Relationships Are Hard Work— And That’s Ok

The life long battle of trying not to project your fears and problems into your relationships.

Photo by Orkun Azap on Unsplash

ve always prided myself on being good at giving relationship advice; for me all relationships, whatever their nature, are essentially equal so the advice, tips, and reflections can be applied to all spheres of a relationship: friendships, love relationships, fraternal relationships, etc. If someone asks me why I feel like I’m very good at advising about relationships I won’t be able to say why, even though I have vague ideas about it.

I’ve always lived in mildly hostile environments — to be generous in my choice of words — and for several other factors I ended up always being a very observant child so this becomes a very easy equation to solve: an observant child living in an environment of chaotic relationships = important learning about relationships at a very young age. But that’s not enough, there’s something there that I can’t explain, a special spice, a magical touch from the Universe, which made me get the best of many bad experiences. Perhaps maturity has forged my raw ideas, perhaps therapy has further embellished these thoughts, however breaking up many times has certainly helped me to improve all of this. Taking all this into consideration, I end up having a lot of baggage even though I have lived so little time, trauma does that to people.

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Anyway, it’s always good to point the obvious: having a lot of smooth talk to say nice things to other people doesn’t necessarily mean that you go for everything you say in your own life. I know this well because I suffer too much to put into practice what I believe is very good in theory. It is a difficult task to let go of ways of acting that are toxic to you, and therefore to whom you relate; the first step is to be aware of these bad habits, which for me was never the hardest part, but I recognize that for most people this is the worst task precisely because of the lack of self-knowledge and a good relationship with ourselves. The second, of course, is for you to identify your automatic thoughts and act to change them; and for me, that’s where the danger lies. It’s very difficult for you to change a whole way of acting and relating to the world, and by definition the people who live in it, when you’re so used to acting in one way, and it’s not just acting, it’s feeling that way. Changing a way of acting when it is so attached to a way of feeling is extremely difficult because it is not easy to change our feelings, they own us more than the other way around.

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once read a poem by a poet who I don’t remember the name of but the poem was about how our birthdays make us and after a certain point they start to undo us, and it made me think about relationships and how we live until at one point learning about them by copying the people around us and when we cross that line, that fine line that everyone crosses, where at one point you’re just a cheap copy of others and at another you start forming yourself, being you, to build yourself on what you think is right and wrong and what works in your life. When we cross that limit, some earlier than others, we spend the rest of our lives trying to deconstruct what we learned early and no longer serves us; but this slow process is first of all painful, and often costs us too much. Sometimes we spend our whole lives trying to be what we think we should be and in the end what we really were was just an attempt, it was just the almost, the path and never the destination.

In these deconstructions I find myself stuck in a dead-end. Lately, I found myself very reflective about my role in the lives of the people I relate to, especially in friendships and love relationships (all relationships are love ones). I grew up with wrong ideas about showing affection, I still believe in the idea of dependency between two people, in the idea of putting the other person always as a priority, in the idea that sacrifice and unconditional devotion are proofs of love. And I just hate feeling that way because rationally I hate these ideas. I am aware today that they are the seeds of Christianity in my life — nowadays I am an agnostic, but I spent my childhood being very devout to God and going to church. I think I just learned to project sacrifice and unconditional love for God onto other people, as an extension of Himself on Earth.

The question is: I believe in the freedom and individuality of each one, I like to think that we are all whole and our relationships are just us sharing a little of ourselves with the people we like and that in our lives the sun of our solar system should be ourselves, but that’s all I think about and not how I feel in practice. In practice my feelings are very mixed, I have an absurd fear of being abandoned and never being good enough — because if I’m good enough then why does the other person need someone besides me?

Maybe feeling like this is very common for other people and to some of them it’s not a problem and for me it wouldn’t be either if it didn’t cause me so much discomfort. It’s uncomfortable to think about how hostage I am to other people because I project too much and expect too much from them when in reality they never set out to do that much. It’s uncomfortable because I sacrifice my peace agonizing thinking about everything I’ve done wrong and everything I could do right when the reality is so simple. It’s uncomfortable agonizing thinking you’ve exposed yourself too much in a message and that’s why the other person takes long to answer when in fact they’re just too busy living their lives and one hour, at some point, in a minute of the day they’ll answer you. It’s uncomfortable because I see people I like giving their time and being happy with the other people in their lives and I’m like “ok, but what about me?” and then I’m sad because I want their unconditional time and seriously, that’s ridiculous on all levels.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

In the end, it’s easier to recognize my mistakes than to change them. And all I can do now is not let my problems affect my relationships even though I know that sometimes they spill over and dirty the floor a little. The other person’s love for other people doesn’t mean that their love for me diminishes, it’s just that the love is too great and deserves to be shared. If things ever end they will end no matter how many times I go uphill carrying the world on my back.

“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,

Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,

Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.” — Walt Whitman

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Engineer student, aspiring writer and activist. My life is a mess. | I write in English and/or Portuguese. she/they

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Alessandra Figueiredo

Engineer student, aspiring writer and activist. My life is a mess. | I write in English and/or Portuguese. she/they