I have had this conversation so many times lately, I feel like having it emblazoned on a t-shirt to save us all the trouble:
Friend: So, have you heard from James yet?
Friend: Seriously? Nothing?
Me: Seriously. Nothing.
Friend: Wow. Maybe you were right…. Hmmmm… maybe all those times you worried about how he felt, you were right….
Me: Gee, ya think?
There’s an old saying that goes:
Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you.
Tweak it a bit and you get:
Just because you’re insecure, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be.
I realize now that the reason I never felt secure in my relationship with James was because I never was secure in my relationship with James. I didn’t know how he felt or what could end it or whether he was really invested. And so, yes, I was insecure. And apparently with good reason.
Here’s the thing about insecurity in relationships: if you have it in every relationship you’re in, it’s probably about you. It’s probably about your own sense of self-worth and self-esteem, rather than something your man is or is not doing. This kind of insecurity leaks into other aspects of your life — you might start questioning your value at work or feel less secure in your friendships or in your abilities to properly parent. This is a form of chronic insecurity that no man is going to “fix.” It requires some real work within yourself to overcome. It’s serious and it’s deadly to any kind of healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise.
But we’re going to put that kind of insecurity aside for a moment. Because that’s not what this post is about. Oh no, this post is about the kind of insecurity that’s a little voice of warning… that useful, helpful, oh-so-wise voice we call Intuition.
Buddha and other spiritual leaders like to remind us to search for peace and contentment and value within ourselves, and not in how others define us or value us. I get that, really I do. I sincerely believe that when it comes to your basic self-worth as an individual, those teachings are the truest holy grail. If we spend our time waiting for someone to make us feel like we have value and something to offer, it’s going to be a long, lonely wait.
I don’t think Buddha (or any other wise person) intended for me to ignore the intuition that was telling me — loud and clear — that my relationship was not what it appeared from the outside. I knew, from very, very early on, that something was not quite right. I cast about for a reason — Was it another woman? No. Was it his children? No. Was it his friends? No. Was he essentially a bad guy or player? No. In the end, it seems that the answer was simple and timeless: apparently, “it” just wasn’t there.
I might have figured that out earlier, but I got confused.
James liked to remind me that “actions speak louder than words.” This is a handy little truism that had me chasing my tail for months. Because, you see, in a way, it’s right. For example, if man tells you he loves you and then takes your best friend to bed, chances are he doesn’t really love you. We all know this.
But what if it’s the other way around? What if he treats you like he cares deeply for you, but tells you, directly and indirectly, otherwise? What if he seems to incorporate you into his life, but then makes a point of letting you know that you are not a priority? Then what? What are you supposed to pay attention to? The actions? Or the words?
I’ve decided that it’s both, or rather, it’s the interaction of the two together. My current hypothesis is that it’s congruency of the words and the actions that matters. And I’ve got some psychology to back me up…
Psychologists have studied what happens to us as individuals when we think one way and act another. For instance, when we do something that we know is wrong, it makes us anxious and nervous and unsettled. The clinical term is “cognitive dissonance.” Most of us (absent a personality disorder) cannot be comfortable when our words and our actions don’t match up. So what about when someone we are in a relationship with seems to have mis-matched words and deeds? My therapist has a clinical term for that, too: “crazymaking shit.” (Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly a clinical term, but I would argue that it should be.)
Some examples of crazymaking shit my friends and I have encountered when dating and/or being married:
1. Introducing me to your entire family and then reminding me that we’re just dating and it’s nothing serious. Really? Tell that to your mom.
2. Bringing me flowers, but only when company is coming. They’re fooled. I’m not.
3. Telling me all the things you love about me, without realizing that those are all things I do for you, not things that I am. So pretty much, any woman with a comprehensive to-do list could take my place. Peachy.
4. Introducing me as your girlfriend, when you’ve got your hands all over a female who is definitely not me. I would venture that she might be a bit confused by that one, too….
5. Bragging about how great I am to all of your friends, while saving your laundry list of my shortcomings for our special time together. No wonder they think we’re so awesome together and I can’t figure out why you’re even here.
6. Telling me how much you love me and how important I am to you, but then being “too busy” to spend time with me or check in. I swear, Katrina once dated a man who was apparently busier than the President, because, last time I checked, even Barack and Michelle have the occasional date night. But when Katrina would ask him about his apparent disinterest in spending time with her, his response was always, “Oh, baby, you know I love you! I’m just busy.” Now, that Crazymaking Shit deserves to be capitalized.
These kinds of behaviors — this incongruency between words and actions — are clear (and even kind of funny) when viewed in isolation. But when part of a larger, textured relationship, they are just plain confusing. In short, they are crazymaking shit.
My point is a plain and simple one: sometimes people are insecure because they are insecure people, and sometimes they are insecure because they are in insecure relationships. There is a difference.
My insecurity in my relationship with James didn’t bleed over to the rest of my life. For the most part, it didn’t make me question my worth as a person or even as a woman. But it sure as hell made me feel like I wasn’t truly important or special in that relationship. And that was a message that I might have done well to heed. Is it possible that James really did care for me, but just wasn’t able or maybe willing to tell me so? Perhaps. But that’s an explanation that requires a huge leap of speculation. And does it really matter? Whether he cared for me and couldn’t say it, or didn’t care for me at all, the result was the same: a relationship that slipped the thin bonds holding it together.
I hasten to add that I am fully aware that men can be insecure, too. Both because there are insecure men and because there are men who are in relationships that make them insecure. I have been in relationships with both types, and with the latter, I will admit, their insecurity was justified. In those relationships, I didn’t care for them as they did for me, they sensed it, and it made them insecure. But the stereotype of the clinging, needy, insecure woman is the persistent one, and so that’s what I’m tackling here.
All of this crystallized for me recently because I am getting to know someone right now who has congruency between his words and actions. I am watching him unfold himself to me and realizing that he does what he says and means what he does. It’s really amazing to watch. I don’t wonder if he likes me. I don’t wonder if I’m enough or special or valuable. I always knew I was, but now it’s like I’ve found someone who actually believes it, too. No convincing required. Right now we’re hardly more than friends and it’s far too early to know where this will go, but at the very least, it’s reminded me that my intuition is far smarter than my brain. It can smell crazymaking shit for what it is, even if I can’t.
So, in summary, my advice to my male friends and readers is this:
Before you label a woman you’re dating as “insecure” (or some synonymous label that is equally demeaning and patronizing), please take a moment to consider whether she seems insecure in other aspects of her life. Because if she’s the kind of woman who seems to have it all together, is admired and respected and adored, then you might want to wonder if maybe — just maybe — it’s the relationship that’s insecure, and not the woman. Because if the woman in question is truly amazing and not insecure in other parts of her life, it would be a good idea to check the bottom of your shoe for crazymaking shit. Chances are it’s there, and you’ve been tracking it all over your relationship.