No. 172
Article by:
Wen Hsiao

Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

I hate hearing “I told you so” from my friends. While they have indeed “told me so,” it went in one ear and out the other, so clearly, the rebuke is meaningless. 

Those who have known me since high school know that, up until a year ago, I used to almost exclusively write about my personal life (read: relationships). Whenever I found myself between a rock and a hard place — before I could even process my own emotions — I would go running into the arms of my editor with a pitch. I took the whole “write what you know“ thing quite literally.

I am always writing. I write for school, I write for work, and in the little time I have left, I write for myself. Somewhere in the clickety-clacks of my keyboard, I find a little comfort. Each story is like a long overdue therapy session: everything I can’t bring myself to say, I have been putting into my writing.

This column is one of those pitches rushed off to an editor, conceived to capture the lessons we learn the hard way, with a little help from my friends.

I became friends with Joelle in late March.

We met on Instagram — as people in a pandemic typically do. After a few months of liking and commenting on each other’s posts, swiping up on each other’s stories, we formed a fast friendship through socially distanced walks around the city.

Early on in our friendship, I often joked that I could only see her once a month because any more would be bad for my confidence. Fast forward to now — five months later, I see her almost every day.

It is difficult not to like Joelle. She is a ray of sunshine, but not the kind who makes you feel bad if you have clouds looming over you. She is well-read, well-spoken, and well-versed in anything from American history to zoo operations. She is the person I would call in the case of an emergency — like needing a story to tell for my new column at work.

Matthieu is Joelle’s ex-boyfriend. The pair were together for the better half of the year before breaking up last October. Early on in their relationship, Matthieu was all game. He was set on the fact that he had met the love of his life. From time to time, Matthieu would even plop down on one knee proposing to her in public, professing his love for her, and promising her a future together.

Typically described in psychology as love bombing, therapist Sasha Jackson characterizes this behavior as “excessive attention, admiration, and affection with the goal to make the recipient feel dependent and obligated to that person.” Joelle was backed into a corner. Even though she reciprocated, she shouldered the expectations and responsibility of being the perfect person in a perfect relationship in the perfect world Matthieu had created.

Just as quickly as it was built,

the relationship fell apart.

Matthieu broke up with Joelle over the phone. At first, he attributed the end of the relationship to nothing at all. Even though the literal sea that had parted the two is not to blame, the distance had not made the heart grow fonder, but had instead caused him to lose sight of what once was.

Two months after the break-up, all seems to go back to normal, the way it used to be before their paths crossed. But Matthieu decided to call up Joelle in the middle of the night and gave her a three-hour run-down of why the relationship went south.

“You made me feel insecure.”

I don’t believe that you have to “love yourself before you can love someone else.” 

The ever-overused cliché should not be what we hold our relationships to. If I ever told my friends that, they would raise their eyebrows at me, and ask me “who died and made you the love police?” Plus, who are any of us (who are not the love police) to say those who struggle with loving themselves are not deserving of love? 

In the absence of self-love and in the presence of insecurity, you can develop an emotional dependency on your partner. Emotional dependency can consume you, your partner, and your relationship. It creates a power imbalance between you two, tipping over your communication, and pulling at the seams of your emotional connection. 

It is okay to be insecure, but when you lash out and shut down your partner as a response, you are hurting more than just yourself.

Matthieu made the best decision, for himself — but for the sake of the relationship, there are better ways to go about it than to punish your partner for being self-assured. 

When I first heard the story from Joelle, self-love and self-love-not aside, I was shocked by Joelle’s self-restraint to not hang up the phone. As if the idea of an ex-boyfriend calling you up is not scary enough, it would’ve scared me to swear off my phone for good.

Your partner’s strength does not automatically reflect your weaknesses. If you can’t stand the sight of them at their best, how could you want them to love you through your worst?

Why should Joelle — or anyone else for that matter, make themselves small to make someone else feel bigger?