my life is a ball of chaos
November 8, 2012 1:07 PM   Subscribe

So, am I a magnet for toxic relationships? Is it them? Is it me? it really such a bad thing?

I'm 21/gay/f. So, I've been in three "relationships" so far, none of which would probably be considered very "healthy" (or real "relationships"). But I don't really know what that means, being inexperienced, and at this point the qualifications people give for being a "healthy relationship" seem unreasonably high! (Like, "You have to enjoy your time together at all times and if you argue once during the beginning stages, it's basically OVER.)

The first one was when I was 18, with someone who was 23 and had been divorced before (!!!) That lasted maybe about three weeks, not including a two-week interval at the beginning where I had left town for winter break and we just talked over the internet. I wasn't really attracted to her, but I didn't really care cause I was 18 and had nothing better to do. It got intense really quickly, and we spent almost all of our time literally in bed together (we were both unemployed). She started saying things to me like I was bad at sex (it was my first time) and other sarcastic remarks, which if I returned them, even in jest, she's start either crying or telling me I was some mean horrible person. She broke up with me pretty suddenly, telling me we argued too much and "relationships aren't supposed to start like that." These arguments consisted of things like her wanting me to come to her house, and me saying I didn't want to because I was extremely allergic to her cats.

The second one was when I was 20, and lasted less than a week. I was not attracted to her at ALL, in fact I couldn't imagine being intimate with her and avoided it, but I liked her friendship so I let her hang around. We never really argued, it was pretty blah.

But the one that's making me actually think there's a theme here, is the one I'm in now. It's not really a real deep relationship per se, because we met once, I moved, and now we've been talking online every night for almost a month. But it also got intense really fast. We were talking about visiting each other, but now it's going downhill and I don't really think that will happen. When I first met her, she was really nice and I liked her. Sure, she was very opinionated and talkative, but I thought she was interesting enough and I liked her. Once it got online though, she started seeming more self-absorbed and kind of needy. She's been complaining about everything lately, and it's getting hard to play the sympathetic listener role EVERY SINGLE TIME!

I think about just letting our friendship die off, but I like her in all other areas, and if she wasn't so depressed all the time it'd be fine. I don't want to be that person who leaves you just because you're down. And it's hard to just tell her I'm done, because once we have an argument and she texts me the next day like nothing ever happened, I'm completely ready to think everything's OK again. Of course it's not, though. I want to think it will get better once we meet offline again and her own life situation improves, but I don't even know when that will be.

I think possibly she's been this way the whole time, and I just started to notice. Ever since I noticed how one-sided it was though, I've been a little irritated and not really as passive about it. And now, although I'm still really trying to be sympathetic, our last two conversations have turned into arguments somehow.

I suggested taking a break and only talking when we felt like we weren't going to argue, which implied that I was a PART of the problem, you know? But she just repeated that it was only me who was the problem. I'm so ready to incriminate myself and say it was all my fault (although she said some hurtful things, I admit I did also say insensitive things), but when she says I "just won't let it go" or something like that, it makes me feel worse, when I'm just trying to make up. It makes me feel like I'm a stupid nagging girl who always has to "talk about what just happened" for ten hours.

And now I feel like whenever I talk to her I have to make all the effort to keep the conversation upbeat, which is hard when you're the only one doing it. Still, I do like her otherwise and sometimes she's happy (and when she is, she's really great!), and maybe I should just be supportive and stick through it, even though it seems like everything I say is wrong...and it's quickly getting hard to talk to her at all. Like, she really needs a whole ton of support for whatever reason, but I don't feel like I'm the person for that.

Still, I'm out of school and unemployed right now, and I know that if I just end it, I myself will have nothing to do and will probably get pretty depressed without that extra interesting thing in my life, confusing and terrible or not. (I call it a "thing" cause it's still just long-distance online chatting.)

Maybe it really is my fault for trying to be too serious too soon. Or too meta. I just have no experience with this. I can't talk to her about it because she just says she doesn't want to talk about it or that I'm being annoying. But I'm scared to just end it cause when if I'm wrong? What if I really am the problem, the jerk who provokes depressed people? I keep thinking if I could just change it would be OK again.

Now to the actual question(s)...

--Are these things normal?

--Did we just get burnt out too fast? A month is like seven in straight years.

--Will it ever get better if it starts out bad (like will I always be walking on eggshells)?

--How/When can you tell it's "not going to work out" and how can you tell it's worth it to at least keep trying?

--Am I wrong for not wanting to be "the positive one" all the time?

--Do you think I'm the problem? Am I not being sympathetic enough?

--Is it different when it's long-distance or online?

--How can you be assertive without looking like a pushy a-hole?

--What if I just...stayed? I mean, I'm 21, if there's any time for short-term roller-coaster relationships, it's now, right?

Any advice appreciated. I don't know what it's "supposed" to be like.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
at this point the qualifications people give for being a "healthy relationship" seem unreasonably high! (Like, "You have to enjoy your time together at all times and if you argue once during the beginning stages, it's basically OVER.)

In the first two instances, you admit right up front that you weren't even attracted to the women! You just dated them because... why, because they showed up? Because they expressed interest in you and weren't blatantly axe-murderers? And in the third, you admit that you're just holding on because you'd be bored and depressed if you didn't have someone to talk to, not because the woman has any particularly positive traits. Have you ever considered just... only dating people you would actually ENJOY DATING?

You're not a magnet for toxic relationships- you just seem to not believe in having standards, like it makes you a bad person to reject anyone, for any reason. Or, perhaps, you think you can't do better... but you're wrong.

I know this may sound impossible to believe, but one of these days you will meet a person you actually like and are attracted to, who likes you and is attracted to you. Unless, of course, you are too busy pursuing a non-relationship with someone who argues with you and who you aren't even attracted to.

How are you meeting these women? Are you making an effort to get out there and date around, or do you wait to be approached? Do you live somewhere with a dearth of gay women?

Will it ever get better if it starts out bad?

posted by showbiz_liz at 1:17 PM on November 8, 2012 [10 favorites]

On preview: seconding showbiz_liz... Why do you not have/enforce standards?

--Did we just get burnt out too fast? A month is like seven in straight years.

I'm straight, and early 20s. And my relationships go pretty fast at first too. It's called New Relationship Energy (NRE) and it cools off after a while. For me, this is about 3-6 months. For you, this seems to be much quicker. A relationship is only really worth keeping if you still want to be together after the NRE wears off, IMO.

--Will it ever get better if it starts out bad (like will I always be walking on eggshells)?


--How/When can you tell it's "not going to work out" and how can you tell it's worth it to at least keep trying?

When it's bad more than it's good. When thinking about your partner or your relationship makes you (want to) cry. When you start doing things to actively avoid your partner. When you start lying, or feeling like you should be hiding yourself from your partner.

Basically, any time when the "net gain" from your relationship is negative.

--Am I wrong for not wanting to be "the positive one" all the time?

No. You need to lean on each other. It has to be a give and take. If one partner is always taking (i.e. needing the other partner to be "the positive one"), it's not going to work. Draw your boundaries early in the relationship (maybe say, "I'm not feeling that positive, but I'm sympathetic.") and if the other person doesn't respect it, it's not a relationship worth staying in.

--Is it different when it's long-distance or online?

Yes. You're not getting the same day-to-day interaction. Doesn't mean it can't work, but a lot of people do long distance or online, and then get together in real life and it's WORSE.

--How can you be assertive without looking like a pushy a-hole?

If the other person thinks you're an a-hole because you're pushy, they are not the right person for you. That person is trying to guilt or shame you into doing what they want. That's toxic. Stay away.

--What if I just...stayed? I mean, I'm 21, if there's any time for short-term roller-coaster relationships, it's now, right?

Er, why would you want them at all? Also "weeks" is not even a relationship to me. That's still that OMG UR SO HAWT phase. Months is a relationship.
posted by ethidda at 1:24 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, you know what? It's pretty normal to date people you don't like (and who say mean things to you!) when you're 21. And have roller-coaster relationships with those same people.

Just because it's normal doesn't mean you should do it. Do not stay with the current woman, but do get out and date more. Find someone you're attracted to who is also Good to you and for whom you are positive because they make you feel giddy and happy and in love.
posted by ldthomps at 1:24 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

It doesn't have to be all Disney-cartoon during that first phase of dating, but there should be a certain excitement in it. In contrast, you seem to be using these relationships as passive entertainment - least objectionable programming that gives you something flickering in the corner of your eye, like people who keep the tv on while they sit on the sofa and knit. How about looking around to find somebody to date where you get more fun out of the whole thing?
posted by PussKillian at 1:25 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Normally in response to a question like this, I'd say "What is the one common element here? Oh, it's you!" Which is harsh, but logical.

However, in this scenario, I think you have nothing to worry about. None of these really lasted more than a month - to me, that's not even a "relationship", it's just a fling. Relationships are like shoes; sometimes you have to try them on and walk around in them a bit to see if they fit.

You are perfectly normal. Having a couple of flings before you find somebody that is relationship-quality is natural. (To give you some perspective, I didn't have my first real "relationship" until I was 24 - and I'm straight, so there was a much larger pool to choose from.) Please don't worry so much; you'll be fine.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:51 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

You get into a relationship because you enjoy the person's company, are sexually attracted to her and have similar goals and world-views.

A relationship lasts because you are willing to work at it, because it has value to you.

There's a difference between fucking and being in a relationship.

What you are describing are experiments. They turned out badly. Learn from them and move on.

Here's an exercise. Write down what you want in a partner. EVERYTHING.

I'll get you started:

Attractive face/body-type
Likes cats
Has a good job
Between the ages of X and XX
Is X Religion
Has self-esteem
No major medical or physical illnesses
Owns car
Has job
Likes Mad Men

Anything that pops into your mind. Not everyone has to tick all of your boxes, but the really important stuff...yeah, that has to happen.

Stop being so lazy. Be proactive. Say no to people. It's okay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:56 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's really easy for queer folks to accept shitty partners because they spent so long not knowing any other people like them, so they're just happy to get some.

Don't be typical.

Don't date people just because they're there. It's not fair to anybody.

If you're worried about being bad at sex, practice on yourself and leave those you aren't attracted to alone. Your future sex partners will thank you for it.

As for your questions:

--How/When can you tell it's "not going to work out" and how can you tell it's worth it to at least keep trying?

If it's not working out in the first month, it's probably not going to work out at all. Bail earlier rather than later. It doesn't have to be perfect but it should be a lot more bad than good.

--Am I wrong for not wanting to be "the positive one" all the time?

Hell no.

--Do you think I'm the problem? Am I not being sympathetic enough?

Maybe but at this point it's too hard to tell when things have been so one-sidedly bad on the other side.

--Is it different when it's long-distance or online?'

Long distance does make it harder, but if somebody can't put their best face forward when you aren't even spending too much time together, living with/near them is, more often that not, going to be a nightmare.

--How can you be assertive without looking like a pushy a-hole?

By being kind and polite and standing up for yourself. If you do those things and people think you're being an asshole, it is ALL ON THEM.

--What if I just...stayed? I mean, I'm 21, if there's any time for short-term roller-coaster relationships, it's now, right?

Yes -- but the emphasis is on SHORT term. Leaving is what you should do at 21, not settling for shitty drama.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:06 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

You are being a jellyfish in the ocean of romance.

Be a shark.

posted by French Fry at 2:09 PM on November 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

There are totally sane, low-drama queer women out there. However, not many of them are under 25. This probably includes you. It is totally fine to make some bad guesses and have some very brief relationships at your age. It is also a really good time to learn to set some boundaries and be able to say "look, I'm not really enjoying this relationship. I don't think we're right for each other. Bye."

And yeah, stop getting involved with people you don't really enjoy talking to or sleeping with. Both of those things really have to click for a relationship to work, in my opinion.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:10 PM on November 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's two words you used here which I don't think are really good descriptors for your problem: "toxic" and "relationship." Your relationships seem so short-lived as to pretty much just be regular dating. Regular dating is fine. Not everyone is going to be a good match. People your age are flighty and early 20s is the time for trying things on, rejecting things, figuring things out. It can feel chaotic and frustrating and like you're doing things wrong but it'll all sort out eventually... usually.

Toxic is a word I use for a situation where people are seriously taking advantage of others, where someone is being abused, where the dynamic is incredible dysfunctional. Your current online friend is being a drag? Well, that's just someone being a drag. It's not toxic to you.

You're out of school and unemployed. I think maybe you have too much time on your hands. This happens to everyone now and again. They have nothing to do so they focus on the minutia of their lives -- this is rarely productive. Go start a new hobby -- sports, maybe? Perhaps you will meet some new and interesting women in your local sports leagues.
posted by amanda at 2:29 PM on November 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Stop dating people that you DO NOT LIKE. I have been there and done this a lot and it never gets better! People will tell you all the time to "give them a chance" and date whoever asks because you can't afford to be picky (maybe doubly so if you're gay, I don't know), but it would probably start improving things a lot if you actually wanted to be with the people you are being with. Don't date people because you are bored and there is a warm body there. They can and will get more attached to you, and when you don't feel the same way, you end up in situations like this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:28 PM on November 8, 2012

Echoing what others have said... you are not crazy and being more selective is a good idea.

I'm F, lesbian, 51, and out since I was 20. I went thru crazy relationship after crazy relationship until I realized that they were getting crazier (the last one was a nut case that I knew for 2 yrs and didn't even like!). I put myself on a year-long "time out". What I found was that I would start feeling desperate about being single and start having "feelings" for lots of people in my life. Many of these pople were completely unsuitable -- male, straight female, I didn't like them as people, etc.... I called it my "Are You My Lover" phase after this Dr. Seuss book :).

I made a list of the qualities I wanted in a partner. When I did get involved with someone, I took it slower than I had in the past and asked my friends' opinion (and I listened to it! :)). That relationship lasted 6 yrs and we are still friends. My current relationship is hitting the 4 year mark. Previously, I would be madly in love for 1 yr, and then desperate to get out of the relationship for 1 yr. No relationship lasted longer than 2 yrs.

I also went to couples therapy with my last crazy lover -- that helped me to know what it took to have a healthy relationship.

There are good partners out there for you. Don't settle for less.
posted by elmay at 6:57 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I approve of most of whats been said upstream, but heres my tidbit: Learn to communicate. It is essential in all relationships. All couples will fight, sooner or later, but it is how you resolve it that matters. All relationships will have dull spots and busy spots and arguments and hurts. You don't have to be perfect, but you do have to be kind, and in my opinion, want the best for your partner. There will always be some give and take, and that can change from year to year or week to week even, but if the partners aren't equal/complimentary it tends to not go well.
posted by Jacen at 9:37 PM on November 8, 2012

I've seen countless of my lesbian-identified friends do this while in their early 20s. I think it's some kind of rite of passage or something at this point: thou shalt date people thou hast no interest in, or anything in common with. What benefits are you getting from these interactions? Can you get them anywhere else (even if it would take more effort than basically relationship-starfishing your way through dating)? THEN DO THAT.

You don't need to settle for the first lady-loving lady that comes across your path every time. Find someone you WANT to be with, that you want to put effort into, instead.
posted by buteo at 2:04 AM on November 10, 2012

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