Image of Cicely Tyson (photographer: Unknown)

I want to talk about emotional responsibility in a relationship, and by that I mean our tendency to project our more heightened state of emotion on the people we are casually seeing, intensely dating or even just friends with.

Have you ever dated someone and spent the entire length of time, insisting and feeling like the person did not love you as much as you did them? Did not give as much as you did? Was not as open with you as you were ready to be with them? Could easily do things to you, that you could never do to them in return? Wouldn’t do things for you that you would do for them in a heartbeat? Have you ever felt that intense longing for someone, and just known deep deep deep down there was an absence of it in that person?

Have you ever felt like an afterthought?

We feel so cheated emotionally. Here I am, giving you my all, willing to risk everything, ready to do it all for you and yet here you are, denying me what I want, the very same effort.

We ask ourselves to be patient, we tell ourselves that the person we love would not be here if they did not love us in return. We convince ourselves that time will change everything. We hold on to the hope that eventually, they will be swayed by the love we can give them. That they will look up one day and finally love us the same way.

But it is so hard, it is so frustrating.

We think to ourselves, why can’t you just give me the same effort? Why do I have to work so hard to get you to see me the way I need to be seen? We could be so good together if  you just tried more, if you just gave me as much as I am giving you.

This moment is where I introduce my philosophy on emotional responsibility in romantic relationships. Feelings are complex, and present are many variables that participate in the emotional state that we find ourselves in. Sometimes we cannot help from the start that we are so much more in love with a person, than they are with us. Other times, we might simply be victims of toxic partners, manipulated into feeling safe enough to trust a person with our heart, and without warning, have the person switch up on us, leaving us in this frustrated and confused space. Either way, here we are, angry and emotional and fighting to be loved.

Emotional responsibility is about learning to recognize when you are in this space. It is about understanding where you are emotionally, compared to the person you are in a relationship with. It is about interpreting the meaning of the imbalance in emotional projection towards each other.

While we might be hurt and demanding of a reciprocity of affection from the person we love, the truth is they don’t owe us the extent of our emotions. Despite our immense investment in them physically, emotionally, and even financially, we are the only ones responsible for the depth of time, effort and emotions we have projected onto them.

Even while we are in a state of heightened emotion, we were still able to clearly recognize the lack in the person we are fixated on. Deep down we know it is absent, but we keep digging ourselves deeper by getting more addicted to needing to see them love us the same way.

Why do we keep digging? Why do we keep deliberately hurting ourselves? Why do we stay wanting in places we are not wanted?

Emotional responsibility allows you to acknowledge the lack of reciprocity in a relationship. It forces you to understand that badgering a person to return the love they owe you, is not love, it is fixation.

If you feel unloved, it is because you are in love with a person, who does not love you the same way.

You owe it to yourself to recognize how you deserve to be loved, and walk away early when the depth of your emotions is not returned.

When you practice emotionally responsibility, you understand human emotions better.

It becomes easier to understand previous relationships you struggled with. You recall moments that were telling of the imbalance in emotional depth between you and your romantic partner.

You recognize moments you should have simply walked away.

In my early 20s, I was in a relationship where I hoped and wished that the person I loved would treat me the same way.

As much love, affection and time as I put in the relationship, I never felt like I was receiving the same in return. I felt bereft. I was expectant of him to give me what I deserved.

After all, we were together for a couple of years, why was it so tough to do that? I was in a constant state of resentment. I resented how easy it was for him to not love me as intensely.

I recognize now, that I felt my depth of emotion for him, owed me something from him. Looking back at our relationship, he treated me okay.

He never treated me so wonderfully, to make me love him the way I did. He was not deserving of all the love and availability that I gave to him.

Those were choices I made on my own. I chose to ignore all that was missing from him, all that I needed, and  proceeded to dump all of my love and expectation on him anyway and then blame him angrily for the lack of reciprocity.

So who was I in love with? Because his actions were not enough to induce even half of the love I had for him? I realized much later that I was in love with an idea of him.

An idea that was present at the start, but left after a couple of months. He changed, but I didn’t. I stayed hoping for that idea to manifest again for a couple more years. it never did.

It is what we do.

We have this tendency as humans to fall in love with the idea of people, rather than by how they treat us. We spend time fantasizing about what it could possibly be like, rather than realizing that it just is not that way.

It may never have been that way or perhaps it used to be in the start, but it just isn’t anymore. We imagine how amazing it would be if this person just loved us at all or in the same way they used to, how perfect and easy it would be.

We romanticize an idea, rather than acknowledging our reality.

How we are treated is always the best reality check.

Your emotions belong to you and it is your responsibility to know who to share it with. It is your responsibility to know who deserves the wealth of it and who doesn’t. If the treatment you are receiving is not up to the love you are giving, you must learn that it is your responsibility to acknowledge that, and act on it, rather than hoping and insisting on a reciprocity of emotion.

You must learn when to walk away instead of demanding love from someone who cannot even appreciate the depth of emotion you are willing to share with them.

Try as you might, you cannot center your love in another person’s expression.

If your romantic partner is not where you are emotionally, as much as it hurts to admit it to yourself, you must learn that they rarely ever get on the same page. What is not there, can never be guilted into appearing. You must learn when to cut your losses.

You are not helpless, you are present in what you allow in your life at all times. You must be responsible with your emotions and know when to pull back when the actions of the person you are dating, don’t match up to what you are ready to give them.

Use emotional responsibility to guide you into realizing that no one owes you what they did not ask for from you. And even if they did, they don’t deserve all of you if they are not reciprocating in kind.

Being emotionally responsible will protect you from being unrealistic, insecure and overly demanding of people. It will teach you to love romantically, based on how you are treated. It will teach you to recognize early what is missing, and to walk away faster. It will help you understand that love is not just about the presence of a person, but the good and positive emotions you share that are not damaging to your soul.

Thank you for reading!

Words by Doreen Caven