learning the difference between empowerment and desperation

First, I bit of background about my boyfriend in college, who I’ll call “J” for no reason other than it’s not the first initial of his name.

I met J at a party my freshman year. I worked with a friend of his and he was home from college visiting his parents. He asked me out; I said yes, but the key thing about the whole acceptance and subsequent date is that I didn’t really like him all that much. I thought he was a little odd, though nice. I mostly said yes because of my (now mostly rehabilitated) inability to say no to nice people.

He went back to school and continued to be nice and I continued to be unable to say no. In fact — and this is how I know how much I have grown as a person since — I felt compelled to make sure I did everything I could to make sure he continued to like me. Although he had not rescued me from death in the wilderness in the outback jungle, I inexplicably took on the responsibility of making his life a happier place.

Yes, I was insane.

Eventually, he grew on me, which was fortunate since at some point I somehow became his girlfriend and although the relationship was based on him liking me and me simply not saying no, I was the one who went out of my way to make the relationship work. For instance, we were able to spend time together primarily because I would drive the four and a half hours to his college anytime I had a break from work and school, even if this meant I had to leave after work at 11pm on a Friday night. This effort from me despite the fact that he didn’t work at all and took half the course load I did.

I no longer say yes to dates with boys I don’t like, but I do still find it considerably difficult to inconvenience anyone else. I used to think that was being flexible and accommodating, but now I’m pretty sure it’s mostly annoying.

There are just some events that you always remember, that you could look back on with regret, and don’t only because you learned so damned much from them. You wish you could forget them, but part of you realizes you hope you never do. Because you’d hate to repeat mistakes like that.

This event is fairly innocuous as far as those types of mistakes go. I’ve certainly made bigger mistakes with more extreme consequences. But it still comes back to me more often than the others.

It was this.

J had been in town visiting his parents and I think maybe we hadn’t spent much time together and he suggested that I drive back with him to school. Well, not with him. He thought I might follow him four hour and a half hours in my car, spend a day, then drive back. I, of course, jumped at the chance.

He said he’d leave his parents’ house then come by around 6pm. 6pm came and went. Hours went by. I called his parents’ house and no one answered. I wondered if he’d forgotten he’d invited me to drive out with him. Maybe he decided he didn’t want me to. I worried that if I left too much later I might fall asleep on the road. I started thinking that if I left too much later, I would barely be there long enough to make it worthwhile to go.

Understand that at the time, I felt my next set of actions were a result of my independent nature, personal empowerment, and other crazy ideals that as a 19 year old, I clearly had completely backwards.

So what did I do? Obviously, I set off driving.

I know. Ridiculous.

My mind was working thusly: he invited me; I wanted to go; I would go.

There’s really no need to map out reality, right?

The story gets worse, though. In the mountains not long before Paso Robles, my timing belt broke, so I was stranded on the side of the road in the middle of the night. A trucker picked me up and brought me to a gas station about 50 miles away, and then I took a cab the remaining 50 or so miles to his house (by which time, he had made it there, having stopped by my house not long after I left, and finding out I had left without him).

I don’t know what the lesson is here entirely. Patience? Saying fuck it to something you really want to do when you’re you’re being neglected?

I do know this. Some of the best lessons are when we make mistakes and discover what not to do.

That wasn’t empowerment, it was stupidity. It was throwing myself at someone. It was desperately trying to get the relationship I wanted, rather than realizing that you can’t make a relationship into something it isn’t; you can’t make someone other than who they are.

I think of that drive a lot, even though it was years and years ago – when I’m feeling impatient, or taken for granted, or I want someone to do something different or be something different than they are. It’s not just personal relationships where these things matter. They matter with everything all the time, maybe more than they should, but I guess I’m coming around to accepting that we need people. As much as I hate to admit needing anything from anyone, I’m learning that sometimes I do.

Another good lesson in all this is simply in remembering my general stupidity. I’m not being self-deprecating or too hard on myself, I’m simply saying that sometimes I feel I’m right and that I’m generally making good decisions. But it’s good, every so often, to stop and remember that sometimes we make bad decisions (obviously ridiculous and dumb decisions) — even if we feel completely correct as we are making them.

I don’t know why this entry is so hard to write. I’ve been writing it for close to two weeks now — thinking about it, writing a little, closing the browser tab. Maybe it’s because even now, so many years later, I still have those times when I feel so lost, when I want things to be one way when they’re another, when I know what I should do, even if it’s not what I feel, and I want to have grown to a place beyond that. I suppose it’s that I want to think of myself as independent and strong and not needing anything at all. Always doing the right thing, always knowing what the right thing is. Confident. Sure.

And sometimes I’m not.

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