I was struggling in a relationship when a friend said, “It will be over when you are sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.”
It seemed I kept stumbling into the same pattern of being attached to someone who was less attached to me. I convinced myself that eventually they would work through their emotional unavailability because I had been patient and understanding of their needs. I call these relationships I would fall into as a grey zone.
We feel for someone, yet we question whether their feelings are truly at par. We want to express our feelings by sharing our bodies and our hearts but there is no security that our vulnerability will be reciprocated. Often, a power dynamic develops where one partner has more control than the other based on the level of investment they have in the relationship. We live in place of fear that if we say or do the wrong thing they will leave us. The hardest part is that they are not even really with us to begin with.
I have been finding more and more people I know stumbling into relationships like this. It seems most often women end up on the side of waiting and compromising.
We grasp onto the hope that eventually the relationship will be sustainable. I seemed to convince myself that this was the kind of relationship I wanted. I would look at other relationships with trust and security and see them as inauthentic because they were safe and predictable. I justified the relationship as part of a learning process that challenged me, when honestly, I just became comfortable with all the grey.
Countless dating apps, highly sexualized media images and porn mean that we are continuously exposed to messages telling us our bodies are commodities and sex doesn’t need to share the same space as love. Women are particularly vulnerable to this message as popular media repeatedly objectifies women’s bodies in a sexual way. This radiates into the way we see our value to a man and the way we can ensure they will see us. When we love someone, sex can feel like the best way to make them appreciate us more. Sexual chemistry becomes a vital component of maintaining closeness and validating the relationship.However, like many other forms of pleasure, it wears off over time and what we are left with is the emptiness of knowing we always needed more and couldn't stand up for it.
Our world is far more influenced by media and technology than by the traditional values of earlier generations. The normalization of casual sex and non-committal relationships is impacted by the way relationships have been depicted to us at an early age in film, television and advertisements. We face even more messages streamed to us online as we try to navigate adulthood.
What is left is a culture of love that is empty of the more feminine qualities of empathy, support and trust. We let sex be the cornerstone of our sense of connection. It’s not that we shouldn’t embrace our sexuality, it's that conscious communication and understanding of what sex means to us in a partnership makes it much more enjoyable. And if someone does not value sex and intimacy in the same way, we owe it to ourselves to create boundaries.
Social media also sets us up on a feedback loop of comparisons in life and love. This creates an intense pressure to find “the one”. We feel less inclined to commit to someone we feel something for right now because we don’t want to miss out on something better in the years to come. This could be another person, or it could be the things we think are an opportunity cost if we date someone. I have wrote about how we think we need to “find ourselves” before we can commit to a career or place to call home. In love we feel we need to explore all our options before we commit to a relationship. However, we limit finding more of ourselves by avoiding being vulnerable in taking a leap of faith with someone. We should look at love as a process of continuous learning, not a place of failure or regret. Whether we end up with someone forever, or it ends in a couple months, we should be grateful for that person and our own commitment to the process.
Love and happiness are meant to be shared. Without trust in a partner we live each day restricted in expressing and sharing love authentically. We often dim our emotions and condition ourselves to accept less than what we deserve. I can now see that these challenging relationships taught me less than a relationship built on respect, trust and appreciation. Sharing that with someone, means I am able to explore more of the best version of myself instead of the worst.
There is no easy solution in how to change what already exists in our culture. However, the beautiful thing of being human is being in control of what we choose to accept in our own lives. Be mindful of how your narrative of love has been created.
You may not believe it yet, but the only way is to try: make space and focus on what sparks your joy. Redirect your energy back into moments that you can claim as your own. I challenge anyone who is feeling stuck in the grey zone to consider why you are compromising your own light. Rely on gratitude as your guide to getting through the tough days. When you don’t know what you need, be with the people who need you. Gradually these steps make us see we should never have to convince or wait for someone to actualize their love. Create a life not of black white or grey but of pure gold.