(Image: Grey Gardens)
All over the internet are floral images superimposed with the chaotic-sounding word “Athazagoraphobia.” These images often include the definition: “The fear of being forgotten, ignored or abandoned.” I get the sense that they’re meant to be deep, but the word sounds slightly made-up. A better term for a similar phenomenon is Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, a key feature of ADHD. I learned recently that ADHD shares cluster symptoms with both Autism and Borderline Personality Disorder. It doesn’t surprise me that many of the people across the mood and personality spectrum experience the same raw emotions, regardless of how those emotions may manifest.
I think even more excruciating than being abandoned or ignored is not feeling fully understood, which is why I go to lengths to clarify my point in all of my interpersonal relationships. That doesn’t always go well. I have sent texts that should have been phone calls. I’ve had phone calls that could have, in all honesty, been a single concisely worded email. And oftentimes the subtext of these communications has been “don’t leave me.” Or: “If I hold your attention for one more moment, maybe you’ll understand me,” which has led me to be on the receiving and giving end of big displays of enmity and big displays of love, which I view as almost the same thing. On an unconscious level, these kinds of grand gestures are attempts at postponing or accelerating the possibility of abandonment. You don’t have to say “don’t leave me!” to send the same message to someone—all it takes is an anxious text declaring your love! Similarly, if someone feels like they’re about to get dumped, it might be toxic but why wouldn’t they want to rip off the bandaid first, beating their lover to the eventual discard? I feel like in dynamics where the man is mostly wrong and knows it, he’s trying to evade being the villain in the future narrative, so he can’t do the dumping himself, even if he really wants to. And the woman in this dynamic, more often than not, just doesn’t want to say she was left behind, so she’s more comfortable throwing dynamite on the relationship. It doesn’t change the underlying subtext, the material buzzing under the surface: she was left behind and knows it.
I’m speaking in generalities to anonymize my life, but of course, I am the woman I’m talking about. For someone so astrologically anchored by the moon, I am actually the sun. I run intense and hot. This can feel burdensome if you stare too hard for too long, but on the flip side, I’m a streak of sunshine. I think people are attracted to that intensity at first, as it’s inviting energy. But it’s overpowering, and nobody—especially a man—wants to feel like they’re out of control, like their face could melt off. I’ve learned to suppress the parts of myself—and lie a lot about my innate desires in the process—that scare others, so I can be more palatable so that they’ll stick around for longer than a season and I can then be perceived as a cool girl. And somehow it always goes back to pleasing men.
When I started dating at seventeen, all it took to pull off the scam of being a cool girl was a mauve shade of lipstick, and benign lies (“yes, I want to keep my shoes on in your house”; “haha, I’d love to watch Twin Peaks instead of Spice World”; etc.) like one does when attempting to get a job they’re sorrily unqualified for. But the lies get deeper as you go, facilitating self-betrayal. I’ve always felt like I have a high sense of self-regard, but sometimes I’m not sure if that’s true. I struggle to see myself in Joan Didion’s definitions of self-respect, as per her 1961 Vogue essay:
To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses.
Would a self-respecting girl plug herself up like a broken faucet after her tears were rejected by a guy, only to cry a week later while listening to “Good Days” by SZA, a song that the immersive production of potently harnesses a pure, big love? SZA’s single-ness feels imbued with less of the frantic, anxious energy of lustful infatuation she’s known for, and I want to live inside that feeling with her, though it’s hard in the fragile project of modern dating. Bolstered by luscious instrumentals and her trademark nonlinear, layered lyrical style, she exposes that fragility: “Still wanna try, still believe in good days, good days.”
Like SZA, I want to try, too. Specifically, I want to try to understand the wounded girl inside of me who seeks closeness with men. The wounded girl wants to live in the inner world of men more than her own, drawing herself close enough to get burned more than the intensity of her sun ever could. I don’t even think it’s men I seek; but rather, the elusive idea of who they are. I think that’s why the merman in The Pisces by Melissa Broder (the first Hip to Waste book club pick coming up in a bit!) is a genius metaphor.