The Renovation Relationship

5 years ago

So I decided we were going to break up. And then I decided we couldn't break up until I'd helped him solve his tax problems and made sure he was filing for unemployment. And then I thought that maybe I'd let him stay in the house for a month or two after I moved out, even if he didn't have a job, just to give him a chance to find some roommates. And then I decided that I was either an insane enabler or that I had this habit, which I've seen before, of getting into relationships with guys so I can leave them in better shape than I found them.

There was my boyfriend F, who struggled with depression and a chronic illness 'til I came along, at which point he cheered up enough to get off the psycho-actives and head into "remission" with his colitis. And then there was G, who started going out with me and lost 30 pounds and wrote a book, he was so happy. And now there was P, who'd also lost weight, and managed his depression and even gotten so much neater, despite his intense and messy adult ADHD.

I was a real fixer, wasn't I? A veritable bustling angel, lining up and dating these guys like they were so many houses to paint and rewire, then turn over to new owners, making a tidy profit in social capital. I was going to make them better, you see, so when I left, they'd know it was okay, because they were in pretty good shape.

Photo by cameronparkins (Flickr).

Only it didn't really work like that.

When I left F, who only wanted to be together if we could co-habituate and eventually get married, his adoring love turned into crushing rage so quickly I spent six months worrying about cyber-stalking. And when I broke up with G, who had another partner in an "open" relationship, his lady was so angry at the mess I'd made, she threatened to come after me for payback. And now here I was with P, who sobbed like a child and put his head under the pillows when we fought, and who described how his last breakup had sent him to bed with cinnamon rolls, mac and cheese and chocolate-peppermint ice cream for six weeks, despite a pre-diabetic state.

I was afraid that, when I broke up with P, his soft gooey vulnerability would turn to rage towards me. I worried he'd become so angry he might hit me, or turn his brilliant mind to cunning plans for revenge. Wasn't there a way I could leave him in better shape so that those hurt feelings, sure to come due, could be ameliorated with gratitude, maybe the same kind the Pilgrim settlers felt toward the Native Americans who introduced them to planting corn?

So here I am in the middle of this mess.

On one hand, I have my friends, who think my trying to improve men who have failed to make me happy is a total waste of time. "Come stay with me," one says. "We share space well."

"He's not pulling his weight," says another. "You're not getting enough out of this."

On the other hand, I have P, who is so desperately needy that he can't afford to think about my breaking up with him. This, of course, translates into his being so scared about the future of our relationship he thinks about it every second.

"I worry you'll abandon me," he says, and I calmly respond, "Why do you use that word, abandon?" at the same time that I know that, for him, it's equivalent to saying "I'm trapped on the top floor of a burning building and I can't use the stairs, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE get me out."

And then I have me, Ms. Fixer, Ms. Ambivalent, Ms. Hates Personal Drama, Ms. Indecisive Enabler.

I used to feel like I wanted to have a way to fast forward to a life of harmony, me and P and our dog together in a cozy house with tubs of kale and lettuce growing in the yard, no depression, no unemployment, no drama, ADHD well under control. Only these days I stare into space and wonder what it will take to get me out of this house, away from this man, and into that uncluttered, quiet, post-breakup transitional apartment I am growing increasingly eager to call home.

Is there really a way I can fix P enough he won't be shattered when I leave -- or is that just one of the in-denial, rationalizing lies I tell myself? Whether P goes to bed for six weeks and shovels blood sugar spike-inducing buckets of food to drown his sorrows can't be the reason I stay or I go, and yet thinking about P's feelings, P's emotional state, P's potential to be so much better than he is today, right now, is what's making it hard for me to leave.

When you renovate a house there's that moment when your checklist is done and the new lights, the new carpet, the new paint job, etc., are all in place and you can see what you've wrought.

Sadly, this renovation relationship thing doesn't work so well.

With P, I've gone right back to my old patterns of submerging what I want inside someone else -- only it's not working. I may be enough of an enabler to have gotten into a fixer-upper relationship, but I'm not enough of one to not want out. So here I am, right in the middle, not wanting to stay, but wondering just how to go.

It's going to be ugly, it's going to be messy but the next person whose life I need to renovate is myself.

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