If Dating Isn’t Working Out, Maybe You’re Just Self-Absorbed

People’s rigid expectations often make relationships, especially romantic ones, fairly difficult. In dating, there’s often a mismatch between one party, which wants marriage, and another, which wants freedom. However, that in itself isn’t the issue; the problem lies within the self-centered pursuit or maintenance of each respectively. Recently, a woman asked me if I ever wanted to get married and I told her that I didn’t think so. She asked, “Why?” And I responded with, “People leave.” So, she told me that I was another “commitment phobe.” Her answer bothered me not so much because it wasn’t true, but because she reduced me to a label in order to discard me; I now stopped being worthy of consideration because I didn’t fit someone else’s plan.

I wished she had taken the time to find out why I was afraid of people I loved leaving me instead, but it wasn’t important to her; and I think that dating is often encapsulated by some sort of set of rigid expectations, which fail to see the humanity of the other. To me at least, it seemed that she cared more about being married than whom she was married to. What I mean is that, although she undoubtedly envisioned a suitable partner, she would have cared less about his inner world than her outer one. And we see this sort of thing in dating when one is asked about marriage and children on a first date, as a way to weed out their bad prospects. Modern dating is more about creating an appearance than a life, and it’s fairly obvious from the initial meeting.

In one of my favorite films, Don Jon, the film’s protagonist, Jon Martello, falls for the beautiful, but manipulative, Barbara Sugarman. Both characters are immature and self-centered as they search for partners who fit each one’s mold. As Jon attempts to sculpt himself into the perfect boyfriend, Barbara consistently finds ways in which he’s inadequate, holding onto to the idealistic belief that “You’re supposed to do anything for the one you love.” As hard as he tries, Jon can’t kick his pornography addiction and, thus, she ends their relationship. Both characters aren’t very likable throughout most of the film, but, eventually, Jon finds his way.

As the story progresses, Jon meets an older woman who eventually informs him that she lost her family in a car crash and isn’t looking to settle down. Without the pressure of needing to develop their relationship, she provides Jon with a form of criticism that’s more helpful to him than to her; she tells Jon that he’s a vacant lover who can’t experience the bliss of a sexual union because he’s too self-absorbed. In the best scene of the film, Esther tells Jon, “If you want to lose yourself, you have to lose yourself in another person. It’s a two-way thing.” Intimacy, he eventually learns, is created by the self in the other, in one’s redirected gaze. And one can even successfully argue that happiness follows suit.

While Jon and Barbara made similar mistakes, Jon, with some much needed help, eventually grew from them. In their last encounter, Jon apologizes to Barbara as she disavows any responsibility for the inevitable end of their romance. Stuck in her own pain, she can’t accept that his obsession with porn was irrelevant to her, despite her interpretation to the contrary. Their stubbornness and almost total self-regard made it difficult for each one to acknowledge the other’s perspective and sorrow. So, their union wasn’t meant to be.

Love can’t solely be about another, but it also can’t solely be about oneself. And, unfortunately, because of the familial pressure to wed and uphold the family’s status, the child (who can be of any gender) internalizes their expectations, weaving her self-esteem to them. Some of you may be thinking, “Well, doesn’t a person have a right to pursue what they want?” They do, but then their prospective partner also has the right to walk away. Personally, when someone obsesses about marriage, I get the sense that they don’t care about who I really am, outside of the criteria they set forth for me. The woman mentioned above didn’t try to understand why I feared loss; the disdain in her tone was evident. I was judged and placed in a box from which no rational response could get me out of.

In the film’s end, Jon’s sister, who remained silent throughout the movie, finally speaks, expressing wisdom. She tells them that Barbara never cared about Jon, his needs or his dreams; she simply concerned herself with maintaining control, wanting “a guy who’s gonna do whatever she tells him to.” So, in the end, maybe it’s for the best that I stopped speaking with that girl. But, I’m sure that I’ll meet more like her.

Wanting to get married isn’t a good or bad thing, but becomes bad when it becomes obsessive. Barbara, as Jon’s sister noted, had “her own agenda.” And, so does everyone else who’s already thinking of marriage before the end of the first date. If, after some time, you still want to get married and your partner won’t concede, then you probably should leave. But, if you leave before understanding his anxiety, then you never really cared about him to begin with. And, if you’ve consistently attempted to prove you’re trustworthy and your partner still refuses to budge, then maybe he won’t ever allow himself to care enough for you, either.

Love is a dance, wherein both partners have to meet. It’s okay to not be on the same page at points, but a relationship falters without empathy. The key is for both parties to work together to create a harmonious rhythm.

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