expensive vs. expansive Relationships
13 Mins Read
Imagine someone sitting on your chest asking you to breathe. Tough, right?
It’s easy to quantify the amount of oxygen we physically inhale, but how many of us question how much air we’re getting in a relationship? What most of us label love is merely a glorified excuse to control another person long enough to distract ourselves from the insecurities we refuse to face. We judge our partners for their past and try to dictate their future, completely ignoring the fact that every detail in their story contributed to their presence in our life.
We don’t intentionally do this of course. If we knew better, we’d do better. But most of us aren’t taught how to love. Unless you were exposed to some level of human psychology during your life, then you probably don’t have the slightest clue about examining the source of your tendencies. Even then, unless you’ve taken the time to do the inner work necessary to regulate your emotions, it’d be challenging to contribute to a healthy relationship.
Nearly five years ago, I picked up a book called “The Art of Love,” by psychologist Erich Fromm. It was my introduction to a new perspective on relationships. The book argued that love like any art requires technique, practice, and consistency to get it right. That was just the beginning of my inquiry into the topic. Shortly after, I read “The Prophet,” By Khalil Gebran and marveled at the chapter on marriage: “...let there be spaces in your togetherness. And let the winds of heaven dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of love.” Wow.
His wisdom went against everything I’d learned about love so far. Marriage, as I understood it at least, was a union between two separate people coming together as one. But Gebran urged us not to make a bond out of love.
The years rolled on and I continued to read about relationships while simultaneously suffering what felt like an inevitable pattern in my own love life: infatuation, apathy, and the unraveling of our bond. There was clearly something wrong. The nine month mark was usually when the alarm sounded. What was it? Why was I constantly arriving at this dead end?
The easy way to explain it would be to point fingers at the men I dated. After all, they hadn’t invested the time I had reading about the delicate balance required to sustain love. While that was in part true, it takes two to tango and it definitely takes two to keep the flames of passion lit.
In love, as in life, we repeat the behaviors of our parents. As children we spend years learning by observation how to navigate the world. Unknowingly, we take the good and the bad from those who raised us and unless we check in with ourselves regularly, we may never realize it.
I watched in agony for years as my mother accommodated my father at the expense of her comfort and freedom. She held in her frustration until it manifested into physical symptoms in her body. I saw her suffer one insidious migraine after the other as she juggled the demands of medical school, children, and a partner who constantly disapproved.
I’ll admit, I’ve always been a free spirit. As mystical as that sounds, it comes at a price. I’ve always been adamant about exercising certain freedoms that otherwise may not be realized in the conventional relationship. But it was precisely because I’d seen so many failed marriages around me growing up that I was determined to hold onto my individuality. True to form though, the men I dated expected me to fit the standards society set for the perfect woman. Unfortunately, that role too often resembled one that victimized my mother for years, and it fell incredibly short next to the role I wanted to play in life.
I’ve always been drawn to experiences of all sorts. For instance, I knew from a young age that I was physically attracted to girls and emotionally attracted to boys, but I was terrified to admit it. It wasn’t readily accepted in the world I came from, and when I was vulnerable enough to share it with guys I dated, they were threatened by the idea. So whether I was single or in a relationship, I found myself suppressing this yearning for years.
But it never went away. I had dozens of dreams plotted around getting close to a woman only to be interrupted, sometimes by a ground splitting earthquake or giant animals piercing through the walls of the room we were in. Sometimes the woman would suddenly slip from my arms right before we kissed. In hindsight, it’s clear what my subconscious was trying to reveal in these dreams. I was afraid and frustrated that I would never be exercise this curiosity. It was cruel that I was judged by those closest to me for having this natural desire, but worse that I didn’t love myself enough to advocate for it regardless.
It’s easy to sit here and say I’ve always been an empowered badass. But the reality is, I’ve been heavily impacted by my experiences and the background I come from, just like the best of us. Unintentionally, I fell into the trap of changing who I am for the man of the moment. It felt like the right thing to do...the more similarities we have, the more likely we are to thrive. Right? Perhaps. But who you are doesn’t just disappear, as my strange dreams would come to show me. My truth stayed with me, albeit silenced by circumstance.
2018 was an eye opening year. I ended a two year relationship after suffering an almost non-existent sex drive for months. It was miserable, and I felt helpless about the position I put my partner in. It didn’t matter how much lingerie he bought or how many flowers he surprised me with, the drive was completely turned off. We tried everything, and I read about the topic extensively as I always do when I’m at a loss for ideas. One night, we were at a house party and a woman sitting next to us on the couch put her hand on my thigh. I immediately felt chills travel up my spine. Immediately, I shared the news with my boyfriend. The last reaction I expected was anger, but he was furious. He couldn’t believe all it took to get me turned on was a woman brushing her hand on my thigh.
Of course, I empathize with the jealousy he felt. But I had expressed my attraction to women in the beginning of our relationship, along with my skepticism about monogamy. He was offended that I would suggest an alternate way of being together, even though I proposed giving him the same leverage I asked for.
But I understood his qualms. What I was proposing went against everything he knew about love; hell, it went against everything I knew about it too. But his parents were unhappy in their marriage, and mine reciprocated a similar resentment. Our parents didn’t understand each other or give each other space to be themselves, so it only seemed progressive that we would learn from that.
After that relationship ended, I was determined to be more selective. Several months later, I connected with a guy I’d met in California months prior. We started chatting, and I was upfront with everything that had caused me chaos in the previous relationship. The more he validated my hesitation, the more relief I felt. It seemed like not all was lost. Eventually, we started dating. The first two weeks of our relationship was a busy time for me. I was in and out of photo shoots preparing for my one of my most popular blog posts to date, “No Bad Sex” Over our usual extended phone calls one night, the topic of Instagram models came up. He casually mentioned his distaste for women who model, and the comment took me by surprise. The more he elaborated, the more I realized we had just encountered our first diverging interest. Naturally, I ignored my instinct in favor of the desired outcome I had for our relationship. There were a lot of things I liked about this guy, and I didn’t want to break it off because of a passing comment. Moreover, I’m a writer, not an Instagram model. Surely, we wouldn’t face any conflict on this anytime soon.
But fate told a different story. The moment I uploaded a topless photo of me online with a caption about female sexuality in the Middle East, I received one of the most condescending text messages to date. We spoke later that night and he expressed his anger not just about the photo, but my entire career trajectory. He hated that I modeled and spoke so openly about sex.
It didn’t matter that I’d worked endlessly for years to get to this point, or that he was originally drawn to me because I was an outspoken writer dedicated to her craft. I was no longer that writer, or even an individual in his eyes. I was his girlfriend, which meant I was merely in his life to complement his legacy.
It was almost as if he absolved me of my being and merged us into one entity, an entity that ultimately revolved around him.
The irony was that what he did for a living was anything but conventional. He managed a marijuana distribution company in California and was in the works to launch another. It never crossed my mind to judge him for his career. In fact, when he expressed that my parents might disapprove of what he did, I reassured him that if I accepted him, they would too. Yet, when it was time to extend the same kindness, he didn’t fail to warn me that his parents would inevitably look down on me once they saw my work.
Needless to say, these are only two examples of my love life that transpired just in the last year. But the truth is I’ve been in this spot since I started dating a decade ago. One would think I would’ve picked up on the culprit eventually, but it was almost a reflex to favor the comfort of my partner over my own. No wonder I always felt betrayed half way through and found no other solution but to walk away.
After things ended with California boy, I was infuriated with love and more motivated than ever to focus on my work. I threw myself into more shoots, more writing, and decided to be celibate. For the first time in my life, I used a vibrator. I masturbated more than I ever had, and spoke about it and a myriad of other controversial topics online. I doubled my readership, attracted the ugliest and most uplifting messages of my career to date, and made a vow to never change my trajectory for anyone.
Eventually, I opened myself up to dating again. This time, I was even more detached from the outcome. I was still traumatized by the shock from my previous experience and determined to be even more clear when I presented myself to people. I was unapologetic about my bisexuality and curiosity about polyamory. I explained why things failed with my ex, and how I would never let anyone curb my vision again. But more importantly than the words I spoke, was the inner grounding I’d found after being heart broken. I’d spent weeks meditating on what happened and realized how much of a disconnect there was between what I wanted and what I truly believed I deserved. It took someone breaking my heart because they disapproved of my truth for me to finally see that.
What I realized when I leaned into my truth unabashedly, was a sense of unshakable confidence I’d hardly tasted before. It became effortless to sift through people who weren’t right for me. Even those who checked everything off on paper would occasionally reveal themselves in a judgmental comment here or there, and I immediately backed off. I’d been through enough to know that people don’t change unless they’re ready and willing, and that dating another person who took issue with my free spirit was only asking for trouble down the line. I held out, and in the meantime took care of myself and spent a lot of time with friends and family. The more support I got from readers, the more secure I felt in what I was doing. It made me feel less alone to see that so many other people were just as conflicted about their sexuality and identity as I was.
EXPENSIVE OR EXPANSIVE?
If the air in your lungs is constricted, the amount of oxygen that reaches your brain is not sufficient to perform critical functions optimally. Similarly, if the amount of air in your spirit is constricted, you’re unable to expand into a life of fullness and truth.
The biggest indicator of an expensive relationship is that it asks you to invest more into it then it’s willing to give back.
These kinds of relationships are possessive and controlling by nature, and if gone unchecked, will eventually deplete you of your emotional and mental resources. Contrarily, an expansive relationship is one in which the totality of who you are is welcomed. That doesn’t mean your partner won’t have boundaries, or that you won’t be making compromises for each other. It simply means you’re both willing to honor that you’re separate beings fulfilling individual lives together. These kinds of relationships encourage you to grow and achieve what you set out to alongside a best friend.
Now for the burning question on your mind: did I finally experience being with a woman? The answer is yes. And it was as natural and freeing as I could’ve hoped.
If you take away anything from this, I hope it’s faith that there is love that exists for you as you are, but you’ll only find it when you accept yourself fully first. Last year was one of the most trying for me. I felt pressured to lock down love because of than an outdated fear that I need to be married before 30. I shamed and ridiculed myself for the series of failed relationships in my life, and blamed it on being bisexual and inherently curious to explore. But ultimately, I decided if I couldn’t love myself, no one would ever really know how to. It was this belief, coupled by the support and reassurance from people who appreciated my truth that kept me going, and eventually landed me in the coziest pair of arms today.