BY KAYLA ESCOBEDO
I sat cross-legged on my bed, tears streaking salty patterns down my face as I sobbed into the webcam. It was a Thursday night, and my boyfriend, after a long day and a tiring flight, was listening to me throw more bitter, far-flung accusations at him. As I finished my laundry list of reasons why he should try harder, why I was hurt, how I felt like he wasn’t there for me, I half-expected him to respond with ministrations and remorse, along with a promise that he would do better next time. Instead, he looked at me stoically and shook his head, “I can’t do this anymore.”
I felt like someone had simultaneously slapped me across the face and soccer-punched me. No, that’s not what you’re supposed to say, I thought desperately as he pulled out his phone and read aloud the sweet, supportive texts he had sent me, the ones I had coldly failed to respond to. Why? Because he hadn’t called me while on vacation rather than texted. “That’s how bad of a guy I am,” he said, and all I could feel was shame. His eyes looked distant, blankly steadfast, the eyes of a stranger, someone you want to know but who doesn’t feel the same.
“Ok, I get it, you want to break up,” I choked, hope slipping away like so many little fish.
But strangely, after all I had put him through, he didn’t. “Something has to change,” he sighed, frustrated, pained. “I’m a good boyfriend, but it’s never enough for you.”
The next few days, I slept very little, and even that, fitfully. I thought only of his detached tone, of how he was on the edge of breaking up with me. And for the first time, I thought of what I had done wrong, rather than heaping the blame on him.
We all get a little crazy when we’re in love. We shout, we yell; we become irrational, suspicious, overly sensitive, and needy, even if in our platonic relationships we are anything but. It’s only natural; we guard our hearts cautiously, and on the rare occasion when we let someone into that lair, the tradeoff is that we can make them miserable with our demands. And while it’s important to know what we need and want from a relationship, a dangerous growing trend is to err on the side of demanding too much. While both men and women can fall prey to this phenomenon, it’s usually the fairer sex that nitpicks their partners to death.
Case in point: it’s a lazy Saturday afternoon, and I’ve settled down to some bubble tea with a friend. We’re catching up, and of course the subject turns to guys.
“My boyfriend went drinking with his friends instead of staying home with me when I had a cold,” says Cassie complainingly. “I feel a little betrayed, and have been giving him the silent treatment, but he doesn’t even notice.” I nod sympathetically and hear myself saying, “What a jerk. You know, Cassie, you’re such an amazing person, and you deserve the best. There are so many guys out there, and you’ll find someone who really cares for you and is there for you.”
By the end of the afternoon, we’ve come to the conclusion that we should both break up with our deadbeat boyfriends, or at the very least, give them some sort of ultimatum that will have them on their knees begging for forgiveness and absolution. What Cassie didn’t tell me how her boyfriend had brought her medicine and soup in bed and called her to check up on her during the party. She only saw the negative in what he had done, and amplified it in her mind. Meanwhile, her poor boyfriend, who simply did not realize anything was amiss (men are often oblivious when it comes to the subtleties of a “wronged” woman’s retaliatory tactics) never saw it coming when she ranted and raved about everything he had failed to do.
We’re pretty; we’re smart; we’re going places. We defend theses and publish research, work for NGOs in Uganda and head up major college organizations. We demand perfection in all facets of our lives, especially when it comes to our relationships. We gripe to our girlfriends about how we wish we were dating when we are single, but when we finally enter a relationship, we clamor to get out because it’s “not good enough.”
What I’m telling you may shock you, girlfriend, and it definitely challenges the status quo: it’s not him, it’s you! Yes, you. Not always, but at least some of the time, you are the one building mountains out of molehills and finding a way to be dissatisfied with your relationship because you are asking for too much.
This culture of demanding so much from a relationship both reinforces and is fed by the media; we watch He’s Just Not that Into You and Bridget Jones’ Diary, and we forge the idea in our minds that most men are caddish, insensitive, aloof, immature, and inherently selfish. Men are antagonists, and women are sitting ducks. This perceived dichotomy has far-reaching effects; even when we are happy, we question it, because we think we shouldn’t be.
Yes, it’s confusing. We are told by our friends, chick flicks, sisters, cousins that we deserve a prince charming who effortlessly anticipates our every want and need, and we shouldn’t settle for less. Needless to say, the woman is always the perfectly righteous, faultless, wonderful human being who is besieged by legions of crappy men. So we tend to find fault where there is little to none, and to focus on the bad rather than acknowledging the good. And in the most extreme of cases, we either rashly break up with our current paramours to free ourselves up for the nebulous and uncertain “one,” or the men in our lives become fed up with treading the unsteady terrain of our emotions and throw in the towel, their love subsumed by the feelings of obligation and inadequacy that we conjure.
Finding someone whom you love and who loves you back is difficult, to say the least. It requires mutual attraction, timing, and compatibility, among a slew of other factors. So when you find love, don’t be so quick to let it go or to find faults. It’s tricky territory, because some girls stay on with boyfriends who truly are jerks. If there is something fundamentally wrong in a relationship, of course, you should address it and if necessary, break it off. But a few cardinal rules can help you figure out if you’re in the right, or if you’re just flipping out:
1. Be introspective after a dispute. Resist the urge to immediately start blaming your partner. Take some time, cool off, and think very rationally — what made you upset? What do you wish he had done? What did you do wrong (be honest)? Did he hurt your feelings knowingly or unknowingly? Most importantly, remember also to acknowledge the things he did right, and to bring them up when you talk to him (calmly, of course). For example: “I wanted to tell you that I really appreciate you doing ____. It was really amazing of you to do that. But I was hoping for this kind of response ____. What do you think?”
2. Don’t complain to your friends. Girlfriends can be a great resource when you’re hurting, and you can draw upon their advice and previous experiences. But of course they’re only hearing the bad, so they can be quick to misjudge a situation, especially if they’ve been burned many times.
3. Ask yourself if you are happier with this person in your life. If the answer is yes, on the whole, then a few missteps do not make him a bad person. Just a person. You’re not settling. You’re compromising, which is necessary for any relationship to work.
I recently injured my neck, and my boyfriend dropped what he was doing to take care of me at UHS. As he helped me zip up my coat and wrap my scarf around me, I experienced a wave of gratitude. I was lucky to have him in my life.
“You’re a doll,” I told him.
He smiled. “I know.”