I learned so much from this relationship:
(Illustration by Liz Mamont for GOOD Magazine)
I never wanted to save the world—just every stray cat, directionless friend, and single man I’ve ever met. This tendency started with my mom, a fiercely independent woman who tried to care for me in spite of her fading mental health. At the height of her bipolar mood swings, she extolled my beauty and smarts. At the depths of her depression, she called me worthless and almost choked me to death. I didn’t just learn to fend for myself—I learned to fend for her, too. l stole money, saved all my after-school income, and figured out how to stretch fast-food meals between us for days.
When I set out on my own, I soon attracted other people who needed to lean on me. My best friend in college was the perfect example. A former child actor and the eldest son in a Caribbean family, he was charming, handsome, and needy. He was a Bronx-raised nerd of color like me. I loved the way he shouted when he entered a room. He made the best chili I’d ever tasted. I had a romantic dream about him shortly before I visited New York for a baby shower. We hooked up once. Then he called me after a wedding and asked if I would be his girlfriend. Thoughts of biracial babies danced in my head, and I said yes.
Ultimately, despite the shenanigans of that relationship, it cured me of ever trying to save anyone ever again in my life. One of my mentors likes to say, “You didn’t cause it and you can’t cure it.” But it’s also true that we are culpable for the things that people “do to us” in relationships. I took full responsibility for ignoring my intuition and allowing myself to be used…but that took some time.