothes; whilst my tiny bare feet mashed it into the upholstery of the car we were leasing. “He’s hitting himself” I would say to her over and over and over again as he cried and wondered what kind of fresh hell he’d been born into.

I had learned this off TV. When you’re a big sister and you care about your little brother, step one is you make him feel stupid and then punch him with his own fist. Step two is continue doing that forever with everyone you ever date and wonder why it never works. After all , you kind of like punching yourself too.

“You’re becoming a nurse and that’s it!” my mother would scream in our 1993 Honda Civic, as I repeatedly punched my baby brother.

Ever since I was a baby, I would declare that there’s no way in hell I’m ever becoming a nurse. “Gross. I cant even say the word without gagging on it,” I would whine through my braces. NURSE. It’s so maternal. It’s so motherly, caring, protective. I’m not that kind of a woman. Woman? I can barely call myself a woman. I’m not maternal, not even to myself. Invest in my future? Yeah, right. I was going to be an artist. I’m the creator. Of what, I had no idea. That never seemed like the important part. I could do anything.

“I’ll grow up to do way more than that,” I would think.

I’ll spring from overly-complicated, self-destructive, relationship death-traps in a single bound! Like Houdini. Voila! She’s escaped yet another toxic relationship. Amazing. How does she do it? Well, it’s pretty simple. She always win.

“I don’t know why women try to compete with men,” is something I’ve heard my mom utter at an O’Charleys more times than I’ve cared to eat at O’Charleys. I’ve never understood what she meant by that. Compete with men? It’s not even a competition. We destroy them. That’s what I was born to do. Assert myself at all times. Dating men is like taking a freshly baked brownie out of an Easy Bake Oven and shoving it down their throat. Here- you love this. Celebrate me. I was born to make everyone in a room uncomfortable. By everyone, I mean men. If you had told me when I was a little girl that I would be single and still arguing feminism at 29, I would have asked you what the hell feminism is. It’s not a mission. It’s just my nature.

I guess what my mom meant is that relationships are not a competition. Which, to me, sounds crazy. That’s exactly what relationships are. It’s a who-can-pretend-to-be-the-least-emotionally-invested-in-the-other-person knock out brawl, right? Whoever gives a shit first- loses.

How can you be in a relationship when you can barely take care of yourself? It’s easy. You just quit taking care of yourself altogether. You can stay afloat off each other’s good looks and politeness for awhile. You’re just two hot sweaty lovers clasping hands on the driftwood made out of that ever-intoxicating aroma of newness. Eventually the whole ship will crash and burn (not before I’ve gained thirty pounds); and wow it really looked like you had your shit together there for a minute. Nice try. The world offers you a golf clap and keeps on turning.

In dating, I’ve been made into a nurse a hundred times over by guys. This is not an exaggeration. I wish it were. Over a million times has a man, that treated me like complete garbage, turned around and without an apology said very earnestly “blah blah I need you right now please take care of me.”

And, I did it. I always do it. I’ll always do it.

Over a million times has a man, that treated me like complete garbage, turned around and, without an apology, said very earnestly “blah blah I need you right now please take care of me.”

Yikes. This is not the kind of nurse my mother wanted me to be. She meant that I was supposed to make a ton of money in a profession that would never go out of business. If you asked any of the women in my family all the way back to the dawn of time they would have said “be a person and not a caretaker” or “dammit, get paid to be a caretaker don’t do it for free” or “For fuck’s sake girl, whatever you do just don’t make the same mistake we made. Make bigger ones. Make more of them.”

Let’s take the first woman. My great great-great-great-great times a million grandmother, Eve (because, regardless of being religious or not, we can all agree that this is just part of our canon as people hell bent on keeping women down) saw her Adam, the man from whose very rib she sprung, smiling in the garden of Eden and was like, “Here. Eat this apple. We’re going to hell. I’m bored as shit.”

Why? Because we were not born to be nurturers. That’s just a role we were told to play because no one else wanted it.

Relationships are not a competition because someone will always end up doing all the emotional heavy lifting. It’s usually women. We end up making all the sacrifices. Making ourselves smaller to fit the relationship. Of course, this isn’t true of all relationships or true of all men, or of all women, or true of what anyone identifies with, but it’s definitely true about me. I’ve always made myself smaller and more approachable in relationships only to end up suffocated and resentful later. What do you mean you couldn’t tell I was suffocating ??? You’re supposed to intrinsically understand everything about me from the beginning without me having to communicate with you or ask you to see me. Couldn’t you see how much of myself I was giving up to meet the most basic expectation of my role as your girlfriend?

 You should have.

Am I full to the brim with unrealistic expectations? Um, you betcha.

Sometimes I wonder if I would already be married if I had just become a nurse like my mom wanted. I’m almost certain I would be. Oh, what my mom wouldn’t give for me to be just some dude’s wife. I worry about you she says. Stop trying to do so much she says. Just have an easy life, she says.  I’m 29 years old. I’m halfway to hell and I’m just now learning how to be myself. Marriage always seemed like something everyone was doing to get out of being my roommate. It looks like a bunch of compromises that I’ll have to make for someone else so they can say OK I guess I have to accept you now that I’m old and tired.

Nah. No, thank you. How about I stay exactly the same. How about I learn from nothing. What if all my growth is because I earned it. Or cats. That’s always an option.

Culture screams out that men marry nurses and women marry adventurers who, once they lay eyes on them, claim they’ll never go on another adventure because love is the real treasure. Or having someone to cook dinner is the real treasure. Someone to wake up next to and fart on. Our adventurous men make us blush and we lay them down in a bed of feathers. We stroke their foreheads. We hum and listen to all of their amazing stories of all the mountaintops in the world and sigh.

I’ll pass. 

For now, at least. 

What about women adventurers? Do they ever marry? Who will be their nurses? Do they all have to die at sea?

_________________________

Broadcast- Tears in The Typing Pool

(What the hell does this have to do with The Bachelor? UM, A LOT ACTUALLY. This is just the start of an idea. Find out later in my book.)

 

 

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