I’ve been in a lot of relationships with an array of different men. My first boyfriend was freshman year of high school: Ben—a James Van Der Beek (circa Dawson’s Creek) look-a-like who didn’t recognize his need for antiperspirant and used to leave damp circles of B.O. on my shoulder when he put his arm around me. He told me he loved me over the phone, but I couldn’t say it back, the ever-so-cliché “thank you” slipping out instead. He continued saying it during subsequent phone calls, at my locker in between classes, during the play rehearsals he came to watch after football practice (one of very few football players to ever give me the time of day—ha!). I went over to his house once for dinner, and his petite blonde mother served everyone pot roast and mashed potatoes on cafeteria trays in the family room where we were watching O Brother, Where Art Thou? After the movie ended he showed me his bedroom where he had a poster over his bed of a dozen women standing with arms linked, their asses (barely) clad in French-cut bikini bottoms, the photo, of course, taken from behind. He said his father brought it back for him from a business trip in Vegas, how apparently these posters were everywhere and men would rub the asses for good luck, how they had to keep the posters behind glass so the asses wouldn’t wear off—nothing lucky about stroking the white stripe where asses used to be.
In that moment I wondered, with a simplicity I’m almost nostalgic for, what he was doing with me when he was able to look at women like them whenever he wanted. It didn’t compute. I felt embarrassed and inadequate and, honestly, rather confused. We broke up soon after, not because of the asses, but because I was bored—the first of many relationships I would end for this reason, a lack of stimulation, the inability to feign interest for a second longer (though he was particularly dull, I have to say). I have a tendency, as many women I know, to absorb and adapt. If you’re into the Meyers-Briggs personality test, which, if you already know me, you’re probably sick of hearing about, then when I say I’m an INFP it is probably no surprise. My type is “The Mediator,” the people-pleaser, and, often in romantic relationships, the doormat. It’s been a hard-fought battle to hold on to my own preferences and opinions in the face of a lover who has different preferences and opinions, but even still, this moment, I’m better alone, more honest and confident, curious and kind. I just can’t seem to love myself when I’m worried about whether or not someone else does.
I’ve always struggled with jealousy in a relationship. I’ve never coveted other people’s possessions or successes, but when it comes to other women, I’m relentlessly insecure when I have a boyfriend. That facet of my being—something I detest and derive great shame from—is a nonissue when I’m single. I think women are stunning, our bodies individual works of spectacular, supple art. When I’m single I don’t check the parental warnings on IMDB for nudity before seeing a movie so I know just how insecure I need to be; when I’m single I don’t worry about whether a beautiful woman is making more eye contact with one of the men in a group than she is with me; and when I’m single I’m not fretting and narrating and sabotaging sex in my mind because, usually, it’s a one-woman job. Like I said, I’m a hell of a lot better when I’m alone.
It’s an unfortunate and disheartening dichotomy, wanting that wealth of love and companionship but also aching for unfettered independence, for a mind unburdened by insecurity and guilt. At some point, always, in a relationship, my wonder and gratitude gives way to quiet fantasies of solitude. I’ll be standing in the shower with my forehead pressed against auburn acrylic and ache for the time, whether days or weeks or years ago, when no one could claim me but myself.
I’m afraid of ending up alone, afraid of inviting someone into my anxious, jealous, moody little life and having them decide it isn’t worth it. I’m afraid of being with someone too needy; I’m afraid of being with someone who doesn’t need me at all. I’m afraid of falling in love, and I fear its absence. Do you ever feel so human it hurts?