Questions about love and sex in the city of Iowa City can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (queries can also be sent anonymously using this form). Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.
My parents went through an ugly separation. I’ve begun to believe I’ve internalized their divorce to the extent that I no longer see myself in any “happy” relationship. Because of this I am beyond self reliant, but incredibly unhappy. How do I let this go to find that special someone that will finally add to my life, and if I do, how do I not let myself be defined by them?
I notice you put the scare quotes around “happy” in “happy relationship,” and I’m wondering what would change if you put the scare quotes around “relationship.” To me it seems like the biggest questions for you here are about relationship models, healthy dependence and autonomy, rather than “happiness,” which is nebulous. The idea of a “relationship” seems set, while your self and your happiness seem malleable and in need of defending. What if it were the other way around?
Our parents’ relationships often set the tone for our own sense of self-with-others, and yours is “unhappy” and self-dissolving. I’d suggest carefully analyzing the relationships you see around you. Consult the whisper-screaming cultural expectations all around us, obviously, but pay even more attention to relationships in your life and unfolding around you. Which ones seem happy? Why are they? If you do know that you want a monogs partnership (even “marriage”), what sets of partners do you know that seem to be happy? If you were happy in an earlier monogs relationship, what made you happy? I think that pursuing this line of thought will already begin to open you up to other people, while still being centered very much on your happiness.
Cutie, to be honest, I’m coming from a non-monogamous perspective, but I think regardless of your expectations for relationships, learning healthy dependence is a key love intelligence skill. Although this may seem counter to the joy drive investigation task I assigned, I don’t think that a “happy relationship” is one in which both people are happy all of the time. To me, the foundation of happiness is practicing the dependable acceptance of other people as they are. A happy relationship is one where people are allowed to be complex, to have vicissitudes. Chances are if you feel like you’re holding back from intimacy, there are feelings you believe it’s not safe to show other people. It could be fear, anger, shame, sexual desire, even joy. Practice showing these sides of yourself in relationships that are lower stakes, to build self-acceptance and resilience in the onslaught of others’ projections.
As time goes on, I think that the “relationship” image will come into better focus, either in the form of a person and/or in a different way of relating. You deserve to feel happy, (be)loved, (be)held, and you deserve to blast away any obstacle to that, instead of blasting away parts of yourself to fit a pattern you already know won’t make you happy. xoxo, Kiki
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 194.