Torpedoing a relationship by sharing too much at the start
And I’ll try to preserve the routine
And I don’t want to discuss what it means
And you’re the only one I want watching me—Waxahatchee, “La Loose” (link is external)
Maryann was trying to figure out why it had happened again.
Why was it I couldn’t make myself call her back? I’ve always given lip service to the importance of being open and intimate with others. And there I was, totally unprepared for my reaction when Linda opened up to me. I was totally caught off guard and it scared the daylights out or me. And I knew that I just couldn’t do it.
The heartfelt sense that we’ve met a long lost part of ourselves in a new acquaintance and catch a flash of intimacy with them may be irrelationship dressed up, once again, to look like the cure for our disconnection from others.
It was like I’d met some lost version of myself. It was like—I think it might have been—falling in love.
Irrelationship that develops between would-be romantic partners is usually based on a delusion that combines fear of intimacy with a deep longing for emotional connection, i.e., the desire to know and be known by another. Instead, however, when confronted with the possibility that this could actually happen, we almost instantly equivocate: we contrive a fake sense of camaraderie with that person (or even the often-tried-and-untrue, “can we just be friends?”) to circumvent the risk of opening up to them. The fear of “ruining everything” by telling the truth about ourselves steps in and heads off the possibility of disappointment; but it also heads off the possibility of genuine empathy, intimacy and emotional investment.
So I told June everything about everything—my sadness at being alone, and my longing to be in love and share everything with someone else. We talked about our families and disappointed romances. I even felt kind of guilty that we were talking mostly about the pain we’d been through. I even told her about the kinds of destructive things I’d done in the past that had ruined my relationships, going back to when I was in my twenties.
That was when something changed. It was fine when I told her how clear I was about how I’d ruined past relationships. But when I told her that creating drama of that kind was off the table, something in her eyes told me that the deal was off. I had made the wrong move.
When I first reflected on all of this, I thought that I had somehow sabotaged it, that I’d stepped back from “lovers’ leap.” Well, in a sense that was true: she seemed to be totally into it as long as drama was in my playbook. I could see that by how interested—even fascinated—she seemed to be by the stories of wreckage from my past. And then I threw a wrench in the works by telling her that I was different now—different, it turns out, in a way that she wasn’t interested in. And she took off. Both of us were ready for lovers’ leap as long as it was going to be, well, the way it had always been. And the truth was that, despite my saying so, I wasn’t quite ready yet to turn all that around. So I think I deliberately—not consciously, but deliberately—changed the game.
Well, obviously, she wasn’t ready either, or wasn’t sure she was. But about a week after the disappointment or discomfort or whatever it was surfaced that night, well she tried to call me. Several times. So now of course I wonder if she saw something in me that made her realize she wanted to try to make something other than what she’d always had.
Maryanne and June’s beginnings of friendship that then turned toward something more serious, reads as quintessential irrelationship. As they began to uncover deeper attractions to one another, the prospect of self-disclosure set off an important signal for both of them. For Maryann, it was the moment to deploy her “scare-them-off” technique for getting rid of potential lovers: she tells them what she’s “really like.” But it backfired as June showed Maryann a willingness, at first, to move forward anyway. How could Maryann know that the drama was what June was in it for? Then irrelationship twisted back on itself when Maryann told June how serious she was about not repeating past mistakes. That was the point at which June cut and ran. Then, after taking a chance to think about it, June unexpectedly ran after Maryann!
Maryann and June’s excitement led them to revealing too much too soon—certainly more than either was prepared to tolerate on short acquaintance. They essentially forced intimacy on one another before they had time actually to grow into it. When they realized what they had done, both dashed for the emergency exit.
I realize now that this whole thing was more complicated than I thought. I deliberately didn’t tell June that the last times I tried to get close to someone, I forced their confidence by forcing mine on them—only I was nowhere near ready to be that close. It was just too soon, too fast.
The other part of Maryann and June’s enactment is the “bait-and-switch” of irrelationship. Both June and Maryann started out with the enthusiasm characteristic of a new relationship. Then, when they realized “something might happen,” both resorted to old routines that made sure it didn’t happen.
There we were, having what seemed, I’m sure, to both of us, like a love-at-first-sight connection, when suddenly June was discussing an issue from here history that was, well, very provocative, and I started to squirm! I was too uncomfortable to think of it at the time, but afterwards, I wondered if I had unconsciously invited her to go there. Later I compared it to what had happened early in past relationships and realized, “Yeah–this is what I do.” And every time, when they rise to the bait, I flip on them.
Looking back, I can see that I was already emotionally checked out before June got to any of the juicy details from her past. I think I’ve had so much experience at this that I see it coming before we get there and start putting up the wall before it happens. Now, of course, I can’t help wondering if she knew all along that she was going too far too fast. But if anything, I’m worse: kind of like on a dare, I show enough of myself to entice them to go further—further than I really want them to go.
When Maryann realized how deep her irrelationship game was, it was so disorienting that her first impulse was to run back into hiding. But she had done enough work in therapy by the time of her encounter with June that she was unable to let herself do that. Ultimately, she was able to salvage a lesson from that experience.
I got too much June all at once, really. Well, I think we both did. But instead of being honest about how that affected me, what my feelings were, I did what I’ve always done: I disappeared–wouldn’t even take her phone calls. The difference this time, though, is not only do I know I hurt June; but I know how I’ve been hurting myself too. And damn, I really liked her. God, I hope I never do that again.