In a world where everyone is neatly pigeonholed by stereotypes, any break from the norm has always been viewed with suspicion. I’ve been told more than once that I have more masculine traits than feminine. What that means is anyone’s guess. It doesn’t make me any less of a woman, but I’m not what’s typically considered “ladylike” and often come across as more cold and unfeeling than I think I am. I’m guarded with my emotions, my body language is awkward and clumsy, and beauty salons and spa breaks are my worst nightmares. More recently, I’ve noticed I also appear to have another trait that is generally considered to be masculine: a saviour complex.
Where relationships are concerned, I am every bit as protective of partners and male friends, as they are of me. I’ve never been the Princess who needed rescuing. I don’t mean physically, but I’ve always been the one who’s done everything to make them feel safe and loved. To chase away their demons and help them to confront things. Despite being a natural pessimist (I prefer realist) I’ve always believed that people aren’t born bad and are the sum of their experiences. Whether it’s helping a partner through his addiction to excusing another’s behaviour because of his past and loss, or seeing someone through ill health, I’ve always had this need to get to the bottom of why they may not have loved me enough or treated me as they should have, like they’ve said they would. I need answers, explanations, something, anything, that says it’s not me. That it’s not my fault, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
From their point of view, that must be intensely annoying. The feeling that they’re always in therapy, being psychoanalysed. It’s a tough habit to break out of. I don’t even realise I’m doing it most of the time. One of the last things an ex boyfriend said to me after we broke up, was “You know me better than I know myself. You have no idea how terrifying that is for me.” I had even accurately described the kind of woman he would end up with.
When I get close to someone, I like to find out everything about them. Nothing is more fascinating to me than people. Getting to know someone new, working out what makes them tick, how they became the person they are, it’s exciting. Seeing if I’m right about how they’d behave in certain situations, if they’re lying, either to me or themselves, feeling a kind of warped satisfaction when I turn out to be right, even when it hurts. I realise it must feel like they’re under a microscope at all times, though I tell myself I don’t make it obvious. And the reality is, it’s not that cold and calculated. The more interested I am, the more I care. I can’t maintain any sort of distance. I don’t use them. In fact, the saviour complex is so strong, it’s often me who ends up getting used and discarded when I’ve served my purpose, even though it’s me who will have to say the words, because they can’t.
I’ve turned the tables on myself to see why I am the way I am. I know that growing up around relationships where the men were controlling and the women submissive, made me want to go the other way. That I was too much of a romantic at heart, to want to settle for anyone that I believed was making do with me. That I always looked for signs to prove me right that they didn’t care, or were dishonest, or cared more for others, and I’ve never had to look very hard. Those were the things I had grown up with and even now, I see most relationships as just “putting up,” not love. A fragile existence where one truth, one confession, the tiniest push, the lack of one pay cheque could bring everything to an end. Usually, it’s two people lying to themselves and staying together to not upset the balance, only one step away from an affair or a lottery win, anything to change their circumstances to make it easier to walk away. And it makes me want to run and be grateful for being alone. Not lonely, alone. A relationship held together by a thread is no happy ever after.
Perhaps that’s the reason I’ve never had a partner tell me they don’t want to be with me. It’s always been the same excuse, that it’s best for me. I’ve always been the one to end things, and they’ve always been the martyrs who have ‘let me.’ I’m not sure if it’s to do with easing their conscience or because they’ve not wanted to believe they were no different to the other men in my life, but I’ve never had an honest break up. It’s always been strung out, with them needing some hand holding until they got used to it. On again and off again, each time with bigger gaps in between, like curing an addiction, until they get used to you not being around or someone else catches their eye. Empty promises about even the most stupid things that you both know won’t come to anything. Even then, no honesty, just a “you’re too good for me” or “you’re one in a million,” which seems to be the modern day equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me” which was always garbage.
You start to gauge how important you are at any given moment, where you come in the pecking order, by using the things that take precedence over you as a comparison. And it’s all because they’ve started taking you for granted, knowing they can exploit your saviour complex whenever they like. Even the token effort to try becomes more and more feeble until even they know it’s not convincing anynore. And all of that makes it more difficult. The fact that you’re not only being dismissed, but also made a fool of at the same time. That you’re not worth the honesty. That they still get to believe they’re a good person for doing that, even though it’s far more difficult for you that way. Then when you finally snap, they get to walk away with the sympathy as well. A different form of control to the one my parents’ generation exerted over their partners, but still control because of how the lies leave you feeling paranoid, the long periods of silence make you feel uncertain, the reverse psychology makes you second guess everything and in the end, you doubt yourself so much, you end up doing anything in your power to never go through that again.
This has changed a little of late. I no longer let it go. I make sure I drum in the fact that it’s their choice. They’re not doing the kind thing, the noble thing, but the selfish thing. As a twitter friend put it, I make a point of holding a mirror up to them to force them to see it’s their decision and their choice alone. No more “this isn’t what I want.” If you’re going to hurt someone, at least do it with a backbone. You don’t deserve the coward’s way out. Nobody does. That is, until the saviour complex strikes again.