My Jim Crow Marriage: MAGA Co-dependency

July 21, 2022

There’s so much going on in the world. The Earth is literally on fire. It’s a nice distraction from my personal problems. I can doom-scroll through some GoPro footage from the battlefields of Ukraine or watch endless hours of commentary on the January 6th hearings. I used to drink through the rough patches. Now I just mainline the outside world.

As a Pisces, I tend to be overdramatic. Things aren’t that bad. Just the summer doldrums of separation. I’ve been trying to learn more about co-dependent relationships and, man, did I have one. I’m not 100% sure that learning about it makes you any less co-dependent, or will help Andi end up back under the same roof, but it sure shines a light and why we were stuck and not making any progress. She was the fixer and I was he who perpetually needed be fixed.

I’ve been having some pretty good conversations about the topic with my therapist. Knowing I’m a Pisces, she’s liberal with the diagrams. She drew two overlapping equal sized circles on a piece of paper and explained that in a healthy relationship two people take up equal space and they overlap in the space of their relationship but they have a larger part of themselves that’s not defined by the relationship. And they can both bring in things to share in the overlap or keep them as part of themselves.

In a co-dependent relationship, one person is a bigger circle that completely envelopes the other circle. That enveloped person has a) a smaller space, b) has no self outside the relationship and c) is always struggling against the confines of the bigger circle. That was us. Even though I encouraged her life outside of our relationship (she got a master’s degree and was an elected officer in her union without my help), when we were together, I did a pretty good job of swallowing her back into what I was jokingly referred to as “Randyland” (a term she understandably loathed). Just like how a person of color is forced to define themselves in relation to “whiteland,” her existence was shaped by our relationship instead of the other way around.

My therapist asked me to conjure up a romantic image of us and I remembered our first trip to Andi’s home town of Morelia, Mexico in 2013. Instead of me being the tour guide in Portland, she led me through her beautiful city, holding my hand. I imagined myself as a balloon safely in her grasp, seeing the world through her eyes. But it was just a flip of our co-dependent dynamic. Now I was the small circle, encompassed by her. As wonderful as it felt, it still wasn’t balanced.

Then she asked me to remember another romantic moment that seemed more balanced and I immediately flashed to our trip to Oslo, Norway in 2018, a city that was new to both us. I was returning from a day at a conference and Andi was coming to find me because she had discovered the most amazing record store on earth and when we ran into each other on the sidewalk, we were those perfectly equal interlocking circles.

The reality is that we had those moments (our first week in a youth hostel on Isla Mujeres with sand in the bed and Macklemore playing every night), but there was a lot more suffocation in Randyland. I get why she needed to break free.

OK, this is the part where I link it to Trump. Hang with me.

You know the MAGA thing? That “Make America Great Again” implies that America’s not great but it was sometime in the mythical past. Trump picked 1950 when America was last great. 1950, the peak of Jim Crow segregation. 1950, before the modern feminist movement, the gay rights movement, and the disability rights movement. If you were a black transperson in a wheelchair, America was not great in 1950. Or a woman. And TVs sucked. Give me my 2022 Samsung flatscreen TV and my pronouns and leave 1950 to your back & white fantasy. Father knew best, or so we were told. The MAGA crowd wants that bullshit past back. They dream of the by-gone days of Jim Crow. Colin Kaepernick “knew his place” in 1950.

But that’s the thing. We over-nostalgize the past. It was always better back then. Music was better. Fashion was better. It was a “simpler” time, blah, blah, blah. In fact, the past was both great and shitty, just like the present. And it was plenty complex, but we were familiar with the complexity. The future is uncertain and the past is a cozy blanket. No wonder people want to go back to it. And that tendency just gets worse the older you get. The 2010s, ah those were the days. The past is a safe haven for the timid. The future is scary as hell. You saw what happened with Bitcoin. But you’ve really gotta embrace the unknown, as frightening as it is. It might kick you in the crotch, but it’s better than spending your life reminiscing about your baseball card collection.

We do the same damn thing when a relationship is ending. “But it was so great! Look at how happy we are in these pictures.” The reality, like America in 1950, is more complex. It was great and shitty. There were plenty of hard times. But I remember it more fondly because I was the planet she revolved around. I was white Father Knows Best guy. For her it was Jim Crow. She was the “colored girl” who needed to get the hell out of Mississippi.

Coming to terms with co-dependency means acknowledging the imbalance. I don’t know if Andi and I will have any more “Oslo moments.” I hope so. But I understand why she had to escape Randyland. I’m escaping it, too.

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