ALL THIS PAIN MUST BE WORTH IT

 


ALL THIS PAIN MUST BE WORTH IT BECAUSE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY SOUL MATE

You were a wolf in the daylight

And you almost had me.

— LIGHTS, “ALMOST HAD ME”


After realizing that most of the people I was choosing to date as an adult were genuine nightmares, I decided to do all the dumb things we tell women to do to find love. Sure, men’s instructions for finding a girlfriend are usually “Be Born, Wake Up, Brush Your Teeth (Optional)—and boom, you get girlfriend! Now relax and enjoy girlfriend!”


But with women, we tell them to do all the things I decided to do. I would take time off from dating, I would let love find me, I would meet someone through my friends, I would stop looking and focus only on myself, and if I met anyone great, we would be friends first, yeah! I would go to (more) therapy, I would work out, I would go through all of the hoops to be ready enough to “deserve” the love I wanted. What could go wrong?


And what could go wrong was Max. Max was someone I’d known through mutual friends (score!), we were friends first (score!), I hadn’t dated anyone seriously in years (score!), I was focused on my career and working on myself so I could be the partner I wanted (score score score!).


When Max and I reconnected, she told me everything I’d ever wanted someone to say to me—and also happened to be a codependent love addict who had just gotten out of a relationship like two hours prior.


When we reconnected, Max hadn’t worked as a hair stylist in several years. She was taking odd jobs and fixing cars, and as is my way, I knew I had a mission to help her become everything she must be (ugh). I hate that in so many ways, on a deeper level, so many women are still set up to think like housewives from the 1950s, helping our husband negotiate a raise while stuffing down our own ambitions, because this sucks and I want my money back. And by money back, I mean I want all the hours, money, and time spent making men and masculine-presenting women’s careers better and putting their needs before my own, because, oh man, it does not pay to be that kind of Good Girl.


As I’m looking back at the text chain, it’s full of her telling me all my exes and suitors didn’t “appreciate or give you nearly enough. Not even close.” We discussed our favorite power couples and, in true queer-lady form, our astrological planets and rising signs and shit. Who knew her chart was actually best translated as “Run, Lane”?


She told me the first time she met me she knew we were soul mates. But since she had a girlfriend at the time (and literally always), she knew she should stay away from me so she wouldn’t have to face that she was in love with me.


She came on strong and then some. She quickly established herself as my primary confidante and emotional support system, making me feel safe and being there for me when I really needed someone.


To the point where I, like so many times before, wished she didn’t text me every three seconds from sunup to sundown and send me so many videos, because it felt like her whole life revolved around me, and in her mind, we were already married, a dynamic that has marred my relationships before—Adam from high school all over again.


She told me that she knew she had work to do on herself but asked me to give her a year. She clarified that she didn’t want to make me wait for her and I could date whomever I wanted in the meantime, but if at the end of that year I was still single, I was the person she wanted to be with. (Is this sounding like some Everett shit? Because I’m seeing now it was!)


She told me elaborate things she’d done for past partners that now read like false advertising—highway billboards promising the best, most well-photographed steak you’ve ever had in your life, but then you pull over and it’s week-old, off-brand Hamburger Helper.


She told me that if she was ever to propose to me, she’d do it all the time, every few years, to keep me on my toes, just to remind me how many times over she would marry me. She seemed like everything I’d ever wanted. And before I knew it, I believed in her like religion.


She’d Seamless me food when I hadn’t eaten all day, she’d send groceries to my hotel room on tour, with my favorite flowers and my favorite chocolate bar, or my favorite drinks. She took care of me in the same ways Everett had, but she also seemed to truly support me, truly see me. She loved everything I was, which was so much more than “a pretty girl who—uh, what do you do again?” She loved that I shone so brightly and was so ambitious. And she wanted to be there in the race with me, handing me Gatorade and kissing my forehead before I went back out there.


I wanted to believe her so badly, but it was hard to because of past experiences. At some point I said, as I often do—a plea to the person on the receiving end—“I’m trying so hard to believe you, I really am. I’m trying so hard to let people in and I’m just afraid.” And I would, if I could, go back in time and tell myself that I had every right to be afraid of her, to believe the warning bells.


I wasn’t having dumb LOL trust issues because of my dumb LOL entire life full of people who gave me every good—nay, great—reason to have trust issues; I was having issues with trusting someone who should never be trusted, and that issue was trying to protect me . . . but all I could do was berate it for speaking up on my behalf. And it was such a pity.


She’d sign her texts, “Thinking of you always,” and I’d gently remind her we weren’t going to do that, remember? And that I didn’t want a long-distance relationship, and she needed to heal herself. I was trying to talk someone out of patterns that ran so deeply she couldn’t even see she was repeating them. She agreed, she needed time to heal her codependency, “You’re right, you’re right.”


Days later, I got a package full of presents for my tour: bath bombs, flowers, toothpaste, a little bento box, other cute little things. And a letter signed, “Yours, always.” I got so angry I threw the bento box down and cried. The person who kept telling me to set boundaries kept violating mine, saying she wanted to be my girlfriend, but not yet, and then saying she was ready, but me telling her to slow down, and her saying she would, and then all of a sudden, she was “mine, always,” whether I wanted that or not.


Then one night, something shifted. She didn’t get a job she wanted and she withdrew a frightening amount and went so dark I couldn’t see her, couldn’t reach her. To save her (see also: to get her to not abandon me), I took a break from my “I haven’t eaten or slept or stopped working in fifteen hours” day to make her a playlist to soothe her, wrote her a long email reminding her how incredible she was, started working on a short film so she could work on set with me, sent her voice memos letting her know I was there, and bought a shirt to give her when she came to visit. I poured it all out. Every bit I had. And she took them all and closed the door behind her. And this is why anxious attachment people shouldn’t date fucking avoidant people.


I then became the one who refused to see the red flags, and would go on to rip myself inside out every weekend for a month, explaining myself over and over again, like the right words would bring the other Max back. I should’ve just skipped the metaphors and run, because you can’t untie those knots when you’re not even the one who tied them. People have these entire worlds, entire histories inside of them, with thousands of knots tied by people you’ll probably never meet and will never know, so your helping to untie them is just not a thing. And I would know, because I would’ve gladly walked through fire a thousand times if it would’ve erased the hurt she’d experienced, untied all the knots that kept her locked in a cycle of abuse and shutting down.


I’d met a guy that previous fall, just before Max came back into my life. He was a human rights lawyer named Chris who was visiting from Australia. He’d come to Tinder Live with his brother and came up to me afterward to tell me how much he’d loved it, but I had a terrible flu that night and was barely able to stand. He asked me to add him on Facebook, offering to help me bring Tinder Live to Australia, and I pushed the buttons with my fevered hands, but Facebook didn’t work, so he asked for my number and I gave it, thinking nothing of it, and went home to pass out. But he texted me throughout the entire time I was sick and was so sweet and couldn’t stop telling me how funny I was and how much he loved the show, and checking in on me. And when I got better, he asked if I wanted to hang out before he left.


I showed up to the bar absolutely not thinking it was a date and wore glasses and a hoodie. About two minutes in, he used the word date and I said, “Wait, what?” and he laughed and said, “Yeah, I think you’re amazing.” And I thought, “Hmm, okay, why not?” We walked around my neighborhood for hours and he was so charming and sweet and we kept stopping so he could buy us drinks to stay hydrated through our epically long walk-and-talk date. Once we got to my house, we kissed and it was good. I thought about inviting him up and then remembered I’m me and not a TV character and told him to have a good night.


The next morning he texted me saying he knew how much I love Halloween and he and his friends were going to rent a car and drive to Long Island to see this 10,000 carved pumpkins thing that sounded so dope and he would love it if I came with him. I was thrilled because that sounded like the best first date ever. He picked me up and it was THE BEST NIGHT EVER BECAUSE HALLOWEEN and I kept wanting to hold his hand, and sometimes we would, but I kept reminding myself, “Lane, he doesn’t live here! He’s just some dude on holiday from Australia! Please calm down.” And I did. After we got back home, I knew he was leaving town again the next morning, so I figured my usual plan of waiting “several months before we decide if we are emotionally ready to take this to the next level” before sleeping with him wouldn’t work. So he came upstairs and we fooled around. And it was so, so bad. Just, bad bad bad bad bad. But the next day I left for tour, and he left for his next vacation destination.


But we kept talking, even though I had a bitter taste in my mouth from the shitty hookup. One night after an out-of-town gig, the company I was working for shorted me money I’d been killing myself to make and I just broke, cried-so-much-I-lost-my-voice broke. I texted him and said I knew it was like three a.m. there and he didn’t know me well, but this had happened and I was a mess. He said, “Call me if you want! I’m up.” And so I did. And he talked to me until six a.m. about it and really listened, so sweetly, and was so comforting and affirming and kind. So the next day I told him, “Hey, can I tell you something? That hookup was bad. And look, I know you’re some Australian lawyer dude who was in town for a week and you just wanted to hook up with me, but it was not cool.” And I listed all the reasons why it wasn’t great and he eagerly listened and agreed and apologized, but then added, “I didn’t just want to sleep with someone. I really like you, I think you’re amazing. If we lived in the same city, I’d absolutely date you, but I’m just glad I get to know you now and I’d love to see you when we both get back to New York before I fly back to Australia, if you want.” And I really did want.


We spent his last day in town together watching movies and hooking up again (better this time) and falling asleep together, with his brother texting him before he went to bed, “Aww, are you staying at Lane’s?” because he’d been at my Tinder Live show too, and he’d told his brother how much he liked me and it was the sweetest thing. Before he left, he took me to breakfast and we kissed goodbye and that was that. But we still talked here and there before he asked me, that same spring I was “with” Max, to come with him on an all-expense-paid trip to Iceland, where I’d always wanted to go. I told Max he’d asked me and she told me she was actually going to ask me the same thing that night. And she was hurt that I would even consider going with him, but added that I was allowed to go because she couldn’t be with me yet, but also she was hurt, so . . . (eye roll).


So somehow in one night, I was asked by two people to go to Iceland, what the fuck? Anyway, I thought about it for weeks, how much I wanted to go with him because it would be light and fun, and if I went with Max, then our first date would be a trip to a foreign country and that was the opposite of taking it slow. Plus, I knew we’d get even closer and it’d kill me to come back home alone, without her, after being with her that much, finally, in Iceland. More than anything, I decided I couldn’t go with Chris. It wasn’t right. Sure, things weren’t great with Max and me right then, but she was going to marry me and she was my person and this was just a rough patch. I wanted to do the sweet, rom-com movie moment thing of telling her I was choosing her, that I would always choose her.


When I told her I was choosing her, she yelled at me and told me I should’ve gone with Chris, because we weren’t anything and I should go. I told her I didn’t want to, I wanted her, and she got very quiet again.


I will never understand how, just as quickly and intensely as she entered, she could and would exit my life as though she’d never said a word to me. Never felt anything for me or because of me. And I’d just become a girl she knew once, kind of, from a distance.


If you beg people, “Please, I’ve already been through enough. Take good care of my heart because I won’t be able to handle it if you don’t,” and they say, “Of course, darling,” and then proceed to break everything in your life anyway, because fuck you, what do you do with that? Max and I got to the point where I’d internalized the dynamic of her setting the boundaries, ignoring mine, and taking all she needed, despite my asking her not to. And I stopped eating. It took me weeks to realize I was trying not to need anything so I could be perfect for her, so she could take and I’d never need anything back. Like she seemingly wanted.


Chris is still someone I talk to now and then. He’ll text me to let me know he’s thinking of me, or that he told an American he met in Australia about my Tinder Live shows and told him he should go. He tells me how proud he is of me, that I’m gorgeous and funny and special. Looking back, Chris was the secure attachment I could’ve chosen, but I chose Max. Not because I consciously knew she wasn’t a secure attachment, but because deep down, my brain wanted to go down that road because this is the road I know.



I didn’t understand how someone who seemed to be everything I’d wanted in a person could also become someone so harmful. I had vetted her. I had done everything right. I had worked on myself. Years had passed and I was so much wiser than I was before.


And yet again I was in a situation like I was with Everett. Someone who claimed to be everything I wanted, but I could feel that they weren’t, all the time. But then I told myself, as I had before, that maybe no one’s perfect and no one gets everything they want in a partner, a concept that has remained eternally depressing to me on all levels ever since it was introduced. And if that’s actually true, and everyone’s just totally okay with it, why isn’t that in people’s wedding vows? “Well, Sharon is basically everything I want, like, mostly. Like, okay, for sure I thought this would be more fun or more romantic, or feel more like some kind of destiny or fate, like coming home to somewhere I’ve never been before and yet feels more familiar to me than anything in my entire life ever has. But fuck it, Sharon loves the Dodgers, and I do too, so let’s rock this!”


The idea of Greg (that guy’s name is Greg, it just is) making that choice to bloom where he’s planted because, whatever, man, he’s not getting any younger and Sharon’s an all right chick, is depressing as shit. But on the other hand, Greg probably isn’t sitting in his room with his laptop right now imagining a place that must exist, it just has to, though there’s little evidence to support it. No, Greg is probably happily sharing a Frito pie microwaved in an upside-down Dodgers commemorative plastic hat with Sharon, the woman he wants to share all future Frito pies with for the rest of their lives, maybe, probably, we’ll see, who knows.


But I am not a Greg.


Max finally came into town to visit me so we could put an end to this You’ve Got Mail shit. During the time she was here, we played a couple for that whole month, with her taking as many breaks as she felt like to let me know I meant nothing to her.


I went to hang out with her friends at a bar and heard her joke about how single she was while I seethed. The following day she joked that I’d probably flirted with someone at that bar and that, for the record, I totally could’ve hooked up with anyone there. Confused and annoyed, I looked at her and said, “Why would I do that? I literally came to that bar to meet your friends and only hung out with them all night because I’m crazy about YOU.” And she launched into more of her bi-phobic bullshit about how “I know this is bi-phobic, but I don’t trust bisexuals.” What a cool tune. Seriously, this shit is so much worse coming from lesbians and gay people than it is from straight people. Get your shit together, assholes.


Those people (and shitty TV shows who make cheap jokes about bisexuality not being a thing) have no idea how much time bisexual and queer people spend thinking about their sexuality. The world desperately wants anyone who isn’t simply straight, or simply gay, to pick a side and stick to it. Personally, no one has ever told me to pick a label, but I can feel it in my gut that I need to, and oftentimes I see it reflected in other people. If I have a friend who knows me to date only one gender and I start dating someone of a different gender, I find myself playing the pronoun-dodging game. I start saying things like “This person I have a crush on” and how “they are really great,” just so I can avoid people asking me to categorize it, when all I want to do is be psyched because I like someone. Or there’s the good friend of mine who identifies as straight but will often say she’s attracted to women but she’s “not gay” and is “definitely straight.” I hear her say this and want to hug her and tell her it’s okay to not pick a word and to be attracted to whomever she’s attracted to, but I also know why she feels that’s impossible.


What if you fall outside all the boxes? What are you supposed to do then, other than wrestle with the feelings of otherness, the “oh shit, my sexual-identity deadline is here and I don’t have all my paperwork filled out yet”? There really is something about being able to put yourself into one concise, well-marked, tidy section of society, dusting your hands off on your pants. “That’s that. Now I can move on with my day.” But it’s not that simple.


If you’re a queer woman, you’ve probably spent time changing your online dating profile to read straight when you wanted to meet men, and lesbian when you wanted to meet women, because you desperately want to avoid men who think you’re looking for a three-way and women who think you’re slutty and not to be trusted. And let me tell you something, on any given day and in any given room, I typically want to sleep with zero people in it. I’m open to being attracted to any gender and rarely attracted to any, so miss me with this stupid idea that in any room everyone is appealing to me because they’re technically a gender I have dated. Let me briefly affirm that you choose your labels. You choose those you show them to. You choose when the labels change, if they change. None of us is just one of anything. If I’m funny right now, I might be really sad in two hours. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m funny; it just means that there’s been a shift. I think many of us are much more sexually fluid than we think we are; we’re just so scared of what that means, and that we have to take action. And I’d just like to tell you that you don’t.



I let the bi-phobic and frankly incredibly tired comment slide, and by that I mean pushed it further down into the reserve of anger and resentment and things left unsaid, needs left chronically unmet, and a constant underlying current of emotional abuse I hadn’t felt this violently since my childhood.


When I first started dating Max, I felt like I’d finally broken free of my relationship blueprints. I had vowed to never again repeat what I’d done with Everett, not to continue to run at any sign of potential trouble. This time I was going to assume there wasn’t a “but then” with her and that she was everything she said she was. She seemed so nurturing and communicative and self-aware and kind that I was sure I’d beat the system. “Man, these years of therapy have finally paid off! I’ve broken the cycle! I’m free! I’m finally dating someone healthy! Woo-hoooooo!!!” But just as soon as I was sure I was in the clear, it was as if she’d pulled off her mask and said, “Haha, surprise, motherfucker! I’m basically your parents. I just waited way longer to reveal that, so you felt safe!” and I was, like, “OH, COME ON!!!”


I had finally let my guard down, but with the completely wrong person.


That night, once more with feeling, I told her in full recap form everything she’d put me through. I lay in her lap while fighting for breath between crying. “I tried to do everything perfectly, to navigate every quickly shifting curve you threw at me daily, constantly changing the rules, and I tried so hard to be perfect. I tried so hard. And I loved you so much. And why, why, why are you doing this to me?”


She cried and held me and told me, “Lane, you couldn’t have done it perfectly. I set up a game that was impossible for you to win and you did nothing wrong. There was no way you could’ve done this the right way, I changed the rules every day and I know that. I should’ve protected you and I didn’t. I should’ve protected us and I didn’t. I set us up to fail and I know it.”


I knew this was a conversation like the thousands of others in which she would have a moment of clarity and insight and ownership of what she’d done, and acknowledge the colossal damage she’d caused, but in all likelihood, any recently developed insight would vanish by morning, just as it did when I had similar conversations with my family as a child. I wanted to push her away, make her leave, but I also didn’t want to be alone. And I remembered that feeling well—the feeling of being held in the arms of the one who hurt you. And still thinking, “This is better than nothing.”


To make it up to me, Max offered to take me to dinner, and I somehow ended up paying, as I always did. This was one of the most painful, familiar things she’d do: the “let me take care of you, just kidding, I’m not” move that she’d become a fucking pro at while she was here. This was coupled with her reminders that “I owe you money. I’m keeping track, don’t worry! I’m really good at that,” even though I rarely saw a dime.


In the morning, her cab came and she hugged me and said, “I love you,” and I said, “I love you too.” Exhausted by her and by this rancid version of what we could’ve been, I texted her while she was flying and told her maybe we should just take the pressure off this and be friends for a while. She said that would be great because then she could focus more on trying to get a job at a salon in New York so we could be together.


In the days that followed, she mostly ignored me and detached from me. I barely existed. So my friend offered me some acid and I took it, and I hadn’t done that since I was a kid. (What a sentence. Seriously, if you ever hear me say, “Man, I feel like a kid again!” call 911.) I told her and she, a person who knew I was sober, thought it was funny. I thought it was a red flag that I was decimated by her and by this, but hey, six to one. A few days later, she was house-sitting for some married friends and she sent me a video saying she wanted this so badly, to be in a couple and to have a house and a dog, to be so in love with someone. This was her pattern—back and forth. Two days before, she was telling me she loved me and wanted to move here to be with me, and just days later, I was a platonic friend listening to her bitch about her love life.


I finally told her I needed a break and I gave her the space to do what people do in movies when you tell them you can’t live like this anymore and they need to get help or else they’ll lose you. And then, because they’re so scared of losing you, they really pull it together and pull out all the stops to win you back! And you won’t be surprised to know none of that happened. Instead, she told me she’d been doing great, her whole life was on track, self-esteem bordering on cocky, and no more need for me. She even added the delightful touch of saying she still loved me, but couldn’t be with someone who thought she needed to change. You know, because I’d asked her to change so she could stop hurting me all the time. That was unfair of me to want.


People who reject you for being broken after they’re the ones who broke you, or who act like they’re not the problem and the problem is the issues you had before them, are evil. They just are. And also, it’s, like, “Yeah, but you compounded those preexisting issues like interest, asshole.”


Truly, to break someone that much, for that long, and to then tell them the reason you’re ending it is because they asked you to stop breaking them, and if you were a better person, you’d be okay with having them break you, is soulless at best.


When you have a lot of shine to you, as so many bighearted people often do, you can attract a lot of people easily, because people are drawn to it, that kind of light. It can be so easy to forget that not everyone deserves your shine. But when you spend so much of your earliest years being told you have no shine at all, even though you’re pretty sure maybe you do, and someone finally tells you they see it too, you do, you have it, you want to give them everything. Because of this, more often than not, you’re not falling in love with them, you’re using them as a way to fall in love with yourself.


Weeks later, I found out she’d been cheating on me for months. She once told me she was terrified she’d become just like her cheating grandparent, whom everyone always said she was most like. And all of her previous fears about that had proved shockingly true, but then again, this many lies and stress-related illnesses I’m still healing from, what was really shocking about any of this? I can’t describe to you how it feels to go from thinking you have a true partner, true best friend, and true soul mate to seeing that person become your abuser—and then seeing them cheat on you and see that maybe you were a mark all along, a pawn in a game you didn’t see coming that played out exactly the way they intended.


I’ve experienced so many shades of this before, and all I can say is this: If you see a woman who is working super hard to become who she’s meant to be and to achieve the things she wants to achieve, and you have nothing to add to her life or to give back to her in any way, please just leave her the fuck alone.






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