What it's like to lose yourself in a relationship

The loss of an identity — or the realization that you haven't even known yourself — fosters a kind of loneliness

Published December 12, 2017 5:00PM (EST)

 (Getty/Martin Dimitrov)
(Getty/Martin Dimitrov)

Melissa Febos is an author as well as an assistant professor of creative writing at Monmouth University and a faculty member of the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s also a former heroin addict and dominatrix, who worked for four years in a midtown New York dungeon. Her latest book, "Abandon Me," details the way in which her birth father’s leaving the family marked her with compulsion and an instinct for self-erasure. Melissa searches for identity in drugs, in writing and in an obsessive love affair.

“I began a relationship in 2012 with a married woman who lived on the other side of the country,” she told "The Lonely Hour." “Pretty quickly that relationship was marked by intensity of all kinds. It was erotically intense. It was emotionally intense. It included a lot of intense suffering. It was pretty tormented from the very beginning.”

Ultimately, she loses herself in that other person.

"I was really out of my mind — like I was like not in my own mind. A good friend of mine came to visit the other day, and all of this came up. She teared up, saying, 'You were just gone. And you are and were one of the most grounded, pragmatic, happy people that I knew, but it was like your personality just got siphoned out of you and was replaced with this anxious, totally distracted, panicked person who couldn't show up for anything.'"

What finally ended the relationship was Melissa’s realization that there wasn’t room for both her and her lover. “I needed her to make more space for me,” she wrote. “I needed real parity — something we’d never had.” And it finally really hit her that they never would have it.

"When I ended the relationship it was like night and day. I started sleeping again. I reengaged all these relationships that I'd become a stranger from, either because they couldn't handle what was going on or because I just couldn't maintain anything while I was doing all of that work to try to stay in that relationship. It was over, and I got to return to myself, which was such an incredible relief. I wasn't even sure that I had a self to return to."

Hear Melissa tell her story:

The Lonely Hour is a podcast that explores the feeling of loneliness — and solitude, and other kinds of aloneness — at a time when it may become our next public health epidemic. The show is co-produced by Julia Bainbridge and The Listening Booth. Julia, the host and creator, is an editor and a James Beard Award-nominated writer. Listen to all episodes published on Salon here.  

By Julia Bainbridge

MORE FROM Julia Bainbridge

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Addiction Authors Books Dating Drugs Identity Relationships Sex Writing