This One Goes Out to All My Girls
This one goes out to all my girls (and guys) who have ever walked away from someone they loved. Let me preface this by saying that I don’t always follow my own advice. I know it hurts to get “iced out.” But to be one doing the icing? To turn your back on someone because you know you deserve better, while every cell in your body pleads for you to stay? That hurts so much more. It’s arguably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
Icing out, door slamming, no-contact, Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” or just that unnamed gut feeling: they’re all different ways of saying the same thing. Someone disrespects, dishonors or devalues us to the extent that it is no longer possible to ignore the fact that their presence in our life does us more harm than good. The ice-out, the door slam, the no-contact pledge begins the moment we decide enough is enough and to stop engaging in any meaningful way with that person. We stop texting, calling, replying to, meeting up with or checking up on them. We sever ties completely, with or without an official explanation or goodbye. Some people think that cutting someone off is immature or overdramatic, but I disagree. There is nothing immature about prioritizing your inner peace and well-being over someone who does not respect those things very much at all.
I had to dissect some articles in Cosmopolitan last year for an anthropology course. As expected, the magazine was full of anachronistic ideas and vaguely insulting suggestions thinly masquerading as good advice. But none of it kept me from being as utterly taken aback as I was by the plethora of questionable advice the editors spewed to heartbroken readers. “How to keep him interested,” “How to get your ex back,” and the quizzes, dear God, the quizzes: “Does your ex still think about you?” “Why is he taking so long to respond?”
Um, what? Why are the cultural “ambassadors” for young women everywhere perpetuating the idea that we’ve got to win over the affections of someone else, twist ourselves into a pretzel to impress someone who has demonstrated time and time again that they do not love, want or value us? If someone refuses to prioritize you, that is not your cue to begin firing on all cylinders, fully prepared to storm in and make a thousand and one sacrifices to win him over and convince him to change. You know what the Cosmo editors might harp on if they actually wanted to imbue their readers with self-confidence? That truly fulfilling relationships, the ones that will actually provide what you need (mutual support, trust, respect and empathy), will never require you to compromise your values, your self-esteem or your sense of boundaries. This applies to romantic relationships, friendships and family ties. You can chase someone around for years, hoping they will come around and change their ways. You can spend weeks, months, years taking every quiz in the book and dreaming of the day that person finally treats you the way you so desperately wish they would. I’m telling you right now: they won’t.
There are a thousand excuses we can make for people who lack basic decency and integrity. Let’s run through the mill real quick. “They’re just going through a hard time.” “She doesn’t know what she wants right now.” “He likes having sex with me but doesn’t want to commit. If I stick around long enough he’ll realize how great I am and change his mind.” “If only I hadn’t done X, we would still be together.” Or perhaps, the worst of all: “This is my fault. I’m too needy/sensitive/clingy/demanding.”
No, no, no and HARD no. If you are capable of genuine empathy (and I assume you are, if you’re someone who has a Ph.D. in giving everyone and their mother the benefit of the doubt), it doesn’t matter if it’s a friend or a significant other or family member we’re talking about here. Nothing that you do (or don’t do, for that matter) will have an effect on someone who is fundamentally incapable of real intimacy or empathy. You could be the most attractive, understanding, accomplished, flawless individual who sh—ts gold nuggets, and it still wouldn’t be enough for these people.
In an ideal world — a world in which objective self-reflection was always possible — we’d act upon the major red flags that crop up early in our intimate relationships. I would sincerely encourage everyone to honor their gut feelings when it comes time to decide whom to invest large amounts of time and attention in, instead of trying to rationalize certain behavior away. That sixth sense of ours is so incredibly valuable. It’s like our own internal emotional fire alarm, rigged to protect us even when we try to ignore it: “This house is about to go up in flames,” it says, “and it’s time to get out fast.” If we listened to our intuition more, maybe we’d pause and reconsider the things people do that we sweep under the rug time and time again because we want to give other people the benefit of the doubt, we want to be generous and sympathetic, we don’t want to overreact.
Most of all, we don’t want to be lonely. That is scarier than anything: to lean into the empty space that a relationship once filled, no matter how unfulfilling or even damaging it was to your own well-being. To feel that pain, loss and emptiness, to sit with it and let it wash over you. Your hookup that you’ve been in love with since freshman year comes knocking at your door after blowing you off for months. A friend who said something hurtful for the 4,957th time apologizes and wants to meet you for lunch. A family member blatantly disregards your best interests and then continues on with life as if nothing happened. It is infinitely easier to give in, forgive, forget, slap a Band-Aid over the bullet wound and postpone existential dread and loneliness for a few more days or hours. But icing someone out? Slamming the door on them once and for all? That takes a whole new kind of strength.
I do not want to point fingers here. It is blatantly reductionist, not to mention utterly impossible, to divide all of humanity into “those who hurt others” versus “those who don’t.” I have been hurt before, but I have also been the one doing the hurting. I’d argue that most of the pain people inflict on each other is unintentional. In a lot of cases, people are probably not even aware of how their actions make others feel. We all do the best we can. But while someone can have the best intentions, it still doesn’t mean that they are good for you. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you ever owe them the gifts of your time, attention, friendship, sex, love or intimacy, especially when the person has repeatedly demonstrated that they do not appreciate or value them.
“But what if they change the second I walk away? What if they’re different for the next partner/lover/friend/sibling who comes along?” Unless the object of your misguided affection subjects themselves to years of intense self-refection and therapy, they’ll continue to treat people the same way they treated you before you moved on to something better. In the end, it’s all about who will put up with them. There’s no reason to envy the next poor soul who gets caught up in their whims and ways: you already know what they’ll be subjected to eventually. Stick to your ice and leave them to play games with someone else. And may I remind you: the most powerful thing you can say to someone who hurt you is nothing.