The Real Difference Between A Relationship And Non-Relationship


I used to write letters.

To my family, to my friends. Mostly to my boyfriends and ‘not-boyfriends’ — to those who broke my heart.

I wrote them as a way to find some security and confidence amongst all the vulnerability in my relationships. They were basically a journal addressed to the relevant person that I updated whenever I needed to get something off my chest. I’ve never been good at confrontation and I’ve always been scared of falling in love with someone who didn’t love me back.

The first letter I wrote was to a boy who crushed me. A boy I let humiliate me time and time again.

It detailed all the anxiety I felt throughout the ‘not-relationship.’ I idealised anything remotely romantic or thoughtful he did. I analysed every message he sent me.

And in the end I unleashed all the anger, hurt and bitterness I felt.

Dear A*,

I can’t believe that despite all the crap you’ve put me through, I still want you. Why am I so cut up about this? It’s ridiculous. We didn’t even officially ‘go out.’

Even now, I’m hoping you’ll message me. Or that I’ll catch you at your work and you’ll have no knowledge of the messages I’ve sent. After all, my phone has been fucking up lately.

But I know I’m clutching at straws. You were only playing with me. You probably do it to every girl that walks into your video store. You just want to see how long you can keep them coming back for more.

I wonder if you’ve ever had someone as pathetic as me. Probably not. That’s why you dropped the facade. You got bored of using the same old tricks and watching me fall for them over and over.

There’s an old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Why didn’t I listen to that?

When I first started dating Steve I started writing a letter to him, too. Our relationship began under tumultuous circumstances and I needed a safe space to make sense of how I felt.

It only took me three months to realise I didn’t need it. Our relationship is by no means perfect, but I’ve never had to agonise over messages left on read and I don’t feel the urge to analyse every minuscule detail.

Don’t get me wrong — he does stupid shit now and then that annoys the fuck out of me. Like not charge his phone and not let anyone know where he is. Those are probably my biggest pet peeves. But the difference now is I don’t treat it as having an ulterior motive. I don’t worry about what it means.

And that’s the most important thing in a relationship.

It’s not romance or sex. It’s not cute messages and photos uploaded to Instagram together. All the boys who broke my heart did those things.

It’s not dates. It’s not gifts. It’s not even the labels.

It’s simply acknowledging the other person. It’s learning what they need and wanting to give it to them and receiving what you need in return. It’s a partnership, an equal give and take. It’s communication, it’s respect, it’s trust.

I used to write letters to try and convince myself that that’s what I had. Look at all the cute things they did for me. They sent me a good morning message — but then they ignored me for the next two days. Or they let me upload a photo of us together, but then they untagged themselves.

I would read every message in detail, write about every date, every touch, every word.

It wasn’t until I stopped feeling that urge to analyse everything that I finally realised I had what I’d been looking for.

Of course, I still write about my relationships.

As is evidenced by this post right now. The difference is I don’t need to hide it anymore. I’m comfortable with Steve — and I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m confident enough to share my experiences.

That’s the real difference between a relationship and a ‘not-relationship’ — one is hidden beneath layers of anxiety and the other is proudly displayed.

*Name has been removed for privacy.