I have anxiety. I’m not talking about “oh I’m kind of uncomfortable in social situations,” I’m talking about full ritualized I-need-to-check-the-door-is-locked-three-times-before-I-sleep-everynight-anxiety. The type of anxiety that gives me compulsive, obsessive, and intrusive thoughts and often makes me leave social situations that are crowded and where I can’t see a fire exit. Those who are close to me know that I’m like the least easy going person on earth sometimes. Not a lot of people know about the other form my anxiety takes, the literal impending fear of abandonment. Now, before you start Dr.Phil-ing my childhood or googling abandonment issues—that’s not what I’m talking about. Abandonment related trauma is very real and comes with some specific diagnosis and treatment. I’m not claiming those specific diagnoses, I’m saying that I live in a perpetual state of anxiety where I fear losing my support systems.
Economies of care or how capitalism is always ruining everything always
In their essay “Romantic Love is Killing Us: Who Takes Care of Us When We are Single,” Caleb Luna introduces us to the idea of “economies of care,” which I interpret to mean the ways we dispense care in our lives. Now, when I say care, I’m using it as a loaded word to mean: the ways in which we support people, fully and wholly, love them unconditionally, and incorporate them into the fabric of our lives. Care, as I am describing, is almost always reserved for romantic relationships. I have spent a large portion of my life chasing a romantic relationship, which I can assure you has lead me to the depths of hell. That hell is called a first year philosophy bro. I yearned for romance for a number of reasons, but mostly because:
- I thought that if I could love someone hard enough I would soak up my love for them through osmosis and love myself
- I wanted to prove to Chad from the third grade I could, in fact, get a date
- I wanted to feel love
Points 1 and 2 are different essays, but recently I have started to unpack point 3. I wanted a romantic relationship so bad because I wanted to feel tenderness, softness, and care and thought that the only way I could do so would be through romance because that is all we are ever taught: we are born, we are kids, we date, we fall in love, we marry, we struggle under capitalism, we retire, we die hand in hand with whomever we married, and I guess have kids somewhere in there. A normative view of relationship making doesn’t leave us a lot of wiggle room to create different worlds. In the meantime, while I was lookin’ for love, I made friends. Amazing friends, friends that I have loved with all my heart and who became my solar systems of support. During this time, my friends also started dating, and coupling up, monoging down, etc. etc. and my solar systems got smaller and smaller. I began and am still realizing that this great yearning to find a romantic partner wasn’t so much me wanting to have a partner but to be cared for. Because of my body, I am not invited to participate in this economy of care like my friends who are more “conventionally” attractive (read: thin and white). My friends were and are coupling up and I’m still single and living in fear of losing the care I’ve learned to rely on from my platonic relationships. When you’re on the other end of desirability politics and you live in a body that isn’t deemed desirable by normative standards, you find your worlds in your friends. You cultivate care and make homes in platonic relationships because you learn through trial and error romantic love won’t serve you like you want it to. If you’re me, you live in fear of time, because as it passes you watch your friends enter romantic relationships and place all their time and care into their partners.
Fat girl can’t get dates, writes essay about it
I am not blaming my friends because, at the core of us all, we just want to be taken care of. We are forced to believe so fully that romantic love is the ultimate form of a relationship; we treat our friends as placeholders until we find a partner. I want to make it clear that I’m not saying every romantic coupling is a relationship built on care; that is not a reality. What I’m saying is that socially we are expected to reserve our care for a romantic partner. Now you might be reading this and be like, “no Samantha, I’ve never done that.” You probably have. Or, you might be reading this and you’re like, “Samantha, I don’t pick who I care about based on their body.” You probably are doing it and don’t even realize it, because desirability politics are insidious. You might be reading this and are like, “Samantha, I am just so busy under capitalism that I only have time for my partner” That’s real, and you’re still complicit. Lastly, if you’re reading this and you’re like, “Samantha, you’re just a bitter fat girl who is writing this because she can’t get a date.” You’re right, I’m literally writing this because I’m a mad fat girl who can’t get a date and is demanding to be cared for, regardless.
Oh right, abandonment
This brings us back to the beginning: my anxiety about being abandoned. In reality, I should be calling this, my anxiety that all my friends are going to find romantic partners and leave me behind and I’m going to lose the world I’ve learned to live in. I cried recently, in a cab at 5am, because I had an anxiety attack at a party sparked by my friend showing interest in someone. I know this isn’t normal; I’m well aware, delete your comment right now. This was super embarrassing but my friend and I talked about it and I admitted why I had a melty. It has been a good and ongoing discussion and a growing opportunity. But it was the first time in my entire life that I have ever expressed this fear to someone, especially a close friend who is implicated in this anxiety. My friend is really supportive and didn’t run when I unloaded years of hurt and trauma onto the living room floor. Living in my body also means being terrified of telling anyone anything that might scare them because you don’t want to be “crazy” and fat. You already feel like you’re too difficult to love. So laying out my vulnerabilities shook me. I’m still shaken, and I’m still processing. It’s scary to straight up tell someone: “I’m scared that one day you’re not going to care for me like you do now because you’re going to do something that is completely normal and expected in our society that I can’t participate in on an equal level.” It’s scary to ask someone to rip apart the world we live in and help you create a new one where you feel safe.
Nothing is ever simple and straightforward
Now, at some point you’ve probably told your fat friend, you’ve probably told me, that I have to learn how to love myself. I do love myself. I think I’m really smart and funny. I like my body, I like how my hips curve and my belly is soft. I can love myself into oblivion and none of that matters because I live in a world where men call me a fat bitch on the bus for no reason besides I’m a fat woman. I still live in a society where romance and dating is an uphill struggle. I still live in a society where I’m constantly negotiating my care. Folks who are deemed undesirable—among them, people who are fat, not white, queer, trans, disabled, or exist at any intersection of marginalization—are constantly negotiating their care with the rest of the world, because the world in its current state can’t hold us fully. I’m not saying folks who are deemed undesirable by normative standards can’t find love, because we can. We can find romantic love. That’s not my point. I’m saying that when the world isn’t there for you, you learn to create your own world and invite others into it. You rip a hole in the sky and crawl through. I’m honestly so sick and tired of being scared that the worlds of care I’ve created are going to disappear because of normative ideals of romance. I often gaslight myself, telling myself that I’m being dramatic and that this is all in my head, but then I could also write you a list of the times this has happened. And I’m mad, not at the people who have left. I’m mad that this is the reality that I, and other folks who are not invited into desirability, have to live in. And I want to burn it down and start again, and I’m asking, who wants to burn it down with me?