A Love-Hate Relationship (Or Two)

Laura P.

Laura P.

The first time I encountered J, she was tweeting that if President Obama was a secret Muslim, it showed in how he was a good husband and father.

J wasn’t Muslim herself, but her father had converted to Islam when she was young and she bore the West African last name he had adopted after researching his probable family history. It was a tribute to the history of Islam in West Africa and to the probability that his ancestors had been Muslim prior to the Atlantic Slave Trade.

J was proud of her heritage and had a number of Muslim friends both online and offline, primarily Black American Muslims. I came across her on Twitter through a mutual follow. I was intrigued by her rather unconventional take on the president and started following her.

Two years later, perpetually frustrated by the same contrarianism that had once drawn me to J, I ritually unfollowed her across all my social media accounts – modern life, right?! (I should mention that this wasn’t a romance. I don’t fall in love (never have), and I don’t do romance. It was a squish.)

It started out small, a few months after we had become online friends. Wow, I really don’t agree with her sometimes, I’d think. But overall our interests and our activism were so compatible that I didn’t think much of it.

Then there was the time I watched J have a very public, very vindictive fight with a good friend of hers. To this day, I’m still not sure what happened there. Not a good look, J, I thought.

By a couple of months later I seemed to be yelling to myself almost every week about her (it’s probably just as well this was an online-only relationship and that I live alone, LOL).

And somewhere along the line it changed from “Why can’t J see the other side of it?” to “There she goes again. Typical.” Somewhere along the line I stopped even liking her.

I should keep following her anyway, I thought. It’s good for me to interact with people I disagree with. Then came another ugly online fight with a former friend. And a third. Soon I was going out of my way to avoid chatting with her about any disagreement because I didn’t want that attitude turned on me.

It’s ironic that it started with Islam and it ended with Islam. The last time I spoke to her, it was to call her out for endorsing something I felt was Islamophobic.

I can be really conflict-averse. Arguing with people about anything serious makes my stomach clench up and my heart race. It takes a lot to push me that far. Six months of a lot.

Did I really put up with that for six months? Maybe I’m just stubborn. As stubborn as J, even. Maybe more.

What really gets me, though, is that this isn’t the only time I’ve had a squish gone bad. My emotional attractions may be quiet and subtle but I have types. The garrulous, know-it-all, contrarian and proud of it, never so passionate as when she’s wrong type – I love it, I hate it. It gets me every time.

As I’m writing this column, I’m considering whether to unfollow C. I first encountered C last year through their asexuality blog. Their posts almost always challenge me to think about familiar topics in a new way, whether I agree or not. I admire their history of activism, their depth of connection with offline asexual communities, their past experience with queerplatonic relationships. They’re where I’d like to be as an asexual person.

But just as with J, the way C sometimes treats people they disagree with – it’s not something I can overlook anymore. Not after this last weekend, after their online beef with another blogger went completely off the rails. I can’t even read it anymore, it just makes me cringe. For God’s sake, C, you’re not winning anybody around, you’re just rhetorically beating them into submission. You may have won, but at what cost?

I’ve been here before, haven’t I? Gawking from the sidelines. Banging my head on the desk. Wondering if I even want to get involved or should I just take cover because it’s not worth getting savaged over that. Didn’t C used to be better than this? Or maybe they were always like this and I just didn’t see it until now.

At least it hasn’t been six months of frustration this time. Maybe six weeks. I’m still stubborn sometimes.

***

Looking back at my journal after cutting ties with J, one entry caught my attention.

Is she my Shadow self?

One of the things J got me into is psychology and archetypes. According to Carl Jung, the Shadow is made from those parts of ourselves that are inconsistent with our self-image. Since we can’t accept them as part of ourselves, we project them onto others. Until we recognize them as “us”, we’ll keep repeating the same pattern. Ultimately, we need to integrate these elements into ourselves in a healthy way in order to move forward.

Yeah, that sounds a lot like what’s going on.

When it comes to personality, I’m not that much like either J or C. I’m shy and socially awkward. Sometimes almost painfully introverted. Even when I’m very sure I’m right, I can find it hard to speak up much less lecture to others. In some ways, their personalities are like mine turned inside out.

That’s the key, though. Inside out. What they display for everybody in the world is what it’s like inside my head sometimes. Am I really so superior to them because I keep my ugly side locked up? Maybe it keeps me from hurting others the way that they have, but the impulses are still there.

What if these weren’t all one-sided online relationships, the unrequited squishes of a loner? What if I find that queerplatonic partner I keep writing about, and the same dynamics play out in real life? Would I put up with a toxic relationship? Or – worse – would my own obsessions and insecurities, my jealousies, my self-righteousness, my pettiness, be what made it toxic?

Why, I’ve wondered, do I keep being fascinated by women I don’t like, don’t want to be like, probably wouldn’t enjoy living with? Maybe they’re not meant to be my partner, though. Maybe they’re meant to teach me something about myself so that when I do find a partner, I’m not the one to wreck it.

There can be good even in a bad experience, if you know where to look for it. You can hate the bad in someone and still love the good that exists alongside it. You can cut ties on a toxic relationship and still be grateful for what you learned from that person along the way.

Some of the psychology I learned from J helped me to understand what went wrong with her, and I still use it today. C’s insights on aromanticism and queerplatonic relationships have helped me understand the path I want to take.

That good remains and is worth keeping.

Read more by Laura, here.

Laura P is a European-American convert to Islam, asexual, and queer. She is a contributor at The Asexual Agenda, a group blog for asexual spectrum individuals, and maintains a personal blog, Notes of an Asexual Muslim. You can also find her on Twitter at @muhajabah. She works in online tech support and volunteers with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.


4 Comments on “A Love-Hate Relationship (Or Two)”

  1. […] Laura wrote about love-hate relationships. […]

  2. oh my god, thank you for writing this! i don’t have anything interesting to say, really, just .. i relate a lot.
    there’s a type of person i keep getting fascinated with on an intellectual level, and it always makes me wonder if i would want to be close to them… only to have it trickle into my brain slowly that they represent certain ugly sides of me that i have inside, have lived in my worse moments, but which i’ve never let dominate me like they do. it’s always very frustrating to have to slowly realize how bad they are for me and how i dislike them, when i feel so intensely that i’m not through with them and their ways. it makes me feel restless.
    this shadow self thing might be worth looking into.

  3. I can relate to this quite a lot, though maybe not in the same ways (and I am not asexual or aromantic). I do think we tend to be drawn to the people who express some aspect of ourselves that we suppress or haven’t quite integrated. Sometimes it’s just more interesting! Other times I think it’s really about needing to own and integrate that shadow self a bit (or a lot) more into our personal lives. Anyway, I enjoyed this post and will try to check in regularly for the monthly updates.