Teeth, or, How to Lose a Guy in 2 Years
Teeth is a column about loss, change, anxiety, relationships, and lots of other "real life" hurdles young adults stumble through. Hopefully the writers words will resonate with you, or at least provide a temporary respite from the doom and gloom of existence.
Last night I dreamt that my teeth were falling out. I was walking through a beachside town and they felt loose in my mouth. A gentle tap with my tongue was enough to push out an incisor.
I can vividly recall the panic that set it as I realized what was happening; I started wiggling each tooth from my gums, tongueing around their empty sockets as I frantically pocketed them.
Suddenly, a thought came to me: “isn’t losing teeth a common symbolic dream motif?”. Analyzing my own dreams while in them. Of course.
That’s when I woke up.
This morning I googled what exactly this dream symbolized. “Anxiety, great loss, and deep change in the dreamer’s life.”
This makes sense. Never before in my life have I felt more anxious, never before have I felt loss this intensely, and never have I so desperately needed change.
What catapulted me here, to probably the lowest place I’ve ever been (but arguably the most important), was a text from an ex-boyfriend who I still really care about, telling me that I had made his life miserable, I was emotionally abusive, and that he never wanted to have me in his life again.
As you can imagine this was shattering. Empty is the most positive way I can describe how I felt, but traumatized is probably more accurate. For days I couldn’t eat or dress myself properly, each morning I’d throw up in the shower and each night I’d fall asleep only from the exhaustion of having cried all day.
I’m telling you this not to make you feel bad for me (don’t), but to paint a picture of how devastating it was to hear these words from someone I cared about so deeply. I knew that our relationship wasn’t perfect - we broke up for a reason - but we were incredibly compatible, and so happy at times. When I look back, I think of all the amazing memories we shared; I think about the drunk dancing and the intricate conversations and the rapping Imma Be (the best party song in the world by the way) and the cuddling and the running of fingers through hair and lots of other things that I could list but would just make me sad now.
So hearing that, to him, this relationship was abusive and miserable was shocking. At the time, nothing mattered more to me than his happiness.
That part was true, but there was something lurking under the surface of that relationship that I had managed to ignore for years, and in turn, collapse the thing that mattered most to me.
When I was a senior in high school, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I chose not to take the medication I was prescribed, fearing that it would turn me into a zombie, or negate my independence, or some other piece of stigma I had adopted. Nonetheless I survived, and the summer after that, I fell in love. That same summer, my anxiety and depression were miraculously cured!
I didn’t realize the ridiculousness of that “coincidence” until this week, a realization that could’ve changed a lot, had I made it earlier. But I didn’t.
Turns out, my mental health issues were never “cured”. Instead, I fixated. I let myself believe that a single person was the answer to my happiness. This, of course, is the perfect platform for an incredibly toxic relationship.
To me, losing him symbolized all light and goodness draining from my life - the depression I thought I had escaped from. And because of my anxiety, pretty much anything and everything could represent its possible demise.
Whenever this was threatened, even in the smallest, most meaningless ways, I panicked. I’d take it out on him, failing to understand how much I made up in my own head. He was not at all prepared to handle this. To him, I was just a controlling crazy person, not a person who needed medical help. The defensiveness that followed made me see arguments as wars I couldn’t risk losing - he was trying to take the relationship, and subsequently my happiness, away from me. Obviously that was never the reality of the situation but it was my reality, and it turned me into a drastic, manipulative person on multiple occasions.
Of course, he could’ve been more understanding. He could’ve bent over backwards to comfort and console me when I was manic, he could’ve worked on being ultra emotionally intelligent, becoming more equipped to work with me through things. Maybe some guys would, but none of that was his job, and while he could’ve done better, it was my responsibility to help myself.
Still, I wish he would’ve said something. I wish he would’ve told me how much damage I was doing. I wish more than anything that one of us would’ve recognized this behavior before the relationship became unsalvageable.
But it was impossible for either of us to see what was going on while in the middle of it, let alone articulate it. I don’t blame him for that. It was complicated as hell and it’s taken me months to even acknowledge it.
This toxicity ultimately left us both confused, drained, and depressed. It made him see me as someone who, though he still loved, made him miserable. This led him to hurt me in a lot of ways, especially post-breakup - stringing me along, ghosting me, lying to me, etc. I hurt him, and he hurt me back. Unfortunately, this is what people do.
My point is that neither of us are blameless. It’s easy to box up relationships, placing blame on one person and leaving it at that. Its easy to get over something when you can tell yourself there’s a simple answer to it’s downfall. But that’s almost never the case. He made a lot of mistakes too, mistakes that I could list and divvy out blame, assigning percentages to who messed up the most. But that would be pointless. His mistakes are his to grapple with.
So instead of an analysis of how one relationship went south, I write this as a cautionary tale. Some Wellbutrin or Xanax could have made a huge difference in my life, or maybe just a better understanding of my mental health and how to tackle it alone without tacking it onto another human being. It wouldn’t have made our relationship perfect by any stretch, but it would’ve given us room to work through things.
Treating other people like they’re medicine is so dangerous - it can take something beautiful and make it unrecognizable. It can lead you to hurt the people you care about most. The worst part is that it’s really hard to see yourself doing it while it’s happening. I’m lucky that I can even see it in hindsight, considering how easy it would’ve been to blame my ex. Not everyone is so lucky.
Of course I wish I could apologize, I wish I could talk to him about it, I wish I could go back in time and do things differently. Unfortunately at this point, none of those things are possible. But a dear friend recently reminded me that the best part of making mistakes - even life shattering ones like this one - is that we can learn from them.
So hopefully, readers, you take a piece of this with you as you go into future relationships. People will not fix you. They cannot help you if you cannot help yourself. No one person is ever the answer to your problems, and treating them as such will only help to drag them down with you.