Right now, while I begin the journey of becoming an educator, I want to be honest with you. I want to be authentic. If I claim to be a communications educator but don’t share how I’ve fucked up along the way, I fear that I’m concealing something. Making mistakes and learning why you made them is key to developing communication skills and maintaining healthy relationships. That’s why I want to tell you how I destroyed a relationship with codependency, a lack of responsibility for my own feelings, and the expectation of romance.
I was a senior in high school. At this point, I’d been dating the same guy for three years, and we’d had nonmonogamous experiences. I’d figured out, through trial and error, that he preferred when I had sex with women over when I had sex with men. We had very little communication about this – Those experienced with nonmonogamy might call it a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” situation. All I knew was I wasn’t getting the attention I wanted with my boyfriend, and I wanted to seek it elsewhere.
Ultimately, I began a relationship with a person I’ll call Jay. We both had some ideas of transitioning socially at some point, but neither of us was out as trans yet. I don’t know what pronouns Jay uses now, so I’ll use they/them pronouns.
Jay invited me over for a small gathering at their house, and I attended with my boyfriend. They invited me to stay the night, and, anticipating something from the flirting we had been doing, I asked my boyfriend if he was okay if Jay and I did sexual things. I don’t remember the amount of detail that went into the request, but he agreed. That was the entire conversation I had with him about my relationship with Jay. No boundaries discussions or assessments of comfort. Just a yes-no question.
The night proceeded as normal. At one point we were laughing, and I kissed them on the cheek. I asked, “Was that okay?” They nodded. “Can I kiss you more?” They nodded. And so it began. For a few months, I would spend the night at Jay’s house about once a week. We would kiss and have faltering sexual interactions. In a light amount of detail, I will say that I often asked Jay to top and take control, and they seemed enthusiastic about these activities.
This was okay, but I had an ulterior motive; I thought that if I simply continued to be friendly and likable, Jay would develop romantic feelings for me. I desperately clung to the idea that they might love me because I felt unloved and neglected in my primary relationship. This expectation was the source of several issues that grew out of control and destroyed our friendship.
I developed codependency with Jay, my friend with benefits, which is considerably worse than “catching feelings.” My self-esteem was entangled with Jay’s opinion of me. If Jay wanted to have sex with me, that meant I was desirable. If Jay fell in love with me, that would mean I was lovable. Anything else meant I was worthless.
This situation was tense but sustainable until Jay and another friend with benefits started having sex. I didn’t have the emotional literacy to name my feelings and needs. I didn’t have the emotional maturity to know that I was obsessing over Jay’s opinion of me. When Jay entered a monogamous relationship, I fell apart. I took it extremely seriously, and I also didn’t take responsibility for my own feelings – I called them multiple times in one day, weeping that I was unlovable and ultimately abandoned. I put everything I was feeling, all of my baggage and codependency onto them. It was extremely difficult for Jay. Soon afterward, they asked to end our friendship.
What I Know Now
For a while after the relationship ended, I struggled to understand what exactly had gone wrong. I could tell you that I did something bad, but I couldn’t articulate the steps along the path that led me to that moment.
After more than eight years, I can now retrospect on what happened with Jay. Here’s what I know now that I wish I had known then.
1) I can’t make someone love me. No matter how attractive, likable, and funny I am, it’s impossible to develop someone’s feelings for me. Romantic feelings develop naturally or not at all. I also know that even if someone doesn’t love me, it doesn’t mean I’m not lovable. I’m attractive, likable, and funny, even if no one has romantic feelings for me. I didn’t need Jay’s desire or love to be worthy or good.
2) I am open and honest about expectations and desires. I now have a discussion early on with anyone I have sexual relationships today about the expectation of romance or any sort of partnership. If our desires are misaligned, we have follow-up discussions about how to proceed in a way that is satisfying to everyone. Sometimes that means ending the relationship, and sometimes that means intentionally changing the relationship in a way that serves us both. If I had been open with Jay about my desire to have a romantic relationship with them, we could have approached that with mutual understanding, and perhaps parted ways amicably.
3) I am the only person responsible for my feelings. I deeply appreciate it when someone wants to contribute to my life. However, I want people to help me when they want to, not out of guilt, shame, or obligation. I was expecting Jay to help me cope with my feelings around them, which was clearly a tender spot because they felt the intensity of my codependency!
4) My extreme feelings are warning signs. Feelings that are intense or last an unusual amount of time can serve as a signal that things might be out of balance. I didn’t have the insight to examine my intense feelings for Jay. If I had, I could have consciously dealt with the codependency I was developing.
I have learned from this relationship, and I hope that any suffering I caused Jay has healed.
You should know that I don’t want to be an educator *despite* this relationship. I want to teach communication and peacemaking skills because I want others to work through difficult relationships like this one. If I can, I want to prevent the suffering that Jay and I suffered.
If you’re still here after I’ve shared this, I hope we can continue to learn together. Thank you.