Wait… How Do I Relationship?


Rarely does something so powerfully resonate or explain something I, myself, haven’t been able to put into words. I was watching Fosse Verdon the other night and Bob Fosse (played by Sam Rockwell) is describing his first sexual encounter. For those who don’t know, Bob Fosse was a very famous dancer / choreographer / director; when he was 13, as the story goes, he performed at a club… a club which employed some seasoned strippers. These older women took his virginity backstage, and later in life, he spoke so matter-of-factly about the event, saying, “You know what happens when you experience pleasure, confusion, guilt, you’re scared, self loathing, and in lust? It screws up your relationships for the rest of your life.” While I don’t subscribe to the fact that anything is permanent, I know my first sexual experience was not one I should’ve had at 14… the guy was 19. Maybe it doesn’t sound like that big of an age gap, especially if you’ve watched Euphoria on HBO (parents with kids in high school – stay away), but to me, it was not okay.

But I actually don’t think that evening would be the reason my relationships played out the way they did. I think it started waaaay back… maybe one less ‘a’ in way – I’m not that old yet. My mom wrote about me in her diary, which she would later give me – it might be the thing I’d grab first in the case of a fire, which unfortunately, isn’t that rare anymore. She wrote about wanting a daughter and then she would see the Billy Idol, ‘Cradle Of Love’ music video and be inspired to give me the name, ‘Devon.’ A name I didn’t love growing up… I wanted to be a Lauren, but then I would’ve been destined to be on The Bachelor, as Lauren number seven and would’ve done way too much to try and stand out. I digress; back to baby Devon, arriving into the world – I was surrounded by a loving, supportive family – I can see myself now, in the little Fisher Price kitchen, putting together the plastic burger as I wore my costume heels and purple feather boa. My family would patiently wait in the living room for the “food” I would serve them and pretend to eat it as I watched them, waiting for the “mmm, it’s so good!” response. Despite this love and attention though, something was missing… my dad.

Even before my mom left him when I was three, he was missing; he would have a beer ready by his bed so he could thumb open the aluminum ridge and gulp down it’s contents before getting up and grabbing another from the fridge to drink in the shower. Let’s just say, he wasn’t writing in a diary about wanting any children. I have zero memory of him being in my life, which I later realized would be the root of many “relationship problems.”

My mom later met my step-dad (I call him dad), we moved to Prescott, and shortly thereafter, they were married. I have a dad now – problem solved, right? No… to put it mildly, we butted heads. I would remind him he wasn’t my real father and couldn’t tell me what to do, and he would remind me who’s boss. Typing that out now is so off-putting, but it’s my story.

My contrarian behavior continued through elementary school, when I “played” softball for the teams my dad coached; my cartwheels and handstands were perfected on the grass in the outfield. It sounds kind of silly now, but man… I was a shit. I would become more serious about dance, and softball slipped away from my after-school activities. Being committed to dance meant I was either at school, in rehearsal or at a competition – activities my mom would accompany me to (aside from school; obviously she didn’t come join me for monkey bars on the playground). My dad had to work a lot, and it’s not like he could glue on my fake lashes and get my hair into a perfectly slick bun.

I would ask about my real dad every so often, and outside of the stories, I was told I could reach out to him when I turned 18. Even if he didn’t want to change my diapers or deal with a crying baby, surely he knew I was his daughter… surely he would’ve had an interest to get to know me… right? We would google him at times and find he was arrested for robbery or a DUI, none of which dissuaded me from wanting his attention – his approval.

I’m able to recognize that now, but certainly didn’t in middle school, or high school, or even college. My memory (ego) wants to tell me I had one serious boyfriend in high school, but we were very on and off and I was constantly seeking attention from other male figures.

I’d consider myself a very open person but for some reason, I’m sitting here staring at the screen, not wanting to write about those times for everyone to see (judge), but I’ve seen about a million inspirational quotes and emails this week that say “do something that scares you”, so I guess this is it.

I would constantly write notes back and forth to guys in my class; as a Freshman, I would talk on the phone with upperclassmen each night while doing my homework; I would flirt with everyone at parties; I had a guy friend come pick me up and let me drive their car to school every morning; I even made it a point to become close with my male teachers – bringing them snacks to become “their favorite”… one of them actually asked me to do the artwork for a book they published. And, as I mentioned at the start of this, I would lose my virginity at 14; sure, the guy should’ve known better, but I wanted his approval… and naturally, I wouldn’t get it. More on this later, perhaps.

As I continued navigating my way through high school, relationships with my guy friends would become more important – helping them with homework, inviting them to games I would cheer at, going to their house to watch a movie with their family (I can hear myself now saying ‘it’s just as friends’ in a defensive tone)… the list goes on, but again, this is NOT easy for me to type out.

After graduating, and moving down to ASU, I had a plan to visit my bio dad, as he lived in Phoenix. I had his address and every so often, I would drive and sit outside of his house, trying to muster the courage to knock on that brown door, rehearsing my script. That script would be kept for myself as I never did find the courage, and a few years later, he would pass.

As you could expect, I started going to clubs before I turned 21… and I met a guy. He introduced me to a world of serious alcohol, drugs, and partying, like I’d only seen in movies. I got comfortable with that lifestyle real quick; I was unfaithful and remember carrying around that shame like I was walking in shackles. We dated for a couple years, and he truly wanted the world for me – he allowed me to dream and supported those dreams with so much love. So, I received the validation I was looking for, but I was still sick – it still wasn’t enough.

And here I get more vulnerable… deep breath in, hold, and deep breath out.

A few months in, I would become dependent on the opiates I was introduced to, which brought on extreme resentment. At nights, I would sit in the bathtub and write in my pink diary… I would write letters to “whoever’s up there” and beg them to take my life from me because it was useless and there was clearly no way out. I would take hot showers to try and ease the pain shooting through my body because we didn’t have any pills to hold us over.

I wouldn’t take any time to sit back and reevaluate my life to change it, I just kept becoming more angry, more resentful, and more frustrated. Per usual, I would seek attention from all male figures in my life, which fed my ego, until one day, my ego wasn’t enough to keep me going. My shame from who I’d become was equally as painful as the feelings my body endured from this addiction. I so clearly remember opening up that pink diary, sitting in the closet, telling the universe I had to end ‘it’ if I didn’t receive help – my heavy tears smudging the black ink all throughout the page – it ended up looking like a Rorschach painting. Hours later, I had the universe’s response, which I’ll expand on at some point, I promise.

My grandparents would help me pack my belongings and I would drive back home, to Prescott, with my tail between my legs. What a wonderful Mother’s Day gift…

I basically white knuckled it through, even though every muscle in my body felt like it was spasming, like I would die from the aches. My ego was already stomped on though, so I didn’t ask for help – I didn’t tell ANYONE what was going on (please ask for help if you need it).

As the days passed, things became more bearable and I was able to start working on myself. I started a new job where I met my now boyfriend who challenged me in ways I’d never experienced; I remember on our first date, telling him I get bored easily, and I can easily say, I haven’t been bored, though, just because I met my guy doesn’t mean I was “fixed.” There were plenty of times I would give him the silent treatment if I didn’t like something, or be rude, expecting him to apologize to me. Fortunately, he had done a lot of work, to know what being mentally healthy looked like, so our relationship would slowly become more balanced, fruitful, loving, and best of all, we would respect each other.

Still to this day though, I can recognize when the little monster tries to come up… just the other week, I asked him (Matthew, not the little monster) to read one of my blogs before posting and he gave me some great constructive criticism, which I became defensive about. Fortunately, I now have the tools that allow me to pinpoint where that stems from and deal with it in real time, so I can say something like, “I’m so sorry, that’s me being absurd and just wanting you to give me immediate validation again, instead of actually helping me.” So, it’s going to be a constant learning process, and I think those emotions simply show us what we still need to work on. If we’re envious of something, that’s our subconscious giving us clues on what we want… if we’re angry because the significant other didn’t unload the dishwasher, it’s probably not actually about the dishwasher.

I’m so pumped (thrilled? stoked?) I now have the self awareness to recognize where every “bad” feeling stems from… most of which falls into the “needed dad’s love” category.

And I want to be clear, my (step) dad did everything he could to make me feel loved, in the ways he knew how, but people can only give what they have, and he wasn’t raised with an overly warm, loving, touchy family, so he didn’t have that to give… but it was what I needed, and still need to this day. Hello, love language test!

I will wrap this up by thanking you for reading, and allowing me to be vulnerable. I typed and deleted things so many times, thinking I was oversharing, or that I would be met with disdain, but my gut kept overriding those thoughts, so here we are, ending my post about my personal journey through relationships. And great timing, because I’m starving and have a pumpkin spice Perfect Bar waiting for me in the fridge.

Devon Herrera

Committed To Curiosity

Instagram @Coffee_With_A_Question