I knew a girl once who believed in love. A girl who could clearly envision herself married to someone for the rest of her life; having someone to love, to share affection, respect and companionship with. Someone in her life to give a simple compliment or embrace when needed. Fresh out of high school and she believed that she had found ‘love’ with the man she was dating. She believed he was ‘the one’, that one person she would spend her life with. Sadly, she slowly lost the youthful ideals of true love. The truth of her relationship was not that perfect fantasy that she longed for, the actuality was consumed by verbal and physical abuse, and repeated acts of unfaithfulness. Then, at 21, her life was permanently changed upon the arrival of a beautiful baby boy. She made the mistake that many young women in love do, believing that the birth of their child would fix everything that was wrong in their relationship. The truth, utter devastation when one day she arrived home only to find that the person she had invested more than 4 years of her life with had left. She was alone and left her holding all the responsibility. Unknowingly then, this moment would change everything. She would slowly dig a grave for herself as she matured, letting this history cloud her views on men and relationships. This girl was me.
You see, the ground was broken on my grave when I swore off relationships. I didn’t need a relationship; I decided that I could do everything on my own. Never again would I let a man suck my self-esteem out of me and hurt me so completely. Never again would I surrender and allow myself to feel that deeply for another man again. I made sure that I would always stay at the ‘safer’ distance, ensuring that I was never again the victim of the dreaded painful feelings that I associate with relationships. Friends with benefits was it, this was the way I would stay in control.
Truthfully, it didn’t come naturally. The process of getting intimate physically, while holding back emotionally was rocky to start. You see, while I was good at projecting confidence, the reality was that I had very low self-esteem. However, once I had a few casual sex partners under my belt I realized that I enjoyed it! The hunt, as I call it, became addicting. The act of finding the next friend, drawing them in, using them to satisfy my needs and then, “poof”, making them disappear from my bed felt empowering. I was in control. I had gotten so good at withholding my emotions from sex that I could easily come to an agreement with a long term friend, let them into my sexual “test kitchen”, and then end it without any notice and back to friends we were. Like a mutually beneficial business arrangement, or that’s how I always saw it. Now on their end, quite often it left them wondering what they did, why it ended when it was ‘so great’, but that was their issue, by the time they realized it was over I had already moved on. I began to see having friends with benefits like candy. More time than not it was delicious and addictive.
The reason that I call it my ‘grave’ is that with every conquest the pit I was in grew deeper and deeper. I have always been so focused on making sure that I would not be hurt that I never let true feelings develop that I didn’t notice that the ‘hunt’ was taking me to greater and greater lengths. It became not only about the sexual encounter but also about the “stuff” (Flowers, gifts, dinners, trips, etc). I felt strong and justified because these men knew what they were signing up for prior to the first encounter. I was always very clear and honest right from the start. If they felt I was worthy enough to shower with gifts, then so be it, I would accept with open arms. At times this did cause a conflict, as some believed that by the accepting a gift meant we were in a relationship, or that they were owed something deeper. However, it never changed the terms of our agreement for me. In fact, my reaction was always that those pesky emotions and feelings were just getting in the way of a beautiful arrangement.
These types of relationships took me through my twenties and into my early thirties. Even today, casual sex with friends is still predominantly the only type of intimate relationships that I have. I am still in the game. So, what is the point to this if I am still in emotionless relationships? Reflection. I had a moment when, for the first time in a long time, I looked at a man and found myself imagining a life. In all honesty, it is neither a life that I think I deserve nor one that I even still believe in. I thought myself such a fool to have even let myself pretend to go back down that road. Still, I couldn’t help but imagine that fantasy, the same dreams I had in high school. I realized that there’s a part of me that still wants it. I wanted loyalty, companionship, attention and compassion from this man. I didn’t want to lure him in with my bait and switch, for the first time I wanted him to want me for more. I didn’t want restrained or manipulated love; I wanted a love that comes of its own will, its own timing. I couldn’t figure out why I wanted this out of the clear blue. This was not the way I had schooled myself to think. This couldn’t be me and I wouldn’t let it be me. I had gone down this road and found it full of anxiety, emotional pain, rejection, sadness, and guilt. I swore I would not let myself feel that way again. So, I again rejected the idea of ‘more’ and kept my feelings in check the best I could and work through it until the weakness that gave these feelings is free from my body.
Alone, when I can’t hide from myself in activity, I realize how complete my grave is and how deeply I am in it, all the way at the bottom. I imagine that climbing out would be akin to fingertips bloody from scraping at the steep dirty walls. My fear of rejection is so ingrained that I am not sure that I would even be capable of telling another man who I feel something deeper for them. I have worked so hard to build a life of rejecting first that I have very little experience with relationships or risk. While I can defend my actions whole heartedly, sometimes I find myself unhappy with my romantic life, because the fact remains that in ‘friends with benefits’ there really isn’t any romance at all. It’s just sex. I fear breaking out of my pattern and searching for someone to share my life with. I fear living a life of constant rejection and living the rest of my days alone while my friends and family move forward. I am at a crossroad.