My Experiences With The (Im)Balance of Power in Romantic Relationships

In 1998 I learned how to say ‘We love each other’ in Portuguese (Nós nos amamos). Nearly 20 years later I’ve begun to understand the full import of that phrase in either language, as well as realize that I’ve never really experienced it..

From age 18 to 42, I’ve been in three serious relationships. Here’s how they went.

The first woman, for whom I learned the phrase above, ended our engagement on the eve of my 24th birthday. I had twisted myself into theological knots, forcibly redefining myself in a misguided attempt to keep her. In the end she used a religious justification to dump me, when in reality she was already eyeing another man. They ultimately married and – last I heard – have three children together. It took me years to forgive her.

The second woman was a rebound who became long-term. We have two children. Unresolved issues from her adolescence shadowed our life together, and finally became fully manifest in a ridiculous mid-life crisis that led her beyond the pale of a committed, monogamous relationship.

In the two relationships I’ve outlined so far, I had little power. With the first I went through mental contortions to be what I thought she wanted. The harm I did myself psychologically lingered for years. With the second I was always adjusting my behavior for her and also trying to think of things to do for her. The third relationship, however, departed radically from this pattern.

With the third woman I was always upfront with what I really thought and who I felt myself to be. Things went well for a few months, until she tried to end our relationship. I put up no fight, and sadly accepted her decision. The next morning she was messaging me that she’d made a mistake. Though I accepted her back, I never felt the same about her again.

Don’t get me wrong. I cared deeply for number three. It was just no big deal for me any more if we broke up. When she made terribly homophobic comments and then backed off when she saw this was a non-negotiable with me, I felt in my bones that our days together were numbered.

Still, I wanted to give this woman the benefit of the doubt. She was clearly quite devoted to me. At the same time, she had long forbidden me from mentioning my most recent ex. This seemed fair to me, until our conversations became nearly consumed by her rants about her ex. It was in the midst of one of those tirades that I realized I’d violated one of my fundamental rules: I had covered up a part of my life (at her request avoided mentioning my ex in any context) to appease her.

In that relationship, I held all the cards. She was truly in love with me, and my infatuation had faded to nothing. She dreamed of our life together, and I worried about what further compromises I would have to make if we remained together. So, I ended it.

I have yet to be in a relationship with someone where it could honestly and fully be said that ‘we love each other.’ Maybe I’ll never have this experience. If I do, it will both permit and require me to be fully and truly me, and it will be priceless.

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