By Jen Harris
SOUP offers a content warning prior to every column, as the subjects discussed herein may be triggering for some readers. Please proceed with caution. If you would like to try a grounding technique for triggered moments, here is a personal recommendation.
The song goes, “I would do anything for love… but I won’t do that,” and the great debate is, “What IS ‘that’?”
That is all of the things that wreck a relationship: addiction, codependency, attachment style, jealousy, infidelity, financial strain, untreated mental illness, misogyny, sexism, racism, sexual repression… the list is long. So, the song is inherently claiming, “I would do anything for love, except be human.”
Historically I’ve claimed to be the sort of person who “won’t do that,” even though I totally DO THAT and that and that. I’d still like to believe I would do anything well-intentioned and healthy for love.
Maybe you were raised on ripe, organic, healthy Love. Maybe a secure attachment style was modeled for you, a healthy sense of personal responsibility instilled, and maybe, just MAYBE, the ability to both identify and communicate your needs was encouraged. Maybe your folks took their fights quietly behind closed doors and you never played intermediary for emotionally arrested adults. Maybe you felt safe and accepted. I don’t know what that’s like. I wasn’t taught how to experience (or expect) healthy love. In the same way many of us were never given “the talk” about puberty, romance, consent, safe and pleasurable sex, sexual orientation, gender, relationship violence… I dare suggest many of our upbringings were devoid of defining conversations or behavior modeling prosperous, healthy romantic relationships.
I’ve written three books, two of them about heartache I liken to near-death experiences. I do it to myself. I jump into a new romantic interest with all my fragile, unexamined knowledge and instantly I’m swallowed by a wave of codependency and then another. Codependency is the smoothest liar, with its forked tongue in my ear insinuating the false belief that I have any capability to or any business “fixing” another person. The drowning could take years but eventually, I lose the fight. I cannot survive in these circumstances. I black out in the rip tide, praying like I believe in something. When I come to, on the life-support of my mother’s faith in me, surrounded by friends who wondered how long I would be submerged this time; I am ashamed.
I make solemn vows. I increase my therapy sessions. I make amends and seek closure. I educate myself on healthy behaviors and attempt to implement them. I call these swimming lessons. I read the books. I attend the meetings. I listen to the podcasts and watch the documentaries. I immerse myself in my healthy, platonic friendships and I proceed to reintegrate with society, cautiously.
While most of these tactics have proven useful, few are consistently implemented long-term, which is the real ticket to success. Practice. No one gets change right the first few times. The efforts I make to change my behavior are in a constant state of either sputtering or flourishing because my relationship to love is similar to that of addiction, and nothing consumes addiction. It is always present. To live with addiction is to make a daily choice to abstain from the source of the compulsion. I’ve yet to figure out how someone is supposed to live without the desire for love. I work constantly to accept that love isn’t the problem, it’s my approach.
I continue to learn:
1. Don’t do just anything for love.
2. Unconditional love is a myth. Everyone in this life could do something that would cause you to cease all relationship with them. I’ve had to lower that bar substantially. The cut off shouldn’t be “murder.” It should be “the point at which my aid enables my partner to continue behaving in an unhealthy manner that harms themself or me, I must set conditions upon this love.”
3. There are a lot of free resources for self-education regarding the dynamics of a healthy relationships and more resources than ever for learning about queer love, which varies in many ways from the experience heterosexuals have.
4. If the idea of reading dense materials to find the answers you seek is daunting, start by reading children’s books. I have excavated so much basic, previously unknown vocabulary and understandings from library books.
There will come a time when all of your resolve and conviction will be tested, and you will proceed into a relationship with a desperation to both be yourself and be so much less of the struggling person you were at the end of your last heartache. You will get there. Every moment you feel a twinge of discomfort or smell the stank of some bullshit, you will be more capable and more reassured that you can handle this. I’ve experienced these defining moments, when I’ve had to choose to behave the way I had previously or implement newborn strategies. These moments are HARD but you will breathe deeper and feel a renewed sense of personhood, I dare call it pride, when you stop repeating behaviors that don’t serve you. I know I have.
Start Here: Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.
Poet Jen Harris (she/her) is a creative entrepreneur & performance artist. Her ongoing community projects include The Writing Workshop KC & Kansas City Poetry Slam. Featured on NPR, TEDx, Button Poetry, Write About Now Poetry & Netflix Queer Eye, Harris is the author of 3 books of poetry, confessional assortments of her queer life in America.