This is for those among us who are, secretly very stuck, that is, who are entirely committed to staying, wholly tempted to leave and entirely unable to resolve their dilemma one way or the other. You, the stuck one, alternate between periods in which you manage to convince yourself that it might after all be bearable and recurring crises when you acknowledge that you are by remaining well on the way to ruining the one life you will ever be granted. Torn between intense shame and untenable claustrophobia, weak in the face of your riddle, you may start to fantasize that someone or something else, a parent, the government, a war, an illness, a divine command might magically resolve the problem for you. Like a desperate child, you hope against hope that something might just show up.
But because it behaves, everyone eventually and with nothing remotely unkind, being meant by this to try to become an adult, that is a person who can alter their circumstances through their own agency, you may well benefit from a few ideas to strengthen your resolve.
- For a start, you are here not because you are evil, fickle or just unlucky, but at base because you had a bad childhood. This could sound like an odd place to begin and the tone may sound overly assured as well but the matter does appear desperately simple in structure, however impossible the repercussions can feel in practice. Anyone on earth can end up in an unhappy relationship. But you who get badly stuck in it, you who cannot find the courage to have a difficult conversation and move on, you who spent years feeling intensely ashamed of what you want and doubting your right to aim for anything more satisfying, you are a particular subcategory of humans. You are the one who, when you were little, never learnt the art of confident self-assertion, you are the benighted creature who never felt you had a right at points to tell others what you needed and to stick up for your vision of contentment whatever the short term troubles that might be entailed. You, the stuck one, was the good child, the under-loved one, the one who was scared of angry parents or overly anxious about fragile ones, you who too early on learnt to comply and obey, to worry about everyone else, to fit in and to smile and now, decades later, the one who cannot get up and leave because you would, at some level, and let’s be clear on the matter, rather than die than make a fuss.
- But however appealing that can sound, the problem is that there’s a small part of you that won’t actually let you die like this, that’s why you are here, a part of you that awkwardly refuses to shut up and be stifled, a healthy part of you that won’t let you continue without the kind of love, intimacy and closeness you crave, a part of you that is like a germinating seed with strength enough to move aside, a one tone concrete slab in order to reach the light.
- You endlessly question the legitimacy of your aspirations. Is it fair to want what you want? Is it normal to seek whatever it is that’s currently missing, more love, more intellectual stimulation, more friendship, more sex, more solemnity, more laughs? You would, in a way, so love someone to tell you that you were plainly wrong. But the reality is that there can never be an objective measure in these matters. You want what you want and no amount of arguing with yourself can make your appetite go away or fundamentally de-legitimize your needs. The way forward isn’t to call yourself difficult and shut up, but to learn to honor and adroitly defend in front of others your own inner complexity. However insane this will inevitably sound, anyone is allowed to find someone else’s offer of love to be in the end not their thing.
- You are, along the way, naturally, terrified of being alone. In your mind, by exiting this relationship, you won’t be setting up a promise of a better arrangement in the future. You will be condemning yourself to a lifetime of isolation. It’s a feeling of basic unworthiness and fundamental unattractive that turns the prospect of single hood from what it really is, a minor inconvenience, to what we are sure it must be, an ongoing and eternal tragedy. You should, to calm yourself, remember a rather dark but ultimately consoling truth. Though you may at present have someone to share a pizza with on Sunday evenings, you are, where it counts, already alone. What you fear might happen has already happened. You won’t, by leaving, be aggravating your isolation, you will be taking the first proper step towards ending it.
- A stuck person is agonized to the point of paralysis by the prospect of causing difficulties; you possibly already have a lot of hesitation about asking strangers where the bathroom is. So now you worry whether the partner would ever recover, what friends would say, how the family would deal with it. The last thing that occurs to you is how much, in the end, everyone copes. The frightening yet liberating truth is how little anyone actually cares. Even the hurt lover will recover and come to appreciate the benefits of freedom as opposed to enduring a constant unmentioned emotional tourniquet around your heart. An orderly life is a beautiful and fine thing, but it can only ever be so when it sits on top of a flourishing relationship, rather than when it is fostered as an alternative to developing one. Better to blow up a home than continue in one unworthy of the name. The way to start getting unstuck is via a properly strange-sounding move, valuing yourself a little more. Slowly, you must accept that the point of a relationship isn’t to suffer; that some things are necessary but fewer than you think and that no one will congratulate you on your death bed for having thrown away your life. You are not suffering because you need to, but because you have grown up to be a person for whom suffering feels horribly and compellingly familiar. You need to take the entirely unknown step of telling the world what you truly, truly want, and dare to believe that you might even one day get it.