1. Choosing to devalue people who value you.
It’s easy to fall into this trap. Someone buys a lot of your stock, which you take for granted and before you know it, you start to see them as just an entity who’ll always be in your corner, free of charge. You shouldn’t ask that of anyone, nor they of you.
As easy as it is to let someone just sort of fawn all over, it’s not hard to become the fawner either. It’s a kind of martyrdom. “Oh no,” you tell yourself and your emotional captor, “It’s no problem. I just like doing things for you. I don’t need anything in return nor am I expecting it. I just think you’re great. When do you want to get to the airport?” (Note: I think driving your friends to the airport is a no brainer, but you certainly expect the favor to be returned.)
If someone shows that they really care for you in an intimate capacity or otherwise, you owe it to that person and to yourself to at least take them seriously. Even if you don’t return their feelings to the same extent, you can’t just let them slough off to an increasingly small, albeit helpful role in your life. You’ll wake up one day when they’ve finally given up and realize how nice it was to have someone who cared.
Essential listening: “When You’re Old And Lonely,” The Magnetic Fields
2. Rushing into a new relationship.
The misguided point of which is to re-establish some comfortable prior conditions. Other than the exciting, curiosity-stimulating beginning of a relationship, the peak of your co-dependency is the best part. You’re stuck in your ways, but you haven’t started to feel bogged down. You have a routine, but not an obligation. You’ve reached the point where you’ve carved out a separate insular reality, but before anyone, yourselves included, begin to be annoyed.
Basically, it’s a smooth wave to ride while it lasts, so why not just get there as fast as possible so as to eliminate much possibility of getting burned out during the initial launch? Makes sense, skip the hard part and get into your couples sweatpants.
So, sweatpants in mind, you power through the getting-to-know-you’s and arrive too soon at the I-love-you’s and wind up accelerating into a façade; a façade because you haven’t earned the comfort zone. You skipped over the ups and downs that actually allow you to know and love someone. This leads to a hollow, gilded shell of a partnership, teetering on a weak, hurriedly established base being slowly eroded by mistrust and unease.
The same is essentially true of trying to force or rush a friendship by trying to make your old dynamics and jokes happen with a new friend. Unless they come up organically, the mottos and you-had-to-be-theres so solidly hewn into one group’s deal, will never translate to another’s. You can’t replicate collective memories and understandings.
Essential listening: “Happy Loving Couples,” Joe Jackson
3. Acting differently in public.
There’s a certain threshold for this. Like, you don’t want to be the PDA couple or the friends who can only function in their safe cycle of inside jokes, but you also don’t want to streamline your personality to where you’re conceding anything fundamental about yourself.
The bottom line is that if you’re so far down the relationship rabbit-hole that you’ve compromised how you relate to people outside your domestic dual existence then you probably need to get out a little more and/or reevaluate where you’re going with all of this. You don’t need to be sitting on laps and making out in public, but you also don’t need to totally separate. After all you’re hopefully a functional unit, but that unit can be two-headed.
And if the only way you can interact outside your immediate group of friends is by flexing your full-on persona, no holds or opinions barred, you should maybe think about ways of doling yourself out. To know you may be to love you, but probably sequenced out over a few separate interactions.
Essential viewing locations: Work functions with plus ones, college dining halls, high school common areas.
4. Having one foot out the door before you’re ever really in.
Constantly seeking the next rock to jump to leaves you chronically on the verge of being alone. You’ll never really develop any lasting bonds; you’ll never have a healthy relationship; you’ll never have any close friends. Nothing’s ever going to match your idealization of it. There will always be problems. Always being ready to bail out will solve none of those problems, in the short or long term.
In most coming-of-age stories, a character is wowed or wooed or both by something shiny and new. Popular friends, the allure of power, the allure of the head cheerleader, and they always realize that those things not only ultimately lack substance, but also come with just as many problems, if not more serious ones than were encountered in their old life, and with none of the familiarity.
The most rewarding parts of life are worked towards and achieved and then seem to have fallen naturally into place. The best sex is when you’re in love; although it seems natural and easy and unending at the time, was something you had to work for. The best friends are the ones you’ve been through the most with, and consequently know you the best. Even if you can’t remember how you met or how you got to this point, you know there were bumps and fights and choppy waters to get through to get there.
If you’re always looking for something new, something with the sunny patches but sans shadows, you’ll be left disappointed and in perpetual, futile motion. You have to commit to people, if only little by little.
Essential viewing: High Fidelity
5. Keeping an emotional distance.
This is not to say that you should be all in from day one. You mete out your feelings and let things happen, but some ways of doing so are better than others.
Playing mind games and leveraging power dynamics are great ways to win an argument or some other kind of competition. They are not, however, great ways to build a strong relationship. The first few times you’re in touch with someone, and either you’re actually aloof or just trying to be coy, maybe wait half an hour before texting them back or whatever. If you’ve come to a comfortable understanding of what you’re doing with them, why bother? It’s just going to make you think that if they don’t respond desperately and quickly that they’re ignoring you. Being the person who cares less has a protective appeal, but is utterly inadvisable if you really want to get anywhere.
I mean, you like this person. Why try to manipulate their levels of jealousy and paranoia? Maybe you actually get distracted and don’t immediately reply or you don’t know how to answer them so you wait until you do, but if you’re just not replying to not reply, you’re wasting time for two.
Checking your phone or email or Facebook messages over and over again for something specific to no avail is the worst. It’s emotionally immobilizing and stressful and pointless; maybe the network isn’t functioning or the wi-fi is spotty or the phone just didn’t vibrate or notify properly. There are not scenarios anyone wants to have to seek fleeting comfort in, nor should you purposely put someone you ostensibly care about even a little in that cage.
It’s all well and good to not get swept up in the excitement of something new and keep some space for yourself as long as it isn’t knowingly coming at the expense of the other person’s mental state.
On the flip side, you don’t want to be the one who’s pressing so hard that you’re driving the other person away. Putting someone on a pedestal is creating another kind of emotional distance, and one that’s just as damaging as keeping someone at arm’s length because you’re still doing that, but under the guise of something positive.
Essential listening: “Reno Dakota,” The Magnetic Fields.