Photo & graphics by A Stripper's Guide
I spent most of my twenties bouncing between relationships and situationships that ended in heartbreak or disappointment. For so long, I didn't know how to set boundaries around what kind of treatment I will or won't tolerate, and I didn't know that it was possible, let alone acceptable, to be brutally honest about what I want and need.
My current girlfriend, A, has a similar history. But, by the time we met in 2020, we were both already committed to breaking those patterns and ditching relationships where we were forced to settle for far less than what we actually want or need.
In our first podcast episode together, we talk about what it was like to set boundaries and assert ourselves from the very beginning, and how that practice has led us into a partnership rooted in trust, honesty, and communication. It's our hope that by publicly talking about our relationship challenges and triumphs, we can help other folks out there who might be going through something similar!
For most of my dating life, as soon as I’d develop a little crush on someone, I’d often zoom in on that small tickle of a feeling and proceed to blow it up until it was supersized. Frequently, if someone I thought was attractive tossed me even the measliest scraps of their attention, I’d hyper-react and quickly become swept away by a vision of us living happily ever after.
I’d idealize a person or relationship in my mind, and move according to my fantasy, regardless of the reality of the situation. By the time I got to my early 20s, this was simply my MO when it came to dating. I would fling myself, face-first, into whirlwind affairs with people I barely knew, only to end up heartbroken within a few months.
Constantly on the prowl for my next situationship, I would do anything for the high of a breathless, reckless, zero-to-a-hundred type of romance. And I mean anything. I was in the habit of voluntarily sacrificing my needs, desires, and boundaries for the people I was dating. If someone I liked wanted to hang out with me, I’d gladly throw my own plans out the window, even for people who treated me like an afterthought. Most of the people I used to date would frequently stand me up, ignore my phone calls, and leave my texts on read. I’d bend over backwards for mean motherfuckers with terrible communication skills; one “WYD” text at 2am from someone I liked, and I’d be out of bed and driving my mom’s car to their house (with a fresh face of makeup) faster than you can say “yikes”.
On the one hand, I was personally susceptible to fantasy love addiction because I did not learn how to have healthy, interdependent relationships in my family of origin. I spent my teen years living alone with my mom, where we were trapped in a volatile, anxiety-inducing, codependent, and avoidant dynamic with each other. Personally, I was primed for fantasy love addiction because my home life was chaotic and cold, and I longed for intimacy and connection, but didn’t know how to create it.
But, on the other hand, this shit is structural, too.
Colonialism, capitalism, and cis hetero patriarchy count on exploitation and rely on individual complicity to create a culture where we regularly trample ourselves and each other. From an early age, many of us are conditioned to believe that our wants, needs, desires, and boundaries are unacceptable. (Within these systems, people labeled “girls” in childhood, or “feminine” in adulthood, experience an overt and covert pressure to conform to a femininity that prioritizes others’ comfort, even before our own safety.) These dominant social structures have created an overarching dating culture that normalizes self-denial.
Most of us were fed the idea that we should go into a new relationship with our “best foot forward”, marketing ourselves to potential lovers or friends according to who we believe they want us to be. But, if true intimacy is your goal, that strategy never works. Many people enter relationships each trying to please the other party, only for that blow up in their faces later down the line. The thing about core needs and true desires is that they don’t go away. We might be able to hide parts of ourselves from loved ones for a while, or even forever, but that does nothing to draw us closer to each other.
True intimacy starts with getting honest with ourselves. Once we know what we really need and want, we can take intimacy out into our relationships by communicating those needs and desires to our loved ones. To experience truly satisfying relationships, we have to be brave enough to walk away from people who can’t, or won’t, make space for all that we are. We have to be brave enough not to settle.
That means getting real about our boundaries. Which kinds of behaviors and mindsets are you willing to tolerate in your relationships? Which kinds of behaviors and mindsets are dealbreakers for you?
It can be really scary to start approaching relationships this way, but, I promise you, it’s so worth it. If you break into a cold sweat at the mere idea of asserting boundaries or being unapologetically honest, I do have some good news for you. These are practices that become easier over time, and you don’t have to “get it right” on the first try!
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