I’ve often asked myself why so many people stay in destructive relationships where they aren’t appreciated or treated as equals, and where they’re often either ignored or taken for granted in some way, shape, or form. And the answer comes back loudly and clearly: because they’re afraid to be alone. So many people will accept so much less than they should because they don’t think they’re worthy of anything else and they can’t face the thought of being by themselves. That was the topic of discussion around the water cooler this week.
Tracy: My sister was with this guy for two years who treated her like shit. He was always talking about how she had to gain weight, how thin she always looked, and how he liked a little meat on his women. It gave her a complex.
Me: No wonder. How did she survive two years with him?
Tracy: He wasn’t like that at first, or at least he didn’t seem like it. I think it came out later.
Yeah, later, when he got more comfortable speaking his mind, or when he figured she was so into him that she would do what he wanted anyway. And for the most part he was right because she didn’t say anything against him when he started railing against her weight and how much food she “should be eating.” As I listened to Tracy talk about this guy, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loathing toward someone who could treat a woman that way. Then we got down to the source of it all.
Me: Why do you think she put up with it after he started showing his true colors?
Tracy: Well, I think it’s because he looked good, and because she just never was alone, I guess. Not since first year of high school when she got her first boyfriend. That was… eight years ago.
Me: And how many relationships has she been in since?
Tracy: A ton. I lost count after six, and this guy counted as six. But she’s never been alone. She’s with another guy now who I think is better.
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? She can’t stand the empty feeling of not having someone in her life, of doing anything by herself because she’s never learned how to do it. For her entire adult life she’s been in one destructive relationship after another simply because she can’t NOT be in a relationship. For her own sanity. And that’s sad, but she’s not the only one.
In fact, millions of people are co-dependent. Many of them even get serious anxiety when they’re in-between relationships. They can’t function by themselves, so they latch on to the first connection they can make and they hang on for dear life. You can imagine how many of those people find themselves with others who don’t respect them and who recognize that they’ve just been given license to treat someone else negatively. These people prey on the very real need for acceptance they encounter in those who are co-dependent.
I should know. I’ve dealt with the issue personally for years. In fact, I’ve been truly alone for one entire year since I became an adult, and that year was the worst year for me emotionally. I ran the roller coaster of emotions from utter despair to anger to some variation of depression. I sought out as much physical contact as possible, going out with people I wouldn’t ever call friends, just so I wouldn’t have to sit in my apartment alone. I agreed to activities that I despised all for the sake of not rocking the boat so I wouldn’t be left all alone again.
And it was torture. For someone who is co-dependent, while they may be agreeable on the outside, it is killing them to compromise their values for the sake of someone else, but they can’t bring themselves to end things, more often than not, because that would mean facing the one thing they think will be the death of them, the loneliness that eats through them.
That’s where real friends are so important, having those people around you who understand what you’re going through and can help you see your relationship for what it is, who can help you get out of it before it’s too late. But you need to keep those lines of communication open between yourself and them, and not close yourself off to anything someone else tells you. I myself was able to get out of a seriously destructive relationship after a long period of time because I had good friends who never gave up on me, and I learned that being alone wasn’t the prison I thought it was. Because I was never really alone. I had people who cared for me, and that is always more than enough.
Tracy: The difference with this new guy is that he appreciates the way she looks, and he listens to what she has to say about her feelings and about the relationship. If I could only get so lucky.
Me: You can. There are guys like that out there, but the key is to remember that you’re worth someone who appreciates your individuality and who doesn’t try to change you. He’s worth waiting for.
And so are you.