I’m sitting on the couch with my legs up, complaining about my family drama. He stands there finishing off the last of the dishes, hands wet and eyes on me. We’re discussing how stressed I’ve been since taking on huge family responsibilities. He feels bad saying anything about people he’s met a few months ago. He’s only interacted with my family twice. The longest interaction was at a theme park with screaming children and make-believe castles – too chaotic to have meaningful conversations. So, of course, he doesn’t have much material to build a decent opinion.
“I’m hesitant to say what I’m thinking,” he says, shifting his weight from one foot to another. It’s a phrase that’s become commonplace in our relationship. He doesn’t want to sway my decisions. He doesn’t like feeling as if he’s planting seeds for something that may benefit him in the long run. If I wasn’t living with my family I’d be living with him.
“Say it. Nothing you say hasn’t already crossed my mind.” I always urge him and he always continues to hold back. But, this time is different.
“I think you should try to figure out what will make you happy and go for it. Your current situation clearly doesn’t work. You only have one life and you have to live it for you.”
I nodded, hoping he’ll continue because these are the words I’ve repeated to myself. Words I’ve said when I get up in the morning, head off to work, and lay down at night. But, these words always get tainted by the feeling that I don’t deserve my own space. I don’t deserve to live in comfort and happiness if those closest to me can’t either. What makes me worthy?
“If they heard me they’d probably think I’m trying to manipulate you. But, if you ever feel that way, leave me.”
He says the last part without hesitation. I work to keep my face neutral while inside I’m shocked. I’ve never heard anyone in a relationship tell their partner to leave them in a tone that wasn’t threatening. My father would say the same thing to my mother towards the end of an argument. “Leave me,” were words meant to challenge her to venture into a world that seemed even harsher than him. My father taught us we couldn’t survive in the world without him and that’s what I thought most men wanted their family to think. But, now, I was hearing something completely different.
My boyfriend’s urging me to leave him told me I needed to start working on how I looked out for myself. He didn’t want to be with someone who’d believe he was manipulating them. Nor, did he want to feel bogged down by the guilt of living with the small luxuries he could afford. And that was his way of looking out for himself. He decided to completely choose things that served to make his life stable and balanced.
“I help my family whenever I can, but I can’t split myself five ways. It’s not sustainable. You help people more when you’re in a healthy place,” he tells me as he dries his hands on a towel, ready to move back on the couch next to me.
Making decisions for my pleasure sounds like such a cold-hearted thing to do if I’m being honest. I was raised Christian, so the desire to dedicate my life to others feels like the most respectable way to live. I’m ashamed for wanting to make choices that result in me being at my happiest. But, being with my boyfriend seems to open a door to unabashed self-love and self-care. He’s showing me a version of self-love I never thought I’d be able to learn from someone else, but instead would have to go on a solo journey in some mountain where the trees seem to touch the sky, engulfing me in pollen and hard truths.
“How do you live for yourself without feeling bad all the time?” I ask as he lowers himself beside me.
He shrugs with a nonchalance I will always envy. “I want to look back on my life and say I enjoyed myself.”
I’m addicted to suffering. If my life was ending today I would look back and see anxiety embedded in the happiest of moments. Anxiety often feels like a life raft, keeping me afloat in the world that’s vast enough for me to sink to the bottom. But, my boyfriend looks at this life full of experiences yet to happen and comforts ready to claim.
It’s going to take me time to untangle my guilt from my longing to act on pleasure. My pursuit of happiness will look different from my boyfriend’s – which, is also something I should keep in mind as I attempt to mimic his mindset. My experiences with self-love are tangled with religion and the expectation that women are natural-born caregivers. As I work on releasing my guilt I will remind myself to be open to leaving behind the things barring my happiness. The permission to leave feels like the freedom I’ve always had, but ignored in favor of a life that looks more respectable. To leave will be my first real act of rebellion in the name of self-care. I couldn’t be more excited.
What are you planning to leave behind to pursue a happier life?