Relationships: Fight or Flight

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Relationships: Fight or FlightA few weeks ago my Daddy and I had a big fight; trust was broken, horrible things were said, and several times I felt I was right on the brink of losing him altogether. The key part of that sentence is not to do with the loss, but to do with why I felt that way. It occurred to me, in the aftermath, as things were slowly coming back together, and we were picking up the pieces, that in general I am incredibly quick to pull the trigger on my relationships. This may explain why I’ve never been in a relationship that survived this kind of conflict; I always bow out. Now, for the first time, I am standing on the other side; and I’ll confess, in the cold light of day, the notion of bowing out doesn’t seem quite as heroic as it once did.

Over the (admittedly few) years I have been actively dating, I seem to have accumulated several assumptions, based primarily on my earliest experiences in relationships. It was perhaps bad luck that the first two men I ever called “my boyfriend” both displayed a huge amount of cowardice when it came to ending the relationships. Both withdrew and communicated less, but, despite their clear unhappiness, neither of them were willing to break up with me. I’d like to be able to blame this on age – when you’re eighteen you have a lot to learn – but whilst one of them was my age, the second was a good twenty years older than me (and, as I maintain to this day, really ought to have known better). Ultimately, these two experiences left me with the overwhelming sense that if it was important to me to avoid painful, drawn out break-ups I would have to learn to cut the ties myself. And so I did.

In some ways I am still glad I found – and maintain – the strength to say goodbye. Because whilst there are times when I ought to try harder and hold on for another beat, there are also times when shaking hands gracefully and parting ways really is the best thing to do, for everyone involved. I do also have a sense that I’m choosing the lesser of two evils: I would rather rip the band aid off than draw out anyone’s misery.

But there is, perhaps, something a little callous about it. From the outside I understand that the speed with which I can end a relationship and move on might appear almost cruel; and it is true, I don’t dwell on these things. I sob my heart out for twenty-four hours, scream, feel close to madness… but when it’s done, it’s done. I am good at picking myself up, at moving on; and truth be told I struggle to see the value of wallowing in sadness. I like to move forwards. Don’t get me wrong, there are people from a long time ago for whom a part of my heart still aches; but I don’t indulge it. I would always rather the pain were swift and deep, than mild and drawn-out. And so, when it comes to break-ups I try to give what I’d want to get. Nevertheless, I do understand why I may seem somewhat uncaring from time to time.

Whilst I wouldn’t describe myself as uncaring, I do at the very least (as the fight with my Daddy seemed to illustrate all too clearly) carry a desire to be hasty with my farewells. Despite the numerous reasons, and all the justification I have given for acting swiftly, and leaving suddenly, it is all based on the assumption that the other person wants out; that ultimately I am saving not him, but myself, a lot of grief. And having finally come through a fight of this magnitude, a little scathed, but no less loved, I’m beginning to see what I might be giving up by way of my hard learned flight instinct.

I suppose I could have surmised, from this experience, that my Daddy is simply the first person I’ve ever been with who loves me enough to fight for me; and there may be some truth in that. But at the end of the day, I think it’s more important that I watch my trigger finger and, yes, stop playing the misguided anti-hero.

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Harper Eliot is a writer and podcaster whose work mainly centers around eroticism and social observation. You can find an archive of work, and links to all her other projects, on her website Harper Eliot. Harper lives in London, but rarely sees her own house, spending most of her time on public transport, listening to podcasts and tweeting too much. Her vices include cigarettes, lubricant, Earl Grey tea, opera, nail polish, and pinwheels.

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I’m glad you shared this. I think as a society we really aren’t taught what to do with relationship struggles on either end, how to stay together or how to part ways. Nowardays I think more people seem conditioned to just end things, even if they don’t really WANT to because that’s what they see everyone else do. Which makes it then even harder then to work things out because you have little support system while doing it.

    During the 17th year of my marriage, my hubby and I went through what I had always considered before it happened, as a relationship ender. We had been together 21 yrs at that point and so had had our share of low periods, but nothing like this. EVERYONE who knew what was going on expected me to end it, even his own mother. But I didn’t want to, he didn’t want to. So we went to our close friends told them exactly what was happening, that we were going to try to work it out and asked for unconditional support, no sides, no unsolicited opinions or advice. We also asked that anyone who didn’t already know wasn’t told, because as energy workers we believe that other people’s energy influences our own, and I didn’t want people radiating doubt that we would make it.

    So we worked long and hard, and our friends were neutral ears and shoulders letting us get through it. Sometimes I had to get away from him, and our life, and all that reminded me of what gone on (a weekend here and there), but the breaks I took away let me come back revitalized ready to keep working. And every few months I noted that it was easier than the previous few, until one day I just realized we were better than we ever were before. Its wasn’t a fairytale magic wand fix, it took YEARS to first get back to balance, then for it to be good again, until we landed at better than we’ve ever been. We couldn’t have done that though if we hadn’t had the atmosphere to do it in. We needed the bubble of support that people who knew what we were struggling with provided. They were invested in our happiness while having no personal NEED for us to stay partners, so they didn’t trying to sway us one way or another.

    However had it gone the other way, where I did not want to continue the relationship, and I will admit a few times I did feel that way, they would have supported us in that too WITHOUT TAKING SIDES. Which is a big problem I see in todays relationship struggles. Social media has created a means of weird invasion into our relationships by others. An insinuation of this block of third parties watching not only our romantic ties but friendships, business relationships etc. So then no matter what we say WE want, the drive clear cut sides, someone right and someone wrong, rears its head in a glaring public media way, and most of the time it is really not that clear. At least it’s not until one person either gets pushed far enough to create a relationship ender, or ends the relationship themselves, either of which then attract ALL the blame right to them.

    We also aren’t good yet at seeing the signs of incompatibility before its too late, so it seems to always end explosively, which sets of a chain reaction of collateral damage in the people “watching” (and sometimes even encouraging) the relationship’s decay and demise, because those people then in turn create explosions and collateral damage when their relationships end.

    So I think its time we all start telling our stories like you did. Those of us who decided to keep working and figured out how out how to rebalance and make it work again; those of us who tried working on it but decided to part anyway ending peaceably; those of us who recognized when things were not going to work right away and ended it maybe not amicably but at least before the explosion, AND those who ended with the explosion. There is value in all human experience and the more we share what worked and didn’t, the better I think we can ALL get it at this human relationships thing!

    Much Light and energy for you and your Daddy to continue learning as the journey of your relationship goes on. Thanks again for sharing.

    • Avatar

      Thank you for sharing this.

      I think you’re right: we don’t see either one (or any of the many possibilities between) modeled enough.

      What really struck me about what you shared was how unique it is. How many people do you think feel able to create their own ways to deal with things? To fix things? I think having the strength to leave and having the sense to know how to fix things when you want to are equally important. And I wish people could approach situations with the same individualism as you.

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    Holy typos Batman, I really need to start writing my comments in Word, THEN pasting them after I can proofread. This little box is not made for wordy commenters like me ;P

  3. Avatar

    Wow glitch in the matrix popped my typo comment after yours, hmmmmm. In any case I think very few people feel like they can create their own way to deal with ANYthing these days. With social media EVERYONE has an opinion, so I think people allow themselves to just fall into whichever role the “majority” decides for them, which in the case of relationships is either the monster or the martyr. When I finally realized the only person I was on this planet to satisfy was ME, so the only voice I needed to listen to was the one in my own heart, I started using whatever tools I could find to create and maintain the life I wanted. I didn’t care if the tool I was using might not have been made for the job I was using it for.

    That’s the other thing I think we need to model, nurture and support in others too though, thinking outside of the box. The US has become this rubber necking society looking to point out the anomaly so they can immediately start taking bets on the next potential “disaster”, instead of giving out high fives to the person brave enough to choose their own way. We pretend we’re afraid of the Stepford Wives out there and then perpetuate that by stomping down “other”. Well not me, I applaud creativity, celebrate non-conformity and question the homogenized human. Create change people :)

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