I’ve been repeating a pattern for a chunk of my life which involves getting attached to people who are, for one reason or another, unavailable for the kind of relationship that I’m interested in at the time. Or any relationship with structure or commitment. It usually begins with them telling me so and me nodding, and ends with me in floods of tears wondering why on earth they won’t just love me in the way I want them to and what terrible character flaw I possess that makes me so deeply unloveable.
Most recently, after falling head over heels for someone who had expressed clear disinterest (for good reason) in forming a committed relationship I found myself almost a year on licking my wounds and trapped in the pain of unrequited love. Pushing it down and kidding myself that what was on offer was enough. After finding myself in an Airbnb on the other side of the world for work, mooning and missing this person and writing to tell them so, and feeling utterly unmet by the response, the blackout curtains of denial fluttered open for a moment and I saw the light. We were in different places, he had been right all along telling me so as I sing-songed back my totally-fineness and utter lack of attachment, deceiving myself totally, and him by extension. It had to stop.
So I wrote and told him so, with as much kindness for the both of us as I could muster, in the middle of a tear-soaked coffee stop in a day of walking the streets for money (not like that – I collect data for a living, sometimes). After about 20 minutes (quite the anomaly) there was an answer back. He had suspected as much and was truly sorry but was not in a place of being willing or able to commit to a relationship, as stated, nearly 12 months ago… I’m trying hard to be kind to myself right now as I write, about how long this took me to truly grasp and to him for not nudging me a bit harder, against his interests perhaps, to wake up – though nudge me he did. I stormed with grief for the rest of the day, flooding the streets with salt water and stamping my pain into the Tarmac. Howling into the wind and the faces of passersby and singing out my sorrow to every pop power ballad I could summon.
Almost 2 months on, it has taken daily courage to keep walking away, step by step. I’ve had to turn myself back around several times, as I find myself metaphorically stood knocking at a closed door again. My good friends have listened to me talk myself back into a world of delusions and self abandonment and back out again more times than I’d like. I’ve sent messages I regret, made myself feel vulnerable, worried I’ve hurt his feelings. I’ve received beautiful listening, compassion and friendship from him. I’ve met silence and confusion. I’ve raged, fantasised and broken apart. I’ve doubted myself and derided myself and watched with detached disbelief as I disentangle myself from the affection of a wonderful human being.
Breaking my own heart, for my own good, is the weirdest experience. Emotionally it’s like cutting off your leg to get out of a bear trap. Hideous analogy but anyone who has experienced the withdrawal pains of breaking free from this unilateral pattern of relating will know that in the most arm-gnawing, hair-pulling, eye-scratching moments, it is true what science has shown us – the emotional pain of a breakup is experienced in the brain in the same area as physical pain and is hardly distinguishable by our nervous systems in the moment.
It is in those moments of anguish and disorientation, when just dropping them a text or going back for just a cuddle would make it all stop, that it is hardest to uphold the courageous choice to walk. In the moments when my head is clear of anguish and ambivalence, and I am not pacing around clutching my mobile waiting to receive the response that will never come, I know the choice was the right one and that I am healing a pattern that does not serve me or anyone else. Repatterning feels very disorientating and sometimes I find myself experiencing a sort of inner scrabbling for ground, clutching for false anchors, seeking out a shelter I have dismantled, and I know I’m on the cusp of building new ones that will stand.
I know I’m not the only one to go through this. People choose, at certain times of life or perhaps for their whole life, not to be available for deep emotional commitment. It is a totally valid choice to be respected like any other. The difficulty comes when these people, still wanting to connect and enjoy the company of those they are attracted to, lay this out dutifully and clearly and… for psychologically complex and I’m sure totally varied reasons… the other person just does not hear it/believe it/accept it and gives the go ahead. Maybe we think it won’t be a problem for us, maybe we think it might change, maybe we just flat out don’t understand what they mean. On we go hurtling headlong into heartbreak.
As a woman, I know that my brain chemistry works in such a way that as soon as I am physically intimate with someone, then my brain releases oxytocin and gets me nicely bonded and emotionally attached to this person. The more this repeats, the stronger that attachment becomes. I might think I have a handle on the situation but all of a sudden I am playing out all kinds of attachment behaviours and my capacity to think rationally about the situation is going fast out the window. I’m in deep, and getting myself out activates the same regions of my brain as heroin withdrawal. So just know yourself. Know what’s happening in your body and brain, know your attachment style, know your vulnerability.
I believe in loving whole heartedly, I believe in going all in, and because of this I need to take better stock of what I’m getting all into, read the signs and read them again til I am clear what I’m signing up for, and what I’m not. Work on understanding the beliefs and desires that cloud my vision. Get clear on what my own vision is for relationship, and be brave to say no when what’s on offer doesn’t fit.