“Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email email@example.com.
Dear Swipe This!
Right before COVID-19 hit New York City, my boyfriend got super depressed. When the city shut down, he decided to go home and quarantine with his family so he could go to therapy, get on the right medications, and be supported while he battles his demons. I stayed in Brooklyn and ended up with my own pile of shit to deal with. I got laid off from my dream job. A week later, I got bedbugs.
But I kept doing what I needed to do. I fixed up my resume. I started looking for a new job. I packed my entire life up into plastic bags so my apartment could be fumigated. Of course, I got overwhelmed. I’ve sobbed many, many times in the last few weeks on the phone with my mom. But I’m still here planning meals and groceries for three adults and figuring out my unemployment budget and how I’m gonna pay my COBRA insurance once I stop getting reimbursed. Not to sound like a braggart, but I know that I’m someone who is extraordinarily competent and who can handle shit.
The problem is that I’m starting to realize my boyfriend might not be as reliable as I am in a crisis.
I knew when we started quarantining that I wouldn’t be seeing him as much, but contact has been really sparse. When we first started dating, we messaged all the time while I was at work. That died down eventually, but we saw each other several times a week, so it didn’t really bother me. If we weren’t texting a ton, I could at least count on him to send a “How’s my mermaid?” every once in a while. Even in January, he was effusively affectionate. But now texting and phone calls are all we have, and I’ve noticed a huge change in his behavior. He feels distant, and sometimes I don’t hear from him unless I reach out. Honestly, it feels like he isn’t showing up for me at all.
I know he’s dealing with some major issues, so I can’t expect him to be at 100%. What worries me is what happens in 10 years, 15 years, if we have a kid and the kid gets hurt? Will my boyfriend collapse into his own despair and leave me to handle the situation? What if, God forbid, I get seriously ill? More than anything, it’s making me doubt that I’ll be able to rely on him when things go bad down the line.
I used to feel really confident about our relationship. We’ve been together for almost a year, and until now, he was someone I was thinking I could spend the rest of my life with. But now I have this big fear. On the anniversary of my dad dying last week, when I told him, his response was “I’m sorry you’re sad.” I was like, “WTF?”
I’m not going to break up with him until this is over because, to be honest, I can’t deal with the heartbreak of a breakup on top of everything else going on. But what I keep thinking is, I know I’m a really great partner. Can I even find someone that I feel lives up to the expectations I set for myself? Is that asking too much of people who aren’t me?
Am I Asking Too Much
Dear Am I Asking Too Much,
What exactly is too much? Can you really ask for too much when it comes to love?
I know for sure there are certain things we can have too much of. You can have too much money, for example, and become blind to the ways in which your greed is literally destroying the world around you. I, for one, am ready to criminalize ultra-wealthy corporations (I’m looking at you, Jeff Bezos).
OK, I’ll get off my soapbox. If we want to think about this at a smaller, less political scale, we can go to the kitchen. I know what too much is when I’m cooking because I can taste it. Too much hot sauce burns my tongue. Too much salty or sweet drown out the flavors of what could’ve been a perfectly good scone or a really tasty soup.
I’m sure you can think of many more examples. There are many facets of life in which it makes perfect sense to strive for balance. But what is too much love? Is there a version of being loved that is so vast and overwhelming that it drowns out life to that point that it becomes less enjoyable? Is there a version of love that is so big and so grand that others have to suffer so that you can get your fill?
I sure fucking doubt it.
Love is elastic and expansive, and you are allowed to have a totally insatiable thirst for it. You could want a whole ocean of love—and that wouldn’t be too much.
I’m not talking about how many times a day you ask your partner to call you. I’m not talking about asking for daily doses of reassurance. I’m talking about love. The desire to feel the loving presence and the connection that grows when two people show up and say, “I see you. And I see you seeing me back.” That is a beautiful precious thing, and you are allowed to want bucketfuls of it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
But you’re talking about a crisis. You’re talking who shows up and who does what. You’re talking about the dirty work.
Somewhere along the way, you learned you’re the person who grabs the mop and the bucket. You keep saying that you don’t want to brag about it, but you obviously think this is a good thing, and that’s fine. I wouldn’t tell you it’s bad that you’ve learned how to take care of yourself. But why is one grown woman planning meals and groceries for three grown adults when her partner isn’t even quarantining with her? Why are you running around trying to take care of everyone else? And why are you so terrified to let your partner know that you’d like him to take care of you?
What I suspect is there was someone who did a whole lot more than their share in your childhood. Probably someone who you love and admire a lot. And you learned from this someone that the way we survive in this world isn’t by asking. It’s by taking care of the messes on our own.
Well, I’m here to tell you that that simply isn’t true. If this crisis has taught me anything, it’s that we need each other. Nobody, no matter how strong or tough or resilient, gets through this life on their own. We get through by reaching out, by texting our friends, by calling our moms to cry. We do not and cannot survive by becoming islands of independence or fortresses of “finished my to-do list!”
I know you don’t have it in you to weather a heartbreak at this precise moment. And I don’t think you should have to. But this sadness you’re feeling? I think you should lean into it. You should let yourself do a whole lot less. Less thinking about breaking up, less thinking about the long term, less imagining whether or not you are asking too much. Just take a few deep breaths and let yourself be upset!
I mean, what’s the rush? You’re not (physically) going anywhere far right now.
I think you are used to powering through it, but now is a time to rest and conserve your energy because, as you said, there is probably plenty more shit down the road. For now, give yourself a break, and let yourself fall apart. Who cares if you’ve already had a cry? Have another. Have a nap! Have two! Really go to town on doing less.
Is it shameful to do less? Have you been telling yourself that what makes you such a fantastic partner is your ability to dust yourself off no matter the circumstances? I have news for you. You’re wrong. It’s fine and dandy that you get shit done. But it isn’t what makes you lovable.
Your partner loves you for you. You’re his mermaid. He thinks you’re magical. But even mermaids get the blues, so let your partner see how sad you are. Tell him you miss him. He may be in his own little tunnel of despair, but if all he sees is you plowing ahead like a champion, how will he even know you miss him and need him?
Just be honest. Swim up to him. Say I miss you. Reach out. I have a feeling he’ll reach back.
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