6: And this is my counterpart…

L: “Kira is childish, and hates to lose.”
Detective Yagami: “How can you be sure?”
L: “Because I’m also childish and I hate to lose.”
Death Note

People compare. When someone can’t justify actions on their own merits, it’s easy to note that they could be worse. (This actually isn’t limited to one direction. People will often also downplay their accomplishments based on those of their peers.) This is why things like Godwin’s Law get invoked so often: no matter how terrible anyone currently alive might be, at a bare minimum none of them are literally Hitler. (Or, inversely, if an adversary can be painted as being no better than Hitler, there’s nowhere for you to go but up.) For my part, there have definitely been a few incidents in which I’d deflected my own overly attached tendencies with “You should meet my ex.”

I met Claire during move-in weekend when I went to college. We spent an entire afternoon talking about all kinds of random things. Truthfully, I don’t actually remember what made me that interested in being around her; she wasn’t particularly attractive, and we didn’t actually have that much in common. But somehow we managed to connect anyway, and like a lot of new students during the beginning of the fall semester, we wound up dating. For the first time ever, I actually had a girlfriend. A lot of things could have been said about us (true or otherwise — my favorite fabrication is that we were caught hooking up in the library, a place we’d never actually both been at the same time), but you could never accuse us of having a healthy relationship. You see, she has a sense of attachment that’s not too different from mine, and if anything we fed into each other. Being around fundamentalists made this worse; it put the psychotic idea in my head that the odds of the first girl I ended up with being “the one” were actually high enough to be worth considering. (My feelings on youth within the church obsessing over marriage is a separate issue entirely.) But ultimately we spent a lot of our time doing two things: acting like honeymooners or acting like a married couple about to divorce.

To the first point, being the first girl I ever dated also meant being my first kiss and my first of a few other things. I still don’t really know what I think about that. At the time I was pretty torn between what I wanted to do and what I was actually comfortable with doing, mostly for reasons relating to all the time I spent among fundamentalists, and she tended to push me a lot toward the former, at least with the things she actually enjoyed. (When it was the other way around, her comfort level suddenly mattered.) The main reason for any limits to this was that she had a disregard for safety I wasn’t willing to budge on. (And because “it’s not natural,” for all reasons.) I still kind of wonder what it would’ve been like if some of those experiences had occurred in a dynamic with less… pressure. But even so, it became habit, to a point where we’d sometimes fall into this long after we stopped dating. I fell into it because I had no other outlet, and she fell into it because she kept believing that eventually we’d get back together. (I let this happen more than I like to admit.)

Conversely, she was incredibly easy to upset, and demanding as all hell. She used to call me at random intervals and ask me “where do you want to meet?” She kept me talking to her so long that I’d regularly miss morning classes because I was on the phone until 4am. (Not that I hadn’t been nocturnal before and since anyway, but still…) She was such an Overly Attached Girlfriend (or just friend, at this point) that she once stole my wallet entirely so that I’d have to stay with her for a while longer. She thought that violence was acceptable as long as it was female-on-male, and made use of that view anytime I managed to offend her (which, with my dating a pastor’s daughter as well as being a perpetual smartass, was often). She got jealous over the idea that I’d ever liked someone other than her. (You can imagine what she thought of Emma.) She regularly threatened to break up with me over minor things (like forgetting that my phone was on silent and not answering her calls). Best of all, she resented my having other activities other than the ones we had together, and once tried to force me to choose between her and the soccer team. To that last one, by the time next season came around all of this had piled up to a point where I’d ended it anyway, making it a moot point. Put simply, she was something of a yandere, right down to the time she tried (and spectacularly failed) to push me into a lit fireplace, for mentioning another girl to her a year after we’d broken up.

Most of this, though, is background. The real story here is what happened when I tried to stay friends with her after we broke up. She essentially acted as if nothing had happened, and while I was constantly annoyed at the clinging (again, this is excessive even by my standards), I could never truly speak ill of having someone who was always there. After all, it was the thing I had loved about Emma. Ultimately, very little had changed. The only tangible differences were that we weren’t all over each other (consistently) and that we each pursued other romantic interests. Not that this part mattered much to her, as it always ended up coming back to her wanting to know why we weren’t getting back together. After I started dating Stacy she even suggested that, based on how far things had gone between us already, I owed it to her to be the first one I slept with. (As she saw it, Stacy “stole what was rightfully [hers].” Now, ignoring that this is an inversion since they’re usually said of men, I’d believed up to this point that things like this were all just wildly overdone stereotypes. But I digress.) All of this is to say that one of the defining traits of our relationship — that I could never really get away from her — soon became the defining trait of our friendship. On a tiny campus she could seem to find me basically anywhere, and there were numerous cases of her latching onto me with utter disregard for the fact that I was in the middle of something completely different. There was even a two-month span in which she kept threatening suicide, yet seemed to think that expecting me to tend to her emotional well-being was a better idea than talking to any kind of trained professional. (In particular, I somewhat regret humoring her the time that she decided she’d just forcibly stop herself from breathing.) If anything, I felt burdened with her, and in a very misguided attempt to do unto others I couldn’t admit that. Just as I can’t let go of positive relationships, even when they’re clearly falling apart (more on that when I get to talking about Stacy), I also can’t let go of toxic ones. Something about isolation makes me unwilling to actively cut someone out of my life, even when the person’s actions border on abuse, or one acts as a constant source of stress. As I said about the last time I’d encountered Ramona, this was why I didn’t just cut her off preemptively; essentially, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. With Claire, it took separation by outside circumstances for me to step back and see that the relationship was unhealthy, much less let go of it. In a way, this whole entry is an extended #WhyIStayed, only without any horrifically insensitive jokes about pizza.

If the incidents with Ramona were me at my worst, Claire would be the theoretical limit of what I could be capable of. She was one of the few people there who didn’t have any other real friends, and to that end it sort of like dealing with myself. Amusingly enough, the one other equally-clingy person on campus saw her as the metric for creepy, and vice versa, even though neither of them was capable of seeing it in themselves. Such as, say, the time during her last semester there when she basically tried to push herself on me and then argued with me (again) about the fact that I wasn’t getting back together with her, in spite of the fact that I was interested in someone completely different at the time. Even when we broke up, it was because I was reaching my breaking point with the relationship. With the friendship, that never happened, because I wouldn’t admit to it. It literally took her flunking out and not being around anymore for me to really start getting some space. Coincidentally, I’d end up meeting Stacy around that time, which became a catalyst both for our friendship beginning to dissolve and my ceasing to view this as a problem.

Whatever the case, it parallels a lot of my own issues with isolation. Having one friend you can rely on is great. But if you only have one friend you rely on, you run a very serious risk of being left alone whenever that friend’s unavailable, and that’s not even getting into the possibility that someone gets sick of you. Returning to the observation that started all of this — that isolation breeds further isolation — it’s something of a cycle within a cycle. You lose people, and you get to thinking you can’t trust that the ones around you won’t end up leaving. (Welcome back, hedgehog’s dilemma.) So when someone comes along that doesn’t, it’s a rarity, and you treat it as such, enjoying it all you can, while you can. The issue here is that, whether you realize it or not, this habit tends to be a bit parasitic, and tends to drain the energy and patience of whoever’s on the other end. Soon it falls apart, and you’re left alone again. Repeat ad nauseum. Of course, here’s the problem: you can’t just tell someone to deal with having no friends by making more friends (and, by extension, keeping them). If these sorts of people – if people like Claire, or like me – knew how to develop and maintain relationships in the first place, it would have never been a problem.

One of the goals in every story I tell is to avoid painting anyone on the other side as a villain. Life tends to be a bit more multi-faceted than that, after all, and so do people. For example, there are details about my interactions with Ramona that I’ve held back because the point here is to learn from my sins and not to distract with those of others. With Claire, I admit I’m probably failing at that. I know she has some things of her own that need dealing with (or at least had, as of the last time I was in contact with her), and being on the other end it takes effort not to reduce her to those. It raises questions for me that I’m not sure that I’ll ever really have an answer to, about what the distinction is that separates damage from flaws. Never mind when it’s a combination of the two. Truthfully, I don’t know what to do about it. I’m not even sure if there’s anything that I could do; I’m there are quite a few people (again, Ramona) who’d say that I’m too far gone, after all. Of course, I’m only now becoming equipped to help myself with this, so I suppose my best choice for now is to move forward.

“Do you think I’m a hypocrite? Well you should. I wouldn’t disagree with you. The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties. Never regret.” – Frank Underwood, House of Cards

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