Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s social media editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
Dear Fuck-Up (that feels mean, but ok)
For better or worse, I have zero chill when it comes to new romantic relationships. By this point I’ve met and dated and slept with so many people that I feel like when I meet someone special I know right away. I move fast, and fall hard, and inevitably end up burning my life down for dudes who may or may not give a shit about me.
On the list of positives, my Dido-esque willingness to throw myself on the funeral pyre of a new love makes me an incredibly supportive, giving, attentive, empathetic partner. Between my last few exes I’ve put myself thousands of dollars in debt, waited patiently in court and and hospital rooms, forgiven an addict through meltdowns and relapses, and watched hundreds of hours of video games when I’d rather be having sex.
Wisdom from earlier and maybe wiser generations suggests that the antidote to this foolishness is to not rush in, to take things slowly and build the foundation of a relationship piece by piece. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to do that or what it would even look like. I don’t hate the idea of giving selflessly and loving unconditionally, but I need to know if there’s a way to do that without losing myself in the process.
Should I be looking for someone who is good on paper rather than letting the storm god of my feelings choose for me? When I meet someone I’m excited about do I have to keep them at arm’s length until they’ve proven they deserve my love? When, if ever, is it okay to take a leap of faith and dive headfirst into a new romance?
You know in the Road Runner cartoons when the coyote launches himself off a cliff and confidently peddles in mid-air for a bit before looking down? Despite a very expensive liberal arts education, that’s still the best metaphor I have for my approach to relationships. It is honestly rather difficult for me to answer the question “how many times have you fallen in love?” because the answer is either 15 times or twice, and either way it has never happened slowly.
However, Chill, in reading your letter it’s pretty clear that your problem isn’t one of velocity, it’s one of discernment. What you need to figure out, rather urgently I would suggest, is why you are following these particular men off a cliff despite them not seeming to have any redeeming qualities at all.
We can start with one very flawed assumption you are making: that the work of love is suffering, and its unit of measurement personal sacrifice. It’s not hard to see why a great many of us make this mistake, the trope of the long-suffering woman has been baked into our cultural narratives pretty much as long as we’ve had them. It’s interesting you chose Dido jumping on a funeral pyre to illustrate your own instincts. Earlier versions of the myth had her doing so to avoid a marriage she did not want; it’s only later that Virgil decides her motive should be abandonment and despair.
So there’s that — simply all of the ways that living under patriarchy tells women how to be — to overcome, haha. But also, I think, some of the ways we have reacted to it. It’s become rather trendy for women to talk about emotional vulnerability, and to react to centuries of being told our pain is unimportant with a great outpouring of grief. This is good and necessary but sometimes makes it seem as though being vulnerable simply means being constantly wounded (probably a holdover from the days when our metaphors for love were primarily martial not economic, but that’s a thought for another column).
Chill, you are imagining a false choice between vulnerability and guardedness. The former also involves making yourself open to experiences like joy, and comfort, and all that comes with the small, grubby miracle of loving other people, provided, of course, those people are offering that to you. Another thing I’d urge you to consider is if there’s something you’re getting out of these just absurdly dogshit dudes. In my experience, picking men who are wildly insufficient can sometimes be a great way of making myself feel like a generous, big-hearted person while also avoiding any real possibility of mutual obligation. I mean, someone trying to kick a heroin habit is hardly in a position to take issue with the way you communicate, and if I’m paying your bail you better not have anything to say about my other financial choices.
I think that until you figure out what is driving these choices you should take a break from dating, Chill. Talk to a therapist about it — I firmly believe everyone should be in therapy basically all the time — or an unbiased source. Once you have a better sense of why you see relationships in terms of what you can give people, you can fall as quickly or slowly as you like. It’s fine to be reckless with your heart, just protect your fucking credit.
Have a question for A Fuck-up? Email DearFuckup@theoutline.com