Cameron Walsh / Essay / March 2017

The Selfish Thing

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Several months ago, I broke up with my girlfriend of 19 months. I sent them a breakup message on Skype (it was a long distance relationship, they live on the West Coast), deleted their number, and blocked them on every outlet of social media. This came at one of the worst parts of their life. Their mother was threatening to kick them out, they were failing two classes, and their financial situation was barely afloat. Everything about their life sucked, and they were extremely suicidal. That breakup was, bar none, the most selfish thing I have ever done.

I’m not going to defend what I did. I’m going to use my story to explain why you shouldn’t immediately dismiss the selfish idea.

That relationship was tearing my mental health apart. My girlfriend was a very needy person; they needed constant attention and reassurance. And because they did not have much in the way of social circles, most of that demand for attention fell onto me. Due to a plethora of disabilities, I was simply not able to meet this demand for attention, which often irritated my girlfriend. Our interactions became a daily routine: They would come to me for attention and comfort. I would attempt to provide comfort. They would find the attention and comfort lacking and berate me for it.

Often times, they were distressed late at night which was even later at night for me due to timezones. I was a full-time student in college and often times found myself staying up until 3 or 4 am not at parties or studying, but to be there for my girlfriend. Whenever I tried to say goodbye to get a good night’s sleep, I was met with passive aggressiveness and anger.

I lost sleep over the relationship. I would get a rush of anxiety every time my phone buzzed. I kept Skype completely closed most nights, so it could look like I was offline. I felt like shit for being autistic, for not knowing the Proper Social Procedures. And I felt trapped in a relationship where I would forever be in the moral wrong if I left.

I didn’t leave when I wanted to. I stayed for three months after that. I didn’t leave when I stopped loving them. I stayed for two months after that, though love did poke its way back in during small moments of peace and happiness. I left when I realized that there was nothing left for me to do. The breakup was selfish. They needed help and I ran away.

It was only after I broke off all contact that I realized that the selfish thing had been the best thing. My mental health is the best it’s been in years right now and I’ve removed the single greatest source of stress from my life.

Since then, I’m learning how to be selfish. How to look out for myself. How to help myself be stable. How to put myself back together after years of trauma. Breaking off of a bad relationship will seem selfish. It will seem like you’re valuing your personal health above theirs. It will seem morally wrong.

Do the selfish thing.

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