After a breakup of any kind, it is tempting to jump into the whirlwind of a new relationship just to regain some sense of normalcy, and with the advent of online dating, a quick hookup or date is just a couple of taps away. It can be fun to throw out a line and see what kind of fish are going to bite, but it can also be immensely discouraging. Even in the best case scenario, dates and romantic relationships just aren’t going to go the way that you anticipate. This goes doubly so if you are trying to replace the piece of your life that a narcissist took with them like in my case. You might really, genuinely believe that you aren’t looking for another insert name here, but looking at the statistics of how often abuse victims jump into another toxic relationship right after leaving one sheds some light on our motivations.
Since we couldn’t change our ex’s atrocious behavior but we still loved so many other pieces of them, we assume that there must be someone out there with all of the good parts and none of those nasty ones. We fall for our own gullibility. This should be obvious, but we are very stupid.
Everyone comes with baggage, and you are going to dislike a lot of it. Their baggage is going to be a huge inconvenience for you at times, and if you set out into the world of dating thinking that someone is going to show up and “rescue” you, good fucking luck. The allure of a new partner is so tantalizing because it affords us a chance to avoid the responsibility we have for dealing with our own baggage for a while. No one can truly heal your trauma other than yourself, and flinging yourself into new sexual encounters or committed relationships is just going to cause more dissonance in a lot of cases. If you are going to open yourself up to the pleasure of another partner, even casually, you have to be willing to open yourself up for another round of hurt. Don’t fucking lie to yourself if those problems that shackled you to your abuser are still there!
You can bury a body, but the bones are going to stick around for a long time.
When we can’t be intimate and unbiased with who we are and why we want what we want, we are robbing ourselves from actually getting the things that make our lives meaningful. When we settle for a shallow perception of ourselves, sex becomes just something to fill time instead of the a grand event that we get to share with another human. In a lot of ways, sex is like going to the theatre or a concert. It is a performance full of costumes and stagework, dialogue, humor, and passion. It isn’t something we do to someone. It is something we do with someone for ourselves.
That sounds odd, but how much more fulfilling would your sexual experiences be if both you and your partner were unashamed to just take what they wanted in a respectful way? No games or beating around the bush. Not only would it make it a lot easier to determine sexual compatibility, it would also eliminate the shame or guilt that sometimes accompanies sex. There would be so much less fear because the terms of engagement would be clearly defined and agreed upon. I’m not saying write up a contract (unless you are into that, you dirty boys you); I’m saying that you have every right to lay as much on the table as you are comfortable with, and if your partner isn’t ready for something, it doesn’t have to be another crushing blow to your ego, because their refusal has nothing to do with who you are.
A lot of us can’t even get close to a state like that because we have absolutely no clue what intimacy looks like.
Intimacy is a lot more than just the act of intercourse, but we often conflate the two in strange, incongruous ways. Both can exist independently, but the deepest satisfaction comes when we can marry the two with our partner. By now, most of us have heard about the 5 love languages: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, and gift giving. If this is new for you, I’ll try to give a brief overview. According to self help novelist Gary Chapman, essentially all of our specific desires for personal intimacy can be generalized under the umbrella of the previously mentioned love languages. The way I show love to friends, family members, and partners may differ wildly from the ways the girl across from me at the coffee me shows love.
For effective intimacy between you and someone you care for, even platonically, learning to communicate your love language effectively and learning to interpret their love language effectively is crucial. It just so happens to be one of the hardest things in the world to do, and if one partner in that relationship decides to check out or take a break, things start to fall apart. One person just winds up screaming into the void, and the other just plugs their ears so they can worry about other things.
That is really the biggest delineation between a healthy romantic relationship and an unhealthy one, as far as I can tell. When our identity becomes the fact that we are in a relationship with so-and-so, the second that relationship hits a rough patch we feel personally attacked. Intimacy is about congruence, not completion. Ideally, the best relationships allow us to focus on being ourselves because “being ourselves” means being kind, generous, and compassionate in that context. Too often do we subscribe to the Sunk Cost Fallacy as a viable mode to attributing worth to a relationship that would otherwise have pretty weak legs. In a romantic sense, I call this the “I’ve Sacrificed Everything” Fallacy.
If any relationship that you are engaged in requires constant sacrifice just to keep it afloat, you might just be involved in something more akin to a cult than anything else.
Too often, we give our abusers power even after the active abuse has stopped. Even after we have left them and started licking our wounds, we still afford them the power of saying that they “broke us.” Again, we conflate sex with something that it is not: our ego. It is pretty closely linked, but it is important to start seeing yourself as a whole person made up of interlocking, interchangeable parts. If you owned a brick and mortar store that sold tools, and some jack wagon with a wheelbarrow hikes all of your hammers and runs out the door, yes that would be a loss. It wouldn’t mean that your company was destroyed, though.
This isn’t me saying, “Well, it’s not the end of the world.” This is me saying that you are greater than the sum of your parts. There is a transcendent quality that you will find when you accept yourself as a system instead of aggregated pieces. Yep, some of those pieces may fall out or get swapped for something else, but that’s still part of the system. We are always in a state of change, always. Sex is the same way. The partner that you are with now will not be the same partner that you will be with in a year, even if they have the same name, face, job, etc., and that is a good thing. Variety is the spice of life. Narcissists and those who are putting their own self interests above yours as a detriment to your well being, never change. If they are abusing you now, they will abuse you tomorrow. If you giving them the privilege of your time, body, and attention is not good enough for them now, it won’t ever be.
You deserve to think you are desirable; why should you let someone who obviously does not have your best interests in mind decide what you are or are not? You define you, but it’s easy to leave that definition space blank once we feel like someone has erased it.
In one form or another, we need sexual interaction to be able to form healthy boundaries with ourselves and those around us. An overwhelming amount of dissonance arises when we are put into a situation that compromises our sexual values and we aren’t sure how to respond. Most of that dissonance can be negated with simple exercises in intimacy, and figuring out your love language is a good place to start with that. After that, practice your love language on yourself in some fashion, and I promise you will find at least a little catharsis and security.
Personally, I write for myself. It makes my thoughts and feelings seem grounded, in black and white. If you know how to love yourself, you can start setting up boundaries on how you want others to love you. As obvious as our wants and needs may seem to us, they are most often an enigma to others. The best chance we can give ourselves is learning what unconditional love means for us, practicing on ourselves, then teaching it to our interests.
What were the things that kept you up at night, wishing that your narc would do with you or for you? What makes you truly feel like you are a priority to someone else? Get cheesy with it. Don’t be ashamed; this is your life we are talking about here! Personally, intimacy is sitting on a couch with a partner beside me, a book in my hand, and the occasional smirk at one another. It’s ironic, but intimacy for me is when the moment needs no words. Intimacy for me means sharing art and expression, walking through galleries, and maybe hitting up furniture stores just for shits and giggles. Intimacy for me is cooking for my partner then cramming into the bathtub to eat with her. It’s a glass of Huber’s wine and the reddened, fall leaves. It’s a stiff breeze and a shared blanket. It’s sneaking in one extra kiss before I fall asleep; then maybe another.
When our abusers target our sex lives it damages our definition of intimacy more than anything, even if it feels like the core of who we are has been irreparably shattered. They blur the lines between what is and is not something that can be tender and loving. They treat intimacy like it is something that should be able to be turned on and off at will. Intimacy is a state, not an action, and they can’t comprehend that. Sex just turns into sex. A glass of wine is just a glass of wine. Art is just some colors on a wall, and a kiss before bed is ammo in the gun.