I curated a fantastic anthology about women’s complicated relationship to shopping. SO EXCITED. The cover is a stunner, and the writing is even better. Please pre-order here! It will be out October 28.
A client told me about a situation recently in which her boyfriend became less available to her for a week or so, and then the following week he was back to his usual level of accessibility. She confessed that she spent the week he was occupied miserable and desperate. She sent him texts and called him, devastated that he seemed to be going away.
“I’m going to push him away,” she told me.
We discussed what happened, how she went down a rabbit hole of fear, based on pain she carries with her, pain about abandonment, and pain that has nothing to do with her boyfriend. What my client did that week was romance her pain. She caressed and held her pain while her pain did the equivalent of saying, see? No one loves us. Everyone leaves us. I knew he’d leave us too. She fed it. She bought it drink after drink. She nodded along and wiped its tears. And she held back its hair while it got sick.
She romanced her pain.
So many of us do it.
For many, it’s old habit. It’s the path of least resistance. And it’s also a great way to avoid responsibility. If you romance your pain rather than simply feel it, own it, and allow it to move through you, then you are allowing it to be much more powerful than it need be.
Listen, you’re entitled to your pain. I said this to my client too. You’re entitled to how painful that old sense of abandonment feels. But it wasn’t her boyfriend’s pain. He hadn’t caused it. He didn’t have to carry it for her. He didn’t even need to acknowledge it. Someday, maybe, if they decided to make a more long-term commitment, if they got to know one another more intimately, she might teach him about her pain, she might say, “When you don’t call me for two days, my old pain creeps up. It would help me if you could just check in, or if I text you, you could say, ‘I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.’” That would be a nice thing for him to do. It would be loving, the sort of thing people who love each other do for one another because they don’t want them to hurt, and when they know that the other person is not going to make them responsible for their pain.
I have written before about how easy it is to be in love with our pain. There’s something about it, isn’t there? It’s so comforting, so familiar. It affirms our belief systems, even when they are skewed and self-harming. I like to think of my pain sometimes as a figure, a dark passenger, to use Dexter’s phrase. Sometimes, I want to make love to it. It is so needy, so desperate, and also so powerful. It is like every bad boy I’ve ever loved. But, I don’t let myself do that for long anymore.
It’s important to think about your relationship to your pain. Do you enable it? Do you wrestle with it? Each moment that brings it to the surface demands a different relationship, but most often, the best thing to do is to treat it like a small child that needs love. Sometimes, I imagine holding it, almost like that tired cliché of the inner child. But it helps. And then it quiets down and I can tuck it into bed and it leaves me be for awhile. I don’t avoid it anymore, like I did when I was younger and using men to feel better about myself. I also don’t hand it over to my husband, telling him he has to stop doing what he’s doing to make it feel better.
It’s my pain. You have yours too. We all must learn to be with it. We don’t have to love it, although sometimes we love it a little too much. But we do have to learn to carry it.
Some people have taken issue with my use of the phrase ‘loose girls.’ I understand the trouble. It has an obvious negative connotation. The assumption, of course, is that if a girl is ‘loose’ and has lots ofsex with lots of people, then she’s a bad person, a slut. It’s not new information that our culture works hard to shame girls who express their sexuality, and girls and women, maybe even more than boys and men, put that pressure to be “good” and chaste on one another.
When I wrote my memoir Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity about the decades I spent giving my body over to boys and men in a desperate plea for attention, I didn’t have any of these thoughts in mind. I wasn’t thinking about connotations, or whether girls should or shouldn’t be able to have sex whenever and however they want. I didn’t think about feminism, although I was a feminist then, and still am now. I thought only about the feelings that had strangled me all those years, the many times I walked away from a boy, filled once more with shame, not because I had sex with him, but because of my neediness for him, because boys never ever seemed to need me the way I needed them. And the truth is, I didn’t need them. I needed love, yes. I needed attention. But it wasn’t for many years that I came to understand that the notion that a boy would fill me in those ways was a misguided fantasy. In the process, I didn’t almost die. I didn’t contract more than a couple treatable STDs. I never tried to give myself a back alley abortion. But I did get raped. I did lose the ability to differentiate all that much between the rape and the boys to whom I gave consent. I did give up dreams and interests and all of my self-respect in the hopes that just one boy would choose me and make me worthwhile as a result.
For those unaware, I have a blog about my adventures with the carpool that takes Ezra and two of his classmates to their autism-only school. See it here!
Dear women of the world: please, PLEASE stop projecting your stuff onto me just because I write about things that wind up making you feel bad. I never wanted to make you feel bad. I wanted you (or your friend, if not you) feel seen. I’m not trying to hurt you. Please stop trying to hurt me. Signed, just another woman like you.
New Psychology Today Blog post: “There Is No Getting Past It”: What Can A Teenager Do About Regretful TextsPosted: March 12, 2012 at 11:33 am
“There Is No Getting Past It”: What Can A Teenager Do About Regretful Sexts?
When Ben asked Jenna to send him pictures, she did. It started with her chest, clothed, then unclothed. Then her entire body, first in bra and underwear, then nude. She examined the final one before she sent it off – a body with a head cut off, like a manikin, like a doll. A body that could be anyone’s. A sinking feeling started in her stomach, but she sent it anyway.
Later, discussing it with me, she identified why it felt so bad. She had agreed to send the photos to Ben because she wanted to feel special. She wanted him to like her, to want her, to acknowledge her. But if the photo of her body could have been anyone’s, what was she really getting?
Predictably, Ben shared the photos with his friends. He denied it to Jenna at first, but soon it became obvious that kids all over school had seen them. Head cut off or not, everyone knew it was Jenna. Ben started avoiding her, laughing with his friends about it when she walked by. The people she had thought were her friends turned on her. They called her “slut,” “whore,” and a slew of other names she didn’t want to recount for me. It was too painful to talk about at this point. She just wanted it to go away.